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  • Yusuf Muhammad

Why more councils should be considering alternatives to fire sprinklers for social housing retrofits

Updated: Mar 21, 2020

Many councils are planning to install sprinklers in high-rise buildings and sheltered accommodation in the UK. This follows a call to improve fire safety in residential buildings in light of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Yet, there is evidence to suggest that sprinklers may not the best solution for improving life safety in every situation.

Improving Tenability

Sprinklers can reduce the heat output from a fire by containing its growth, however the main problem for means of escape is smoke. Sprinklers have been shown to reduce overall smoke toxicity, however for the critical period when persons need to escape this reduction is not enough to maintain tenable conditions. In some cases, the time for smoke toxicity to reach a critical level is not very different from an unsprinklered fire.

Studies show that the risk of death from fire affects mainly the most vulnerable - those who cannot self-evacuate - often including elderly or disabled people living in social housing. Thirty per cent of fire-related fatalities in 2017-2018 were from gas or smoke, one of the immediate and early dangers from fires.

Although sprinkler systems can improve fire safety and prevent property damage, they can take a long time to operate because of the time it takes to heat the ceiling bulbs to the trigger temperature of 57°C. The time it takes to warn residents of a fire is crucial to vulnerable residents in social housing when self-evacuation is not always an option.

Reducing Water Damage

When a traditional fire sprinkler activates it can produce 60 litres of water per minute, enough to fill a bathtub in 2 minutes. Not only fires trigger sprinkler heads, accidental activation can occur, especially in areas with high traffic flow or boisterous behaviour. Students have been known to hang washing in sprinkler heads and break the vial activating the head. People moving office furniture may even hit the head to activate it. This is why devices like the Shutgun are often deployed in sprinklered buildings to minimise the water damage from activated fire sprinklers, as you can’t always find or get access to the shut-off value, which may be many floors below.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) is the voice of the UK’s world-leading insurance and long-term savings industry. In their response to the London Assembly Planning Committee Review for Installing Sprinklers in London’s Buildings they said:

2.5 There is a risk that the introduction of more pressurised water systems into dwellings will cause an increase in the number and value of escape of water claims. This is of concern to the insurance industry as escape of water claims are the most consistently expensive peril for domestic property insurers.

Why Automist?

How we live in our homes and the fire risks we put into them is ever-evolving. The fire safety industry is striving to protect and save more lives from dangerous fires.

Automist Smartscan was designed to minimise the risk of leaks and minimise the consequential water damage of activation, whilst providing powerful performance (BS8458). It activates reliably only when triggered by a double knock alarm. Both the detector and the smart scanning head must confirm the presence of a dangerous fire. We then target the location of fire with a dense fog, which uses small droplets to absorb the heat of the fire, blocks radiant heat transfer and causes local inerting.

It is a dry pipe non-pressurised system which will provide the coverage you need without the risk of burst pipes. Unlike a wet pipe system, dry sprinklers are free of water until a fire is detected. The additional benefit of this low flow requirement is that it can be connected to an existing water main. This avoids communal works, the need for tanks or upgraded water supplies.

Lambeth Council is currently installing Automist Smartscan across an array of sheltered housing schemes.

To learn more sign up for the free Automist webinar:

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