Co-operators presses for more fire sprinklers in new homes, offers new premium discounts
Co-operators presses for more fire sprinklers in new homes, offers new premium discounts
By: Greg Meckbach, Associate Editor

The Co-operators Group Ltd. of Guelph, Ont. is stepping up its efforts to encourage the installation of sprinklers in private homes, with a discount program offering up to 30% savings on premiums, a research project with a major Toronto hospital and a lobbying effort to mandate sprinklers in new homes with fewer than four storeys. 

In a press release Monday, The Co-operators announced its residential clients who have automatic fire sprinklers "may be eligible" for a 10% discount on their premiums.

"We did have a sprinkler discount before, but it was lumped in with burglar systems and fire alarms, so if you had all three of those in a home, you'd still be capped at 10%," said Leonard Sharman, The Co-operators senior advisor of media relations, in an interview. "Now we have separated those out so people could have a discount of up to 30% if people had all of those."

The Co-operators is also sponsoring a three-year study on the consequences and healthcare costs of house fires by Sunnybrook Health Science Centre of Toronto.

Last summer, the study was launched, in co-operation with the National Fire Protection Association, with a demonstration in which two rooms are set on fire and only one has an automatic sprinkler.

The rooms are constructed on a trailer, which can be taken to different locations where a local fire department can conduct a demonstration, Sharman said, adding both rooms are furnished with a couch, table and chair before they are set on fire.

"You light them on fire and watch them burn and see the effects of the sprinkler system, which just essentially puts the fire out before it really gets going, and then the other room beside it essentially burns to the ground," Sharman said. "It's a really strong visual, so we wanted to grab people's attention."

He added the Sunnybrook study is intended to review existing research and literature and to "essentially try to put a pce tag" on the economic and societal costs of residential fires, including the cost of caring for burn victims.

"It's kind of like the discussion around seat-belts 40 or 50 years ago," Sharman said. "A lot of people couldn't see a reason to make them mandatory and now they're accepted. We're hoping that it will be the same way with fire sprinklers."

Executives and government relations staff from The Co-operators are also calling on governments to require the installation of sprinklers in new homes, he said.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing told Canadian Underwriter that the current provincial building code requires residential buildings with four storeys or more to be equipped with sprinklers.

"Currently, the building code does not require sprinklers to be installed in new houses three storeys or less," she wrote in an e-mail. "This is consistent with the model National Building Code, which currently does not have sprinkler requirements for new houses. The building code, however, would enable a homeowner or builder to install sprinklers if they wish, but does not require their installation."

But The Co-operators is in favour of stricter building codes.

"What we're calling for is not to have them installed in existing homes, because there is a lot of cost and inconvenience, but when you're building a home to incorporate them in the design. It can be done for about 1.5% of the cost of the whole home, comparable to say the cost of getting granite countertops or something along those lines," Sharman said.

The Municipal Affairs and Housing spokesperson noted the Ontario Building Code requires smoke alarms on each level of a home.

"All smoke alarms in a newly constructed home should be interconnected to enable the occupants to be alerted early when a fire condition is detected," she wrote. "These requirements were enhanced in November 2012 with the approval of the new 2012 building code. The 2012 code requires smoke alarms in each sleeping room, which are interconnected and have a battery back-up, in addition to their connection to the electrical power supply. These requirements become effective January 1, 2014."

Sharman said in addition to supporting sprinklers in new homes, The Co-operators supported Bill 54, which would have required the retrofitting of retirement homes with automatic sprinklers. That bill, dubbed the Ontario Fire Protection and Prevention Act, passed second reading at Queen's Park Sept. 20 and was referred to the Standing Committee on Justice Policy, but it died on the order paper when Premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the legislature in October.

Link to article: Co-operators presses for more fire sprinklers in new homes, offers new premium discounts