Success story: REALTORS®, homebuilders defeat sprinkler effort in Bloomington

By Mike Scobey
Assistant Director, Advocacy and Local Issues
From July 2012 edition, Illinois REALTOR®


Want to see a casebook example of how RVOICE fights for REALTORS®’ livelihoods?

Look no further than a successful battle to keep Bloomington from mandating residential fire sprinklers in all new construction. 

On one side you had city officials and representatives of the sprinkler industry who passionately argued that the code changes would save lives. One the other side, you had RVOICE, local REALTORS® and homebuilders providing the facts that ultimately trumped the rhetoric.

Here’s what happened:

The debate: The code change would have mandated the installation of fire sprinklers in new construction. The move would add thousands of dollars in up-front construction costs that would be passed on to the homebuyer, and perhaps thousands more over the life of the system as maintenance and testing costs were added in. Because newer construction is already much safer than that of homes built decades ago, fire death rates likely wouldn’t change much, research suggests. 

The fight: Despite a strong push,  REALTORS® and homebuilders in Bloomington successfully persuaded the Bloomington’s Building Construction Board of Appeals and ultimately the Bloomington City Council (in January) to reject a proposed mandatory fire sprinkler requirement for all new homes.  Instead, they recommended the implementation, for one year, of the REALTOR®-supported “Mandatory Offer” plan. This means builders will be required to make the offer of sprinkler installation to prospective buyers, but don’t have to arbitrarily include them in construction unless the buyer wants the system. 

What’s significant about this win?Rejection of the City’s fire sprinkler mandate in this way represents the first time in recent memory when this public body did not automatically adopt a building code recommendation put forth by city staff.

How did this win happen?This was a significant victory for REALTORS, new home owners/buyers and builders.  It would not have occurred without a strong, RVoice-funded grassroots campaign that included:  a direct mail piece sent to voters; creation of a website; more than 6,500 live and automated phone calls; and member mobilization. All of this was directed to public opinion leaders and key political figures. 

The intent of the RVOICE campaign was to persuade decision-makers and the public to reject the sprinkler mandate and instead support the “Mandatory Offer” policy.  Complimenting this overall effort was an RVoice-funded public opinion survey which showed that the sprinkler mandate was not very popular at all with the public in the central Illinois region.  

This example shows that when we need to take our case to the public, we’ve got the ability to do so and get the job done.