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Firm Voluntarily Adds Sprinklers

October 21, 1990|JEANNE BOYER | Boyer is a Riverside free-lance writer.

Despite general opposition from builders, at least one company is considering voluntarily adding fire sprinklers.

John Pavelak, owner and president of San Bernardino-based Century Homes Communities, said he started thinking about sprinklers in all projects, instead of just where required, after he saw a newspaper story about children dying in a fire.

Pavelak also says sprinklers could attract buyers. Century lists the sprinklers in its newspaper ads and sales literature.

But do homeowners want sprinklers?

"People don't walk in a sales office and say, 'Do you have fire sprinklers?' " said Gary Emsiek, vice president of planning for Homes by Polygon. They don't recognize sprinklers as a plus until they need them, he said.

The Laguna Hills company added sprinklers to its Rancho San Rafael development in Glendale before the city required them in July, 1989, to gain approval for the 550-unit project.

The Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board of Southern California, an industry promotion group, has a survey that shows most of the people who toured model homes with sprinklers said they would like them in their own home, said Director Steve Hart.

But builders have a survey that shows homeowners don't want them, said Christine Reed, executive director of the Orange County Building Industry Assn. So, it may depend on who's doing the asking, and how the questions are presented.

On a recent weekend in Fontana, where sprinklers have been required since September, 1986, several home shoppers said sprinklers were a good idea.

"Every home should have them," said Dale Hugelmaaier. Another shopper, Fernando Fuentes, said he likes sprinklers because they lower insurance rates and help protect families. "I'm for them 100%," said Fuentes, a construction foreman from Fontana.

While some people don't notice them, others like the extra safety, especially couples with young children, said Rosemary Costa, a Century sales agent.

Chief Robert La Marsh of the Encinitas Fire Protection District said residents have thanked him for advocating that sprinklers be required in their homes. The Encinitas ordinance took effect November, 1988.

However, other area residents fear water damage from their sprinkler systems and have turned them off, said Wayne Holden, a home designer who says the ordinance is illegal and is suing the city.

Fire officials said it is unlikely the systems will leak or will go off accidentally. But that possibility is homeowners' biggest worry, so fire departments need to do to a better job of explaining the systems to people, several officials said.

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