Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
August 2006
Fire Protection Sprinkler Systems and Multi-Family Structures Discussed

Will sprinkler systems be required in all new multifamily residences? At a meeting of the Commercial Building Code Council, Multifamily Dwelling Code Council and the Fire Prevention (Comm 14) Code Council on June 30, 2006 Robert DuPont, director, Department of Commerce's (Commerce) Bureau of Program Development, addressed the group with information about the dispensing of advice regarding the proposed Commercial Building Code and Fire Prevention Code revisions to the public hearing stage. DuPont provided a status report on automatic fire sprinkler systems in multifamily residential occupancies.

1. To respond to questions raised earlier this year about the Department's authority to promulgate rules for sprinkler systems, Du Pont requested an opinion from the Commerce Chief Legal Counsel, Joseph R. Thomas. The response to that request was that Commerce does have authority to promulgate a rule that would require sprinklers in all multifamily buildings regardless of floor area square footage or number of units.

2. In an effort to see how the Wisconsin Commercial Building Code compares with statewide codes of other states, Commerce staff surveyed every state and the District of Columbia and learned that 35 states have statewide codes that apply to all new residential buildings of three or more units. Thirty-three states have more stringent statewide sprinkler requirements than Wisconsin. (Wisconsin's Commercial Building Code requires automatic fire sprinkler systems in new construction of 21 or more units.) Twenty-two states require sprinklers statewide in all new residential buildings of three or more units; reflecting the requirements in the 2006 International Building Code.

3. Responding to concerns expressed about the cost of sprinkler systems, Commerce is undertaking a study of 36 multifamily buildings recently constructed in Wisconsin that had sprinkler systems installed during initial construction. Commerce is attempting to identify the cost of the buildings and the cost of the sprinkler systems. Commerce staff hopes to study 12 buildings in each of three size categories: 3 - 8 units, 9 - 16 units and 17 - 20 units. Projects in different areas of the state will be reviewed in an effort to identify cost variations between geographic regions.

4. To gauge some of the impacts of unwanted fires in residential occupancies in Wisconsin, Commerce will soon survey all Wisconsin Fire Departments to identify the number of civilian and fire fighter deaths caused by fires in residential occupancies of various sizes over the last five years. Commerce is also working with the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services to learn more about fire deaths through review of death certificates.

5. A public hearing on the update of the Commercial Building Code and the Fire Prevention Code is expected to be held in 2006, with hopes to have revised codes go into effect no later than July 1, 2007.

-- Henry Kosarzycki

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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