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Fire Safety in blocks of flats – How alterations can affect fire safety – part 13

Posted: 08/06/2015 12:14

When considering alterations, works and improvements to your block of flats, it is most often the successful completion that is at the forefront of your mind. However, changes of this kind - whether they are large-scale works carried out by contractors on-site, or minor works carried out by the residents themselves - can cause problems which will need your consideration and foresight.

The Landlord or suitable responsible person (see our blog entitled ‘Fire Safety in blocks of flats – Who is responsible for fire safety within the building’ for more information on who the responsible person is and what their duties comprise) should have processes in place which allow them to inspect alterations within the common areas which could have an effect on the fire safety and prevention measures within the block. Equally, building regulations approval may be required for the works and this must be considered before work begins.

Where residents may seek to make changes or improvements to their flats through minor works, it should be noted that even the most insignificant-seeming alterations can have a substantial impact upon the fire protection provision. Therefore tenants must have tenancy agreements which restrict the works that can be undertaken within the flats without seeking permission and leaseholders must also be restricted in the same manner from making changes which could adversely affect the building by the conditions of their lease.

What follows are examples of changes which could be a danger to the fire protection measures within a block of flats:

Flat Entrance Doors – Where a door is replaced by a leaseholder, it must be a suitable fire-resistant and self-closing door. The type of door required should be specified and the change should be pre and post approved.

Bathroom Suite – A flat resident installs a new bathroom suite but is unaware that they have breached the riser walls for new drains and that those breaches are not fire-stopped afterwards to maintain the fire-resistance of that wall.

Open Plan – Residents making changes to the walls within a flat to have an open-plan living area, which can adversely affect the fire protection provided with the walls and doors which were installed.
Utility Companies – may install new gas supplies to flats and create unprotected openings to provide ventilation into common areas and corridors, through which fire may spread.

Pitched Roof – the addition of a pitched roof to a previously flat roofed structure without the provision of suitable cavity barriers.

Tumble Driers - Residents who install a non-condenser tumble drier and drill through the walls for the outlet hose, breaching fire-resistance which may lead to fire spread.

Windows – replacing openable windows with sealed units means that they cannot be utilised to vent smoke from common areas. This is especially dangerous where the openable vents/windows were a part of the fire safety plan.

False Ceilings – The installation of lowered false ceilings which would stop smoke reaching the original permanent vents.

Rain Screen Cladding – The installation of rain screen cladding can mean that fire could travel upwards from the flat of fire origin, under the cladding to the flat above and on from there. It is important that fire spread is considered and the risk mitigated.

Downlighters – The installation of unapproved downlighters in a ceiling can increase risk of fire spread by endangering the separation provided by the ceiling. It is essential that any downlights installed are closed back fire rated design and have been fitted with intumescent fire hoods or covered by an insulation support box.

Socket Outlets – It is common for residents to wish to add extra electrical outlet points in their flats, but the installation of them can cause damage to the fire-resistant construction and potentially expose the timber frame construction to fire.

Next week’s blog will look at how Landlords should be on the lookout for ways to improve their fire protection provision. In the meantime, if you have any queries about a project or wish to discuss this blog series, please contact Peter Gyere in the first instance on 0208 668 8663.

The Complete Fire Safety Management Platform is the only fully comprehensive online fire risk assessment and fire risk management platform. Our aim, at CFSM, is to make the process of becoming fire safe, straightforward and, to use our expertise in fire risk assessment and fire safety management to guide you through each step, resulting in your premises meeting all legal, insurance and ethical fire safety considerations.


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