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Geneva aldermen nix requirement for sprinklers in new houses

'We're trying to keep our housing affordable'

GENEVA – Geneva aldermen voted Oct. 1 to remove a requirement for fire sprinklers in all new residential construction in adopting an ordinance covering the 2015 editions of several international building codes including housing, swimming pools, spas and energy conservation.

The most significant change in the International Residential Code would require all new one-family and two-family homes to be equipped with fire sprinkler systems, officials said.

At first, aldermen considered putting off the exclusion, to defer it for further discussion Sept. 30, 2019 for possible passage in 2020.

But 4th Ward Alderman James Radecki urged the council to discuss it right away, as he argued against adding the cost of sprinklers – $8,500 – to the price of house , Radecki said.

“We’re trying to keep our housing affordable,” Radecki said. “It’s not prudent for us to mandate it at this time.”

Additionally, Geneva averages about three house fires a year without injuries or fatalities, served by a well-equipped, well-trained fire department with two stations, Radecki said.

But 4th Ward Geneva Aldermen Jeanne McGowan disagreed, saying many advocates for fire sprinklers included people who lost family members in house fires.

“Most new homes have open floor plan designs,” McGowan said. “Fires spread very quickly. … New construction materials burn very quickly.”

Sprinklers give residents a better chance to escape a fire safely and firefighters come to a house where a fire is more easily controlled, McGowan said.

“I am a huge proponent of safety and saving lives,” McGowan said.

But local builder George Havlicek said in 35 years of homebuilding, no buyer ever asked for sprinklers to be installed.

Builder John Henry disputed the $8,500 price estimate for sprinklers, and said $20,000 to $30,000 was more accurate a cost.

Another builder, Joe Keim, asked aldermen not to leave the issue hanging for another year, because it creates too much uncertainty for buyers and builders.

The council voted 8-1 with one absent to remove the sprinkler requirement. McGowan cast the lone no vote. Second Ward Alderman Michael Clements was absent.

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