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Taxpayers get soaked again.

Byline: Karyn Polito; Matthew Beaton

COLUMN: AS I SEE IT

Under the guise of "public safety," out-of-state special interest groups and their in-state allies are pushing the Massachusetts Board of Building Regulations and Standards to needlessly increase the cost of new homes, which will price many consumers out of our already depressed but still overpriced market.

On Dec. 13, the BBRS will hear a proposal offered by a misguided but formidable coalition of the fire sprinkler industry, the National Fire Protection Association and various state fire prevention organizations. The BBRS has unilateral power to change the state building code and has rejected the call to require fire suppression sprinkler systems in all new one- and two-family homes. It is now being asked to reconsider this measure, which has thus far been passed over or outright rejected through legislation in more than 30 states.

Sprinkler systems are already required in new multifamily housing, where dozens or hundreds of people may reside. But mandating them in one- and two-family homes is, quite frankly, a solution in search of a nonexistent problem.

A study commissioned for the NFPA itself concluded that working smoke detectors alone bring a person's chances of surviving a house fire to 99.45 percent. And no one, not even the NFPA, is claiming that sprinklers will raise that chance significantly.

The Massachusetts proposal is particularly destructive to the Uniform State Building Code as adopted in 1975. Before adoption, every city and town had its own code, which created a crazy quilt of differing, confusing and often conflicting rules and regulations. Now Massachusetts is being asked to adopt the sprinkler mandate as a so-called "stretch code," granting individual communities the ability to exceed the standards set by one of the most stringent building codes in the country.

Abandoning uniformity where sprinklers are concerned will also cost upward of $10,000 to $15,000 per house, further eroding Massachusetts families' already compromised ability to purchase a new home. Communities without municipal water, and even some communities with stressed municipal water supplies, would be hard-pressed to supply the water for these systems without storage tanks, pressure boosters and other infrastructure that will prove costly to buy, install and maintain. Seasonally used homes would face further hurdles and costs.

It would be foolhardy to argue against this provision if in fact there was a plague of house fire deaths upon us. But in fact, modern construction techniques and materials, along with the advent of mandatory smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, have been dramatically decreasing house fire deaths for more than two decades. Even the NFPA and the U.S. Fire Administration affirm that most fire deaths occur in older homes where there are no operational smoke alarms.

The Home Builders Association of Massachusetts, a trade association for residential builders, has consistently supported more stringent statewide fire codes in new homes when they make sense. For example, HBAM supported the requirement for hard-wired smoke alarms, which are more effective than battery-only alarms.

We urge consumers to join HBAM and oppose this misguided special interest attack on small business and consumers, who can least afford this unnecessary change in the building code.

Please contact your state legislators and the BBRS immediately and tell them not to price consumers out of the housing market by enacting a solution to a problem that does not exist. The BBRS can be reached through Michael Guigli, Department of Public Safety, One Ashburton Place, Room 1301, Boston, MA 02108 or by email at Mike.Guigli@state.ma.us.

Former state representativve Karyn Polito is a principal of Polito Development Corp., a commercial real estate development and management company. Sate Rep. Matthew Beaton, R-Shrewsbury, is also a founder and co-owner of Beaton Construction, a certified green building company.
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U1MA
Date:Dec 6, 2011
Words:628
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