Rock Island leaves sprinkler mandate in newly adopted building and fire codes

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - Since 2009, sprinkler systems in new homes have been part of building codes. But many cities have chosen to get rid of that mandate.

The City of Rock Island chose to keep it, stirring controversy amongst builders and realtors in the area.

The debate is are smoke detectors enough or should new homes have sprinklers.

The Quad City Relator Association and the City of Rock Island are split on the issue.

“It’ll keep brand new homeowners who want to build in Rock Island to totally look elsewhere,” said the association’s president, David Levin.

He says the other metro Quad Cities have amended the mandate. And he adds the cost of sprinklers systems drives up building costs.

“It costs $4.26 a square foot to put in a sprinkler system in a brand new home,” Levin said.

At that price, Levin says it could add an additional $12 to $15 thousand on a two or three thousand square foot home.

“We're very confident that will happen,” Levin said of the cost driving people to other cities. “That will make Rock Island less attractive.”

Levin does not believe leaving out sprinklers puts residents at risk.

“I think smoke detectors are doing a good enough job,” he said.

But city leaders are not so sure.

They say the building codes allow for new material to be used during construction, which is more dangerous in a fire.

“[Materials] which are stronger and in a lot of cases cheaper to build with but the downside is they burn faster and hotter,” said Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms.

Thoms says this is why the city believes sprinklers are necessary in newly built homes.

“If you're going to allow that kind of materials, you really should use the fire codes that go along with it, and that is trying to suppress a fire,” the mayor said.

Thoms says the city's research also shows installation at a lower cost.

“Based on the national average it's like $1.43 a square foot when you're building a house,” Thoms said of sprinkler systems.

He says that comes out to about $2 thousand on a 1,500 square foot home.

“We felt that for $2 thousand, that safety was worth it,” Thoms said.

“And we can promote and once again push Rock Island as a safe city,” he added.

The city can still choose to amend the code to exclude sprinklers. If that were to happen, newly built homes would be mandated to be built with wired smoke detectors. This means it would be charged through the home's electricity. Batteries would act as a fail-safety.

Mayor Thoms says the city needs to determine with local contractors a true cost of sprinkler installation in Rock Island.

The city and Realtor Association did not discuss the updated codes before they were adopted. The city has since apologized, but they said they are not sure it would have changed their decision.