Grand Forks Council OKs fire requirement

Grand Forks City Council voted Monday to add a section to the city building code requiring builders to cover unfinished basement ceilings with drywall in new homes.

The covering is meant to serve as added fire protection for the home’s structures, but local builders say the requirement creates extra costs and waste.

The section’s addition was part of the city’s adoption of the latest international building code, which is updated every three years, according to Building and Zoning Administrator Bev Collings.

The previous version of the code lacked the requirement. Fire Chief Peter O’Neill spoke in favor of its addition at a council committee meeting last week. He told council members the type of construction covered by the code becomes structurally unstable and collapses after burning for six to eight minutes.

A still shot from video on lightweight construction fires. Link is in the story.

(You can view the video presented by O’Neill here.)

That’s about the time firefighters could be entering a home, O’Neill said.

New costs

Builders present at that meeting said almost all new homes contain lightweight construction — a general term referring to prefabricated materials such as particle board.

Local builder Jon Miskavige said he acknowledged the safety threat to firefighters but said the requirement affects the affordability of housing.

“All of the changes continue to add and add costs to everything that we’re building,” he said.

Estimates at the committee meeting put the requirement’s cost at about $1,400 per home but Miskavige said it would likely be much more.

The drywall also would have to be removed by the homeowners if they chose to remodel their basement.

“It’s not that builders don’t want the codes,” Miskavige said. “They just want ones that make sense.”

While council member Terry Bjerke said he isn’t a fan of unnecessary requirements added to codes, he said he worried about not only firefighters but those living in homes with lightweight construction.

“If they’re on the second floor, six minutes isn’t a lot of time to get downstairs,” Bjerke said, adding this could be especially dangerous if basement smoke detectors weren’t working.

The what-if scenarios and a lack of injuries or deaths caused by these types of fires didn’t convince council member Doug Christensen the requirement was needed.

“There’s no urgency to this,” he said.

Christensen proposed amending the new code’s adoption to exclude the requirement but his amendment died for lack of a second. He later cast the only dissenting vote against the code’s adoption.

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