June20

July 2014 – The Power of Unintended Consequences (Part I)

Two legislative initiatives, in current process, that really show the power of unintended consequences are: the move in the Massachusetts State Senate to mandate sprinkler systems in all 1-2 family dwellings; and the federal FEMA re-mapping of coastal flood plane areas. In both cases, the proponents are convinced they are doing something good for the general public, but in both cases are only looking at the issue through the narrow view of their own perspective and not looking at the significant other impacts of their proposals.

First the Sprinklers. Every year proposed legislation is brought up by fire officials and sprinkler suppliers. Every year, it is defeated . The Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS) in Boston has studied the issue exhaustively and has repeatedly determined that there is no evidence that sprinklers save lives in 1-2 family dwellings. Statistics say that smoke detectors save lives, not sprinklers. Insurance companies apparently feel the extent of water damage caused by sprinklers exceeds the  amount of damage they prevent. Sprinklers are also expensive and a state wide survey has shown the average cost to the homeowner of $4.02 per sq. ft. or $13,574. average per new home. This cost does not even include ancillary costs which include regular maintenance, inspections and service. As the owner of several sprinkler systems, I can tell you that they are expensive to maintain and that they have a limited life span before needing replacement. The real issue is not whether people should have sprinklers if they want them, it’s merely whether all new homeowners should be required to install sprinklers even if they don’t want them. Another side issue is that this is being presented as a “stretch” amendment, that is being introduced legislatively instead of through the BBRS, as the rest of the code is. This will undermine the uniformity of the building code and take control away from the building officials and give it to the fire officials, creating a second layer of bureaucracy to navigate. This amendment was put through as an amendment to the Senate budget, rather than a legislative amendment, to camouflage it.  Because it was introduced in this round about way, it is currently in study by a special Committee. This issue will be voted on prior to June 30th and the reason it was packaged this way was to tuck the amendment in a place that many wouldn’t see it.

If you believe in a uniform building code and don’t like the inconsistency of “stretch” codes that vary from town to town, if you believe that sprinkler systems should be allowed for anyone who wants them, but should not be a mandatory requirement for every new 1-2  family house, and if you see this amendment as a move by special interests who benefit from this, while pushing the consequence of significant added expense on to all new homeowners, then please register your feelings with the Committee members below and also with your local legislators. Time is of the essence because this has all hatched fast. The combination of many code changes like this continues to drive housing costs out of sight. Let’s not make affordable housing an oxymoron in Massachusetts. We won’t be heard unless you speak up!

Stephen.Brewer@masenate.gov  -(chairman of the committee and sponsor of the sprinkler amendment)

Jennifer.Flanagan@masenate.gov

Richard.Ross@masenate.gov

Brian.Dempsey@mahouse.gov

Stephen.Kulik@mahouse.gov

Vinny.DeMacedo@mahouse.gov

(To be continued next month, when we take a look at the 2nd challenge mentioned above, FEMA Flood Plane Re-mapping)

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”― Thomas Edison 

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” – Wayne Gretsky

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