Archive for Thursday, December 13, 2012

Homebuilding requirement aimed at slowing floor collapse in fires

Council says no to added cost for ice-damage protection

December 13, 2012

The Shawnee City Council voted 6-2 to adopt a residential building requirement designed to improve the fire safety of new homes by adding sprinklers or sheetrock to slow the collapse of wood flooring during fires. The new requirement could add as much as $2,200 to the cost of building a new house.

The council’s Dec. 10 vote supported the recommendation of Shawnee Fire Chief John Mattox, who noted that wood I-joist flooring, which has become popular in local home construction, can collapse within about six minutes of its exposure to fire. The new sheetrock requirement could give occupants three times as much time to get out of a burning home, the chief said.

Shawnee council members Jeff Vaught and Alan Willoughby voted against adopting the new code requirement due to the estimated cost it would add to the price of a new home: about $2,200 for sprinklers or about $1,800 for placing sheetrock below the flooring systems. Vaught said he also opposed the requirement because it could force new-home buyers who eventually finish their basements to tear out the protective sheetrock and replace it after adding wiring and plumbing.

The International Residential Code is one of several model building codes developed by International Code Council, a nonprofit group that recommends building codes, and has been adopted by most cities across the country. It was updated this year to include new regulations that cities may either adopt or exclude from the code. Other area cities have adopted the new International Residential Code without the flooring requirement.

Councilwoman Dawn Kuhn made the motion to leave the requirement in the building code. She was joined in supporting the requirement by council members Jim Neighbor, Dan Pflumm, Neal Sawyer, Mickey Sandifer and Michelle Distler.

Pflumm voted for the requirement reluctantly, after his suggestion that its implementation be delayed for a year failed to garner support. “Our housing market is barely starting to come around, and we’re going to add additional cost,” he said.

Distler, however, said she had no qualms about supporting the safety measure because Shawnee’s building fees are so much lower than those charged by surrounding cities. “So even adding this, our overall cost is still lower,” she said.

Sawyer had no trouble supporting the requirement either, especially after reading a recommendation from the leading manufacturer of wood I-joint flooring systems. That company, Weyerhaeuser, recommends protecting its I-joists with either a limited-area sprinkler system or half-inch sheetrock.

The City Council voted 6-2 against including another new residential building code requirement, which calls for an additional layer of roofing protection against ice damming, which occurs when warmth inside a home melts snow on the roof, causing water to begin freezing at the gutter and to accumulate under shingles and roofing material.

Distler, who has had to deal with costly ice damming repairs to her own home, joined Sawyer in voting in favor of the ice-shield requirement. But Neighbor, Pflumm, Willoughby, Kuhn, Vaught and Sandifer voted against the measure, which would have added another $1,300 to the cost of a new home.

The council also voted unanimously against including a new code requirement calling for leak testing of new-home heating and cooling ducts.

But it voted 6-2 in favor of blower door testing for air leakage. Vaught said he voted for that type of testing because it helps prevent dangerous gas appliance malfunctions and because most home builders plan to pay for it anyway as part of a new means of complying with energy efficiency provisions of the International Residential Code.

The Council voted unanimously in favor of the new Home Energy Rating System (HERS) compliance option. Use of the option will add about $975 to the cost of a new home. But Vaught said it is expected to become the standard because it provides greater transparency for home buyers comparing projected new home energy costs.

In other action during the Dec. 10 meeting:

• The City Council approved a new defined-contribution supplemental pension plan for new workers hired after Jan. 1.

The council recently voted to maintain for current employees the supplemental pension plan it adopted in 1998. Upon their retirement, it will pay those employees 0.75 or 1 percent of their final pay multiplied by their years of service. The plan, which the city has been funding with annual payments of between 4.5 and 5 percent of its $17.8 million payroll, currently has unfunded liabilities of more than $2.5 million.

To limit future pension liabilities, the council adopted a defined-contribution plan for new hires. It will allow the city to match employee contributions of up to 4 percent of their salaries.

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