Worried about your home, your tower block, office block or a speculative building which you believe to be at risk of not being able to withstand a fire?
Well, you are not the only one concerned about how to fireproof buildings.
The fact is, with the tragic events of Grenfell Tower in the hearts and minds of people across the world, the focus has been on the design of the building and how safe it made the people inside.
The world has looked at their own high-rise buildings and testing is still being carried out on different aspects of the fireproof buildings that are deemed to be at potential risk.
Tragedies on this scale prompt action from the authorities to make buildings safer in the future. But you may well ask the question – what makes a building safe from fire?
Do you want to learn how to design and build fireproof buildings?
Not long ago the sobering fire at Grenfell Tower tragically claimed many lives. The cause for uproar with the fire is that fact that it could have been avoided if the necessary precautions were taken.
Don’t you just hate it when you realise that the necessary precautions were not taken?
Wouldn’t it be great if the architect would have designed the building to avoid disproportionate damage in the event of a fire?
Wouldn’t it be great if the building contractor would have used materials and designs of systems which have demonstrated that they have the requisite performance in fire?
Wouldn’t it be great if the Council who were obligated to ensure the safety from fire of those in and around buildings?
It’s a familiar story and it usually goes like this…
Fact: It is now obvious that it’s time to re-evaluate the process which is applied to the assessments taken by architects, councils and building contractors. This is not an easy process. Out-dated legislation will have to be scrapped and hundreds of buildings which use cladding will – rightly – be subject to new risk assessments. This process will take some time.
In the meantime, it is essential to understand what can be done in order to assure that any design or building can be deemed safe and have minimal risk of fire.
Let me show you how the key issues of a building being at risk of a fire. Let me explain the steps you can take to avoid it in the first place.
So let’s begin…
There are important architectural design features that will greatly advance the chances that your home will survive the next fire incident.
Let’s dive in…
To fully understand how to be an expert in fire safety, you must know how fires are started from the basic fire triangle, moving all the way to material retardant ratings and insulation use with toxic chemicals.
Let’s begin with the basics.
There are 3 things which will cause a fire these are: Heat, Oxygen and Gas.
I’m sure you are well aware of this but it is important to note as it is often the simple things that are overlooked. It can be even down to having a smart meter which automatically switches off your heating or electricity.
The same can be applied to cooking hobs. In modern kitchen designs, the risk of a hob setting a fire is minimal because of the technology of induction currents used in the pans.
Most of all, these are some big risks, and an app or smart meter could be very useful to have, as everyone can be forgetful. Don’t be that person!
Beyond that, the building design will most definitely affect how quickly a fire can spread or how likely it is to ignite. Materials being an obvious factor.
But first a warning: The older the building or structure is the greater the fire risk.
Things to check are:
These are just some of the major and mostly familiar precautions taken. You must contact your architect, landlord and emergency services if you do believe that your safety is compromised.
The reality is that government parties are trying to issue a ‘triple fire safety lock’ which will guarantee the fire safety of buildings. It will also ensure that materials are checked, specifications are met and subject to regular fire risk assessments.
Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, confirmed that 600 buildings are being examined and cladding has failed the test in over 70 so far. Thankfully, none of our designs has been subject to these fire examinations because our architects have taken the right steps to ensure our clients’ safety.
The image below illustrates why the fire was so disastrous, and shows why it is so important that all buildings with cavities between the cladding of the building are subject to rigorous fire safety tests.
The truth is fire is something that can’t be eliminated completely from any building. Electrical appliances, cooking, cigarette smoke and other issues mean that a building will have to withstand the potential fire risk at any time. So, the consideration needs to be made that a fire could happen.
That means when designers get this into their mindset from the start, they can begin to develop ways of reducing the risk, mitigating against the effects of a fire and protecting the people inside.
There has been a lot of focus on the materials used in the Grenfell Tower tragedy, particularly the cladding that was retro-fitted to the building years after it was built.
Remember: The materials used must be a major consideration when designing any building in the modern day.
But here’s something really interesting. There is a resurgence of designs using wood, as it feels natural and fits well with the environment, but obviously untreated wood will burn quickly and not provide much in the way of protection against fire.
It all comes down to this: Wood can be treated to be fire retardant and as such be a better material to use when designing and constructing a modern building. This wood does not char and will not carry the combustion on to other parts of the construction. It is obviously more expensive than buying untreated wood, but the regulations require that you use something that will protect lives.
Basically, other design materials that are commonly used in modern building design are traditionally more resistant to the ravages of fire. You will recall the steel structure remained quite intact in the Grenfell Tower fire, and a steel framework is going to provide the stability needed to keep the integrity of a building in the case of a large fire happening.
Likewise, cement provides protection against fire and is used in many buildings, particularly at the lower levels. This can stop the fire from spreading to other parts of the building.
The following is a list of materials which are fire retardant:
Warning: Being aware of fire when retro-fitting materials is in the spotlight at the moment, and it is essential to ensure that the good design and construction of a building in the first place is not undermined by adding extra items that compromise this original idea. That’s quite a challenge!
But remember this: Many of the buildings that are being tested now are for cladding that was added cheaply and installed without due consideration. This has made the high-rise buildings of the UK and other parts of the world less able to stop the spread of fire. And that’s just sad!
Remarkably at Urbanist Architecture, we minimise the risk of fire on the buildings we design. By stipulating fire-safe buildings, using retardant materials and ensuring site supervision guidelines, we successfully safeguard the fireproofing of the buildings we design and reduce the likelihood of it spreading
As the price of land has risen over the last 50 years, especially in London and the South East, the driving force behind many development projects has been to fit as many people on as small a piece of land as possible. This has led to many issues, and fire safety has been one of them. So what’s it all mean?
Evacuating people from a single dwelling is difficult enough, but when there are people spread over 20-odd stories in potentially crowded conditions, the evacuation plans are often no more than hope. We have to put more value on human life than this.
Let me explain…
The way the building is designed and laid out should be a major consideration for the designers. Larger corridors that flow seamlessly to emergency exits should be a design of all buildings.
Consider the worst-case scenario (and it isn’t difficult to do in the current circumstances) and think about how you can get that number of people away from sanger as quickly as possible. There should be more space given over the communal corridors that will save the lives of people in the case of a tragedy.
It all boils down to this: Designers of new buildings need to consider a corridor at full capacity and then make it easy for people to evacuate.
But that’s not all…
Proximity to other buildings is another consideration as we saw again with the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Pieces of flaming debris were thrown towards other buildings and this could have caused a chain reaction. The space between buildings should also be something that is considered during the design phase, particularly when working on a large plot.
And another thing… Access for firefighters will also determine the success of their efforts. In the big cities of the country, roads are narrow and access can be limited. The designer of a new building must think about how to get firefighting appliances in and near to the building in order to maintain the structure and to protect those living or working inside.
Let’s get things underway…
The way a building is used will govern which internal fittings are used and how effective they are. We have controls in the UK over the fire safety of offices, but these same rules don’t seem to cross over to homes.
First of all, fire doors are a major factor in containing a fire, and allowing people to escape safely. They can sometimes contain the smoke for several hours, which gives the occupants the best chance of survival. Don’t forget that all of those hospitalised from the Grenfell Tower were treated for smoke inhalation rather than burns.
Beyond that smoke detectors have become the bane of many people in the modern day. The simple act of burning toast can set these off and provide either a false evacuation or a mindset of ignoring the alarms. This is why heat sensors are far more effective at providing information that people can rely on. When alarms only go off when there is a real issue, people respond in a way that befits the situation. Alarms that go off several times per week are ignored or tampered with.
In addition to that effective systems to deal with a fire are also important. A sprinkler system is used in many buildings to deal with a fire immediately, so it does not spread and endanger the occupants. Sprinkler systems should be considered for all new buildings as they can be the most effective way of dampening a fire before it gets a chance to take hold. Obviously, a quality sprinkler system will be part of the fabric of the building and isn’t really noticeable until it is needed. They work with the heat detection system and in the case of the unmistakable heat of a fire, they activate spraying water over the affected area. They can stop a fire completely, or contain it in one part of the building until the fire brigade can attend.
To top it off sprinkler systems are now intelligent enough to activate only in affected areas, so the fire can be contained without the potential of damage to other parts of the building. The current belief is that financial losses from buildings with sprinklers are around 10% those without. Just think about that in terms of human life too.
Let’s look at it in detail: The firefighters at Grenfell Tower ended up spending days dampening it down to stop reignition. Imagine if this was done at the time by the automated sprinkler system – the results could have been so very different. Think about this for a moment!
Despite the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, it has opened the eyes of the public and the government for the need to fireproof buildings adequately. It’s time to act now for the tower blocks in London.
The fire safety necessities we must follow as a designer, for new and existing buildings, are frequently being updated. Even more so now, with the recent events.
Look: In October 2008, a new UK guidance document came into effect casing a whole range of fire associated issues. This note informs us of the key zones which may affect clients requested design, with specific importance on architectural benefits (and limitations).
Let’s jump right in:
Our Urbanist Architecture team ensures that detailed management requirements can be approved within the building, which are not excessively limiting;
Even where specialist guidance is accessible a working knowledge of regulations and performance is critical when you want to make the right design decisions.
My point is this: Architects plays a key role as they are the one decision makers when knowing the pros and cons of various construction materials and how they can affect the design. They will also have to collaborate with fire engineers when finalising the whole project.
You must contact a trusted architect who can assist you with their expertise in appropriate architectural design, structural strategy and fire risk analysis.
Here’s the most important part: New legislation for fire safety will most definitely be introduced in order to help to fireproof buildings, but it will take some time. In the meantime, you must do your best to make yourself aware of the problems.
To sum up, any building design needs to subject to testing before, during and most definitely after construction. Fire retardant materials, chemical tested materials, compliance with the existing fire regulations, smart design, access to all fire escapes, compliant building contractors, sprinkler systems and alarms…
Frankly, it can be hard to summarise everything which can ignite a fire. But at least you are now replenished and awake to the issues and factors involved.
So much of this is easiest to deliver when the building is first constructed. There will no doubt be many changes due to the tragic events in London recently, but consider how easy these issues are to fix retrospectively.
But remember this: It is down to everyone on all sides to ensure that fire safety is paramount. Now you have read this article, it should have made you aware of what you need to do to fireproof buildings and so provide yourself with a sense of security in your own home or buildings. After all, you’re in them all the time.