With a raft of legislation governing fire safety, contractors must ensure the correct fire alarm system for every conceivable type of application. However, with so many different models and brand varieties, choosing the right product is no easy feat.
Fire safety is a serious business. It is estimated that around 80 per cent of all fire-related deaths and injuries occur in dwellings, and this number could be substantially reduced with the correct use of fire and smoke detection.
As such, legislation has come into force to maximise fire protection. The Building Regulations, Approved Document B and BS 5839: Part 6:2 2004 code of practice for design, installation and maintenance of fire detection in dwellings, sets out guidelines for both new and existing homes. These stringent regulations must be adhered to by not only electrical contractors, installers, specifiers but anybody responsible for fire protection.
The guidance is specified in ‘grades’ of systems and structured in a way that determines the reliability of a system to be installed by considering factors such as the size, type, age and existing fire precautions of the dwelling.
For new and many existing homes grade D is considered the standard. Under this regulation, there should be at least one mains powered smoke alarm with a dedicated back-up supply on every floor of all new dwellings, as well as in existing homes which are proposing conversion and extension. Thus, as the housing market trend continues to shift from new builds to refurbishment projects, this legislation is set to become ever more important.
Conversely, the regulations also recommend the use of mains powered alarms with an interconnect facility increasing both alert and escape time. And so the onus is on the contractor to have a full understanding of the potential dangers in the home and the technology available to help prevent them. But with so many options - where to begin?
A good starting point is to determine the required type of sensor. There are two types of sensor for detecting smoke – ionisation and optical, both of which are offered by leading suppliers, including Newlec and BRK. While neither one supersedes the other, they each offer their own benefits due to their sensitivity to different types of fire and smoke.
Let’s look first at ionisation technology. These detectors are more responsive at detecting small particulates within smoke, which are produced in greater amounts by fast burning fires. This type of fire quickly consumes combustible materials and spreads rapidly. Examples of where this fire may start include chemicals catching alight within a storage area, or grease/fat fires in a kitchen.
The second technology type is optical smoke alarms. While ionisation excels in detecting small particulates, photoelectrical is more adept at reacting to larger particles. These tend to be produced by slow smouldering fires, which may smoke for a number of hours before bursting into flames. While this may not seem as much of a direct threat, smoke inhalation can be fatal, so an alarm to detect smouldering fires is clearly an important technology. This type of fire can be started in a number of ways (for example, a cigarette burning in furniture, or faulty wiring) and is ideally suited for living areas.
With this in mind, both of these alarm variations have progressed massively over the past few years. Leading brands offer highly advanced ranges, which include significant added benefits. These include the option to interlink as many as up to 12 mains powered smoke and heat alarms as well as LED indicators, aiding users in quickly identifying the reason behind an alarm signal.
Knowing where to site the alarms is also an important factor and ensures that the technology offered gives the best level of protection. Ionisation technology is suited to areas that are not prone to cooking fumes. Optical alarms are ideal for the majority of locations within a property, which may include areas adjacent to kitchens where cooking fumes are likely to be present. As this type of technology is less susceptible to the effects of cooking fumes, it can help to greatly reduce the number of nuisance alarms.
In terms of grading, there is quite literally a solution to meet every requirement. For ultimate protection, many modern fire alarms include an integral 9V battery back-up system which will continue to protect even in the event of a power cut, making it ideal for new builds and materially altered dwellings subject to grade D. At the next level of protection, some models contain a mains only powered alarm for areas requirement a constant mains only protection which meet grade E. Alternatively, for a good solution where budget is a factor, another option is a battery powered alarm, in line with grade F.
However, there may be certain situations where smoke alarms are not suitable 27These include areas where dust, fumes and benign smoke may trigger frequent nuisance alarms, such as kitchens, attics and garages. For these applications, heat alarms offer an ideal alternative, with many options including mains with battery back-up, mains only and battery only options, for every level of protection.
A final consideration is the carbon monoxide detector that is vital to protect from the deadly effects of carbon monoxide. The latest Building Regulations Approved Document J states where a new or replacement fixed solid fuel appliance is installed in a dwelling, a suitable CO alarm should be provided in the room where the appliance is located.
In this modern age of burgeoning legislation, safety is paramount. Fortunately then, the electrical industry has responded with a plethora of sophisticated fire safety solutions to suit every conceivable type of application and lessen the potential for danger. Thus, for the modern contractor it is vital to make the most of the choice available by researching the market in order to correctly specify the best technologies to offer the highest level of protection.
Steve Havell is product manager at Newey & Eyre. With 150 locations covering the length and breadth of the country, Newey & Eyre is widely recognised as being the UK’s leading electrical wholesaler. In addition to its branch network, the company also operates the successful web-based Neweys Online service.
Customers can obtain more information on Newey & Eyre by calling 0800 783 6909, by visiting any local branch or using the online facility, Neweys Online via www.neweysonline.co.uk.