Sprinkler system question deserves attention

November 22, 2019

Rehoboth Beach commissioners are considering adopting an updated International Building Code which requires fire-suppressing sprinkler systems to be included in new home designs. The requirement was part of the 2012 code adopted by the city, but commissioners opted to exempt that requirement from the code at that time.

There are pros and cons to sprinkler system requirements, but the issue deserves serious discussion, not only in Rehoboth Beach but throughout Sussex County.

On the pro side, sprinkler systems can, obviously, mitigate damage from fires and reduce the possibility of serious injury or death from blazes. Fires in our region in the last few years have shown how flammable the synthetic materials used in new construction can be.

We’ve also seen instances where, because of houses being built close together in certain communities with relatively narrow side-yard setbacks, a fire that starts in one structure can also inflict heavy damage in neighboring structures. Here along the coast, frequent high winds can exacerbate collateral damage from fires.

The pace of construction is putting increasing pressure on our volunteer fire departments, which are seeing greater potential for fires while also struggling to fill their ranks with new recruits. It’s a double whammy. Along with other reasons cited, sprinkler systems could reduce the severity of blazes that overtaxed volunteers might be called upon to fight.

On the con side, in addition to extra construction costs driving up prices, sprinkler systems activated while suppressing relatively minor fires can, at the same time, inflict major water damage. And in resort areas where many homes tend to be seasonal, sprinkler systems could force homeowners to bear the additional expense of keeping utilities on through the winter. There’s nothing quite as useless as a sprinkler system either empty or frozen when a fire starts.

The sprinkler system question has been simmering for years, but now the many changes we’re seeing in our growing communities are pushing the need for that dialogue to shift into a higher gear.       



  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, Publisher Emeritus, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, Sports Editor Emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, Associate Editor; Nick Roth, Sports Editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.

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