There are some myths and confusion around sprinklers and water mist that he is keen to clarify. “Wherever sprinklers have been made compulsory, deaths have been reduced. Worldwide there have only ever been 50 deaths in sprinklered buildings, but just in the
UK two people die in buildings without sprinklers every day.
“It is a myth that sprinklers are expensive. In fact, they are around 1 – 2% of construction costs, about the same as carpeting. They do not cause extensive water damage; at 60-80 litres per minute, they pump 1-4% of a fire hose. And whatever you see in the movies, they don’t all go off together but are limited to the area where the fire is detected.
“Halls of residence are allowed ‘domestic’ systems which can be easily retrofitted with plastic pipes and 6-9m3 tanks, while other campus buildings need larger commercial systems.” Addressing concerns over sprinklers being set off accidentally or maliciously, Mike pointed out that they can be set up to require a ‘double-lock’ or manual trigger.
Water mist systems do not extinguish fires directly like sprinklers, but work by cooling the flames and reducing the available oxygen. “They come with many technical issues,” he believes “and while they can be appropriate for special areas such as deep fat fryers and certain machinery, they are not designed for general use. We have a handy questionnaire for installers in the online technical library.”
“You can’t talk about fire without mentioning Grenfell Tower,” he adds. “The Hackett enquiry’s interim report stated that ‘the current Regulatory system for ensuring fire safety in high rise and complex buildings is not fit for purpose’, but RIBA fear that the regulations may not change very much. We are continuing to monitor the situation.”
Flooding Inside and Out
Surface water flooding is a growing issue. Mike believes that building regulations are out of date which, with the loss of permeable surfaces to tarmac and concrete and the unpredictability of heavy rainfall, is compounding the problem.
Indoors, changes in pipe systems, with compression and push-fit joints, are partly behind a big growth in internal flooding. “UMAL has had four large claims in 2018 already,” he reports, “Pipes always seem to fail in the worst places – over expensive equipment or high up in a building!”