Tuesday, 21 May 2013
The problem of meeting HMO licensing conditions at the same time as maximising income potential and avoiding unnecessary, costly and time consuming building work for landlords can be resolved by the installation of Plumis Automist, the first active fire protection system that combines low cost and ease of retrofit with excellent aesthetics and which is intended as a less potentially damaging alternative to residential sprinklers. A HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) is a building or a part of a building that is occupied by more than two persons living as more than one household. National guidance on fire safety in residential accommodation applies nationally and adopts a risk-based approach to fire safety that will satisfy both the Housing Act 2004 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The guidance and these laws apply to all landlords, but are more strictly enforced where a landlord licensing scheme is in place. All Local Authorities must run such a scheme for larger HMOs, but a number of councils have now used their powers under part 2 of the Housing Act 2004 to extend this licensing either to all landlords in a problem area, or often to all HMOs.
HMO conditions vary greatly around the country, but it some areas problem layouts are common, with escape routes passing through open plan, communal rooms such as lounge and kitchen areas, which may be situated above ground floor level. Traditionally, these buildings are required to have a thirty minute protected route allowing occupants to escape without the necessity of passing through a risk room, but installing a fire resistant partition would reduce the lettable space and hence the rental value of a property. If current arrangements are such that an open plan, escape route room does not meet this standard, an active fire suppression system should be installed. Until recently, this meant the installation of residential sprinkler systems with all their attendant drawbacks.
Automist is an ideal fire suppression system that complies with licence conditions and is a cost effective alternative to sprinkler systems. It can be installed quickly meaning minimal interference to tenants or damage to the property. There is very little visible equipment and the system provides 24 hour, 365 day protection for tenants in the event of a fire. Significantly, it allows HMO landlords to avoid compromising the design and income potential of the property. Automist uses a high pressure pump to generate a fine water mist from nozzles mounted under a standard tap or can be mounted stand alone on a work top or even a wall. Automist gives designers a number of active fire protection options to protect escape routes and aid evacuation for a fraction of the cost of a traditional sprinkler system or the installation of passive escape routes.
The necessary compliance with fire regulations in a conversion project can mean that design is compromised, costs are greatly increased and sprinklers may need to be installed with the potential for significant disruption.
The owners of a 4 storey Georgian building in Bridport with high ceilings and lots of architectural features faced these problems when they wanted to convert the property into 2 maisonettes. They asked Mark Evans, Director and owner of Firemaster of Brixham, Devon to advise on and install fire protection. However, several obstacles stood in the way of an aesthetically pleasing, cost effective solution. The means of escape from the 2nd floor meant that a protected route was required which would enable occupants to reach the 1st floor level and then pass the kitchen - which was the higher risk room - to the final exit door. Because the size of this room meant that making it smaller would render it oppressive, an open plan aspect was considered. However, conventional application of Approved Doc B required the kitchen to be closed in due to its location on the property’s escape route. Furthermore, it was crucial that any fire suppression should be easily retrofitted as the conversion was already almost complete when the owners were advised by Building Control that they would need to install alternative measures.
There was a dilemma. In order to achieve the design and cost requirements, an innovative solution to fire suppression was needed. Fortunately, a family member who is an architect came up with a realistic solution – Automist from Plumis. Automist uses a high pressure pump to generate a fine water mist from nozzles mounted under a standard tap for effective residential fire life suppression and fulfilled all the requirements - it can be easily retrofitted, is very cost effective and does not involve the use of sprinklers.
Mark Evans commented, “Following the installation of Automist, our clients were able to fulfil their aspirations for an open plan design and feel that they have really added to the property’s safety giving them confidence and assurance and allowing them to comply with Building Regulations. Firemaster would definitely recommend Automist in situations where design, retrofit and budget considerations are paramount.”
Private developers are just as demanding as local authorities and still need to meet the requirements of Approved Document B whatever the aesthetic considerations and budgetary constraints. Hammersmith’s Devonport Property Consulting were developing 5 Devonport Mews in West London and were faced with the need to install fire protection but they were not inclined to fit water sprinklers Their objections included the problem of excessive discharge of water if activated which would adversely affect the new décor and the need for pipework and wiring which would increase building costs and cause time delays.
Elite Fire Safety Ltd of Dartford in Kent were commissioned to provide fire protection services at the conversion and were faced with the challenge of coming up with an alternative system that would meet the requirements of Approved Document B at the same time as satisfying the aesthetic and budgetary demands inherent in this prestigious London development. Neil Perring of Elite Fire Safety proposed the use of Plumis, Automist as the solution, which he had used in several earlier projects and readily recommended it for Devonport Mews.
Automist is easy to install whether retrofit or new build and no dedicated water supply, storage tanks or in line pressure pumps are needed, just 1.5 bar water pressure at the pump location. Single nozzle installations including commissioning take no more than a normal working day to complete. Automist was installed in Devonport Mews on two floors with a pump unit controlling 2 nozzles per floor to provide the best possible control to the areas requiring protection, each nozzle is designed to provide up to 32 square metres of floor area with a ceiling height of 2.4 metres. The system is activated utilising a heat detector 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 intergrated 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 runoff and consequential water damage. Furthermore, because of the low flow required installation does not require approval by Water Authorities and thus avoids related disruption and additional works.
Automist's unique design also means it is significantly cheaper than other automatic fire extinguishing systems, home fire suppression devices and residential sprinklers. It is also neat and unobtrusive and is fitted beneath a standard mono-bloc tap or stand alone on a work surface or as wall mounted unit fitting neatly into a standard switch blanking plate that can be supplied in any finish to suit décor requirements.