A number of high-profile fires in older apartment properties have drawn the attention of code officials, fire safety advocates, and the media. In response, state and local officials have repeatedly proposed retrofitting these buildings with sprinkler systems. While the installation of sprinklers in new construction can be done in a cost-effective, straightforward manner, apartment owners face complex and expensive challenges in retrofitting an existing building with these systems, including physical design impediments, the inevitable displacement of residents, and environmental concerns.
Wood frame construction is critical to the creation of affordable housing as it typically costs 15-25 percent less than other construction types. However, fires at apartment construction sites tend to bring media scrutiny over the use of wood, resulting in policymakers considering proposals to restrict its use.
Sprinkler Retrofit Mandates
NAA opposes government mandated sprinkler retrofit requirements. These retrofits require costly renovations that are ultimately shouldered by apartment residents and discourage investment in older housing stock. Existing apartment buildings already operate under fire codes, required evacuations and safety plans, and annual inspections processes to ensure resident safety.
Banning or restricting the use of wood in construction of multifamily buildings would severely hamper the industry’s ability to create apartment communities across the income spectrum. Policymakers should instead consider implementing NFPA standards and written fire plan requirements nationwide.
As an Owner or Operator, How Does this Affect My Business?
Sprinkler retrofit mandates are incredibly expensive for owner-operators. Based on National Fire Sprinkler Association estimates, retrofitting a 400,000 sq ft. high rise runs anywhere from $800,000 to $4 million. The high cost is due to the labor intensive and complex installation, as well as taking necessary precautions to identify and potentially remediate disturbed lead-based paint and asbestos. The industry opposes mandating sprinkler retrofits as they increase rents and depress the supply of affordable housing.
Policies limiting the use of wood framed construction would increase construction costs and negatively affect the supply of housing the industry can produce.