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Welsh sprinklers bill roars through Commons

A proposed law to make sprinklers mandatory in all new homes in Wales this week won backing from the House of Commons

The proposed amendment to the Welsh building regulations would mean every new residential scheme would have to incorporate active fire protection, in the form of fire sprinkler systems.

Ann Jones, the Welsh Assembly Member leading on the legislation said: ‘I am delighted that [the Legislative Competence Order] has passed the Commons committee stage unopposed.

‘The overwhelming support this bid has received is a testament to the strong moral and technical case presented by domestic sprinkler systems.’

The House of Lords and Privy Council will now decide whether the Welsh Assembly can turn the proposal into law.

Wales will have full control over its building regulations from the end of 2011.

The House of Lords gave a mixed response earlier this month to a proposal to make sprinklers compulsory in all new homes in the UK (AJ 11.03.10).

Previous story (AJ 5.2.10)

Wales demands sprinklers in all new homes

The Welsh Assembly has voted in favour of making sprinklers mandatory for all new homes in Wales

The decision follows the critical second reading of a private members’ bill to make sprinklers compulsory in new homes in both England and Wales, opposed on cost grounds by Conservatives in the House of Lords. However, the Welsh success could now strengthen calls for English legislation.

Stephen Hill of Cardiff-based practice Holder Mathias welcomed the move: ‘I have been trying to introduce this thinking into residential design for years,’ he said, ‘but developers are reluctant to install sprinklers unless they have to.

‘By following an essentially American model, a high degree of flexibility in apartment design is possible. Double-door protection from habitable rooms to the common parts access/escape corridor can be removed, giving opportunities for wider, open-plan solutions, such as bedrooms off the living space. It should be possible to achieve a larger feeling with less area.’  

However, the Home Builders Federation (HBF) is cautious about potential cost implications. A spokesperson said: ‘The regulatory requirements being placed on builders by central and local government… are constantly being increased.

‘Sites will only support a certain level of cost before it is no longer viable for builders to build,’ warned the spokesperson, adding: ‘This will mean more potential sites remaining inactive, which has obvious implications for housing supply and employment in Wales.’

Tim Crowther, head of Technical design at HTA Architects said: ‘sprinklers on their own are not the answer.’ He points out that current English, Welsh and Scottish building regulations fail to acknowledge the ‘percentages of all fatalities occurring in the room where the fire started – 43 per cent in living rooms and 20 per cent in kitchens.’

Crowther said: ‘The Building Regulations could be modified to require a higher standard of provision of fire alarm and detection by adding smoke or heat alarms to living rooms and a heat alarm in every kitchen to all new dwellings.’

Steve Davy, director of Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects said: ‘This is a brave step by the Welsh Assembly.  The estimated 1-2% increase in the cost of building a property is a small price to pay for preventing fire related injuries and deaths.

‘It will be interesting to see how the issue of maintenance by householders is addressed;  the sprinklers are only going to be effective if they are maintained.’

Andrew Sutton, vice-president of the Royal Society of Architects in Wales thinks it unlikely the measure would become law before building regulations are devolved to Wales in December 2011.

The English version of the building regulation amendment will be discussed at a House of Lords committee on 5 March.

Readers' comments (7)

  • A chuffing good idea.

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  • I have to disagree, chuffington. If I read this correctly, then all future one bedroom bungalows in Wales (even ones next door to a fire station) will require an expensive, unsightly sprinkler system, with an even more expensive maintenance contract, payable for the lifetime of the building, so that some developers and some shameless architects can squeeze the last few square centimetres of usable space out of hi-rise apartment interiors. Who is really benefiting from this proposal? Plumbers, certainly. The home insurance industry is the only other one I can think of - premiums will go up, not down, because of the ever-present risk of water damage from an un-tested technology and failed maintenance contracts. The real winners will be the developers of high density housing. The losers will be everyone else. There are better value, more effective, and more attractive methods for safeguarding lives and property, many of them already embedded in the regulations, most of them not reliant on technology with built-in obsolescence. Sprinkler systems have their place, in appropriate buildings with dedicated facilities management teams. Not private residences. This is absolutely b-o-n-k-e-r-s, and another nail in the coffin of the Welsh house-building industry. Which is why it will never become law in England.

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  • Hurrah - a voice of reason! Of course this measure is ludicrous and unnecessary! Passive fire protection which sits quietly, inexpensively & unobtrusively in a home is by far the better option. Let's see how pleased the Assembly still is with itself as insurance claims rise thanks to sprinklers being inadvertently set off by teenagers making themselves toast at 2.00am!

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  • 1-2% cost increase. So, thats up to £4k on a £200k home, plus £6k stamp duty, £2k arrangement fees, not to mention part L, etc etc.... And we wonder why first time buyers are struggling!

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  • And when they go off accidentally they soak all your stuff - what about that Damien Hurst over the sofa?

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  • Mind you it might stop a few holiday houses from being torched by the locals.

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  • Installing sprinklers is a good idea in principle but they have to be maintained, which costs time and money. As it is many people don’t maintain their smoke alarms, so is it likely they will maintain the sprinkler system? And will having sprinklers make householders complacent about other fire protection measures?
    Not many people have heard of passive fire protection but almost everyone already benefits from it. In most properties it is built in - walls, doors and windows which can stop the rapid spread of fire and allow time to escape. The only maintenance issues involve making sure that these are properly restored after alterations.
    The point is that fire protection is not about any one element. Active measures such as sprinklers and smoke alarms work alongside built in protection. No law should be passed nor Government statement issued on fire protection unless these measures are considered as a whole.

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