For contractors and specifiers working on the construction of new-build properties, it’s vital that Building Regulations specific to each separate dwelling are legally adhered to, therefore, ensuring individuals are offered the highest levels of fire protection.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have been at the forefront of providing their residents with higher levels of fire protection, with their Building Regulations going well above those specified in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland’s (NI) technical handbooks state a minimum Category LD2 system is required, whereas in England and Wales an LD3 system is the minimum requirement.
These regulations define the legal levels of minimum protection required for each property.
LD3 requires the installation of smoke alarms in circulation spaces that form part of escape routes, such as landings and hallways, whilst LD2 takes this one step further by also requiring the installation of alarms in areas that are either high risk or the principle habitable room, such as a kitchen or living room.
Whilst Scotland has been ahead of England and Wales with regard to both fire and CO safety for a considerable time, it has now taken this one step further following a consultation on the installation of fire and smoke alarms in Scottish homes. The consultation sought views on potential changes to standards required for fire and smoke alarms in domestic properties in Scotland, which closed on 1st December 2017, prompting the Scottish Government to implement a change in the law regarding the installation of fire and smoke alarms.
The change, which is planned to be introduced by autumn 2018, has been designed to provide a greater level of protection for all types of properties within Scotland, whether these are owned, privately rented or as part of a social housing scheme. Whilst private landlords across the UK have more recently had stricter fire regulations they must comply to following the Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm (England) Regulations 2015.
The legislation regarding social housing has often been unclear, with many tenants unsure of their legal rights with regard to fire and CO safety. The aim is for all homes in Scotland to have an increased level of Fire and CO protection by the end of 2020. Scotland’s latest move adds the new regulations to the Scottish Social Housing Standard, as well as privately owned homes. Housing Minister, Kevin Stewart, defines the move as: “Enabling everyone to benefit from the same level of protection, regardless of the property type.”
This level of protection is significantly higher than the LD3 requirement specified for properties located within England and Wales, resulting effectively in a postcode lottery of protection determined by geographical location in the UK. However, following the release of Dame Hackitt’s post-Grenfell report, it identifies the current system of Building Regulations and fire safety is not fit for purpose and acknowledges the Government is currently in the process of redrafting Approved Document B.
The review of Approved Document B is a positive indication that the Government is planning to make advancements in England and Wales’ fire and CO safety, which will hopefully follow the same route as Scotland’s latest legislative changes. This is a necessity to ensure all types of buildings have the same level of effective and appropriate fire safety.
Under the new changes to Scotland’s Housing Act, all homes should have:
• One functioning smoke alarm in the room frequently used by the occupants for daytime living purposes (such as a living room)
• One functioning smoke alarm in every circulation space on every floor, such as hallways and landings
• One heat alarm in every kitchen
• All of these alarms should be ceiling-mounted and interlinked
• Carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted where there is a carbon-fuelled appliance or flue.
The updated regulations also specify that the smoke and CO alarms can be battery or mains-wired, which is a significant improvement in the accessibility and cost-effectiveness of achieving greater protection as residents have the ability to install straightforward sealed long-life battery alarms or have mains-wired alarms with a lifespan of 10 years installed.
The benefit of battery-powered alarms is that they do not require an electrician to install the product, enabling residents to achieve a high level of protection within their own property quickly and easily.
Scotland is also making significant strides in terms of CO safety as it now requires the installation of alarms where a carbon-fuelled appliance or flue is present. England and Wales are also making advances in terms of CO safety, with the former Housing Minister Dominic Raab’s latest review planning to examine existing legislation to evidence whether it remains fit for purpose.
Currently, privately rented properties in England and Wales legally require landlords to install a CO alarm, but this is only if a solid fuel burning appliance such as an open fire or wood burner is present. However, privately owned homes and social housing properties do not fall under the same requirements.
Scotland’s Housing Act has taken a step further and required private landlords to install CO alarms in every room where there is any fixed combustion appliance which includes gas boilers. This approach is now being extended to social and privately owned households under the new legislation.
Following Scotland’s revision of CO requirements, it is hoped that Dominic Raab’s review will find England and Wales’ current legislation limited, prompting all houses within the UK to have a CO alarm installed by law if there is a flue or carbon-fuelled appliance present, not just a solid-fuel burning appliance as is currently the case.This will hopefully be supported by the suggested review of Approved Document B by the Government, to ensure that all aspects of fire and CO safety in all types of properties are improved.
Whilst England and Wales’ legislation remains uncertain, contractors, specifiers and installers can achieve complete compliance within both new-build and existing properties by taking the level of protection they provide one step further. Interlinked alarms, whether they are smoke, heat or CO, will all sound if a single alarm detects a potential danger. For example, if a CO alarm is triggered, all of the alarms, regardless of type, will sound within the property.
This provides individuals with greater time to react to the potential danger as they are alerted, regardless of where they are in the home. In systems such as Wi-Safe 2, the alarm sound pattern will be different according to the type of incident, so people will be able to identify whether it is a potential fire or CO risk and respond accordingly.
Alarms can be either hardwired or wirelessly interlinked, with radio-frequency interlinking often providing a more suitable solution as it saves both time and money as there is no need to lift floorboards and carpets or channel out walls to run wires between alarms. It also offers considerable flexibility to add new alarms of accessories, enabling professionals to ensure they are continuing to achieve complete compliance as and when England and Wales’ regulations evolve.
As the disparity between Scotland, England and Wales’ fire and CO protection continues to be brought into the spotlight, contractors and specifiers can ensure they are achieving complete compliance at all times by going above and beyond in the protection they provide. By installing interlinked smoke, heat and CO alarms in a Category LD2 system professionals can prepare themselves for any future updates in England and Wales’ legislation, whilst also enhancing occupier safety.