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Fire sprinklers flooded newer homes in Roseville. A fix is coming, but anxiety remains

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.

Lennar, the nation's largest home builder, has told Roseville homeowners that it will replace fire sprinklers that have flooded and ruined at least a handful of homes in the Sacramento region.

The Viking VK457 sprinkler heads and their potential for destruction were the subject of an angry community meeting last month at which one resident called the units "ticking time bombs." Others worried their homes would flood while they were at work or away.

While west Roseville residents welcome the fix, they still have anxiety.

"We just have to wait. We're at the mercy of them," said homeowner Laurie Cross.

Days after the community meeting last month, Robert Tummolo, Lennar's regional president, sent an email to residents saying, "I am pleased to report . . . that we will be putting forth a Fire Sprinkler head replacement program for all Taylor Crossing and Merion Square Homes in Roseville which contain the model VK457 sprinkler head."

"We expect to begin the replacements within 2-3 weeks, with an anticipated preliminary completion time frame of 10-12 weeks from start," it said. Letters would be mailed out notifying residents when their sprinklers would be upgraded, he said.

Residents in Roseville's Westpark area said they've heard that the sprinklers are being replaced here and there, but they're worried their homes could flood before the work is completed. One faulty sprinkler can inundate an entire house in about half an hour.

Cross, who helped organize last month's meeting, said she's still skeptical that Lennar will replace the sprinklers in a timely manner. It took weeks of emails, phone calls and, finally, the meeting just to get Lennar to acknowledge the wider problem, she said.

The company never proactively notified residents of the possible flooding danger, even after a number of homes were wrecked, she said.

"Until I actually see the letter in hand and have a scheduled (replacement) date, I don't believe it," she said.

Lennar did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

"We ask for your patience in this matter as we have every intention to keep in communication with you and address the issue professionally, orderly and as quickly as possible," Tummolo wrote in his March 12 email.

The problem isn't limited to west Roseville.

The state required that new homes have fire-suppression systems starting in 2011.

As the March 8 community meeting wrapped up, Tummolo told The Sacramento Bee that approximately 3,000 homes built by Lennar in the capital region could have the defective sprinklers, which were manufactured between 2013 and 2015.

One woman who spoke at the meeting lived in a Lennar-built home in a newer subdivision in Rancho Cordova that had to be rebuilt after flooding.

Lisa Even said a VK457 sprinkler in her spare bedroom's closet went off about 1 a.m. and sounded like a waterfall. She and her husband couldn't stop the flow.

Within about 30 minutes, the sprinkler flooded her house with 3 inches of water, she said. Even took a video showing what looked like a river of water flowing through her home's main hallway.

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 handprints were stored in the bedroom closet and were all ruined.

Similar flooding occurred in at least three houses that Lennar built in Roseville.

Fred Knez, a lawyer who successfully sued Viking on behalf of two of the state’s largest sprinkler installers, said a manufacturing defect causes the sprinklers to go off without reason or warning.

His lawsuits in Northern and Southern California involved 130 faulty activations, he said. More than a million VK457s containing the manufacturing defect have been installed in California homes in recent years, Knez said.

Viking has acknowledged that "a limited number" of VK457 sprinklers have activated without a fire, and, like Lennar, the company has expressed its concern.

To settle his lawsuits, Knez said, Viking has paid around $2 million, so far, to replace its VK457 sprinklers in other parts of the state.