Welcome to the Plumis fire protection blog. Stay informed about domestic fire safety, fire building regulations and ADB-compliant solutions for open plan living. Please feel free to browse through the posts and comment about what you read.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Solving Layout problems

The largest class of inquiries at Plumis this year so far has been from architects and independent inspectors who see Automist as a non-disruptive and cheap home sprinkler system which can address concerns over the fire safety of proposed dwelling layouts. Approved Document B allows the use of innovative fire suppression devices as long as they have been tested and shown to be efficacious by a reputable laboratory such as BRE Global.

Interest has been broad, from student accommodation to general social housing, with perhaps a slight emphasis on homes for people who may not be able to effect a quick escape in the event of a fire. It has been specified as a cost effective solution to a series of issues with fire building regulations:
  • Flash-over avoidance on ground floors for loft conversion fire building regulations.
  • Open plan kitchen fire suppression to facilitate effective means of escape after a refurbishment.
  • Elective safety improvement in care home and sheltered accommodation for the vulnerable or high risk tenants.
  • Compliance with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order and/or the Disability Discrimination Act.
Easily-installed fire suppression appliances are bringing active fire protection to homes where previously it was cumbersome or impractical, reducing the cost of property conversions, bringing forward major refurbishment projects by making them affordable, and even extending the life of existing housing stock. Technical data is provided for download to enable building control, construction and fire industry professionals to assess and specify Automist. We expect these devices to become ever more popular as upgrades in flexibility and performance are married to improving cost-effectiveness and aesthetics.

You can also obtain comments on a specific layout by submitting it to Plumis' technical team.

Introducing Automist

The Problem

In the United Kingdom alone, there are an estimated 300,000 dwelling fires each year, of which 180,000 start in the kitchen. Of the 55,000 dwelling fires reported to the Fire and Rescue Service (FRS), the average cost is £24,900, leading to an economic cost of at least £1.4 billion.
Chip pans or kitchen oil fires are well known for being a fire risk, and are the largest cause of fire-related injuries in UK homes. The cause of these fires is often ovens or hobs being accidentally left on, and flammable items being left too close to the stove. It is very easy to get distracted while cooking - the doorbell or phone can ring, children can distract us, or we can leave the room to do other chores while food is cooking.

The Case for Automist

There is no question that residential sprinkler systems can save lives, but their penetration in UK homes is very low. UK government reports conclude that sprinkler systems in ordinary homes are “not cost-effective” due to their high cost of installation and due to water damage incurred when triggered. This report by the CLG/BRE provides great detail on the scenarios where sprinkler systems are to be encouraged and casts light on why they have not generally become mandatory in the UK. Today, legislation (through Approved Document B) only mandates smoke and heat alarms and passive fire protection such as fire doors and walls.

Smoke alarms are vitally important to household safety and can give you an early warning should a fire start and aid means of escape. However, alarms provide only a warning that a fire is taking place and do not actively address the problem (though higher end systems may alert the local Fire and Rescue Service). Nuisance triggering of smoke alarms whenever toast is burnt has driven many residents to disable or remove alarms. A heat detector is the proper device suited for detecting fire in kitchens or garages while minimising the likelihood of false alarms.

Legislation mandates passive fire protection: spaces must be divided up by fire doors and walls (compartmentation). The efficacy of passive protection is highly dependent on the quality of the installer, and is significantly sensitive to remedial works or refurbishments that may alter the original fire protection design of the space. This is especially problematic in private homes where the building contractor will normally have no deep passive protection training. Passive protection is also hard to test regularly; this is not the case with automatic fire suppression solutions (like sprinklers) which may be comperhensively readiness-tested.

A final set of weapons in the fight against fire are non-mandatory add-ons for homes, such as fire blankets and extinguishers. These devices also require a voluntary (usually amateur) fire fighter present to stay and fight the fire at close quarters.
The long-running advice to use a wet tea towel to tackle chip pan fires were scrapped by the UK government in 2008. When faced with a blazing pan of oil it is best practice to "get out, stay out and dial 999", as most individuals are not trained to deal with fires and could potentially face severe injury or death if their attempts to extinguish fat or chip pan fires were unsuccessful. The wet tea towel advice is also contrary to all other advice we give to the general public about not tackling fires. In the event of a fire, an untrained person should be solely concerned with leaving the premises safely, not fighting the fire, and we believe building fire protection measures should be designed with this in mind. Those measures should also be designed to help anyone else, either immobile or unconscious, to survive, by minimising their exposure to toxic gases and heat so that rescuers may have time to arrive.

Automist - our innovative fire protection solution: 

We believe home fire suppression solutions should:
  • trigger automatically like an alarm system
  • safely tackle fires without user intervention or special skills
  • minimise runoff and consequential water damage.
  • avoid the nuisance false alarms that are so familiar with smoke alarms
  • be technically validated by BRE with building control in mind
  • seamlessly integrate into the home environment
  • focus on where the majority of fires occur
  • be cheap to install and manintain
Plumis has developed Automist to fill this gap - an easy to retrofit, automatic low cost fire sprinkler for the home.