Approved documents accompanying the Building Regulations in England and Wales make specific reference to the use of sprinklers (Regulations for Scotland and Northern Ireland differ slightly).
For life safety, new residential blocks over 30m high must be fitted with sprinklers to meet Approved Document B standards.
Similarly an un-compartmented area in a shop or self storage building over 2000m2 now requires sprinkler protection. There are corresponding regulations applying to large single storey buildings for industrial or storage use where the largest permitted un-sprinklered compartment is 20,000m2.
When sprinklers are installed there may be significant benefits in respect of compliance with Approved Document B of the Building Regulations 2000 (as amended). For example: the installation of sprinklers can allow buildings to be built closer together (half the spacing is required) to adjoining premises.
This is a major benefit where site space is limited.
Other requirements in Approved Document B regarding travel distances for escape may also be able to be extended and certain requirements in respect of access for the fire service may be relaxed.
There may also be the possibility for savings in construction and building cost by relaxation of certain passive fire protection measures and the freedom to allow ‘open plan’ design in three-storey dwellings and apartments.
In retail premises, sprinklers can be taken into account when calculating fire growth and smoke volume. This is turn allows the approval of longer distances of travel to exits.
The guidance issued to interpret the Building Regulations now recognises the use of sprinklers for life safety and it is clear that future legislation will call for the increased use of sprinklers. For existing buildings the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which replaced most existing fire legislation in England and Wales requires employers and others (the Responsible Person in the Order) to consider whether the duties imposed by the Order could be better discharged by fitting fixed fire suppression systems.
The guidance documents published in support of the legislation recognise this. For example, residential care homes fitted with sprinkler protection can adopt a policy of delayed evacuation in the event of a fire alarm and the usual requirements to fit self-closers to all bedroom doors may be relaxed.