Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Patio Home Sprinkler Systems Create Hot Debate

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Patio Home Sprinkler Systems Create Hot Debate

Article excerpt

Dozens of patio homeowners packed a Peters meeting Monday, asking that council rescind an ordinance requiring sprinkler systems in their homes.

"I can't tell you how stressful it is," said John Williams, president of the Hidden Brook Homeowners Association. "Some people are afraid to live in their homes. We all worry about that next break."

Homeowners have been experiencing frozen and broken sprinkler pipes, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages.

Mr. Williams said his homeowners insurance premium has doubled since two sprinkler pipes broke in his home, causing $150,000 in damages. And his case is not unusual.

He said there have been 31 similar incidents among the 372 patio homes in the township since 2007, though the township fire department said its records indicate it has answered only about half as many calls in the past seven years.

The issue came to a head in January, when Donna Huffner Spencer told council her 82-year-old mother's patio home sustained $60,000- $70,000 in damages during two sprinkler system breaks. Nancy Huffner was displaced by the incident and was fearful about returning to her home, her daughter said.

At the time, council said it would investigate the issue. Members unveiled a report Monday that was compiled by township staff that indicated there are several outstanding problems with the requirement.

Among them are a cumbersome definition of patio homes, which has changed over time. In 1997, council created the requirement for sprinklers as patio homes began being built because they were within 15 feet of each other and located on common ground. There also were issues differentiating patio homes from other high- density residences, such as townhomes or condominiums.

"It is true that we are the only community in southwestern Pennsylvania that requires sprinklers in patio homes," said township manager Michael Silvestri. "The reason the provision was put in was to save lives."

Mr. Silvestri said the township had negotiated a reduced price of between $800-$1,200 for installation of an anti-freezing additive that could keep pipes from bursting. Most damage occurred during harsh winters, such as this year's, Mr. …

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