Ottawa mulls mandatory fire sprinklers for all new homes

Sprinklers that go off in case of a fire could be mandatory in all new Ottawa homes — not just workplaces and highrises — if a new study finds the requirement feasible.

Ottawa is looking into the feasibility of making fire sprinklers mandatory in all new homes, not just workplaces and highrises.

The city's community and protective services committee has asked staff to carry out a feasibility study on a proposed bylaw — tougher than any other in Ontario — that would require builders to install the devices in all new homes built in Ottawa.

Figures presented at the committee's meeting Thursday showed that 31 people have died in house and apartment fires in Ottawa since amalgamation in 2001.

Sean Tracey, spokesman for the Canadian office of the National Fire Protection Association, told councillors at the meeting that extending the reach of sprinklers would save lives.

"We sprinkler places where we work," he told city councillors. "Yet when we go home, where we cook, where we live, where we tuck in our children, where we go to sleep at night there is no such protection."

He added that 82 per cent of fire fatalities occur in homes and there are more deaths per fire now than there were 10 years ago.

The sprinklers would add to the cost of building a home, so developers are expected to oppose regulations requiring them.

But Coun. Diane Deans said the price tag shouldn't deter their installation.

"You have to ask yourself, I mean — one for the loss of property and two for the loss of life — isn't the additional cost worthwhile?" she asked. "We do put security systems in new home construction in many cases, so isn't it time to at least consider putting residential sprinkler systems in new home starts?"

Firefighters have argued that modern construction standards and materials allow fires to spread more quickly, but sprinklers greatly reduce the risk of death and damage.

Premier Dalton McGuinty suggested earlier this week that Ontario might soon make sprinklers mandatory in all highrises but not single-family homes. Similar laws exist in other provinces.

Liberal backbencher Linda Jeffrey (Brampton-Springdale) has twice tried unsuccessfully to pass private member's bills requiring sprinklers to be installed in all new homes in Ontario.