As residential fire safety, particularly in multi-storey buildings and tower blocks has been at the centre of attention since last June, the groundswell of opinion is clearly behind the installation of fire sprinkler systems as part of a multi-million pound programme of fire protection upgrades.
While discussions continue regarding how the work is being funded, it appears that local authorities and housing associations are likely to make a significant contribution to the cost, so it’s inevitable that ‘value’ and ‘cost effectiveness’ will form part of the tendering procedures that are already taking place.
However, due to the intense public focus and scrutiny directed towards public sector housing, the safety of tenants and residents will not be compromised for reasons of economy, as ‘cost cutting’ was one of the areas of concern raised by Dame Judith Hackitt’s interim report last December.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that fire sprinkler systems are becoming an integral part of the high-rise residential environment, which should increase further as part of the proposed review of building regulations. While fire sprinklers are comparatively simple to incorporate in new builds, as they can be integrated right from the outset at the planning and design stage, for retro-installed solutions inside individual flats and for communal areas, sprinkler system pipework will need be surface mounted in most cases.
Clearly, the pipework and sprinkler heads need to be concealed to not only give a more aesthetic finish to each project and avoid complaints from tenants, but to also provide a practical purpose of containing the system components and acting as a visible barrier to potential tampering.
The cover up
When concealing the sprinkler system pipework, consideration also needs to be given to the amount of time required to install the pipe boxing, which is why pre-formed and pre-finished solutions, such as Encasement’s Versa sprinkler system pipe boxing, are increasingly specified by sprinkler system contractors.
Versa ‘L’ shaped pipe boxing is manufactured from 5mm or 8mm thick, FSC® certified and compliant timber in a range of sizes and the system also includes accessories, such as internal and external corners to help create an integrated finish to the sprinkler installation. All that’s needed to install the sprinkler pipe boxing on site is to drill the holes for sprinkler heads, cut to length and secure to the wall or ceiling with wood battens, screws and white caps.
From our experience of working with contractors on countless social housing projects where pipework needs to be concealed, Versa boxing solutions can be fitted in less than half the time of site made alternatives. Also, as they’re pre-finished with durable white melamine, there’s no painting required on site, which also saves time and cost.
Saving time and cost
This time saving provides a number of benefits. For contractors, local authorities and housing associations, the fire safety upgrades can be completed within a shorter timescale, while simultaneously minimising the disruption period for tenants while the work is being carried out.
Potentially the most important advantage is that costs can be reduced, not by ‘cutting corners’, but by cutting the time spent during the installation without compromising the quality or integrity of the installation.
When considering the scale of the sprinkler installation programmes being planned during the next 5 years, which is conservatively estimated at around 50,000 individual flats, then just a 10 minute time saving by using Versa sprinkler boxing will cumulatively save more than 2.5 years, if working an 8 hour day.
These figures are persuasive in their own right, but the important focus is rightfully on improving fire safety in high-rise residential buildings, and Versa can make a contribution to that process in terms of effectiveness, ease of installation and economics.