Sprinkler Retrofitting in UK High-Rises Falls Short


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Housing report exposes the reality of sprinkler retrofitting in UK high-rises

Inside Housing magazine, in a recent report, has shed light on the surprisingly low rate of fire sprinklers retrofitted in the UK’s high-rise residential buildings.

Ali Perry, the Chief Executive of the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), has recognised the significance of these findings.

Drawing on data collected from 37 large social housing providers in England, the report illustrates that of the 1,768 high-rise buildings surveyed, only 334 (18.9%) have had fire sprinklers retrofitted.

Additionally, more than half of these installations were concentrated within a single local authority: Birmingham.

Insufficient progress in fire safety measures post-Grenfell

Given the devastating Grenfell tragedy, Perry highlighted the urgent necessity of retrofitting fire sprinklers in comparable high-risk buildings.

Perry expressed his view: “It is surprising that after the tragic events of Grenfell, retrofitting fire sprinklers in similar high-rise buildings isn’t a higher priority.”

Perry added: “Inside Housing has illuminated the lack of progress in introducing key measures that could significantly reduce the chances of such an incident occurring again.”

He further noted that despite there being no current requirement to retrofit sprinklers to existing blocks, the risk in these buildings is just as potent, if not more so than in new buildings.

Callow Mount Sprinkler Retrofit Project indicates practicality and cost-effectiveness

Perry referred to the Callow Mount Sprinkler Retrofit Project report of 2012 as a demonstration of both the cost-effectiveness and practicality of retrofitting automatic fire sprinklers in high-rise social housing blocks, even when occupied.

The Callow Mount project, being the UK’s first high-rise retrofit sprinkler installation, successfully installed sprinklers in an occupied 13-floor residential block in Sheffield, without the need to relocate residents.

The retrofitting project, funded and directed by BAFSA for the Sprinkler Coordination Group (SCG), was executed in September 2011 by Domestic Sprinklers.

The primary aim was to test the feasibility of installing a sprinkler system without displacing the building’s inhabitants.

The installation, which covered 47 flats, utility rooms, common areas, bin stores and an office, was completed in less than four weeks.

The benefits and importance of retrofitting sprinklers

The results from the Callow Mount Report provide a strong case for the cost-effectiveness and practicality of installing sprinklers in older high-rise buildings.

The pilot project has yielded a template and methodology that could be used for the design of sprinkler systems in other high-rise blocks across the UK.

Notably, the pilot project showcased that retrofitting sprinklers into occupied, high-rise, social housing is feasible and can be done quickly.

The cost of installation, at £1,150 per flat, is reasonable compared to other fire protection measures.

In addition to enhancing safety, sprinklers can significantly reduce the cost of rehousing tenants and any necessary major refurbishment work following a fire.

The retrofitting design and installation can be adjusted for high-rise blocks with different layouts.

IFSJ Comment

The Inside Housing report is a critical wake-up call.

It underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to fire safety in high-rise buildings, particularly the retrofitting of fire sprinklers.

Not only does this measure greatly improve the safety of residents, but it also significantly reduces the risks faced by emergency service personnel.

The data provided serve as a vital tool for shaping future fire safety policies and prioritising life-saving measures.

The challenge is large in scale, but the collective safety of communities living in high-rise buildings should never be compromised.

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