Regina council reverses course, rejects mandatory sprinklers in new residential construction

·4 min read
Regina city council has rejected a move that would've required all new residential buildings in the city to come equipped with automatic sprinklers.  (David Burke/CBC - image credit)
Regina city council has rejected a move that would've required all new residential buildings in the city to come equipped with automatic sprinklers. (David Burke/CBC - image credit)

Regina city council has rejected a motion that would've required all new residential buildings in the city to come with automatic sprinklers, amid harsh criticism from developers and the construction industry.

On Wednesday, councillors voted 9 to 1 to reject the motion. Only Coun. Landon Mohl, the man behind the push, voted in support.

The vote came just one week after a majority of councillors passed the motion at executive council.

The difference on Wednesday was the 15 delegations and submissions on the topic. Speakers from Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta sought to weigh in with the majority voicing opposition to any new requirements.

Those delegations — which were developers and members of the construction industry — expressed outrage that the topic appeared to have come out of nowhere with no consultation and nearly passed through council in the span of two weeks.

The 13 delegations called for council to slow down and do more research before implementing these changes.

"Take a hard look at this," said Chris Guerette, CEO of the Saskatchewan Realtors Association. "Affordability and competitiveness are issues that should be considered as well."

Delegations in opposition to the proposed changes said that the requirement could have increased the cost of a home by $10,000 to $15,000.

However, that was disputed by John Edwards of Troy Life and Fire Safety Ltd., another speaker who presented to council.

He said his company is currently working in the Livingston development in Calgary and have installed sprinklers in almost 2,000 residential homes.

Edwards said the cost for homes ranging in 1,400 to 1,800 square feet is averaging about $4,000 to $5,000.

Conflicting motivations, information 

The issue has already been studied at length, delegations told council.

Developers pointed to the 2017 Final Report of the Joint Task Group on Residential Sprinklers, which found that investing more than $1 billion per year would prevent only one death and three injuries per year.

That's a figure that the study found to be orders of magnitude higher than the industries values for lives saved and injuries prevented.

Other disagreed with that. Sean Tracey is with the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition of Canada and a former deputy fire chief with the City of Ottawa.

"Smoke alarms work, yes, but only for those able-bodied individuals who are able to be alert, awake and be able to evacuate that home in in a minute and a half. Sprinklers save those lives," Tracey said.

Alexander Quon/CBC News
Alexander Quon/CBC News

Tracey said the organization's own white paper countered the findings of the Joint Task Group on Residential Sprinklers and that the report presented a false picture by just looking at lives saved rather than the totality of benefits, including the cost of rebuilding homes, environmental impact and injuries to firefighters.

While advocates for sprinklers asked council if they could truly put a price tag on the preservation of even one additional life, developers tried to argue that there was no real benefit in the sprinklers.

"This is not where real problems exist," said Alex Miller with Canadian Home Builders' Association.

"There is quite frankly, better ways to address fire safety concerns."

Miller said that making the proposed changes to building codes at municipal level would take Regina's code out of alignment with national rules.

In December 2018, the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes rejected a proposed change to the National Building Code of Canada that would've made automatic sprinklers mandatory in single-family homes and residential buildings up to three storeys.

Miller also added that that under national trade agreements, the federal and provincial governments have pledge to reduce discrepancies in building codes. The proposed change would undermine that work, he said.

A second motion that would've seen the city required developers to inform and offer the automatic sprinklers also failed on Wednesday, after a split vote due to Coun. Bob Hawkins being absent.

The City of Regina's Fire Master Plan will now only have the city partnering with home builders to offer automatic sprinklers as an option in residential home designs.

The plan sees education as a way to improve fire safety in Regina. That means the customer will have to ultimately decide whether sprinklers are included in the final build.

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