Open plan layouts as an architectural trend is here, either in homes or flats, there is no denying that the increased feel of space and the ability to maximise the use of small footprint properties make it a win-win for architects and occupants.
The reason this was not a default setup in the past is because it went against the prescriptive guidance. So what has changed? The adoption of fire engineering principles in the guidance documents that are issued for the industry such as Approved Document B and BS 9991. These documents used to be compartmentation heavy, i.e. they would rely only on passive fire protection measures such as walls, fire doors and door closers to ensure a fire would develop only within a room, leaving the escape route free for occupants. This required a “protected corridor” to be designed through the property where escape could take place. And as a consequence your open plan dream went out of the window. The increased use of sprinklers, water mist, enhanced (linked) detection and alarm and automatic opening vents are all fire engineering tools that have been commonly applied to larger commercial building and are slowly finding their way to homes. This trend will only increase because technology is progressively getting cheaper; there is increased value to be added to a property by applying them and the emergence of “smart homes”, liking smart products. With increased demand comes an increase in innovation within the industry to help architects deliver contemporary, open plan solutions whilst complying with the requirements of the building regulations (safe escape from a fire) without necessarily using doors and walls (fake or real).
Plumis’s Automist Smartscan is part of this wave of innovation, a discreet fire suppression appliance designed for use in homes. The system activates when fire temperatures are detected, using a fine water mist to restore survivable conditions while occupants escape. The innovation is in the placement of the spray head (at light switch height) and the targeting of mist (to only where the fire is) resulting in a very effective and efficient solution with only a tenth of the required flow of a sprinkler and much less installation effort.
With great power comes great responsibility
At Plumis we come across a large number of projects being proposed for building control approval which propose the use of suppression to compensate for the removal of walls in refurbishments and new build. However, one of the things that continues to surprise us is the poor interpretation of the intended use of suppression, whether a sprinkler or water mist.
To “protect the means of escape” simply means ensuring that even with removal of doors and walls, survivable conditions are kept between any room in the property and the escape route. If a kitchen is accessed from the stairs that leads to the first floor with no passive separation (door or wall), then the kitchen needs suppression. If there is a study with a non-fire rated door also accessed by that route then yes, it also needs suppression. To our surprise a frequent interpretation by architects and BCOs alike has been to put suppression on the stairs only. That will not only do nothing to suppress the fire raging in the kitchen from a failed flambé dessert, it will also make people slip down the stairs which has nothing to burn (and therefore to be suppressed) in the first place. The first image that comes to mind is a scene of “Three Stooges in flambé dessert in my open plan mansion” or a typical HSE poster showing everything that can go wrong in a construction site. Yet, it is a common and simple form of miss-interpreting “protecting the means of escape”.
The cause of this misinterpretation is the increased availability of fire engineering solutions but limited use of fire engineers. This is either because it is assumed one is not needed or not affordable. There is an incorrect perception that fire engineers will only work on large commercial buildings and because of that they are too expensive. They are the best suited to interpret the needs and to utilise suppression or any other solutions in the best way to meet building regulations.
Plumis does their role in explaining the fire engineering principles for the application of Automist in its training, specification manuals (download one free), our CPDs (book one free) and in this article so that a propped fire door is not replaced by a poorly specified system. Additionally, since architects have been given the freedom to service the demand for open plan designs by proposing creative solutions, some of the proposals we see do not result in an obvious suppression specification plan and as a consequence further measures may be required. This is clearly fire engineering territory and it is precisely what Plumis recommends to the leads of “creative” projects and on our website, where there are lists of fire engineers that are acquainted with our products’ performance and who will where appropriate include Automist as an active component in an overall fire strategy for specific projects. Have no fear, if you have a non-standard layout, contact a fire engineer for a “Best Value” solution, which is suitable and sufficient for your project. It’s likely to be less expensive than you think and will deliver excellent value, in terms of reassurance and life safety!