Fire safety.

This article covers the minimum fire safety standards for houses converted into self-contained flats 2 or 3 storeys and above, including attic and basement flats.

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Structural fire safety:

A 30 mins fire protected route (walls, doors, ceilings) to be provided, normally the main staircase. Only one fire door required between the risk rooms (the flat itself) and the escape route. To note – the existing flats, with fire doors in the flats (2 fire doors between the risk and the stairs) walls and ceilings may already be 60 mins fire resistance which is the Building Regulation standard for conversion to flats. However, experience that suggests the internal layout/internal fire doors have usually been modified or removed or just propped open during use and this reduces the level of protection (between the risk and the stairs) to 30 minutes. This fire safety standard is concerned with retro fitting basic fire safety measures into non complying buildings, therefore the minimum retro fit is to be 30 minutes fire resistance throughout plus improved detection. Lathe and plaster ceilings in good condition can provide a modified 30 mins fire resistance. Cracked/unkeyed ceilings will not meet this standard and should be improved. For flat conversions the advice/recommendations of the Council/Fire Service should be sought for all elements of fire safety prior to works taking place.

Therefore, all flat entrance doors must be 30 minute fire doors, no uPVC or solid wood doors or non fire resisting glazed doors are permitted unless 30 minutes can be proven. No cat flaps, letterboxes or damage is permitted. Non complying doors must be replaced.

Fire doors to be self closing and fitted with intumescent strips and smoke seals, with escape type locks.

60 mins fire resistance between basements and ground floor but 30 minutes plus detection will be accepted after inspection if basement ceiling is in good condition with no voids/gaps, with 30 minutes fire protection and no voids/gaps.

The presence of a basement or cellar may make a 2 storey building into a 3 storey building for the purposes of these regulations – seek advice prior to works.

60 mins fire resistance between shops/other uses and building. Variations from 60 minute standard to be agreed with Fire Authority (usually by use of additional detection).

Doors to letting rooms and final exit doors must be openable without the use of a key (night latches, mortice escape locks with thumb turn inside or other escape type lock.)

Electric meters within the staircase to be enclosed in a fire resisting cupboard/housing. The staircase which is the protected route to be kept free from combustible materials and obstructions.

Fire alarm system:

Houses which were converted into self contained flats before the 1991 Building Regulations rely on fire separation but no detection. This standard promotes a mains operated phased smoke detection system which provides a high level of protection while minimising false alarms; it is designed particularly for use in converted buildings and is suitable for all such houses regardless of tenures (Leaseholds/short tenancies or mixture of both).

You must arrange for the design and install a mixed system which comprises:

(1) a mains operated fire alarm and detection system designed and installed to British Standard 5839 Part 6 2004 Grade D and category LD2 (detectors in escape routes and heat detector, 600mm from main entrance fire door within each flat), detectors to be interlinked together to form one system.

(2) Inside each flat, in circulation space, single point optical smoke detector with remote hush/test switch to be fitted, not linked, but under control of occupant. System defaults to evacuate mode if a flat is on fire and heat detector activates prior to fire door being under threat from blaze. Minimises false alarms.

Remote hush to be fitted to main system in a secure location to avoid false hushing or tampering.

Where such systems comprise more than 14 detectors in total on the interlinked system, an automatic panel controlled fire alarm may be considered, or radiolinking which increases the numbers which may be linked together. The manufacturers will usually provide technical guidance.

Emergency lighting:

Flat conversions usually reduce the lighting t the stairways, making them dark even in daytime. Emergency lighting to be installed in escape routes to BS 5266 Pt 1: 1999 Code of Practice for the emergency lighting and be of category NM/2.

Fire extinguishing equipment:

Minimum fire blanket in every kitchen.

Maintenance and testing:

Fire alarm should be tested weekly by landlord or tenant. Remote test switch allows for easy testing. An annual check by a competent person to comply with BS5839 Part 6 2004 should include cleaning in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.

Each detector head should be replaced every 10 years (guaranteed life of the standby battery). If the building has been unoccupied or the mains power has been disconnected, the system should be thoroughly tested to ensure the operation of the power supply and standby supply.

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