When planning a new project it is important to consider fire safety as soon as possible and certainly well before any actual building work begins.
Fire safety is a major part of the building regulations and all the relevant information can be found in Approved Document B.
There are some very specific fire / smoke alarm regulations that home owners must follow when converting the loft.
The building regulations are very strict in regards to fire safety and there are specific regulations regarding fire doors as well as smoke alarms.
The building regs are so explicit because fire safety is obviously hugely important - especially for loft conversions which essentially add a new story to the building. And smoke alarms can, and do, save peoples lifes.
So What Are The Regulations?
The most important thing to grasp is that the building regulations require that each story of a property must have at least one automatic smoke alarm fitted. In addition to this the alarms must be wired into the mains and have a working battery back up system.
These fire alarm regulations are mandatory and must be included in all loft conversions. A final completion certification will not be issued if these alarms are not in place.
Where To Fit Them
There are some quite specific rules regarding the positioning of smoke alarms.
Basically the building regs specify that smoke alarms must be fitted in 'circulation spaces'. In other words landings and hallways and must be sited within 7.5 meters of a habitable room.
But there is also some common sense thinking that can also be applied when thinking about where to locate the alarms. Most fires in domestic properties begin either in bedrooms, the living room or the kitchen.
Fitting additional smoke alarms in these areas will obviously help the time available for the houses occupants to escape should the worse happen.
Mains operated smoke alarms together with self closing fire doors help to provide a very good first line of defence against the risk of fire. And that can only be a good thing.
The building regulations stipulate that there must be a protected escape route all the way from the loft to the ground floor exit door. This ‘protected corridor’ must have passive fire protection of at least thirty minutes.
This is a lot easier to achieve than it sounds. In most houses the staircase will be built from the front door entrance hall and, as the containing walls should already be built to the fire protection standard, than the corridor is already in place.
However, before finalising the plans to convert your loft all the partition walls along the escape route should be properly assessed to ensure they conform to the loft conversion fire regulations.
The fire door regulations for loft conversions are understandably strict and the building regulations have been continually updated to reflect new fire safety rules.
The last major change came way back in 2007 and, even now, home owners are still being caught out by the new rules. The biggest single change is that when a home owner converts the loft is that most, if not all, interior doors in the property will have to be replaced with new fire doors.
Prior to the changes it was permissible to retain old doors as long as they were fitted with self closers. But the authorities took the view that self closing doors were often wedged open so decided to remove the requirement for self closing doors.
However, because of the new fire safety rules any doors facing the designated escape route from the loft conversion must be fire resistant (to 20 minutes standard) and, contrary to what many people believe, these fire doors must be installed whether or not there is an escape window fitted in the roof.
For some homeowners having to fit new fire doors is an unwanted expense but as they can literally be life savers the costs really should be included in your budget. It is also recommended that self closers are fitted to all fire doors as a fire resistant door that is left open is worse than useless.
We mentioned above that the fire door regulations state the doors must be resistant for 20 minutes. An FD20 grade door is sufficient for this though FD30 will add more security.
It is important to check that intumescent strips are fitted to the doors (an FD20 door without an intumescent seal will not meet the requirements of the building regulations).
Intumescent strips are fitted into the frame or sometimes the door itself and if fire occurs they swell up effectively sealing the gap between the door and frame to prevent smoke escape.
When converting the loft it is important that the fire door
regulations are followed and that the home owner insists that the
builder fits the best and most efficient doors. Take advice from your
councils building control officers if in any doubt about this.
As with the rest of the house the loft must be built with thirty minutes fire resistance to protect the inhabitants should a blaze break out. Because of this there must be a fire door fitted on the loft stairway.
If the new staircase or flight of stairs run directly above the existing staircase than the new fire door can be positioned at the top of the flight on a small landing.
But, if the loft stairs are located away from the existing staircase than the fire door will have to be positioned at the bottom of the stairs.
Although it is no longer necessary to fit these windows into a new loft conversion there are many ‘means of escape’ windows on the market which provide the same function without costing much more than an ordinary windows or skylights.
A Fire Safety Lesson
The importance of loft fire safety precautions were highlighted when a Sussex couple were hospitalised with burns after a blaze in their loft conversion.
Three fire crews fought the blaze which engulfed the property with the loft conversion being severely damaged.
The converted loft did not have smoke alarms nor did the extension have a door - this of course could have resulted in the fire spreading to the rest of the house.
It is vitally important that your design incorporates the latest safety precautions.
This really should go without saying but the building regulations do stipulate that smoke detectors / fire alarms must be fitted in any loft extension and that the new room is able to withstand fire for thirty minutes.
The experience of the Sussex couple, who were fortunate to escape with their lives, must be a lesson to us all.
The commanding officer in charge of the crews which responded to the fire also offered some sensible advice.
He said: “We urge people who make modifications to their homes to make sure that smoke detectors are fitted on every level.
“It is also vitally important that all smoke alarms are tested at least once a week.”
For more info see the related pages below
The Ultimate Conversion Guide
Vermiculite Loft Insulation is an echo-friendly alternative to traditional insulation materials
The old loft water tank will need to be moved if the roof space is being converted into a habitable room
Structural calculations for loft conversions are of course hugely important to ensure safety and that the proposed plans meet building regulations