June 19, 2018
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Rockland may relax law requiring sprinklers in new homes

By Stephen Betts, BDN Staff

ROCKLAND, Maine — The Rockland City Council will consider relaxing its local law that requires sprinkler systems in newly constructed homes.

Mayor Brian Harden said the proposal to change the sprinkler ordinance is an attempt to lower the burden for people who want to build in Rockland.

“People have gotten back to us that the costs [for sprinklers] are twice as high as we had estimated,” the mayor said.

He stressed that the city still encourages homeowners to install sprinklers when they build new homes but that this proposed ordinance will not be as strict as the current law.

The council approved the sprinkler ordinance in December 2009 on a 4-1 vote with then-Councilor Tom Molloy casting the lone vote against it. The law applies to single-family and duplexes.

The council will discuss revising the ordinance at its Monday night meeting with a preliminary vote to occur Aug. 13.

Fire Chief Charles Jordan Jr. — who lobbied for the current sprinkler law — said while he supports a mandatory sprinkler law he is satisfied with the conditions included in the revised ordinance.

“This is exactly what I would come up with if I had to ratchet it back,” the chief said.

The proposed ordinance allows homeowners to be exempt from the current law if the structures meet several conditions. The buildings must be located within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant, must have hard-wired photoelectric smoke alarms outside all sleeping areas, carbon monoxide detectors and certain building standards to prevent the spread of fire.

The proposed ordinance also requires that the building plans be reviewed by the fire department and that the owners meet with the fire department to hear the reasons why sprinklers should be installed.

The chief said during his successful attempt to get the sprinkler law approved in 2009 that home fires kill the same number of people each year in the United Stated as died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He said sprinklers not only save lives but substantially reduce property damages.

Harden said he has heard from a few people about the costs, but was not sure whether other councilors had.

Assistant Rockland Fire Chief Adam Miceli said the cost for a sprinkler is about $2.75-$3 per square foot but it can vary. He said the cost is less if the person lives where there is public water since there is no need for a storage tank. A sprinkler system for a 1,500-square-foot home could add up to $4,500 to the construction costs.

Rockland Code Enforcement Officer John Root said he has not heard anyone tell him that they have not built because of the sprinkler requirement.

State law exempts modular housing from any local ordinances on sprinklers. Root added, however, that a residential housing development off Old County Road agreed to install sprinklers in the modular homes erected there.

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