Government Affairs Updates/ Fire Sprinkler Mandates

State Laws You Should Know

Bill Ward, Executive Vice President, HBAI

Fire Sprinkler Mandate  

As it was explained by State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis at his offices in 2012, “the Home Builders should be in favor of my mandate for fire sprinklers. You will be able to raise the price of your homes and obtain a greater profit on their sale.” This was our starting point.

In 2013, Governor Pat Quinn gave Marshal Matkaitis the green light to propose administrative rules to mandate fire sprinkler systems in all residential construction and on high rises built in Chicago prior to 1975. It also mandated sprinklers in many existing commercial buildings; everything from churches to taverns. The Rule would also override any and all local ordinances prohibiting or limiting the mandate.

Governor Quinn had to ignore the following facts to come to his decision:

  • 70% of Illinoisans were opposed to the measure, 86% were opposed to the mandate in their own homes;
  • Fire Sprinklers cost $4500 to $20,000 depending on the home; $7500 on average.
  • Illinois was 50th in the U.S., in new home construction;
  • The National Fire Protection Association reported a survival rate of 99.45% for homeowners with wired smoke detectors, 1/10th of 1 percent less than homes with fire sprinkler systems; and,
  • 43 other states had already rejected or ignored the mandate.

Quinn and Matkaitis knew all of this and more prior to offering their administrative rule on June 28, 2013.

Matkaitis freely admitted to having the mandate placed in administrative rules because he was unable to pass the mandate in the Illinois General Assembly (even with the backing of the Plumbers & Pipefitters, and the Firefighter Unions). He knew that if he received just 5 of 12 votes from the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), Illinois would be the third state to embrace the mandate (California & Maryland).

HBAI had been planning for this fight for months, and now it was on. Professional consultants had been hired for polling and for media relations, paid with funds derived the Fire Sprinkler Defense Fund, initiated by HBAI in 2012.

Not only did our members send thousands of dollars, they also sent hundreds of letters to JCAR members asking for their opposition to the measure. HBAI was on the radio, television, and in the newspapers fighting this battle. And so were the Fire Marshal and the NFPA.

Consideration on the proposed Rule was scheduled in August of 2013; HBAI scheduled July meetings with all four legislative leaders in the General Assembly asking for their opposition to the Rule. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno led the way pledging that Senate Republicans would not vote for the Rule. House Republican Leader, Jim Durkin, did the same. In a meeting with House Speaker Mike Madigan’s Chief of Staff, it was conveyed that House Democrats would not be in favor of the Rule.

The biggest and final blow came from Senate President John Cullerton, who wrote in a letter to Marshal Matkaitis dated July 31, 2013:

“I urge you to withdraw your proposed amendment to the Ill. Administrative Code which purports to impose a statewide mandate requiring the installation of automatic sprinkler systems in new single-family homes, multi-unit residential homes, places of worship, and existing high rises. The proposal is unnecessary, unreasonable, and it represents an inappropriate extension of the rulemaking authority granted to you under the Fire Investigation Act.

“This sweeping regulation would further burden an already fragile homebuilding industry, and it would have disastrous financial implications for homeowners, condo associations, religious organizations, and business throughout the state of Illinois; who will ultimately pay the price for these costly and unnecessary installations.” John J. Cullerton, Senate President.

This letter spelled out that Fire Marshal Matkaitis would receive 0 out of 12 possible votes at JCAR. Matkaitis publicly announced three days later that the proposed Rule was being pulled from consideration.

As it stands now, mandates for fire sprinklers in Illinois are considered at the local level. Where local ordinances do require sprinklers, many do so only for units 5000 sq. feet and above.

HBAI has worked with almost every local association successfully opposing local ordinances and NAHB is a deep resource for assistance on this issue, as well. While local ordinances will continue to pop up, we foresee no new statewide proposals for the mandate in the near future.