Town House

A two-unit town house in St. Peter is one example of a structure that would not require an automatic sprinkler system under a new rule change passed by the Minnesota State Legislature. (Ben Farniok/Le Sueur News-Herald)

State leaders are working to bring more affordable housing into the state.

Members of the Minnesota State Senate voted unanimously to eliminate requirements for automatic sprinkler systems in one- and two-family dwellings as well as two-unit town houses.

Currently, most multi-unit town houses built in Minnesota are required to have sprinkler systems. The bill was authored by Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, and would eliminate the cost of installing those systems in twin homes built around Minnesota. The bill is now waiting for an official effective date to be set before going to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk.

Requiring a sprinkler system could add thousands of dollars to a project that is targeted at groups looking to save on housing costs.

Draheim championed the senate version of the bill and said the change is meant to make the housing more available and less costly, Draheim estimated a sprinkler system added around $8,000 to the price tag on a town house.

The state’s fire code and building code were also uneven, so the new legislation sets a clear guideline for how new construction should be managed.

“It was just one of those things that needed to be ironed out,” he said.

Draheim said this rule is also out of sync with neighboring states that have fewer requirements on housing and on two unit homes specifically.

One source of inspiration for the bill, Draheim said, was the Fargo-Moorhead area. As the border towns grow and the space becomes more attractive, the senator said that developers are choosing to build on the North Dakota side of the border instead of the Minnesota side to save costs.

Other cost-adding requirements could be targets of future legislation, Draheim said, adding that things like double fire walls and hardwired smoke detectors also tack on costs.

“There are still a whole bunch of other fire issues that are still in place,” he said.

Fires in two-unit townhomes are relatively uncommon, according to Drahiem. Instead, he posited that it might be better to consider housing with fire hazards, like old buildings with faulty wiring that could spark a flame.

In 2015, there were about 270,500 fires in one- and two-family homes around the U.S. that caused approximately $5.8 billion in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

About 46 percent of all fires in home structures come from cooking equipment, according to the NFPA. These include fires started from the stovetop or oven.

Draheim said the effects of the bill might be felt more in a border town, but it could affect development in other parts of the state.

Locally, only a handful of cities have grown to include town houses.

St. Peter Community Development Director Russ Wille said he doubts the town would see much of a difference in its future in response to the changes.

Draheim said the bill was the result of conversations with both lawmakers and state residents.

“It is probably one of the most talked-about issues up here,” he said, noting that it becomes a frequent topic when considering higher education, workforce development and transportation.

The bill is also the first standalone legislation that the senator authored that passed through the Legislature.

Reporter Ben Farniok can be reached at 507-931-8576 or follow him on Twitter @LNHben.

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