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Fire sprinklers that flood homes spark outrage. ‘Ticking time bombs,’ one resident says

Faulty sprinklers flood Roseville homes

Durlye and Chris Warren are the third homeowners in their Lennar subdivision to suffer substantial damages because of a faulty fire sprinkler system in the last two years.
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Durlye and Chris Warren are the third homeowners in their Lennar subdivision to suffer substantial damages because of a faulty fire sprinkler system in the last two years.

Dozens of upset Roseville residents filled a meeting room Thursday night and shouted complaints and questions at the regional president of homebuilding giant Lennar.

Their complaint is that interior sprinklers in Lennar-built houses have spontaneously activated, flooding and destroying the newer homes.

Those whose homes have flooded were irate. Those who have the faulty sprinklers are worried they’ll be next.

“They’re all ticking time bombs,” said Doug DeVol, a resident of Roseville’s Westpark neighborhood, where flooding has occurred.

At issue are sprinklers manufactured by Viking, a Michigan company and major purveyor of fire-safety equipment.

Its VK457 sprinklers manufactured from 2013 to 2015 have been the subject of lawsuits in California and complaints from England, Canada and across the U.S.

The sprinklers have activated without fire or excessive heat on numerous occasions and can flood a house with several inches of water in a short time.

Lennar built hundreds of homes during the relevant period in the Sacramento suburbs and installed VK457s in many, if not all, of its houses.

Since 2011, the state has required that new homes have fire-suppression systems. One resident of a new subdivision in Rancho Cordova said her Lennar-built home flooded last October when a VK457 activated without reason in the closet of her spare bedroom.

Lisa Even said the sprinkler went off about 1 a.m. and sounded like a waterfall. She and her husband called 911 and waited.

They weren’t able to turn off the water main. Within about 30 minutes, the sprinkler flooded her house with 3 inches of water.

The couple and their two young children had to live in a hotel for four months while their home was rebuilt, she said.

Her children’s drawings, paintings and hand prints were stored in the spare-bedroom closet and were all ruined.

“It’s tested my patience and every fiber of my being,” Even said.

Lennar’s Sacramento division president, Robert Tummolo, absorbed the brunt of the homeowners’ anger during the nearly two-hour meeting at the Martha Riley Community Library in west Roseville.

Some of the 80 or so attendees asked why the company hadn’t notified them of the problem, which has been occurring locally for at least two years.

They only found out about it recently from neighbors via social media.

Others angrily asked why Lennar doesn’t just replace the potentially faulty units, which cost about $30 apiece.

Tummolo tried to appease the crowd. “We’re very, very sorry,” he said.

The company, now the largest homebuilder in the United States, was working with Viking to gather information and come up with a fix, he said.

“We are very concerned. We do care about this issue,” Tummolo said. Viking issued a statement Thursday saying the company was aware of a “limited number” of VK457 activations without fire.

“We take this issue very seriously, and are concerned for those whose homes have been affected, and homeowners who may be seeking additional information,” it said.

The company blamed the malfunctions partly on high household temperatures. The sprinklers are designed to activate in high heat.

Fred Knez, a lawyer who successfully sued Viking on behalf of two of the state’s largest sprinkler installers, spoke at the meeting and said that was nonsense. The problem, he said, is a manufacturing defect involving the mechanism that turns on the sprinklers.

He said 1.2 million VK457s that may contain the defect had been installed in California homes in recent years.

Lennar wants to make sure that Viking pays its share, amounting to tens of millions of dollars in parts alone. That’s why the builder has yet to act widely to help homeowners, he said.

In a way, he told the Roseville crowd, “They’re victims here, too.”

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