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Welcome to the Plumis fire protection blog. Stay informed about domestic fire safety, fire building regulations and ADB-compliant solutions for open plan living. Please feel free to browse through the posts and comment about what you read.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Fire (over)engineering my pad?

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 flambĂ© 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 flambĂ© 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!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Portable Domestic Misting Sprinklers Extinguish the Fire

Portable misting/sprinkler units offer a temporary or in some cases a permanent solution for the protection of high risk situations normally in one room of the premises, for example:
  • Used in the bedroom of an immobile person who smokes in bed
  • Used in the kitchen where there is a high risk of a kitchen fire
  • Used in the lounge where there is a high risk of an accidental fire
  • Used in the hallway where there is a high risk of arson

They are a stand alone unit that consists of a tank of water, a pump and misting nozzle and connects to a smoke or flame detector for early activation.


When smoke or heat activates the system the unit operates filling the room/area with an ultra fine mist of water designed to suppress the fire maintaining a breathable atmosphere. In some cases it will
put out the fire.

Due to its use of a fine mist of water, the water damage will be much less than if the Fire Service use hoses to put out the fire.

For more details contact visit Plumis - personal protection system (PPS)

Thursday, 8 December 2016

RESIDENTIAL SPRINKLER REQUIREMENT WILL REMAIN IN 2018 IRC

ICC just released their preliminary online voting results, and Proposal RB129-16, which attempted to remove the residential sprinkler requirement from the International Residential Code, is shown as DISAPPROVED.  Therefore, the requirement to install fire sprinklers all newly constructed homes will remain in the 2018 edition of the IRC.

We were also successful in gaining approval of two changes that incentivize and support sprinkler requirements, Proposals RB89-16 and ADM36-16. However, we came up short of the required 2/3 majority to overturn committee recommendations on Proposals RB51-16 (dealing specifically with stacked duplexes), and RB69-16 (dealing with protection of lightweight floor assemblies).

For more details visit: http://ircfiresprinkler.org/

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Independent Testing of Plumis' Award Winning Watermist System

A common denominator linking manufacturers of reliable, trustworthy, quality-controlled construction products is independent third-party testing. Before taking their products to market, these manufacturers invest in the help of independent third party laboratories, such as fire protection testing specialist Exova Warringtonfire, to negotiate a complex labyrinth of research, development, assessments and testing.
One such manufacturer is Plumis, the James Dyson Award-winning inventors of the Automist active fire protection concept and manufacturers of a small range of innovative products that propelled them to be named Innovators of the Year by the CBI in 2014.
Their latest product, the Automist Smartscan, is an elegantly engineered, water-saving, efficient, affordable and highly effective watermist system (sprinkler replacement). It uses an under-researched technology – water mist – in a new way to provide active fire protection in the home. Such is the innovation of the product’s design, it has already gained international recognition with an award for the best “interior design elements” product in the renowned Red Dot Design Awards 2016.
The story of how Exova Warringtonfire collaborated to test the Smartscan to be accepted in the UK market is a parable of persistence, commitment and belief in marginal gains.
Scene Setting
Passionate about their product, Plumis understood their responsibility to ensure that it worked and met all the relevant product standards. And after all, compliance with recognised standards is what their market looks for, especially the approving bodies.
They rapidly discovered, however, that the Smartscan falls outside the prescriptive scope of the then draft but now published BS 8458:2015 Fixed fire protection systems. Residential and domestic watermist systems. Code of practice for design and installation.
Alarmingly, they had no standard to comply with. There are water mist standards that come close in other sectors and for other applications, and of course there are generic fire tests of various kinds, but no product standard for their particular specification. Although they could still test the Smartscan to BS 8458’s performance standards, they could never claim that it complied. Theirs was an orphan product.
While this in no way damped their commitment to safety, fitness for purpose, or quality, it did make life awkward.
The residential specifier market in the UK – the people they want to buy the product – is diverse. The volume housebuilders are more demanding than private domestic homeowners, but with appropriate marketing the lack of a standard to comply with is not an insurmountable obstacle.
On the other hand, the people who would allow the product to be used – building control officers, fire officers and local authority inspectors – are just as important to commercial success but trickier to persuade. They are the gatekeepers to wide-scale acceptance.
For them, approval is loaded with the deadweight of liability, particularly for life-critical products like the Smartscan. By whipping the safety net of compliance out from under their feet they are left with no convenient shortcut to unburdening this liability.
This was a concern for Plumis, and set them on a heroic, comprehensive programme of testing with Exova Warringtonfire that, with no irony intended, sets new standards for orphan products.
BS 8435:2015 Test 1 – Room corner (Spray head on opposite wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 1 – Room corner (Spray head on opposite wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 1 – Room corner (Spray head on opposite wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 1 – Room corner (Spray head on opposite wall).
What Is It?
Their Automist Smartscan product is an active fire suppression system, a reliable replacement to a water sprinkler. The concept uses water mist – an increasingly popular, highly effective fire suppressant in many circumstances – to either extinguish fires or suppress them long enough to allow people to escape safely and firefighters to attend.
Water mist has a large surface area and so quells the heat produced in a fire more efficiently than sprinkled water. As it reaches the seat of the fire, it starves it of oxygen. By keeping the ambient temperature comparatively low, it prevents or delays flashovers.
Its USP and appeal
Powered by an isolated electrical circuit, the Smartscan comprises a natty high-pressure pump and, uniquely for a water mist system, a single wall-mounted, swivelling misting nozzle. This nozzle is fitted with an automatic infrared heat detector that targets the source of a fire reliably and very accurately, limiting water damage – a major attraction for owners, occupants and insurers alike.
Wall-mounting instead of ceiling-mounting is no fanciful whim either. Shooting water mist sideways avoids the super-hot evaporative upper layers under the ceiling, allowing mist to reach the seat of the fire sooner.
Unlike sprinklers or conventional water mist systems, it uses less water, requires less supporting infrastructure and is thus more easily retrofitted.
BS 8435:2015 Test 2 – Room corner (Spray head on same wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 2 – Room corner (Spray head on same wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 2 – Room corner (Spray head on same wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 2 – Room corner (Spray head on same wall).
Its use
While suitable for all residential newbuild or refurbishment projects under ten storeys, the Smartscan comes into its own during domestic retrofit. In particular, it allows you to overcome the constraints imposed by the Building Regulations when converting a loft. The consequence of going into the loft above first floor level is that you need to preserve a protected escape route out of the house, compromising aspirations for open-plan layouts on the ground floor.
Before the Smartscan (and Plumis’s LABC-approved multi-nozzle product, also in the Automist range), design options in this common scenario were limited. You either had to retrofit a ceiling-mounted sprinkler system at vast expense and much disruption, devise a validated fire engineering solution (again at considerable expense), or build the protected escape route separating the stairs and corridor to the outside from the rest of the ground floor.
Now, though, the Smartscan offers a fourth way. Orders of magnitude more affordable in certain situations, installing it into an existing house or other residential settings is straightforward. Better still, it stops people being tempted by the dummy wall solution, improving fire safety generally.
The challenge
The benefits of the Smartscan are apparently numerous and self-evident. At least, that was Plumis’s hope. Like all responsible manufacturers facing a stiff regulatory landscape in their target market geographies, to be taken seriously Plumis needed independent verification of their claims and third-party testing. Only then could they hope to evolve to wide-spread acceptance from the approving authorities and specifiers.
The route to market
They naturally turned to Exova Warringtonfire as the reputable partner in their product development, and the two companies worked together to create a dedicated water mist testing facility in an existing concrete block-lined spray-room. This is now a permanent facility open to all manufacturers.
From an initial programme of eight test sessions, it quickly became apparent that more was needed to plug the confidence gap. Much more. Indeed, Plumis are now into their 80th round and counting. What’s more, Exova Warrintonfire is now very experienced at testing to BS 8458.
BS 8435:2015 Test 3 – Centre (Spray head on opposite wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 3 – Centre (Spray head on opposite wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 3 – Centre (Spray head on opposite wall).
BS 8435:2015 Test 3 – Centre (Spray head on opposite wall).
Testing, testing
The development of the Smartscan was no ordinary road. It received seed money worth £160K from the Technology Strategy Board (now called InnovateUK) to type-approve it with the objective of making it as good as or better than a sprinkler system.
Early fixed-head prototypes were developed with the help of computational fluid dynamics modelling by the University of Greenwich’s Fire Safety Engineering Group. It became apparent that to maximize its reach, the water mist would have to be sprayed in an axehead blade.
The most obvious orientation, a fixed wall-mounted horizontal blade, wasn’t working well enough in standard tests conducted by Exova Warringtonfire. Although it was good at avoiding evaporative losses and thus reaching the seat of the fire more quickly, it was still outperformed by sprinklers. Plumis were advised that the problem was that not enough water mist was reaching the target.
With countless trial-and-error iterations under their belt, the penny finally dropped. To deluge the fire appropriately, the axehead blade should be vertically oriented. This was a eureka moment, proving that it was possible to match the performance of water sprinklers – but only up to a point. (See pic 2 and graph 1 below)
A vertical blade would work on fires that happened to be in the path of the spray, sure, but what about fires slightly to one side?
Although this was another challenge for Plumis, the vertical orientation breakthrough held enough promise to push them on to further testing at Exova Warringtonfire. A smart move, as it turned out.
The solution was staring them in the face. The misting nozzle would have to be able to detect the source of the heat and then swivel accurately and reliably to target the fire before activation. (See Pic 3 below) This is harder than it sounds. Early prototypes of the infrared sensor were confused by hotspots away from the seat of the fire.
A good many months and many tests on and with countless prototypes consigned to the scrapheap, the Automist Smartscan was born. Thanks to Exova Warringtonfire’s third-party testing regime, the infrared heat detector mounted on the nozzle head proved a suitable sprinkler replacement, more than matching the performance standards set out in BS 8458. (See results graphs 2- 4 below)
Aware of the need for evidence, Plumis have pushed the Smartscan’s limits beyond the bare minimum, challenging it in many additional tests to suppress or extinguish fires in any position (even difficult fires obscured or hidden by furniture) and in a variety of draught conditions.
Demonstration tests have convincingly proved its worth time and time again. It has even travelled to the USA, where the UL 1926/2167 listing process is being kicked off and where it favourably impressed fire risk authorities in initial testing.
Conclusion
Active fire safety systems are and will always be a ‘reluctance purchase’ for specifiers. Approving authorities will rightly regard innovative systems, i.e. ones that cannot comply with a product standard, with suspicion, too, preferring to err on the side of caution where life safety is at stake.
In spite of that, Plumis collaborated triumphantly with Exova Warringtonfire to overcome these barriers. With measured belief in their concept, enormous persistence, and, critically, the wisdom, knowledge and help of independent third-party testing, they have amassed an undeniable independent weight of evidence that it works. It proves that great ideas will win through. The Smartscan was launched in February 2016, and Exova Warringtonfire is now one of the most experienced water mist testers in the UK.
For more information, go to www.exovabmtrada.com/en-gb/testing

Friday, 14 October 2016

Automist Smartscan steals the show at the 16th Annual International Water Mist Conference

William Makant of Plumis presented the company's new Automist Smartscan technology to a packed and captivated audience at the 16th Annual International Water Mist Conference, held in Vienna September 21-22, 2016, organized by the International Water Mist Association (IWMA).


He presented the story behind the evolution of the James Dyson award-winning Automist®, Automist Smartscan which relocates the traditional spray heads from the ceiling to a wall mounted nozzle, and uses a rotating head that directly targets fires with a powerful jet of water mist. It has been proven to achieve the same performance as residential sprinkler systems and typically uses 90% less water, minimising the potential for water damage to the living space.

Automist Smartscan has risen in popularity among architects and builders for being super easy to retrofit—without requiring a tank or network of pipes. It offers more than a reliable safety device for fighting fires; it’s an intelligent modern design feature offering greater flexibility for projects with challenging building regulations, from loft conversions to more open-plan homes and flats.


The UK has published its first standard for residential water-mist systems BS 8458:2015 which has similarities to UL 2167 and FM 5560 tests, like using a 8m x 4m x 2.5m room and 2.5MW peak HRR 2-foam, crib, heptane pool and plywood wall fire load.  However, the standard has additional testing scenarios such as forced ventilation (to simulate a wind draught) and an “open room” arrangement.  A total of 82 full scale fire tests were carried out at Exova Warringtonfire against this standard test to validate a series of design proposals intended to meet the performance requirements of this standard. 

These included:

- Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and the use of a horizontal planar water-mist blade in an attempt to maximise water density at the base of the fire and away from the ceiling hot layer.
- the use of passive dosing of a surfactant additive to maximise the suppression performance of the deployed water-mist
- the use of alternative detection sensors to reduce time for activation of suppression system
- directional targeting of water-mist to the fire location using a moving spray head and an infra-red sensor to maximise water density where the fire is located.

The key findings were that with small residential fires (the suppression system was activated with fires HRR between 100kW and 600kW), water mist does not operate according to its traditional principle of being drawn into the fire because the small heat release causes less evaporation and creates smaller gas flow velocities in the room.  Additionally, it was noted that some of the BS 8458 objectives, of testing droplet drift through forced ventilation, for example, impacts negatively the performance of traditional sprinklers as much as water mist.  It was concluded that an alternative suppression technique, of creating a turbulent, localised, mist saturated environment was necessary in order to successfully suppress such small fires. 



The event organizer, the International Water Mist Association, is a global association dedicated to water mist firefighting and related technologies, and the Conference drew a crowd of 100 fire safety and water mist industry leaders.

The Automist Smartscan presentation was given a special mention by the Chairman Ragnar Wighus who confirmed the admission of Automist to the exclusive "Archimedes Club" for wise use of watermist technology.  Plumis were honoured with the mention. 

For more information, visit plumis.com

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Watermist enabling open plan design

Watermist systems installed in buildings can reduce the fire risk to life.  It can also significantly reduce the degree of damage caused by fire and provide property protection.

Watermist fire suppression systems have demonstrated their value in assisting the protection of life and property in industrial and commercial applications for many years. A mist system operates at an earlier stage in the development of a fire when compared to sprinklers and in many cases are more practical to install, especially in small buildings. Sprinklers can also cause significant water damage when activated, which is minimised when compared to mist.

In my opinion, with the recognition that the largest number of fire related deaths occur in the home, the introduction of a standardised domestic watermist fire suppression systems marks a significant move in the right direction for the fire safety industry.

British Standard (BSI standard “BS 8458:201) compliant watermist systems protection can be used in order to reduce the fire risk, and as a compensatory feature where the provisions of fire safety guidance are deviated from in some way.

Automist Smartscan in a open plan kitchen
For example, where a new habitable storey is to be added by converting the loft, and/or creating “open plan” at ground floor, the provisions for escape need to be considered throughout the full extent of the escape route. In many cases, to be compliant with the guidance, a stairway needs to be fire protected to provide safe escape route for occupants from upper floors. Alternatively, it may be possible to provide mist protection to the open-plan area, in conjunction with fire-resisting partition; fire curtain, fire doors or additional ventilation equipment. This will allow the occupants of the loft room to access an escape window at first floor level in the event of a fire in the open-plan area. There may also be cases where this partition can be avoided and a bespoke fire engineered solution can be developed negating this requirement.  This is subject to a case by case assessment of the project by a qualified fire engineer and the associated risk assessment followed by building control approval of the strategy.

Therefore, as part of the overall fire strategy for a project, a mist system can be a valuable asset with benefits of reduced risk to life safety, design flexibility and non-invasive installation. From a fire engineering standpoint, I believe the move towards mist systems to be a highly positive one. While sprinklers may still be appropriate for larger buildings and property protection applications, mist systems appear to be a better fit for small or domestic developments.

Content provided by Paul Yeomans of Fire-Q

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Search a database of suppliers that includes architects, builders, installers, surveyors, loft conversion specialists, approved building inspectors and many more involved in the making of open spaces:


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

AUTOMIST AWARDED BEST HOME TECHNOLOGY PRODUCT 2016

Automist Smartscan has been awarded the Build It Awards 2016 - Best Home Technology Product, in association with BuildStore.


The Build It Awards, in association with BuildStore, celebrate all aspects of self build and renovation, including completed projects, services and suppliers. The awards bring together architects, manufacturers and key industry figures in recognition of innovation and excellence in the custom home sector.

http://builditawards.co.uk/build-it-awards-2016-winners/