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MN court throws out fire sprinkler requirement for new homes

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Home builders won a victory in court Tuesday, as the Minnesota Court of Appeals struck down a new state rule requiring fire sprinkler systems be installed in large, newly-built homes.

The rule, enacted by the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, went into effect in January. It required all new single-family houses larger than 4,500 square feet to have fire sprinklers installed in them.

The Twin Cities Builders Association and other groups sued the state earlier this year, arguing the new requirement could add up to $10,000 to the cost of building a new home of that size and would price some potential buyers out of the market.

In their ruling, the three judges determined the 4,500-square-foot threshold for the sprinkler requirement is arbitrary and the state didn't provide any substantial evidence to show why it was necessary, the Forum News Service reports. Here's an excerpt of the ruling:

Provisions of the Building Code must be based on the application of scientific principles, approved tests, and professional judgment ... and there is simply no evidence or explanation to support the determination that new two-family dwellings and new one-family dwellings over 4,500 square feet present a fire-safety risk that justifies the increased costs of sprinkler installations, while new one-family dwellings under 4,500 square feet do not.

Minnesota's fire chiefs have argued all newly constructed houses of any size should be required to have fire sprinkler systems. But that idea is even more fiercely opposed by builders, real estate developers and many lawmakers. The 4,500-square-foot rule was seen as a compromise on the issue.

Builders: 'Unnecessary mandate'

Calling the ruling a victory for homebuyers in Minnesota, The Builders Association of the Twin Cities released a statement saying it was pleased with the ruling.

“The sprinkler mandate was unnecessarily impacting the housing market and home ownership access for thousands of Minnesotans," said Executive Director David Siegel. "We are proud that new homes in Minnesota are among the safest in the nation. The sprinkler mandate would not have changed that safety record, but it would have made homes more expensive for Minnesota families."

Builders said in the past homeowners should have the option of installing sprinklers if they want, and noted there are other fire safety features that can be installed in homes that are much less expensive.

A spokesman for the Department of Labor told the Forum News Service officials there are reviewing the ruling and had no other comment.

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Debate heats up over sprinklers in new homes

The Minnesota State Fire Chief's Association is pushing a new mandate that would require sprinklers in all new homes built in the state. The Minnesota Home Builders Association opposes the mandate, suggesting it could add as much as $15,000 to the cost of new home construction.