[July 21, 2014]LINCOL,N - On the voting agenda for
tonight’s meeting of the Lincoln City Council will be a motion to
approve new building codes for the city of Lincoln. The motion had
been tabled since June 24, and there is a good chance it will remain
on the table again tonight.
The topic became an item of discussion when local realtors
expressed concern that some of the rules to be implemented with the
new codes would hinder new construction of homes in Lincoln because
the requirements would add dollars to the building costs, in their
Among those speaking out on June 24th was Neil Malone of the
Illinois Association of Realtors. During that meeting, there was a
lively debate between Malone and city building and safety officer
John Lebegue and city Fire Chief Mark Miller. The exchange between
the three focused on what constitutes a sprinkler system in a new
Lebegue is asking that a mandatory one-sprinkler to be placed over
gas fired furnaces and water heaters. It was noted that one
sprinkler did not constitute a system, and did not have to be
installed by a certified sprinkler expert, nor did it have to be on
a separate water line. Malone did not agree.
Malone returns to address the council
This past Tuesday, Malone returned to the city council, and told the
aldermen he had been partially mistaken regarding this rule. He said
that one sprinkler does not constitute a system, but two sprinklers
does constitute a system. He said this brought to light the question
of where the furnace and water heater are going to be in relation to
one another. He noted that in many new construction homes, tank-less
water heaters are being used. He said these tank-less water heaters
are placed in various locations in the home. Therefore, if the city
requires a sprinkler over the furnace and the water heater, that
equates to two sprinklers, and that equates to a system.
Malone went on to reiterate much of the same information he’d
presented on the 24th, saying new home construction was the safest
that is has ever been, and that there was no need for added
mandates. He also noted that statistically, the incidents of home
fires being caused by heating systems is down significantly, while
the incidents of fires being caused by home cooking is up 3 percent.
He commented, “I would make the argument that if I were going to
have just one sprinkler in my home, I would want it in my kitchen.”
Malone also noted a poll that had been taken saying 94 percent of
central Illinois residents would wish for the sprinklers to remain
an option. He added that he had no problem with a mandated offer,
which would state that contractors are mandated to offer a sprinkler
or sprinkler system option in their new home construction contracts.
Tom O’Donohue asked Malone if the sprinkler requirement was his only
concern in the city code. He posed the question, “If we were to
change the issue regarding the fire sprinklers and go with the
mandated offer, then at that point would you be in favor of the
ordinance. The fire extinguisher is one issue in the ordinance.”
Malone said the knob and tube wiring mandates were also of some
concern. He said that typically codes require that if more than 50
percent of a rehabilitation or renovation involves working with old
knob and tube, then it should be addressed. He said the big concern
was whether or not there was a mandated reporting required by
realtors when a home contains knob and tube wiring.
O’Donohue said he understood that, but his question was in general,
overall, was the Association of Realtors opposed to the
International Building Code.
Malone said it was not. He concluded saying, “It is not an
outrageous departure in my opinion.”
Seth Goodman questions knob and tube wiring rules
Local Realtor Seth Goodman was the second person to address the
council. He said his big concern was the knob and tube wiring, but
also the sprinkler system requirement. He noted a brother who lost
his home in the Washington tornado. He said for him to be required
to add a sprinkler system would be a huge expense.
He said in the case of knob and tube wiring; it is not necessarily
dangerous when left alone. But again, the main concern of the
realtors was the question of whether or not they as realtors would
be required to report knob and tube wiring to the building and
He added as a final statement that his concern was in the cost of
construction. He said getting new construction started in Lincoln
was a challenge as is, and he doesn’t want to see anything else that
would hinder that.
O’Donohue repeated to Goodman the question he had asked Malone; was
Goodman otherwise okay with the new building codes?
Goodman responded the sprinklers, and the knob and tube wiring were
his primary concerns. Otherwise, he was not opposed to the new
Mayor Keith Snyder asked about insurance companies. He wondered if
Goodman encountered issues with getting insurance on homes with knob
and tube wiring. Goodman said, yes, it is an issue; and there are
insurance companies who will insist knob and tube wiring be brought
up to code before they will guarantee coverage.
As the discussion continued, the primary question seemed to be -- If
found, does knob and tube wiring have to be removed from the home
and all new wiring installed?
Lebegue said the old wiring did not have to be physically removed
from the home; it just had to be de-activated.
“If someone is doing a remodel, opens up walls and ceilings, and
sees that in there, it has got to go because it doesn’t conform to
the code,” Lebegue said. “That is really the only time this would
play into it. If you have this system, you cannot add on to it
because that is really where the problems lie, when you make
unauthorized and really kind of scary connections to an existing
knob and tube system.”
“This is not addressing any existing house that has it, that
is the responsibility of the homeowner,” he said. “I am not
establishing any kind of inspection program to go into the homes
and look at this, I don’t have the time or the staff to do that,
and quite frankly it is the responsibility of the homeowner to
have a safe environment.
“What this is saying is, “No expansion of the knob and tube
system,” period. If you discover it during construction, it has
to be removed and upgraded, which is what most any licensed
electrician is going to do anyway. They are not going to want to
touch that system.”
Miller and Lebegue review proposed code
Soon after this Miller and Lebegue offered a slideshow presentation
to the council pointing out the most significant changes in the
Miller discussed changes in the fire safety codes as they related to
commercial buildings. Many of the changes he said would make it
easier for firefighters to safety deal with commercial fires. These
changes included walls with higher burn rates between certain areas
inside a warehouse; the additional requirement of an outside entry
into sprinkler control rooms; and requirements that sprinkler
systems must be connected to a fire alarm system.
In the discussion, Michelle Bauer brought up the tank-less water
heaters, asking if there could be an exemption for requiring
sprinklers over those appliances?
Miller said it was worth considering. He said that he still felt
there needed to be a sprinkler in the mechanical room of the home.
Lebegue also added that he agreed with Malone that tank-less water
heaters are safer than traditional water heaters.
Miller did point out that sprinkler heads respond to a fire quicker
than a smoke alarm does, and can start extinguishing the fire before
his department can even get there. He said there are cases where the
sprinkler has the fire out by the time the department gets there.
Lebegue discussed several topics with the aldermen. He showed slides
of a new building material that is a wooden I-beam. He said these
are being used because they are sturdier, but he cautioned they were
also more flammable. He said the new codes addressed this saying, if
the I-beams are used as a first floor of a home with a basement, the
basement must have a finished ceiling that will help deter the fire
before it gets to the I-beam.
The change in plumbing walls from use of two-by-four inches to
two-by-six inch was also discussed with slides showing that a hole
drilled in a two-by-four for a plumbing line, leaves very little
wood on either side. Thus, it diminishes the overall strength of the
Other changes include that clothes dryer installations may no longer
use flexible plastic vent hose. Lebegue said these have proven to be
dangerous in that the tube collects lint which can cause overheating
fires. He said the change to smooth-metal piping would be safer and
is also easier for the homeowner to clean, which should be done
Another area of concern for local realtors had been the mowing
requirements. The new code includes a provision that homeowners be
required to keep their grass less than 8 inches tall. On June 24,
local realtor Dan Bock had argued this was too short because if a
homeowner goes out of town for a period, the grass can grow to that
height before he or she returns to get it mowed.
Lebegue talked about this last week saying that it was a matter of
timing. If the city maintains the limit is 12 inches before they can
take action, then by the time the mowing gets done the grass could
be as tall as 18 inches. He said he understood Bock's objection, and
felt that in regard to fines there could be some exceptions made
when the homeowner is out of town.
As the discussions wound down, Scott Cooper spoke up about the
wiring dilemma, and said he would be more in favor of creating the
mandated offer option where construction professionals are required
to include in their contracts an offer of a sprinkler system in new
homes. Melody Anderson agreed.
Snyder said that in understanding the concern for increased building
costs, perhaps the city could also consider giving new home builders
an incentive. He said instead of mandating the sprinklers, perhaps
the city could offer cost breaks in permit fees if sprinklers were
included in the home.
The end result of this meeting was that Miller and Lebegue still had
a few changes they could consider. They indicated they would dig a
little deeper into the rules and see if there are compromises they
can make specifically to the sprinkler requirements.
Also during the discussion Tuesday night, Marty Neitzel spoke about
a meeting she, Lebegue, Miller, and some local realtors had in the
week prior. She said there had been concerns the realtors had
brought up that the city officials were able to “tweak” the rule to
make it more palatable. She said she brought this up because she
wanted to make it clear to the public, the city was willing to
discuss these things, and that they were not just going to say “yes”
to whatever was presented to them. She said the city does consider
the needs of the people, and she just wanted that made clear.