More than four years after the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower, concerns about fire safety in multi-occupancy residential buildings continue to make headlines. Lessons have been learned and building regulations have been updated – most notably that any cladding installed on residential buildings of 18m or above must be certified A1 or A2 non-combustible to BS EN 13501-1 – but facades are not the only areas that need attention.
Vigilance across the industry, from clients and architects though to contractors and building control professionals, has increased dramatically when it comes to the design and specification of new residential properties. This is reassuring for those moving into new buildings. Safety concerns about existing properties continue to highlight the issue of legacy buildings, however, and addressing this problem is vital to ensure that people can live safely in their homes with confidence.
At Chisholm & Winch, we have wide-ranging fire safety specification and installation experience from across the residential, commercial, education and airports sectors. Our expertise helps building owners and managers upgrade the fire safety of multi-occupancy buildings. It may be the cladding system that is the most visible and contentious area but there are other safety critical elements of specification that need to be considered.
One of the key building elements for slowing the spread of fire and smoke in multi-occupancy residential buildings is fire doors. These must be accurately specified to the correct fire rating to match the fire strategy for the building, allowing time for evacuation and limiting damage to the building and its contents. Correctly-specified fire doors should slow the spread of fire and smoke from the common areas into individual apartments, as well as contain any fire that starts in an apartment, allowing time for evacuation and limiting damage to the building and its contents. It is important that the hardware installed on the door, such as the lock and letter plate, is also fire-rated, and that the full door assembly has been tested and certified to the correct burn time resistance.
Specification of the correct door type and fire rating is only part of protecting residents’ safety, however – expert installation of the fire door is equally important. An accredited fire door installer like Chisholm & Winch can help with product selection and source doors that match both the aesthetic and the fire safety strategy for the building, also maximising performance through proper installation and maintenance. Tapping into the knowledge and experience of a contractor with certified fire door installation credentials also ensures that the doors selected meet fire safety requirements without incurring unnecessary additional costs due to over-specification.
There are a number of fire door installation certification bodies. Chisholm & Winch is a BMTRADA certified contractor, which means that all our installations are certified under the BMTRADA Q-Mark Fire Door Installation Scheme. Our installation teams are suitably trained and qualified, and their competence is continually assessed by an independent body.
Amongst the skills required for safe fire door installation is the correct use of fire mastic around the door frame and the use of intumescent foam to seal any air gaps around locks and hinges. The priority is to create a fireproof barrier that works with the fabric of the fire door to seal door openings against the spread of fire.
Often, installation of electronic door opening and locking systems, which are programmed into the fire detection and alarm system, is also included in the specification. This locks specific fire doors automatically, aligned to the fire alarm zone triggered, ensuring effective protection during evacuation.
Fire stopping is another important defence against the spread of fire and smoke. Fire and smoke naturally seek routes to escape enclosed spaces so even narrow gaps and holes left in floors, walls and ceilings, when building services were installed, can create a fire hazard, as they allow smoke and fire to spread from apartment to apartment and through common areas.
Fire stopping can be retro-fitted to any building and should form an integral part of any upgrade or refurbishment of mechanical and electrical services. As a BMTRADA approved fire protection installer, Chisholm & Winch have installed fire stopping in residential buildings and in high-risk environments such as airports, where the complexity of the building services and the size of the building demand a meticulous approach to fire safety.
Inspection & Maintenance
Routine inspections and maintenance are an important part of assessing whether the fire safety of a multi-occupancy residential building needs upgrading. They also have an important role to play in preventing any vulnerabilities due to wear and tear or changes to the building that have altered the level of protection in place.
Many elements of fire safety in residential buildings are less visible and aesthetic than upgrades to the façade, but they are no less vital to occupiers’ safety. All aspects of fire safety specification and installation must be considered in combination to help ensure people are safe in their homes.