Sara Verbruggen

Freelance journalist

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Experienced freelance B2B journalist and editor, specialising in fields of renewable energy, energy storage, smart grids and nanotech.
June 29, 2017

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Grenfell fire

Sprinkler retrofits can be done inexpensively without moving residents out: BAFSA

While it has been the view of many fire safety professionals that automatic fire suppression systems can supplement existing fire safety provision in high rise buildings, the underuse of sprinkler systems is in question following the Grenfell tower block fire.

Since 2012 the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) in collaboration with the UK fire and rescue services have invited local authorities, central government and housing associations to numerous free-to-attend seminars that focus on protecting lives, high rise communities and properties from fire.

According to BAFSA, around 100 blocks of the estimated 4,000 throughout the UK have been retrofitted as a direct result.

‘Safer High Rise Living… the Callow Mount Sprinkler Retrofit Project’ is a report published by BAFSA in 2012, which shows that it is cost-effective and practical to retrofit automatic fire sprinklers in existing high-rise tower blocks built between 1950 and 1970.

Pilot project

A pilot project, sponsored by the sprinkler industry and overseen by BAFSA resulted in the successful installation of sprinklers in Callow Mount, a 1960s tower block in Sheffield.

A key aim of the project was to determine the practicality of installing a complete system without residents having to move out during the refit.

The 2012 report clearly demonstrated that it is possible to retrofit sprinklers into occupied, high-rise, social housing without evacuating residents and that these installations can be fast-tracked

The sprinkler system installation took less than four weeks to complete. The approach adopted demonstrated how significant improvements in life and building safety can be achieved with minimal disruption by retrofitting an automatic fire suppression system.

The report reviews the identification of risks associated with high rise blocks, direct and indirect consequences of fire in-rise residential premises, the relevant recommendations in current fire safety legislation and guidance documents and looks at research into the use of sprinklers in residential and domestic premises.

The 2012 report clearly demonstrated that it is possible to retrofit sprinklers into occupied, high-rise, social housing without evacuating residents and that these installations can be fast-tracked.

It also found that tenants and residents feel safer knowing they are better protected with a sprinkler system in place and that the potential trauma and disruption to individuals and communities following a fire would be reduced.

According to the report, retrofitting sprinklers as part of a major refurbishment project would form only a small part of the overall costs, while the retrofit design and installation can be adapted for high-rise blocks with different layouts.

The final cost of the project in 2012 produced an average cost per one bedroomed flat of just £1,148.63, which included the provision of sprinklers in utility rooms, common areas, bin stores and an office.

During the inquest into the Lakanal House fire in 2009, Judge Frances Kirkham said the evidence “indicated that retrofitting of sprinkler systems in high-rise residential buildings might now be possible at lower cost than had previously been thought to be the case, and with modest disruption to residents.”

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Janet A WashburnAlan Watson Technical Director. Recent comment authors
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Alan Watson Technical Director.

The cost of sprinkler systems can be reduced by the use of Flow Limiting Vales (FLVs), which will ensure that each sprinkler head give the exact measured flow specified, whatever the pressure. With FLVs, the pipe size and pipe pressure does not need minute regulation. This make the design and installation less critical and simplifies the whole process. Hence, cost are reduced and flows are assured.

Janet A Washburn
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Janet A Washburn

Thank-you for publishing this report. Here in Florida, we have a 2019 deadline for existing high-rise condominiums and AHJs will be able to use this information based on its technical merit to obtain compliance. Thank-you!

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