The following is the presentation given to the Rutherford County Planning Commission on Monday April 22, 2013.  The entire 3 hour meeting can also be viewed on the County’s website.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Steve Jensen, owner of Jensen Quality Homes, and President of the Rutherford County Home Builders Association.  I am here representing our 156 members and hundreds of Rutherford County citizens who work for these 156 member companies.   I am here today to talk to you about Residential Fire Sprinklers.  I am not a lobbyist, I don’t have any special interest money backing me, I am simply one of your neighbors who works, shops, and has family in Rutherford County.

I’m not here to say sprinklers are bad, but to question why we would want to mandate them. 

Before I begin, I must point out, that almost exactly one year ago today, on April 27, 2012, the Tennessee State Legislature, after extensive committee review and study, passed a bill which specifically says “Mandatory sprinkler requirements shall be voted on in an ordinance or resolution separate from any other ordinance or resolution addressing building construction safety standards;”

If those who want to force sprinklers on our community are trying to make you do it through these new subdivision rules, I believe they would be in violation of State Law.

I am here today to challenge the need for mandatory sprinklers, however they are being considered.

I understand there are some very powerful special interest groups involved in this issue and they are trying to make us do something that would be very detrimental to our entire community.

Proverbs 18:17 says:

“The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines.”

I know that the National Fire Sprinkler Association has been working hard presenting their case with millions of dollars to back their efforts, but have we considered the actual facts?

At the November 26th Planning Commission meeting, you were given some answers to important questions regarding sprinklers.  Unfortunately, those answers weren’t correct.  I’m not here to simply quote biased numbers that support our position, rather most of my information comes from two primary sources. 

1) “An Analysis of Civilian Residential Fire Deaths in TN, 2002-2010” Done by the University of Tennessee,

2) “Cost Effectiveness of Fire Sprinkler Equipment” Done by the Department of Commerce and Insurance, May 14, 2010


I have been struggling with trying to figure out the “WHY”.  Why we would even consider forcing people in our community to install fire sprinklers..  It is completely obvious why the National Fire Sprinkler Association wants us to force people to put fire sprinklers in their homes, but I can’t figure out exactly why we would want to.  In a recent conversation, the issue was referred to as “a Noble cause, we all understand the desire for hydrants and/or sprinklers it’s a Noble cause…”


Please, humor me for just a moment…  right now, in your own mind, answer this question:

Why, …  what is our main reason for requiring a new home to have a sprinkler…  What is our motive, our impetus for this Noble cause?


I am a custom home builder, and as such, very much market driven.  I do what my customers want.  If they want a theater room, I give them a theater room, they want a storm shelter, we put in a storm shelter, etc.  The problem with sprinklers is, nobody wants them.  But I will address this later.


So I’m still asking why?  Why would we even consider forcing people to put them in.?


I asked one of the commissioners this question and his answer was  “Sprinklers would give people a little more time to get out, it is to help save people, if there weren’t fire hydrants close by”.


So maybe this is the nobel reason, maybe this is how the camel gets his nose in the tent..

To help save people, to buy them a little more time…


I also have to ask why our State Legislature specifically removed Sprinklers from the Building code but now we are being asked to make them Mandatory….

We all know how sprinklers got into the code,  the Fire Sprinkler Association forced it in, but our State Legislature removed it.

So again, Why are we now considering forcing it on people?  What could motivate us to require an additional $3,000 plus on every new home?

To give people who aren’t close to a fire hydrant a little more time to get out….  So, perhaps we’ve been lead to believe it’s a life safety issue… why else force a huge burden upon every new home… 


As I understand it, the question you are being forced to consider is related to Fire Hydrants…  If there isn’t a Fire Hydrant nearby, then we need to force people to spend $3,000 plus on their new home; so if perchance, their house is the 1 in a 25,000 that catches fire, they will have “a little more time to get out”….


IS this the why?


Let me now provide the proverbial cross-examination….

First of all, why would we tie the requirement of Sprinklers to how far away a fire hydrant is?  If  we think it so important that we are going to increase the cost of every new home $3,000 or more,  and our reasoning is sprinklers will give the homeowners “a little more time to get out…”  why not require it for every new home, regardless of how far away a fire hydrant is? 

A fire hydrant in my FRONT YARD, isn’t going to give me any more time to get out than one a mile away.  Our local fire departments have excellent response times, but I really need to be out of the house by the time they get there….           If this is our reason, it really doesn’t tie to fire hydrants.


Secondly, fire sprinklers DON’T buy the occupants more time…  Plain and simple. 

A residential fire sprinkler is designed to go off between 134 and 160 degrees F.  (depending on the make/model).

Do you remember the last time your smoke detector went off?  Wasn’t a lot of smoke was there?  That’s a good thing.  Smoke detectors give advance warning.  Advance warning is what buys additional time.

The last time your smoke alarm went off, how hot would you estimate it was at the ceiling? 

The fact is, that by the time the temperature at the sprinkler head reaches 134 degrees, especially in today’s open design floor plans, the house has been long filled with smoke and the occupants would already be overcome.

Let me take another line of reasoning with you.

If in fact  we are concerned about saving lives.  So much so that we have reasoned that it is worth $3,000 plus on each new home, because we have been told the risk of dying in a house fire in Rutherford County is so high, that we need to force everyone to put a sprinkler in…

I have to ask myself are sprinklers the BEST option?

The hand out that you were given on March 25th meeting (created by “The Fire Sprinkler Initiative, a project of the National Fire Protection Association, is a nationwide effort to require the use of home fire sprinklers for new construction.”) said in it’s opening line…

“Fire in the home poses one of the biggest threats to the people of your community.“  

Is this true? 

Are we basing our decision to require every new home in Rutherford County to have a sprinkler on this statement?

Let me ask this…  how many fire related deaths have there been in Tennessee (not just Rutherford County but the entire state) in the last five years?   The UT study, done independently to study the effects of Sprinklers, (NOT conducted by the Fire Sprinkler Association)… found that there hasn’t been a single fire related death in a home in TN that was built to current codes which require interconnected smoke alarms.  (The opposition at the State level contends there was one, but the study done by UT said none.)

So perhaps one death.

Put this in perspective a little bit, how many Tornado related deaths have there been in the state of Tennessee in the last five years?

103.  One Hundred and Three deaths from Tornadoes. 

How then does the statement “Fire in the home poses one of the biggest threats to the people of your community” make sense? 

If we are basing our decision on life safety issues, and feel strong enough about it to force every new home to have a sprinkler, why not also require everyone to have a tornado shelter as well?

Since the 2009 Good Friday Tornado in Murfreesboro, I have offered my customers the OPTION of installing a tornado shelter.  In the last four years, only 2 customer have opted NOT to install one.  And they cost about the same, if not a little more, as a sprinkler system. 

This ladies and gentlemen is how the free market is supposed to work.  I am not advocating that we force every new home to have a tornado shelter, any more than I think we should force everyone to get a sprinkler system. 

Smart people in our community, your neighbors and mine, make their own decisions about what they want to spend their hard earned money on, and in this case, apples to apples, whether or not to spend their money on a true life safety issue. 

This is the real problem; people correctly asses the risk, and choose not to install sprinklers.  This is not good for the Sprinkler Association, so they lobby hard to make us force people to buy their product.

Again, I have to ask, why?

Maybe OUR main reason isn’t actually saving lives….

Maybe our main concern is saving property.  (However at the November 26th meeting we were told that it wasn’t about property damage, it was all about life safety.)

The study done by the Department of Commerce and Insurance found that the average cost of damage from a house fire was $19,000.  The average cost of damage in a house with a fire sprinkler was $14,000….  (page 21 of this report)

So we are being asked to force our neighbors in Rutherford County to spend $3,000 plus, to save $5,000 in damages, should their home be the one in 25,000 that has a fire?

What about water damage?  What if a sprinkler line in an attic area freezes and breaks?  What about maintenance?  What about fraud associated with sprinklers…  The insurance companies are good at detecting arson, but what if someone wants a new kitchen?  Hit the sprinklers and call your insurance agent for water damage….  I have talked to a lot of homeowners, neighbors of yours, about sprinklers.  And anecdotally, they are more worried about water damage from sprinklers, than they are from fire.

You may be thinking that homeowners will save money on their insurance; so forcing them to put sprinklers in actually saves them money.  In a 2010 study done by the Department of Commerce and Insurance, presented to the General Assembly  it was reported that insurance savings for a house with sprinklers compared to the same house without, was $12..  So without any maintenance costs, it will take 250 years to pay for the sprinkler system before I actually save money.  Funny how one side seems right until you cross examine.  YES, sprinklers will reduce my insurance, but I will have to layout thousands of dollars up front, and wait 250 years till I see the savings. 

I believe that all of us intuitively know the risks involved.  People assess the risk and rightly realize that the odds of their house catching fire are slim.  I’ve wondered why my customers choose Tornado Shelters over Fire Sprinklers and have come to this conclusion…   We all KNOW that we can’t outrun a tornado.  We all know that Tornados impact more homes than house fires, and we all know that we CAN run out of the house… with advance warning from my smoke detectors, I can get out of my house, but  I can’t outrun that tornado.

In closing,  we simply have to ask ourselves why.  Why did our State Legislature remove mandatory sprinklers from our Residential Building Codes?  Why did the Governor take sprinklers out of the code Statewide, why have 32 other states across the country removed them from the building code, and WHY actually are we being asked to force it upon our neighbors?

The biased Sprinkler Association has said:

“Fire in the home poses one of the biggest threats to the people of your community.” 

Noble cause, but not not factual.

The solution, if we are concerned about saving lives from residential fires, is to upgrade smoke detectors.  Newer technology provides for early warning from multiple types of fires.  IF we really think not having a fire hydrant close to our home is a huge threat to our community, then lets put in newer smoke detector technology, at a cost of about $150, not $3,000.  Smoke detectors are a much better solution.  Sprinklers doesn’t ultimately save lives, property or money.

In a state wide survey conducted by the University of Tennessee it was revealed, and I quote, “most fire chiefs thought that the single best approach to reducing fire deaths was to ensure all structures, residences included, have working smoke/fire alarms.”  So I ask you, what is so unique, so different about our neighbors, about our community that we think differently?

The Rutherford County Home Builders Association respectfully asks that you consider the facts, not the politics or special interests involved in this decision.  Based on current state law, changing the current subdivision rules to include mandatory sprinklers requires a totally separate process. 

I am here today, to ask you since sprinklers don’t save lives or significant property damage, that you change the new rules to not require sprinklers in any residential homes.  This would align with what our state legislators concluded after much research, and could be done along with the process of approving the other new subdivision rules.

To sum up, Sprinklers don’t save lives, smoke detectors do. 
Sprinklers don’t give people more time to get out, smoke detectors do. 

Sprinklers don’t significantly reduce the amount of property damage in a house fire. 

Sprinklers simply add to the cost of a new home, and the option to install them should be left up to the homeowner, not mandated by special interests.