Villers House, Leamington Spa
Conversion of Historic Building
Plumis Automist® has been used to provide an innovative fire safety solution for the conversion of Villiers House, a Regency-style building in the historic centre of the spa town of Leamington Spa, into 40 stylish apartments.Special treatment was necessary to preserve the historic features of the building whilst achieving the contemporary design that the architects, Warwick-based Robothams envisaged. Automist® was used to provide a compensatory alternative means of fire protection for 39 of the 40 apartments, which are open plan and do not have a separate lobby to protect the escape route.
Robothams had worked with Mainpoint Fire and Security of Cheltenham on previous contracts and knew that Mike Fowler, Mainpoint’s Director would be able to recommend a suitable solution. Mike had no hesitation in specifying the use of Automist®, which uses water mist to suppress incipient fires before they can do any damage to properties, fixtures and fittings. The Automist® Smartscan system is activated utilising a dedicated heat alarm as recommended in Approved Document B, effectively eliminating nuisance alarms. Dependent upon requirements either hard wired or wireless detectors can be used. The Automist® pump unit with integrated control unit was connected to the domestic water supply and requires only 6 litres of water per minute per nozzle to provide optimum fire suppression, which in comparison to traditional sprinklers minimises run-off and consequential water damage.
Warwick District Council Building Control Officers requested a Fire Engineered Report to reassure them that Automist® would be suitable for installation in a building of the size of Villiers House. This was carried out by Graham Green on behalf of London Bridge Associates Ltd who was happy to concur with its use and consequently, 53 Automist® Smartscan units were installed. Paul Owen, Technical Manager of Spitfire Properties LLP, the contractor on the development would be happy to recommend Automist® for use in similar projects.
“The Plumis Automist system integrated very well into our high specification apartments. Aesthetically the product also worked well as it was installed around the base of the kitchen tap.” July 2015.
Oriel Road Villas, Cheltenham
Mainpoint install Plumis Automist® to protect against fire in prestigious development in a listed building.
It is notoriously difficult to carry out any retrofit work on heritage buildings at the same time as complying with building regulations. Mainpoint Fire and Security, established in Cheltenham in 1991 faced this problem when they were asked to install fire protection in eight flats in the prestigious Oriel Road Villas development in Cheltenham. The Grade II listed buildings are typically ornate examples of regency architecture – a heritage which demanded to be safeguarded.
When Mike Fowler, Mainpoint’s MD sought approval to meet the requirements of Approved Document B he was told that fire protection such as sprinklers was required. However, in this style of building it is crucial to avoid disruption or damage to historic plasterwork and fine decoration. Therefore it was important to avoid the pipework involved in a domestic sprinkler system. Mike selected Automist® from Plumis, a cost-effective alternative to sprinklers, ideal for Regency buildings where it is vital to protect period features. It was required for 6 of the 8 flats. It also saves time and therefore cost, is discreet and completely effective.
Where appropriate Plumis Automist® Smartscan can be installed as a viable alternative to a domestic sprinkler system with installation and operational benefits. It is an innovative solution, using a high pressure pump to generate a fine water mist from nozzles, resulting in rapid and automatic fire suppression. Installation is neat and economical with the need for significantly less pipework and disruption than a traditional sprinkler system. And crucially, the fabric of the property, fixtures and fittings in the event of a discharge are not adversely affected, a significant consideration in the prestigious Oriel development.
Mike Fowler stresses that much of the success of the project is down to the use of Plumis Automist®.
“This project would not have gained Building Control approval without the design flexibility that Automist offers. Thanks to Plumis Automist, further heritage projects in Gloucestershire have opened up for Mainpoint.”
First published in the Journal ABC and D July 2014
Since the arrival of the LACoRS guide in 2008, landlords and housing teams alike have enjoyed clearer guidance on fire safety in rented homes. Although the guidance applies to all rented roperties, it has a higher profile in licensed HMOs. In many cases, the guide requires landlords of rented homes to upgrade a property to a higher fire safety standard than was required by Building egulations during construction.
This requirement can be quite daunting in open-plan houses where a main staircase passes through a living area: in this case, either a partition must be erected around the staircase (often with an unreasonably negative impact on rental value), or a fire suppression system must be retrofitted. In many three-storey townhouses, separating the main staircase from the first floor living area is completely unrealistic, leaving open-plan and fire suppression as the only option.
Open-plan houses have been a standard option in the Building Regulations Guidance (Approved Document B) since 2006. Unfortunately, the LACoRS guide doesn’t directly discuss the ADB layout, leaving housing officers and landlords in some doubt as to what is acceptable. In this article, we focus on this open plan three-storey house layout, and show that it will often be acceptable under LACoRS, and that a viable ‘reasonably practicable’ route exists for landlords to achieve it.
Although the LACoRS guide does not explicitly offer model open-plan layouts, it does address the three key attributes of the ADB layout, which are:
1) A primary escape route that passes through a living room that has fire suppression.
2) A secondary escape route from first floor windows.
3) Fire/smoke separation between first and ground floor.
Let’s deal with these in turn. Firstly, the LACoRS guide tells us in section 9.9 that when an escape staircase passes through a risk room in a way that is impracticable to change, this layout may be rendered acceptable by a fire suppression system, even where there is only a single direction of escape from the staircase. This layout is not endorsed for bedsit accommodation, which was later clarified in a March 2009 memorandum as meaning properties where the residents effectively lead separate lives. For more typical shared houses, the layout is seen as acceptable.
Secondly, LACoRS 9.8 tells us that escape windows at first floor are an acceptable alternative way out of the building. Thirdly, the proviso is made in 9.8 that when travelling to escape windows, even “unusually long travel distances” can be acceptable, provided that the route to the escape window is protected. This protection is achieved in the ADB model by providing a fire door between ground and first floors.
A number of supporting clauses in 9.6, 9.7, 9.12 and 26.8 reassure us of some of the underlying principles: that in lower-risk properties, the need for a protected staircase can be relaxed as long as either the room in question does not present “a risk of fire occurring and developing”, or a fire suppression system is used.
We therefore can conclude that in principle, the ADB open plan three storey house layout does follow the LACoRS principles as long as the property is not divided into completely separate bedsits.
Having established that a model open plan layout is available, many landlords will at least have a viable option to keep a property rented in its open plan configuration. However, retrofitting sprinklers to even a single room, often at a cost of £5,000 or more, could be regarded as unreasonably costly and disruptive.
The LACoRS guide is inherently based on a risk-assessment approach to fire safety, however, and is careful to not to prescribe a narrow set of solutions. Section 26.10 also gives enforcing authorities explicit licence to accept alternatives to conventional sprinklers. One such alternative is Plumis’s Automist, which is designed for convenient retrofit in ordinary homes. Unlike BS 9251 sprinklers, which by definition must be installed throughout a property, Automist is designed primarily for the more common single room use case.
Its installed cost will typically be one half to one third that of sprinklers and it can usually be installed with minimal disruption. It therefore can be regarded as a reasonably practicable solution. Coupled with the well established ADB layout with its multiple escape routes, it can be regarded as a best-practice option where retrofit of a full sprinkler system is not reasonable or realistic.
Retrofitting compliance with the Housing Act and the Fire Safety Order has been seen as a real problem for many open-plan rented houses. We have shown that a well-established open-plan solution exists in the building regulations, and that this meets the criteria of the LACoRS guide for many rented houses and HMOs, as long as the property is not in the highest risk category. Retrofittable, ‘reasonably practicable’ water mist solutions are now available to provide the fire suppression required in these layouts.
This article was first published by Dr Alan Hart in the Housing Association Building and Maintenance June 2014.
If you would like to know more then call us on Cheltenham, 01242 584490 to speak with one of our consultants.
A map of our recent Plumis Automist installations, click the placemarkers for more detail.