Inside Housing, news, analysis, and comment about the social housing sector in the UK.
We cannot let the perceived barrier of expense get in the way of retrofit sprinkler installations
You don’t have to look hard to find evidence of public support for tighter regulations on the use of sprinklers in new and existing buildings following the Grenfell Tower disaster. The National Fire Chiefs Council, Royal Institute of British Architects and the London Assembly Planning Committee are among the organisations to have called for a change in fire safety laws surrounding sprinklers.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Dany Cotton, commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, have also expressed their support for mandatory sprinkler installations since June 2017.
Sprinklers provide an unmissable opportunity to save lives.
Research by the National Fire Chiefs Council shows that sprinklers are 99% effective at containing, controlling or extinguishing fire when activated and the fact remains that nobody has ever died in the UK from a fire-related incident in a building with a working sprinkler system. Yet, still we await a change in the law.
The English Housing Survey shows that there are 425,000 flats situated in high-rise blocks in England, including 189,000 rented from local authorities or housing associations. However, only 2% of council tower blocks in the UK have full sprinkler systems fitted and just 6.5% of buildings over five storeys or 18 metres high have sprinklers.
“Only 2% of council tower blocks in the UK have full sprinkler systems fitted and just 6.5% of buildings over five storeys or 18 metres high have sprinklers.”
Why? Because current regulations do not require it. Despite varying regulations applying to new domestic properties across the home nations, nowhere in the UK is it a requirement to retrospectively fit sprinkler systems into existing buildings.
A part of the issue is that for too long the construction industry has had this perception that retrofit installations are messy, disruptive, unattractive and most importantly too expensive to ensure viability.
With modern systems, however, this simply isn’t the case. Press-fit systems offer fast, reliable connections, with no hot works, lightweight piping and a clean finish. There are cost savings too – the Building Services Research and Information Association calculates that the installation efficiencies of press-fit can deliver cost savings of approximately 27% when compared with screwed steel pipework.
Whatever the outcome of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and any subsequent change in the law, press-fit sprinkler installations – when manufactured to the required standards and installed by approved contractors – offer a viable, cost-efficient and proven fire-suppression system. Demonstrative examples from all over the UK show that they can and will save lives in the event of a fire. Can we put a price on that measure?
“Many local authorities are already taking matters into their own hands and giving approval for mass retrofit sprinkler installations across their high-rise housing stock.”
That is why, even in advance of any potential change in regulations, many local authorities are already taking matters into their own hands and giving approval for mass retrofit sprinkler installations across their high-rise housing stock. In Birmingham, for example, the city council has recently approved a project to install sprinklers in all 213 of its tower blocks, despite initial funding concerns. But this should not be an optional investment.
In the immediate aftermath of Grenfell, Welsh Assembly minister Ann Jones, who campaigned successfully for sprinklers to be installed in all new domestic properties in Wales, said: “If there had been more emphasis put on the recommendation that tower blocks should be retrofitted with sprinklers [after Lakanal House] then perhaps we wouldn’t be seeing the [Grenfell Tower] tragedy that we’ve got.”
We can’t afford to wait any longer – nor should we have to.
Antony Corbett, product manager, Geberit