The Scottsdale Housing Board has put the issue of fire sprinklers on the back burner, opting instead to promote the installation of smoke detectors in apartment and condominium buildings.
Under the proposal, all apartment and condo owners would be required to install smoke detectors equipped with lithium batteries that last for 10 years in each unit and hallway.
The housing board approved the plan Tuesday. The Scottsdale fire code will be updated this year to reflect the requirement.
“We chose to go the more practical route,” board member Sheldon Sigesmund said. “At least this has a really good chance of getting something done.”
The original idea was to require all apartments and condos without fire sprinklers to be retrofitted by 2016.
But after some consideration, Sigesmund decided there were too many costs: the actual installation, the displacement of people during installation and enforcing the rule among individual condo owners.
But the biggest factor, he said, was the potential problem of asbestos.
“Firstly, any disturbance would affect asbestos. And then in order to eliminate it, you’re looking at humongous costs, where they drape the whole area in plastic,” he said. “Once they rip it all out, they have to do an inspection to deem the thing is pure. Then and only then could you go in and do a retrofit.”
After considering other alternatives to fire sprinklers, Sigesmund decided to go with smoke detectors.
Deputy fire chief Jim Ford said he supports the idea, as the lithium battery-powered detectors are more reliable and require less maintenance.
“It’s one level up from the old ones, and they don’t have the batteries that everybody takes out to put in their TV changers,” he said.
The lithium batteries typically are sealed in the unit and make it more difficult to remove. The cost of this kind of detector runs from $20 to $50, Ford said.
Sigesmund said he wasn’t sure when property owners would have to comply with the requirement. That will have to be determined when the fire code is updated, he said.
Resident Barbara Ward said she was against the sprinkler idea and saw more sense in a smoke detector requirement.
“A smoke detector does the same thing and at a much more cost-effective way,” she said, adding the cost of installing sprinklers in her condo “would just not be a consideration” because of all the work involved.
The fire sprinkler idea was borne from the Scottsdale condo craze between 2004 and 2006, when the number of apartments converted to condos went from 887 to 8,202.
The board wanted to do something to protect the safety of some of the older apartment buildings, some of which did not undergo significant remodeling and thus did not have to be brought up to code.
“Most of the buildings are two- and three-story buildings I was concerned about,” Sigesmund said. “The second and third floor have a real issue if they’re sleeping in the middle of the night and don’t know the place is engulfed with smoke or fire until it’s too late.”
Smoke alarm facts
• 96 percent of households have at least one smoke alarm.
• Homes with smoke alarms typically have a death rate 40 percent to 50 percent less than those without alarms.
• In 25 percent of fires reported in homes with alarms, the devices did not work.
• Households with inoperable alarms now outnumber those with no smoke alarms.
• Most smoke alarms fail because of missing, disconnected or dead batteries.
SOURCE: National Fire Protection Association