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How to Overcome Fire Safety Problems in Open Plan Layouts

An open plan layout can make your home feel light, modern and spacious. It can also add to the value. But building regulations can put limits on what you can build, particularly when it comes to fire safety. We’ve put together a simple guide to help you ensure your open plan project meets the regulations and stays safe.

What is an open plan layout?

An open plan layout is where you combine one or more rooms into a single open space.

When it comes to building regulations there are three main types:

  • Type 1 – this is where your kitchen is combined with another habitable room, such as a living or dining room, but it’s not on the fire escape oute and there are no bedrooms off the open area.

  • Type 2 - this is where the staircase or fire escape route is combined with a habitable room, such as a living or dining area, but your kitchen is separate. You see this with flats where bedrooms are accessed via the living room.

  • Type 3 – this is where you have a kitchen and possibly other rooms open to the main escape route from the property. An example is when your main staircase passes through a kitchen/diner.

As a rule of thumb, the more open the layout, and the higher the property from the ground floor, the more restrictions there are.

What sort of open plan layouts are allowed?

No matter how small your project, all open plan layouts need to comply with building regulations. This applies even where planning permission isn’t required. If you haven’t started building, or your plans have changed mid-project, a quick call to your local council’s building control team or an Approved Inspector will clarify if the work complies with the law.

The building regulations are written in very general terms, but you can get more detailed guidance in Approved Document B (ADB).

Assuming your property has the correct number of fire doors and escape windows at the first floor and below, here’s what open plan layouts will be allowed:

  • Type 1 layouts will normally be allowed.

  • In two storey houses (or two storeys plus a basement) you’ll also be allowed type 2 and 3 layouts. However, on the Isle of Man, you’ll need a fire suppression system.

  • In three storey houses (or three storeys plus basement), a type 2 layout is allowed in England and Wales if you fit a fire suppression system in the open area. You don’t normally need this in the upper storeys, but you will need a fire door between the ground and first floor. You might be allowed a type 3 layout, but you’d need a report from a Fire Engineer and, in most cases, an alarm system and other fire safety measures.

  • With houses with four storeys and above, you’re likely to need a fire suppression system throughout most of your property, or a second fire escape staircase from the upper floors. A type 1 layout will normally be allowed, but as with three storey houses, you’ll need specialist advice from a Fire Engineer.

  • In flats no higher than the first floor, you should be allowed to create type 2 or 3 layouts, though you may have some constraints on kitchen location.

  • In flats above the first floor, you’re allowed to create open plan layouts if you install a fire suppression system, but this guidance is still being developed so you may need to consult a Fire Engineer or a Building Inspector for more advice.

In some buildings, open plan flats must have a lobby or hallway between the front door and the open plan area. This is a key safety feature so it’s best to assume it has to stay, though it’s always worth discussing with a Fire Engineer.

Fire Suppression Systems

The traditional residential fire suppression system is a sprinkler system. However water mist based system are also available and based on BS 8458, they have a number of benefits when:

  • A premium on space makes it difficult to install a large tank

  • The water supply is limited

  • Your project is a loft conversion, extension, retrofit or refurbishment

Open Plan Layouts in Rented Properties

If you’re planning to rent your property you need to comply with the building regulations plus any laws applicable to landlords, which includes the Housing Act and Fire Safety Order, known as the LACoRS guidance. LACoRS allows most types of open plan layouts permitted by building regulations, expect where a house has been divided into bedsits. The regulations apply even if you aren’t changing the layout, and you must comply with the law whether your property is an HMO(house in multiple occupation) or not. Consult your local authority’s private sector housing team for more advice.

Getting Started

Open Plan layouts can make a huge difference to a property and can be relatively straightforward to achieve with the right guidance. For any sort of unusual layout, or if your property has four or more storeys, we recommend discussing your plans with building control as early as possible. For more typical projects, an architect or loft conversion specialist might be the best place to start. When it comes to fire suppression systems, a specialist installer should be able to help you explore the types of layout that are usually approved. Finally, and we can’t emphasise this too strongly, make sure you discuss your plans in detail with Building Control before you start to build!

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