Sprinklers, Stairs, and the Single-Family Residence

By Brian Redlein

Prior to the arrival of the 2008 Building Code, vertically enlarging a single-family townhome or detached residence was relatively straightforward. The architect was allowed to provide one means of egress from each floor, which usually took the form of the grand, open staircase that is typical of NYC townhomes.  Following the release of the 2008 Code, new sprinkler requirements led to big changes.

One of the single greatest advancements in fire protection systems in human history has been the advent of the sprinkler system. It’s beyond discussion that sprinkler systems save lives and buildings. Any insurance agent involved with our industry will tell you that one of the best ways to save money on your premiums is to install a sprinkler system.

Sprinkler systems are fast becoming required in all buildings above three stories, including residences.  The only exception to this is shorter buildings with three stories or fewer. In these cases, there are still no requirements to install a sprinkler system.

What used to be optional, is fast becoming mandatory – even for single family homes. Adding floors on an existing structure – such as that lovely yoga studio you were planning to add to the top of your townhome – will trigger the sprinkler requirement. Now, the extra build will mean more design time and several  thousand dollars for a sprinkler system for the entire structure.

One of the many upsides to sprinkling, however, is that the City loves to see sprinkler systems added to buildings. The DOB will show a lot more flexibility to your architect in terms of fire protection and egress then they otherwise might. This is key when trying to design such aesthetic touches as a grand open stair. Without the sprinkler system, the DOB could insist on enclosing the entire stairway, which would wreak havoc on the overall design and layout.

The bottom line here  – when completing a major residential alteration, adding floors or building a brand new home, it pays to sprinkle.