An idea that’s all wet

It’s getting harder and harder to tell the Republicans from the Democrats at the County level without a scorecard when you hear about stuff like this:

Of course, protecting her firefighter husband from harm is an added benefit of the mandatory fire sprinkler initiative Councilman Cathy Vitale plans to push this month.

But the reason she wants every new home in Anne Arundel County to come with sprinklers springs from a story he once told her after a heart breaking day on the job…..

….For the past month, she has floated a plan to join the growing ranks of nearly 20 other jurisdictions that require every new home to come with sprinklers.

At least six counties have the rule, from neighboring Prince George’s County – which passed the ordinance in 1992 and since then has not seen a fire death in any of the 50,000 homes with sprinklers – to Talbot County, where an ordinance passed last week followed the death of a family of three.

Ms. Vitale has shopped her plan to fellow councilmen, who appear largely supportive, firefighters who have been longing for a sprinkler policy since the 1970s and to the homebuilders association, which generally oppose such measures.

There’s more below the fold….

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This is the type of liberal nannystatism that you would expect from Democrats, not a veteran Republican County Councilwoman in the county’s most conservative Councilmanic District. And certainly not from a politician looking for a promotion in 2010. Voters remember when politicians add at least $1 per square foot to the costs of their new home.

And Vitale isn’t even the only alleged conservative who is gung ho for this idea:

Councilman Ed Reilly, R-Crofton, is an insurance agent and said the sprinklers will diminish the cost of insurance policies.

“I’m very much in favor of it, and I’m embarrassed we haven’t done anything before,” Mr. Reilly said at the hearing.

And the real question on everybody’s mind is how in the world the residents of this county are going to pay for this?

For example, neighborhoods on wells must also install holding tanks to make sure the sprinklers have enough pressure to work.

Who is going to pay for that? Is the county going to force new communities to build holding tanks, thus artificially inflating the prices of these new homes?

Additionally if people currently want sprinklers, they can have sprinklers. The market is already giving people the option. And the market seems to be taking care of this:

Today, people building custom homes order sprinklers, but it is rare for the builder of a subdivision to voluntarily install them in a new home, said Larry Cate, the vice president of Absolute Fire Protection in Severna Park who has been installing sprinkling systems in Anne Arundel for two decades.

“You won’t close a tough sell,” Mr. Cate said of sprinkler skeptics. “It’s usually black or white. You either believe in it and you want it, or you don’t.”

The extra costs put builders constructing neighborhoods at a competitive disadvantage, but Mr. Cate suspects that if every home was forced to have it, the playing field would be even.

Which is also a completely ridiculous statement from Mr. Cate. The playing field is already even. Some builders choose to install sprinklers. Some don’t. The consumer gets to make that choice as it is.

We all agree that deaths from fires in the home are a tragic loss to a family and a tragic loss to the community. But this idea is all wet. What is the benefit to the consumer if such systems are mandated? What are the chances that a home is going to be involved in a fire? Do we really want to pass such a cost on to homeowners, who are already going to be expected to pay more and more under the O’Malley tax plan? Do we want to pinch builders, who will likely see somewhat of a hit in business if they are required to install such systems at an additional cost?

I can see the current existing requirement in multi-unit dwellings. But to require that such sprinkler systems in new single-family homes is excessive. In a climate that already finds it difficult to construct affordable housing, why should new costs be added to by government. Vitale and Reilly should really reconsider their positions on this issue, as this is not the kind of conservatism we expect from our Republican elected officials.


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