Fire Sprinklers Compulsory For All New Homes in Wales

Kingsley Thomas
Wales may become the first country in the world where sprinklers will be compulsory in all new residential schemes. The law will apply to newly built houses and blocks of flats, care homes, university halls of residence, boarding schools and any schemes where the existing building is converted for residential use.

The Legislation

The amendment to the Welsh building regulations means that every new residential scheme will have to incorporate active fire protection, in the form of fire sprinkler systems. The Proposed Domestic Fire Safety (Wales) Measure 2011 received Royal Approval on 7 April 2011.

The proposed Measure will come into effect on a day to be appointed by the Welsh Ministers. Before this can happen, further regulations, setting out the technical requirements to be complied with, must be implemented.

The Requirement

Automatic fire suppression systems must be provided in each new residence, and must operate effectively.  The legislation also includes the supply of water or other substance necessary for the functioning of the system.

Building Regulations, due to be devolved to Wales in December 2011, will enforce the requirement which includes:

  • Constructing a building for use as a residence.
  • Converting a building, or part of a building, to use as a residence, or a number of residences.
  • Subdividing one or more existing residences to create a new residence or new residences.
  • Amalgamating existing residences to create a new residence or new residences.

Saving Lives

This has been driven by Labour backbencher Ann Jones, Vale of Clwyd Assembly Member. The Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) suggests that the legislation could save 25 lives and £128m per year. This includes injuries avoided, property protected, fire and rescue service costs, re-housing and insurance costs, use of water, and environmental savings.

Questions on Cost Effectiveness

Welsh Assembly Government suggests that installation costs "vary from under £1000 to over £2500 per property, although design trade-offs and other savings may recoup some or all of these costs. Annual maintenance costs could be from £20 to £100 per annum."

National House Building Council is neutral on the policy, but raised questions about how cost-effective it would be, and whether water pressures currently in usage would enable sprinklers to actually work in many homes.

Cost Opinions

  • Faithful+Gould's research encountered a scheme where the cost of sprinkler provision for five special needs dwellings added nearly £8000 to the cost per unit. 
  • A major contractor predicts that it could add £2000 per unit of accommodation to multi-occupancy care-homes.
  • A leading supplier of sprinkler systems suggested that for a block of 4 flats it could cost £6,000 excluding BWIC (building work in connection).
  • For a 2 storey, 3 bedroom house (95 m²), it could add £5200 per unit, excluding BWIC, ie. adding 5% to the build cost of a £100,000 unit. 
  • Using a current project as an example, Faithful+Gould is delivering a 476-unit student accommodation scheme for a South Wales university, and the additional cost for sprinklers would be in the region of £280,000, approximately 2% of the contract value.

Who Will Absorb The Higher Cost? 

  • Not the builder.
  • Costs seem likely to be passed on in higher prices.
  • Not just installation costs, but also maintenance.
  • Could present significant funding issues for Registered Social Landlords (RSLs).

Technical Considerations

  • Each sprinkler head has its own sensor, will activate at a temperature of 68 degrees, and only in the immediate vicinity of the fire.
  • Dwr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) may not guarantee the required water pressure. For a domestic property, a 100 litres storage tank could therefore be required, and the loading must be considered.
  • 175mm deep service zone required at each floor level. At ground floor level in home, typical floor joists can accommodate the depth.  At first floor/roof space level, however, truss chord depth may only be approx 70mm. A deeper zone is required for installation of pipe work and lagging to prevent freezing.
  • Back-up battery would be required to overcome potential power cuts.
  • Protection against malicious/inadvertent water supply shut off should be included in the design.
  • Consider the whole life cost of the system, including maintenance. 

Meeting The New Demands

Faithful+Gould has significant experience of managing the delivery of residential schemes of all types. Our client base includes private housing developers, RSLs, Care Home developers, universities, boarding Schools and student accommodation developers. We are well placed to offer support in meeting the demands of this forthcoming legislation.

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