Citing a failure of the International Code Council to provide a fair and open voting process at its Final Action Hearings in Minneapolis in September, NAHB has filed an appeal to the ICC to set aside code changes mandating fire sprinklers in all new one- and two-family homes constructed under the 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) and to consider changes that would restore balance to its voting process.
In a letter submitted on Oct. 30, NAHB asked the ICC to “take immediate action to eliminate the influence of third-party funding in the voting process” and “undertake corrective action(s) … by restoring the principle of balance of interest in the selection of Governmental Member Voting Representatives.”
Other organizations have also called for reform. A letter to the ICC from the Washington Association of Building Officials noted that “special interests dictated the outcome of the code changes,” which will allow sprinkler manufacturers and installers “to reap millions, if not billions, of dollars in profits.”
After calling for an independent audit of the irregularities they identified in their letter, the Washington state building officials concluded that, “We believe the integrity of the ICC is at stake.”
Fire sprinkler advocates — including manufacturers and installers as well as fire officials — created a coalition to push for mandating sprinkler requirements. Their multimillion-dollar campaign included covering travel expenses for fire fighters and other supporters to attend the hearings and vote in favor of sprinkler mandates.
Taking advantage of ICC provisions that allow multiple Governmental Members from any jurisdiction, fire departments across the country were able to join and designate a large roster of new voters. With their travel expenses paid, these first-time voters were able to overwhelm the process and control the voting.
NAHB did help state and local home builders associations provide funding to defray the travel expenses of building officials whose governmental budgets did not make any allowance for them to attend the code hearings. However, these officials came to participate in the entire hearings, not just to vote and testify on the fire sprinkler issue, and the travel grants were provided to help ensure balance in the hearings in the face of the well-funded pro-sprinkler coalition.
“We believe in a fair and open building code development process that provides for balance of interests in the voting,” said NAHB Construction, Codes and Standards Committee Chairman James “Andy” Anderson, a South Carolina builder and remodeler. “NAHB members have long supported the ICC’s efforts to administer a consensus process that allows voices to be heard from everyone who has a legitimate interest in public health and safety and how it plays out in the construction of new homes,” he said.
“That means that product manufacturers, federal regulators, local building inspectors, health and safety advocates, and fire officials all deserve an equal hearing,” Anderson said. “Home builders do, as well — not just because they are responsible for the home’s construction, but also because they represent the voices of those who aren’t at the table at all — American home buyers.”
Anderson said that others are encouraged to voice their concerns to the ICC.
The ICC has not yet set a date for hearing NAHB’s appeal. However, interested parties are invited to respond to the appeal by submitting their views in writing to firstname.lastname@example.org and to participate in and present information at the appeal hearing.
For copies of NAHB’s appeal and the notice from ICC soliciting input from interested parties, association members can click here (nahb.org/sprinklers).