Sprinkler ordinance repeal prompts questions

A 3,314-square-foot South County home being rebuilt after the Tamarack Fire was required to install sprinklers until August, when Douglas County repealed the requirement.

A 3,314-square-foot South County home being rebuilt after the Tamarack Fire was required to install sprinklers until August, when Douglas County repealed the requirement.

The repeal of a requirement that new homes smaller than 5,000 square feet built more than the length of a firehose from a hydrant has caused confusion among home builders.

On Tuesday, East Fork Fire Protection District trustees heard an update on the efforts to install a new sprinkler requirement.

Chief Tod Carlini said writing the regulation would take two months with a proposal submitted to trustees by their Oct. 18 meeting.

Carlini said the district is receiving calls from people who’ve in-stalled the sprinklers and want to take them out and whether they have to submit plans to the district, at all.

He pointed out that there are plans with sprinklers approved and contracts signed to install them.

“People are questioning what’s going on,” he said. “They are break-ing those contracts now. I can’t say this is a huge issue, but how we go about business is still out there. People are struggling with what to do. They know they don’t have to deal with sprinkler systems but are not aware of these other things.”

Most homes built more than 1,000 feet from a hydrant are located on the edge of the wildland and the sprinkler requirement was in part designed to prevent a house fire from starting a wildfire.

Douglas County commissioners repealed that part of the three-year-old ordinance on Aug. 4.

While the ordinance repeal did not affect the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District, trustees for that district are also working to approve regulations to ensure requirements remain in place.

Attorney Mark Forsberg said the district has the authority to approve the regulation under state law.

Board Chairman Jacques Etchegoyhen said it appeared from Forsberg’s analysis that the district is required to implement regulations for fire safety.

“I feel reading this material that not only can we do this, but it’s very clear that it’s what we shall do,” Etchegoyhen said. “Frankly, it’s not discretionary. We have to enforce what Nevada law tells us.”

Trustee Bernie Curtis asked if it was possible to obtain a court opinion on the regulations before they are approved by the district.

Forsberg said that the district could pose the question to the Attorney Generals Office or District Court.

“This particular question is appropriate for that process,” Forsberg said. “It has probably never been decided. There would be statewide interest to any fire district.”

Trustee Barbara Griffin said she felt it would be better to confirm the law ahead of time.

Because the report wasn’t on the agenda for action, trustees couldn’t make a decision on Tuesday, but are likely to discuss the issue again in September.

The district will likely face significant opposition from builders, who stumped to have the ordinance repealed.

Carter Hill Homes representative Brandon Hill said the cost for installing sprinklers, along with a booster pump and system is running $35,000-$50,000 for a home with a well. He said that the only counties requiring sprinkler systems for homes under 5,000 square feet are Storey and Douglas.

“Fire sprinklers cause tremendous property damage, often more ttan the fire that may have set them off,” he said. “Homes are already unaffordable and largely unattainable in Douglas County. This will create and exacerbate a new construction cost category that is only outsized and out-scaled by framing, labor and lumber materials.”

Carlini disputed the builders’ cost estimates, saying that an actual July 28 review for a 3,168-square-foot home plan indicated a cost of $14,450 with a total cost per square foot of $4.56.

“Based on our documented cost submissions and applying the $326 a square foot cost, the installation of a fire sprinkler system represents approximately 1 percent of the cost per square foot,” Carlini said.

Since the July 1, 2019, implementation of the ordinance, the district has conducted 1,129 audits to determine if sprinklers are required.

Of those, 100 were in projects such as Clear Creek Tahoe and Jobs Peak Ranch where fire sprinklers are required by the homeowners association.

Of the rest, 109 homes have been required to install the system, or about 36 a month.

“The majority of housing construction, roughly 90 percent, is taking place within areas that are served by municipal systems, as represented by these numbers,” Carlini said.



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