Smoke and fire protection

Protection from smoke and fire is a key responsibility for housebuilders and installers to ensure the correct fire safety measures are in place. Lack of consideration to essential aspects of fire safety could not only result in fatalities or property damage, but those held responsible may also face consequences. Mike Ward, managing director at JELD-WEN, a leading manufacturer of timber windows, doors and stairs, discusses the latest regulations and key considerations housebuilders should be aware of.

Fire doors are usually the first thing identified as a means of protection when it comes to fire safety. It needs to be remembered that a fire door is no ordinary door, it is an engineered safety device and an essential fixture in both commercial and public buildings.

Around 3 million new fire doors are purchased and installed every year in the UK and they play an essential part in providing a means of escape and to prevent the spread of smoke and fire. Although industry professionals are well aware of the importance of fire doors, mistakes are still being made when specifying and fitting fire doors.

Specifying fire doors

It is often the case that fire doors are one of the first products to be downgraded during specification, but it’s vital that housebuilders insist on the use of third-party certified fire doors, such as doors that adhere to the BWF-CERTIFIRE Scheme. Products with the BWF CERTIFIRE stamp of approval have undergone rigorous tests and are regularly audited, giving you the confidence that your specified fire doors or doorsets, are all fit for their rated purpose.

Building Regulations

It is important to consult your local regulations, but typical Building Regulations stipulate that any new build or renovated property with three storeys or more must be fitted with FD30 fire doors from the third floor to the outside of the building. Fire doors should also be used when adding doors to a loft conversion, so that a safe corridor from the loft to the outside of the building is created. In addition, internal garage doors that lead into a house must also have a fire door fitted, similarly with any cupboards containing electrical or gas services.

Windows also play an important role in providing a safe exit in the event of a fire. Approved Document B Building Regulations specify that bedrooms and other first floor habitable rooms, such as bedrooms, must bear a window wide enough to provide means of escape. A fire egress window should have an unobstructed openable area that is at least 0.33m2 and at least 450mm high and 450mm wide. Also, the bottom of the openable area should be no more than 1.1m above floor level.

Fire protection: taking the right steps

A staircase is often the first thing that visitors see when they enter a property, so making it a central feature in a home can really make a positive impact on the value of a project. However, it’s important to remember that stairs also act as a crucial escape route in the event of a fire.

The benefit of using timber stairs for fire protection is that timber behaves predictably in a fire, forming a charred surface, which protects its inner structure, allowing it to retain its integrity. Fire protected timber stairs boast a number advantages over concrete stairs, which have long been used for fire protection, including improved aesthetics, lower cost and short lead-times for production.

Domestic properties of two storeys are not typically required to have fire protected stairs, but in the case of multi-occupancy buildings such as an apartment block or a dwelling which has a shared entrance, communal stairs may act as one of the main routes of escape. It is crucial that the staircase is designed to resist the effects of the fire by staying intact and remaining fully load bearing after the fire has been extinguished.

The load bearing characteristics of trunks and handrails are greater in communal stairs, compared to those of domestic flights. Manufacturers supplying fire protected stairs must be able to prove that the product complies with BD2569 Fire Performance of Escape Stairs Guidance Document (Department of Communities and Local Government, 2009).

The Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB), which is part of the BRE Group, audits the manufacturing process and quality assurance throughout production to ensure that the timber stairs are serviceable as an effective means of escape, after a fire.

Mistakes cost lives

In an inspection sample by the Fire Door Inspection Scheme of 677 doors across 34 different sites, it was found that over 61 per cent of fire doors had a problem with smoke or fire seals. Other common issues found in the inspection included fire doors with gaps bigger than 3mm between the frame and the door, unsuitable hinges and damages to the door leaf. Fire protected products should always be installed by an expert, while consulting the manufacturer guidelines, as well as being checked by the Building Control Officer. Safety should always come first, as even if a 30 minute fire door is hung, it may only provide five to 10 minutes of fire resistance, if fitted incorrectly. The safety of people should always be taken into consideration, so keep this in mind for all your future projects.