Anyone building a new home within the city limits of Lewes is now required to include a fire-suppression system.
Lewes Mayor and City Council voted 4-1 Oct. 11 to adopt a piece of the International Building Code that the city has excluded in the past.
Newark is the only other municipality in Delaware to require a sprinkler system for all new construction. Newark also requires any renovation that’s more than 50 percent of the structure’s value to have fire suppression. Mayor Ted Becker noted Lewes’ new code does not go that far.
Becker said he recently spoke with Newark Mayor Jerry Clifton about the issue and was told there has not been any pushback.
“I don’t think this is an unreasonable ask,” Becker said.
Councilman Khalil Saliba was the lone vote against. Prior to the vote, he recommended the city take an alternative route in which it would require home builders to produce and show a two- to three-minute video to all buyers to inform them about the benefits and costs of adding a fire-suppression system to their home.
“If buyers are well educated, which I think this video would do, they can make an informed choice,” Saliba said.
He said he spoke with home builders in the area and they were on board with his idea.
Becker questioned the enforceability of requiring a home builder to show such a video.
The issue was heavily debated at a September public hearing. Paul Eichler of the Delaware Fire Sprinkler Coalition spoke about the benefits of fire-suppression systems, while local builder Mark Grahne, a board member with the Builders and Remodelers Association of Delaware, testified to the potential high cost and lack of companies in the area to install such systems.
Saliba was supportive of requiring sprinklers in multifamily homes such as townhouses, condos and apartments, but did not want to see the requirement placed on single-family homes.
“[Multifamily homes] are all structures that are next to each other,” he said. “One occupant of an apartment or condo doesn’t want to be held to the standard of a negligent neighbor who could start a fire and quickly spread it to their home. I understand from that perspective where it’s a collective issue – we’re all in it together, so to speak – but I do think a single-family home is a different model. It is much different from that.”
The majority of council did not agree, and the mandate was approved as written and went into effect immediately. Any building permit application for a new home submitted after Oct. 11 is required to have a fire-suppression system plan included.
Councilman Tim Ritzert urged the city to share the information it gathered on the benefits of fire suppression with applicants in the queue when the vote took place. He said he believes they can use the information to make an informed decision.