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Saturday, 12 May 2018

Automist fire sprinklers for when traditional solutions demands too great a water supply

The Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton told the London Assembly that “as a measure as part of a range of options in making buildings safe fire sprinklers are key going forward.” Sprinklers are a reliable and cost-effective fire safety measure that can greatly reduce risk of death, injury, property damage and harm to local communities. 

However, it is important to be pragmatic and accept that given the magnitude of the task it is not feasible to make sprinklers immediately mandatory in all buildings in England. Retrofitting sprinklers in buildings over 30 metres high– 10 storeys – in London alone could cost up to £500 million.

As such, we the London Assembly Planning Committee are calling for a risk-based, phased, ‘road map’ towards making sprinklers mandatory in all homes in England. They call for the Government to require sprinklers to be retrofitted in every existing tall building, care home and sheltered housing block during refurbishment work. 

The costs of installing Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems (AFSS) in new flats are relatively low, although costs are higher for houses. A typical sprinkler system in a new-build block of flats costs around £2500 per flat, or around 1 to 2 per cent of the total development cost. However, installation costs for houses are significantly higher than for flats, largely because water supply problems represent a significant cost in AFSS installation. While it should be possible to supply houses directly from the mains, in many cases a pump and tank are needed. Thames Water will not supply water for firefighting directly from the mains unless there is no alternative.

Watermist systems present a unique technology to address this problem. Automist Smartscan is one example which is designed to minimise disruption during installation and does not need a tank or a commercial incoming water main. It uses 90% less water than tradional sprinklers, whilst delivering BS8458 fire performance.

Surrey Towers have been retrofitted with the system subsequent to consultation with Surrey Fire and Rescue Service after reviewing its fire risk assessment in the light of the Coroner’s ruling following the Shirley Towers blaze in April 2010. Automist was selected because it is easier to retrofit than other active fire suppression systems. To avoid issues with access and disruption to tenants, installations took place when they are either subject to major internal works, or at the time of re-letting.

Also Dean Reeve, UK and Ireland Agent for VID Fire-Kill, stresses: “Yes, water mist is acceptable for high-rise buildings.” He adds: “There are published British Standards and the scope of these standards gives guidance and recommendation on the design, installation, water supplies, commissioning and maintenance of water mist standards.”

Many of the costs of installing AFSS in new build can be offset by innovative and flexible design and a more rigorous approach to building resilience. AFSS often allow for reductions in other fire safety measures and allow for more marketable open plan room layouts. Installing high quality systems throughout a building can also significantly reduce damage costs when a fire does occur. A greater focus on resilience in the Building Regulations is required to encourage high quality systems and give insurers the confidence to reduce premiums.