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Sprinklers in Houses & Flats: New Part B tells part of the story

Eos Architects Director Campbell Lammie looks beyond the new Approved Document Part B for guidance on taking advantage of the need to install sprinklers in residential developments

30 Sep 2015

The long awaited amendment to the Building Regulations and a new Building Regulations Approved Document Part B - Fire Safety, relating to automatic fire suppression systems in dwelling houses and flats is coming into effect in Wales on 1st January 2016.

 

The effect of the new Regulation is to bring fire suppression systems into most residential building types, with very few exceptions.  Also some material alterations to dwellings may require fire suppression installations where the alterations would result in significant changes to the means of escape strategy.

Apart from the requirement imposed by the new Regulations to install sprinklers in residential properties, there do not appear to be any other significant changes to the Approved Document that might actually benefit designers and developers.

One and two storey developments remain simple with dwellings above first floor level still needing protected stairways and provisions for alternative routes of escape depending upon layout.  The means of escape from within flats remain much as the current documentation but with fire suppression systems being installed within flats rather than corridor areas.

Arguably then, there has been a missed opportunity to provide more specific guidance within the Approved Document about the benefit of fire suppression to engage fire engineering principles in order to extend travel distances and reduce the numbers of staircases necessary in certain types of multi storey residential development. Instead, reference is made to supporting documents in order to deal with the possibility of extended travel distances but at least the guidance in the Approved Document has relaxed some of the Unprotected Area distances.

Whatever design principles are employed to comply with the new regulations, the challenges for designers, developers and end users remain to be cost, practicability and future maintenance.  The use of tanks need to be considered early in the design process and where town mains systems are to be installed, early agreement with water undertakers will have to address water pressure and metering issues.

Improvements in fire safety design has to be applauded, but we all need to be prepared to consider alternative approaches to the Approved Document route to compliance for the benefit of developers and future occupiers so that development potential is maximised, fire safety is maintained and potential problems in use are minimised.

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