... The cost-per-life-saved for residential sprinkler systems is estimated at between $2-$36 million (in US dollars) according to reports from New Zealand and Canada.
Cost per life saved in $ CAD (Canadian Housing Information Centre)
According to a recent WMUR-TV report, the New Hampshire State Building Code Review Board has voted to require sprinkler systems in new residential construction starting in 2012.
Most fire safety officials laud the use of sprinkler systems for their ability to save lives, reduce injuries to building occupants and firefighters, and reduce the costs of fire damage. There's not much debate about whether sprinkler systems save lives and reduce property damage. They do.
The debate comes in when officials try to figure out if the savings are enough to offset the estimated $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot that sprinklers will add to the cost of constructing a new home. With the average square footage of new construction in New England running at around 2200 square feet, sprinklers could easily mean a $2500 to $3000 increase in cost.
That's where the analysis starts to get interesting and the squeamish head for the exits. Just how much is a life worth anyway? People say you can't put a value on a human life, but I say heck, engineers and safety officials have to do it all the time. Vehicle designers, transportation system planners, and of course, medical professionals are all too familiar with this gruesome mortality math. To start, I found this encouraging table from the US Fire Administration that shows that NH has the lowest fire death rate in the country, at 4.6 deaths per year per million. Regardless of where you stand on the sprinkler issue, that's good news.
Next, I did some quick googling and the first sources on cost-per-life-saved for residential sprinkler systems that I found were outside the US. (I wonder if this says something about our collective squeamishness here in the US).
This report from New Zealand estimates the cost per life saved at around $2-$5 million dollars (I did a currency conversion from the numbers in the report). Another report from Canada put the cost per life at a whopping $36 million. Still another report from the UK puts the number at around $1 to $2 million. Finally, the only US report I could find in my quick google search, from the Pennsylvania builders Association, puts the cost at over $80 million per life saved. Obviously, there's plenty of room for fudging the numbers and some of the groups producing these estimates have a vested interest in inflating the numbers to avoid new regulations, but at least you can get an idea of the order of magnitude.
Soooo, What say you? Are you worth $2 million? or maybe $5? How about $80. Just some food for thought...
To be fair, advocates of these mandates point out that they not only save lives and reduce injuries, but they also can protect property by reducing the severity of fires. The economics might be a bit tenuous, but I can't really blame the folks that have to run into burning buildings for advocating for more fire-safety equipment. These regulations would almost certainly make the outcomes they witness in their day-to-day jobs a lot less horrific.