Fire Warning Systems
A correctly designed, installed and maintained automatic fire detection and warning system will alert occupiers to a fire in its early stages and enable them to evacuate to a place of safety before the escape route becomes blocked by smoke or directly affected by fire. It should wake people who are sleeping. It should also give early warning of the presence of a fire developing in any hidden area such as a boiler room, storeroom or cellar.
Fire warning systems are usually required in traditional and ‘Shared – house’ HMOs of 2, 3 and 4-storeys. The systems required are based on British Standard 5839: Part 6 (2004).
The British Standard specifies 6 system types or ‘grades’ and 3 levels of system coverage. The type of system and degree of coverage depend on the type and size of HMO. Briefly, a large, traditional HMO will require an extensive system of mains-wired smoke and heat detectors and alarm ‘sounders’, all linked to a control panel usually located inside the main entrance to the HMO; and a small, ‘Shared – house’ HMO will need a system of mains-wired and interlinked smoke and heat alarms in communal rooms and circulation areas.
As a general rule;
- Smoke detectors (where required) have to conform to BS EN54-7: 2001 and operate on the optical or obscuration principle and not the ionisation principle.
- Heat detectors (where required) must conform to BS EN 54-5: 2001 (Heat sensitive detectors – Point detectors).
- Sounders must provide sound pressure levels of not less than 65dB(A), except in bedrooms where a level of 75dB(A) at the bed head must be achieved.
- Either bells or sounders may be used; mixed use is unacceptable.
- A person who designs the more complex fire warning system must forward a copy of the design together with the system specification to the Local Authority prior to installation. The designer must complete a design certificate and provide a copy. Installation and Commissioning certificates are also required for whole-house systems (where fitted).
Further points on Fire Warning Systems;
Power Supply: In an HMO there will usually be a landlord’s supply for power and lighting in the common areas of the house with a separate quarterly meter. If not, such a meter needs to be provided. The supply to the alarm system and any escape lighting must be fed from that meter and be independent of any consumer unit supplying individual lettings. A coin, key or card meter is not acceptable.
Log Book: The contractor should leave you with a log book for the alarm system. This is used to record daily, weekly and monthly checks that need to be carried out on the alarm system. It is also used to log any false alarms.
You must arrange for the contractor to carry out a maintenance check of the alarm and escape lighting system at least twice a year at six monthly intervals. He will look at the log book to see what problems have occurred. The Local Authority may require sight of the log book at the time of any subsequent management inspections.
Stairway Lighting and Emergency Escape Lighting
In any HMO the day-to-day staircase lighting must be wired so that, the whole of the staircase enclosure is illuminated by operating any one switch. Where push-button switches are used they must be set to give sufficient time to reach the most distant unit of accommodation.
Larger HMOs will require a system of emergency escape lighting in addition to the standard stairway lighting. Emergency escape lighting will be required in the case of;
- Large buildings with long escape routes.
- Buildings with complex layouts.
-Buildings with no natural or borrowed lighting along the escape route.
- Buildings with vulnerable occupiers.
- Seek advise from your Local Authority for when you need emergency escape lighting.
The escape lighting must come on in the event of a power failure of the normal lighting circuit and it must be capable of illuminating the escape route for at least 3 hours. This can be achieved by;
- Providing standard stairway lighting (with appropriate switching) and separate non-maintained escape lighting (i.e. the escape lighting only operates if the power fails).
- Installing maintained escape lighting only (i.e. the escape lighting is on all the time with battery back-up for power failure).
- Installing switched maintained escape lighting. The lighting is operable throughout the staircase from any one switch as standard lighting, and operates automatically in the event of a power failure.
The advantages of providing maintained or switched maintained escape lighting are;
- The lighting units use fluorescent lamps which are more reliable than standard bulbs.
- The lighting units are less likely to be interfered with as the lamps will not fit standard light fittings in tenants’ rooms.
- If you opt for standard lighting and non-maintained escape lighting, it is a good idea to use screw fittings in the stairway so that the lamps cannot be used in units of accommodation. It is also worth using fluorescent lighting and/or permanent non-switched lighting or lighting operated from a light sensitive switch for the day-to-day staircase lighting in order to reduce the cost of installation and maintenance.
- Remember that you are responsible for ensuring that the stairway lighting is always fully operational. That includes the provision of working lamps.
- The installation of the fittings required for emergency escape lighting and the fittings themselves must comply with the relevant British Standards.
Fire Fighting Equipment
Fire blankets are required in all rooms in HMOs where cooking facilities are present. This includes cooking facilities in bedsits and flat lets.
Fire blankets must;
- Comply with BS EN 1869:1997 or equivalent; be of ‘light duty’ type, capable of dealing with small fires such as cooking fires or fire involving clothing; be wall-mounted at about 1.5 m above floor level and closer to the room exit than the cooker.
Fire extinguishers will often be required. They should;
- Comply with BS EN 3-7: 2004;
- Be tested and maintained on an annual basis in accordance with BS 5306-3 and the manufacturer’s instructions; be clearly visible, and located on a proper stand or on wall brackets with the handle roughly 1.5 m from floor level; not obstruct the escape route or be obstructed by opening doors; be close to the exit position from each floor; be away from heaters or places where they may be damaged.
HMO Protected Escape Routes
The protected escape route is the natural route the occupants take from their accommodation to the final exit, and which is upgraded to provide 30 minutes fire protection from the rooms leading off it. The route usually consists of the stairs, landings and hallway, often referred to as the staircase enclosure. Secondary or external staircases are normally only required where the house has more than five floors.
In any fire, smoke is the biggest danger. It spreads very quickly, reducing visibility and impedes escape. Most deaths in house fires are caused by smoke inhalation. For this reason, providing an adequate means of escape from fire includes controlling the spread of smoke.
Keeping the Protected Route Clear
For obvious reasons it is essential that protected escape routes in all HMOs are kept completely clear of items of furniture, rubbish, clothes drying facilities, bicycles, trailing leads and so on. Nothing should be allowed to accumulate in the protected escape route.
- Stairs, handrails and floor coverings must be maintained in a good, serviceable and safe condition at all times.
Fire Doors and Frames
Doors and doorframes giving 30 minutes’ resistance to fire need to be fitted to rooms leading off the protected route. WC compartments and bathrooms where there is no source of ignition need not be fitted with fire doors. (A fire door will be needed where a bathroom contains an old – style electric bar heater or a particularly old gas boiler).
- For a fire door to be effective it must be fitted in accordance with the Local Authorities specification. Doors that do not fit properly, are damaged, have damaged or ill fitting linings or have the wrong fittings, will not meet the specification and will not be accepted.
Specification for fitting new doors to achieve 30 Minutes Fire Resistance (FD30(s) standard)
Some of these provisions do not apply to fire doors in ‘Shared – house’ HMOs.
- Doors must be hung on 1½ pairs (i.e. 3 hinges) of 100mm pressed steel butt hinges. The central hinge should be about 50cm down from the top of the door, i.e. closer to the top hinge than the bottom. Brass hinges cannot be used.
- Doors must be self-closing. Self-closing devices fitted to fire resisting doors must be positive in action and capable of closing and latching the door and holding it firmly against the rebates of the frame. Rising butt hinges and garden gate type coil springs are not acceptable. Overhead hydraulic closers are recommended as being the most effective and reliable type, allowing the door to close in a controlled manner. Chain spring closers [‘Perko’ or similar] can be used as an alternative, however the chain closer does not control the closing speed of the door, resulting in a tendency to slam.
- An intumescent strip and smoke seal must be fitted to the top and sides of the door or corresponding sections of the frame.
- The smoke seal (which consists of small brush hairs or flexible blades) prevents smoke escaping through the closed door, and if the fire develops, the heat will cause the intumescent strip to expand, holding the door in the frame to give 30 minutes fire resistance. The strip and smoke seal can be fitted as a combined unit. They must be fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Close Attention Must Be Given To The Gap Between The Door And Frame
As a guide it should not be more than 1 – 3 mm. A larger gap may render the intumescent strip ineffective in a fire. In addition you must ensure that if a door edge mounted smoke seal is being used it brushes up to and including against the door lining.
- It is important that you never paint or varnish over the smoke seal.
- Fire doors must not be cut down unless they are of solid construction. Solid fire doors must only be cut down in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and the hardwood lipping must always be replaced on all edges.
- The gap between the door and the finished threshold must be kept to a minimum, and must not exceed 10mm. Where the gap exceeds 10mm or the floor is out of level, a hardwood threshold must be fitted.
- Locking Arrangements – Where a lock is to be fitted to the door it must be of a type that allows the door to be held shut but which does not lock unless a key is used on the outside, or a thumbturn used on the inside. The door, whether locked or not, must be openable from the room side without the use of a key.
- A cylinder rim dead lock with roller bolt is recommended. An example is Yale 81 or Union 1158 or the Euro Mortice Lock with thumb turn. Other locks may be acceptable, providing they meet with the same specification.
- Additional bolts, chains, etc must not be fitted. If you feel there is a need for greater security please discuss your concerns with us.
The provisions apply to all fire door frames
In all openings where a fire door is fitted, or is to be fitted, existing linings and architraves must be thoroughly checked to see whether they provide sufficient fire resistance.
- If the existing frame is in poor condition or warped so that it will be difficult to achieve a proper, close fit and good smoke seal for the fire door, a new fire resisting frame will be required. This will often be more cost/time effective than trying to patch up an old frame.
- If the existing frame is to be retained it must be capable of supporting the additional weight of the new fire door and be of sound, well jointed timber.
- If new timbers are to be added to the frame to improve fit, they must be glued and screwed to the existing linings.
- Existing architraves must be removed on the risk side (i.e. the room side) and all gaps between the door lining, wall/partitioning and non-risk side architrave must be filled and sealed with fire resisting materials. Suitable architraves must be refitted to the risk side. The original architraves may be re-used if they are in sound condition. All new architraves must be a minimum of 15mm thick and 45mm wide.
Apertures in Fire Doors
Generally the fitting of standard letter-boxes, door viewers, cat flaps etc will undermine the effectiveness of a fire door. It is possible to get products that will protect the integrity of the doors and which meet the relevant British Standards but the specification for installation must be closely followed.
Glazing in Fire Doors
Glazing can only be fitted to doors, which are designed for the purpose and tested to the relevant BS. The doors are often sold without the glazing panel and glazing must be fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If a door with glazing is installed, you will be required to demonstrate that it has been installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Upgrading Existing Doors
In the past doors were routinely upgraded into fire doors, lining the door panels with fire resistant sheeting and fitting large door stops. Previously upgraded doors are very unlikely to be accepted these days unless the paperwork is available to confirm the extent of works carried out and the degree of fire resistance achieved. Even if this is available it will still be necessary for intumescent strips and smoke seals to be fitted. Upgraded doors that are damaged or a poor fit to the frame will not be accepted under any circumstances.
In some circumstances, such as where a property is a listed building, the replacement of doors with fire doors may not be an option. In such circumstances the door must first be inspected by a specialist contractor to assess its suitability. Some doors will be in too poor a condition, or not thick enough to make upgrade possible in which case alternatives will have to be considered.
60 Minute Fire Resisting Doors and Frames
Where 60-minute fire doors are required the frame will always have to be replaced. The rating of the frame must equal that of the door and the frame must be able to support the weight of the door; therefore a purpose manufactured 60-minute fire door and frame set must be installed.
This applies to all HMO types including ‘Shared – house’ HMOs
- All of the internal walls, which separate rooms adjoining the protected escape route from the route itself need to offer 30 minutes’ fire resistance.
- Partition walls in good condition will usually be accepted as adequate to give 30-minute fire resistance. ‘Good condition’ means that the walls do not ‘give’ when subjected to hand pressure and that plaster is still firmly keyed to laths and there are no cracks, bulges or other defects.
- Upgrading must be carried out on the risk side, i.e. inside the room/compartment where the fire is to be contained.
- The partition walls separating the understairs cupboards from the ground floor passage usually consist of single skins of tongue-and- groove boarding or similar. Where this is so, upgrading of the wall on the inside face to give 30 minutes’ resistance will be required.
- Sometimes it is necessary to upgrade internal walls to give 60 minutes’ fire resistance. Seek guidance on this from your Local Authority.
- Ceilings in the protected escape route will also need to be in sound condition to provide 30 minutes’ fire resistance. This also applies to the underside of the staircase, including the portion usually found in the understairs cupboard off the ground floor passage. Any recessed lighting units in these ceilings need to feature purpose-made 30 minute fire resistant hoods in the space immediately above them.
- Any polystyrene or other inflammable tiles or decorations must be removed.
- New or existing suspended ceilings will only be accepted as providing 30 - or 60 -minutes’ fire resistance if appropriate paperwork or certificates are provided.
- Loft hatches over the protected escape route need to be upgraded by fitting fire-resisting board to their upper face. The hatch must fit into a rebated opening and a combined smoke seal and intumescent strip fitted into the edge of the hatch. Alternatively, the loft can be cleared, the loft hatch securely locked and the key removed from the house.
- Any roof void access doors in the protected route will require treating.
Upgrading Cupboards (including understairs cupboards)
This applies to built-in cupboards only. Free standing or loose cupboards are not permitted in the protected route. If a cupboard is to be retained, it must be lined internally with materials, which provide 30 minutes fire resistance. The access door must meet the FD30(s) standard, either effectively self-closing or lockable and clearly indicated "KEEP LOCKED SHUT".
If you do not wish to use a cupboard and there are no gas or electrical fittings in it, the cupboard can be emptied and screwed shut to prevent use.
Where cupboards are removed from the protected route all surrounding areas must be made good and upgraded to give 30 minutes’ fire resistance where necessary.
In ‘Shared-house’ HMOs, fire doors provided to cupboards located in the protected route do not require self-closers, smoke seals or intumescent strips. The measures to protect the staircase underside and wall separating the cupboard from the passage are still needed.
‘Borrowed lights’ are windows or glazed panels designed to allow daylight to penetrate into internal areas that cannot be served by windows of their own.
- Fixed borrowed lights in the protected route or between a high risk room and another room must be fitted with glazing of fire resisting quality. Existing glazing not up to standard must be removed, and fire resisting glazing (i.e. tested to the relevant BS) fitted.
Stairway Lighting and Escape Lighting to the Stairway
The standard stairway lighting system must be wired so that the whole of the staircase enclosure is illuminated by the operation of any one switch. Push button (timed) switches can be used but must be set to allow adequate time to reach the furthest unit of accommodation.
Final Exit Doors
In any HMO, any door, which enables an occupier to leave the building in an emergency needs to be capable of being opened without the use of a key.
Locks which enable a proper degree of domestic security to be maintained, whilst making it possible to get outside quickly in an emergency are widely available. There is no reason, therefore, why your building’s insurance should be compromised when seeking to provide safe means of escape from fire.
Security chains and similar devices can impede escape in an emergency, they should not be fitted to exit doors.
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