Welsh Assembly members voted on Wednesday to make the installation of sprinklers compulsory in all new homes in Wales. The move was championed by Labour assembly member Ann Jones and as well as getting cross-party support from the Welsh government and Westminster.
“This legislative competency order (LCO) paves the way for a truly groundbreaking measure that will make new homes in Wales safer for generations to come. As they have explored the issue, politicians in Wales and Westminster have seen the overwhelming moral and technical case for sprinkler systems which really do save lives!”
It will make Wales the first part of the UK to demand active residential fire protection in all new homes. Currently, under Part B of the Building Regulations, sprinklers are normally only mandatory in residential buildings more than 30m tall in England and Wales. Interestingly in the US, it has been mandatory to have sprinklers installed in all new one and two family dwellings since 2005.
The upside for developers is that it could mean a lot more freedom for design, the adoption of active fire protection could presents the opportunity for more open-plan designs, loft conversions and flexible layouts whilst still conform to building regulations.
A detailed BRE report published in 2006 that involved extensive testing demonstrated that sprinklers are not necessarily the best solution for most housing due to their high cost of installation and water damage incurred when triggered. NERA Economic Consulting, which carried out the study, looked at the lifecycle cost of a number of scenarios against a control and found the benefits of installing sprinklers in all new housing in terms of reduced fatalities, injuries and property loss, fell short of the additional costs. Therefore it did not support the mandatory installation of sprinklers in all housing or social housing in the Thames Gateway.
Mist systems -This is a type of sprinkler system that issues water as a mist and suffocates a fire by removing heat and displacing oxygen from the fire zone. Some of the advantages of water mist when compared to traditional sprinklers systems are: they use less water; and produce less consequential water damage.
Automist is an example of a low cost system designed to retrofit able. It can be ran off a mains connection and is easy to install and maintain. The only real disadvantage is there is no British standard and manufacturers must display competency by independent testing. Approved Document B allows Building Control officers to authorise alternative fire protection solutions that don’t fit established categories, as long as these products have been tested and shown to be fit for purpose.