With the increasingly complex materials and techniques available to architects and designers today there is huge scope to be innovative in design and construction. Whilst sprinkler systems are sometimes considered as part of modern design concepts, the additional flexibility and freedoms, which they can provide are often overlooked. Sprinklers can allow a more interesting use of space giving rise to better and more creative designs, protecting future occupants from fire and by meeting the intent of Building Regulations.
Current building codes work on a performance-based approach to the safety of a building, so by including sprinklers, designers can achieve greater freedom to deliver their vision. Sprinklers allow for the inclusion of such features as:
- Larger compartment sizes
- Longer escape routes
- More open spatial designs
- Reduced exit door widths
- Fewer staircases
- Reduced periods of fire resistance to elements of structure
- Reduced external constraints such as required distances between buildings
- Reduced criteria for external fire service access
The installation of sprinklers may allow for further construction and design trade-ups (beyond those listed above). Published guidance such as PAS 79, BS 7974 and BS 9999 and technical information guidance published by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) provides further details of the design freedoms that can be obtained through the use of fire sprinklers as well as the possibility of savings in construction and building costs. Sprinklers can even assist an acceptance of a particular design, which would otherwise be considered ‘unsafe’ from a fire perspective.
As well as these freedoms in design, sprinklers work for those using the building. A report published in 2013 by the NFPA based on the most recent data concluded that the average property loss per fire is cut by 38-75% for different types of property, compared to fires where sprinklers are not present.
Sprinklers are very important to the environmental agenda and for corporate social responsibility actions. Their contribution to fire protection allows fire damage to be mitigated quickly, therefore protecting beautiful buildings, limiting economic loss and business disruption.
It is important to remember though that sprinklers should be considered at the earliest opportunity in the design process and not in isolation – they should be looked at as part of a complete package of fire safety measures that complement each other. If this advice is followed, in some circumstances the inclusion of sprinklers can be cost-neutral.