Government intrusion sprinkles into NM homes

-A A +A
By Jeffry Gardner

What do Scottsdale, Ariz., and Chapel Hill, N.C., have in common?

If you said, “rich people,” you get partial credit.

But the answer we’re looking for today is: Both require that homes in their communities be built with fire sprinklers in their ceilings.

Fire sprinklers. Like the one’s Bruce Willis used to save the giant building in the first “Die Hard” movie.

The do-dahs countless kids, one suspects, have tried to turn on with a lighter.  

Or perhaps that’s an urban myth.

Myth or no, last week New Mexico’s Construction Industry Commission floated the idea as a proposed code change for future homes. The CIC defines how buildings are to be, um, built.  

The residential fire sprinkler idea was publicly endorsed by Jason Marks, a member of the state’s powerful Public Regulation Commission. Newspaper accounts reported that Marks testified before the CIC and said the PRC has supported in-home sprinklers in the past.

Sounds like a good idea, yes? Fire starts in a furnace room, say, sprinklers kick on, douse the fire, end of story. Doesn’t even bring out a TV news crew.

Perhaps. But no government good deed comes without a price. And the price of virtually every government good deed is paid by the ACs – American Consumers.  (What with the CIC and the PRC, I felt it only right that we get initials of our own: AC.)

The New Mexico Home Builders Association is four-square-footage against the idea. In an industry already depressed by the current depress, eh, recession, the idea of requiring residential sprinklers is akin to tossing a drowning man an anvil.

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates the average cost for residential fire systems between $1 and $1.50 per square foot. That number can be substantially higher. So adding fire sprinklers to a 2,500-square-foot abode could run anywhere from $2,500 and up.

Tuck that into a 30-year-fixed and 5.25 percent, let’s say, and soon you’re talking a pretty good chunk of change.

But there is, of course, an overriding issue here: Just how much government do we want in our lives?

From Washington, D.C., all the way down to building commissions, it seems that someone elected to something somewhere is always looking to jam his or her finger into your pie.  

Don’t get me wrong. I can’t say in this specific case that I’m totally against the idea of residential fire sprinklers.  But the Albuquerque Journal reported that “three to four people lose their lives in residential fires in the Albuquerque-metro area.”  

That caused me to raise an eyebrow.  Is the CIC moving to quell an epidemic? Or, in an era where we love to change laws or make new laws for the sake of the exercise, is the CIC stretching out its fingers in search of a piece of pie?

I know of no law that prevents homeowners from adding fire sprinklers in their new homes or even their existing homes.

The military term “mission creep” seems to apply here. To be clear, creep in this case isn’t in reference to members of any alphabet commission. Rather, it’s about government agents’ almost unwitting, slow crawl into areas not really tied to their original mission.

It’s not that adding fire sprinklers to a structure doesn’t somehow fall under the eye of the CIC or the PRC. But it’s one thing to have a code for the number and location of sprinklers being built into a home. It’s another thing entirely to demand that sprinklers be built-in.

Jack Milarch, NMHBA executive vice president, told the Journal: “People are just plain getting tired of being told what to do by the government.”

That sentiment has brought countless people into the streets in recent weeks, and, one suspects, countless more to the polls in November.