Editorial: Proposed fire-sprinkler ordinance needs to have logical guidelines
The latest version of a proposed Lake Tahoe-Douglas County fire-sprinkler ordinance has some area residents seeing red.
We don’t blame them.
The ordinance, spearheaded by the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, unfairly burdens a swath of current homeowners who intend to modify their existing structures. District officials contend sprinklers protect public safety by keeping fires under control while firefighters are en route to the scene.
That logic’s right on. Sprinkler systems undoubtedly would save some homes and potentially prevent injury or death. But that’s a difficult proposition to sell, because most people don’t think they’ll ever need them.
The systems, though not prohibitively expensive in many cases, aren’t cheap, either.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fire-sprinkler systems cost approximately $1 to $1.50 per square foot in new homes. Under these guidelines, a system for a new 3,000-square-foot home would cost $3,000 to $3,500. Retrofitting existing homes averages $1.50 to $2.50 per square foot, the agency indicated.
But examine the proposal, and it’s quickly obvious the devil is in the details.
Here’s why: Under the ordinance proposed to Douglas County commissioners last week, homes would be required to have automated sprinkler systems if a project increased their floor area to more than 3,600 square feet.
Additionally, structures currently more than 3,600 square feet would need sprinklers for any project increasing their square footage. All new homes, regardless of size, also would be required to install sprinklers.
Some local real-estate agents claim the sprinkler ordinance will dramatically increase the cost of homes relative to those in surrounding areas. They also believe that new homes that are less than 3,600 square feet should be exempt from the ordinance.
Tahoe Douglas Assistant Fire Chief Rick Nicholson disagrees. Fire poses a threat to people in the Lake Tahoe Basin regardless of home size, he said at Thursday’s commissioner meeting.
“We need to protect people in every size home, not just large homes,” he told commissioners.
He’s absolutely right.
Given the area’s monumental fire threat, exempting new homes of any size from a sprinkler ordinance would be foolish. On the other hand, forcing sprinkler systems on existing homes that intend only minor additions is equally devoid of logic.
Commissioner Doug Johnson recommended an appeals process at the Thursday meeting that would address minor home improvements. That’s a good first step to help avoid residents’ resentment and anger.
Recognizing the volatility of the ordinance, commissioners asked officials to come up with several variations on Thursday’s proposal for review at next month’s meeting.
Fire sprinklers save homes. Let’s figure out how to get them installed where they will make the most impact.
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Like many residents and visitors of Lake Tahoe, I have had the good fortune of running, hiking, swimming, skiing, dining, lodging and otherwise living in and around Lake Tahoe nearly all of my life. Tahoe…