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Funds will pay for fire sprinklers in homes elevated after Sandy

Kevin and Kristie Reilly plan to elevate their

Kevin and Kristie Reilly plan to elevate their Long Beach house. He said he was relieved to hear that there are government funds to pay for sprinklers. (Jan. 18, 2014) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Islanders who must add fire sprinklers when they elevate their storm-damaged homes can get federal funds to pay for the systems, which can cost $15,000 or more for a typical house.

NY Rising, the temporary state agency that distributes Sandy aid, said last week it would make the money available to victims of the superstorm who are installing sprinklers. The agency expects 500 to 1,000 homeowners will need sprinklers.

All "reasonable" costs will be paid, including patching up walls and ceilings, as long as workers are qualified, a spokeswoman said.

Kevin Reilly, a Long Beach resident who plans to elevate his home, said he was relieved to hear that NY Rising intends to pay for sprinklers.

If the agency really will fund the systems without conditions, he said, "then that's a home run for everybody."

NY Rising has been fielding inquiries from homeowners, contractors and media in recent weeks about whether it would pay for sprinklers. The inquiries came after New York issued a Dec. 19 bulletin to local code officials, informing them that some elevated homes require sprinklers.

Three-story homes pose more fire hazards than two-story structures, with three levels full of materials that could catch fire and with more stairs for occupants and firefighters to navigate, state code officials wrote in the Dec. 19 bulletin.

The mandate came as a shock to some homeowners hit hard by the Oct. 29, 2012, storm, who say they are already struggling to pay for repairs.

Homeowners and contractors have been "up in arms" about facing yet another cost, said Ben Jackson, a Freeport-based contractor. "My concern was that it was putting undue burden on people," he said. If NY Rising is "going to pay for it, I'm sure people are going to be interested."

New York's sprinkler requirement kicks in when a two-story home gets elevated, if the new ground-floor level is enclosed and stands at least 6 feet high, according to last month's 10-page technical bulletin. The lowest level's height is measured from the ground to the next floor up.

Local officials are responsible for enforcing the rules, which apply regardless of whether a homeowner has already gotten a permit or started construction, said a spokesman for New York's Department of State, which oversees building codes.

For more than a decade, New York has required sprinkler systems in new three-story homes. However, in the aftermath of Sandy, local building officials reached different conclusions about whether two-story homes that get elevated would need sprinklers.

In Long Beach, building Commissioner Scott Kemins said that before last month he did not compel homeowners to add sprinklers when they elevated homes, but the Dec. 19 bulletin made it clear the systems are required.

In the Village of Babylon, Lauren Norinder said her family recently learned they would need to add sprinklers to the modular home they hope to build on their property. The home would include two stories of living space above an enclosure.

She said she was relieved to hear the sprinklers would be paid for, though she said she still has concerns about how they would look and whether they might malfunction.

"I'd want to learn a little more about them before I commit to that," she said. "I just want to make sure, have all my fears put to rest."

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