Installing fire sprinkler systems in social housing? Cover them with Pendock
February 2021

The significant increase in the number of retro-fitted fire sprinkler system installations over the past few years, particularly in high rise residential blocks, is testament to the commitment from social housing landlords to help protect residents and improve fire safety.

While the scope of safety improvements recommended in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire are far reaching and go well beyond sprinkler systems, it’s widely accepted that they make a significant contribution to tenant safety and security, while also providing peace of mind.

With the speed of sheer numbers of installations taking place, many contractors have turned to Pendock to provide a quick and easy method of boxing in the orange surface mounted sprinkler pipework from our ‘Pendock Profiles’ MXF range.

In addition, we regularly get asked questions about fire sprinklers and our sprinkler boxing products, so we asked our Technical Projects Manager, Gavin Byram to provide us with some answers to common queries we receive from local authorities, housing associations and contractors.

Q: Is it a common practice to retro-fit sprinkler systems?

A: Yes, there have always been sprinkler retro-fit projects, especially in high rise blocks, but nowhere near the levels that are currently being installed driven by pro-active social housing landlords and updated regulations. Sprinkler systems control or extinguish fires in almost every case.

Q: Is there a specific requirement to fit sprinkler systems in high-rise flats?

A: Currently, there are no requirement to retrospectively install fire sprinklers in existing buildings in England, although existing high-rises in England must have them fitted if a fundamental change is made to the structure or use of the building.

However, a review of Building Regulations ADB in May 2020, which came into force in November 2020, has reduced the height of new buildings where the installation of sprinklers is mandatory from 30 metres to 11 metres.

These regulations are the same in Northern Ireland, but in Scotland the rules apply to residential buildings over 18 metres, while in Wales, all new and refurbished residential accommodation must have sprinklers.

Nevertheless, a number of bodies have called for the retro-fitting of sprinklers, which includes The All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group, RIBA, the Fire Brigades Union and the ABI.

Q: Are retro-fit installations more challenging when compared to new build?

A: Fitting sprinkler systems at sites that are still occupied can be challenging, as tenants are still living in their flats, yet one of the main issues is that retro-fitted pipework needs to avoid obstacles and accommodate existing structures and layouts.

With new build properties, the pipework can be ‘planned-in’ at the design stage and be hidden within cavity spaces but retrofit sprinkler pipework has to be surface mounted onto existing ceilings and walls. This clearly leaves the unsightly orange coloured pipework and sprinkler heads visible, which is why our sprinkler boxing is used to conceal them and provide tenants with a much more acceptable finish in their flats, which also helps limit complaints.

Q: How is the pipework ‘boxed in’?

A: As public sector budgets are already tight, it’s crucial for landlords to choose an approach that will save time and money on site. Our MXF range of boxing from the Pendock Profiles range is manufactured from pre-formed plywood and pre-finished in white so there’s no fabrication on-site or painting.

This saves a significant amount of time and cost, which also helps minimise tenant disruption. From other pipe-boxing installations we have monitored, we estimate it takes half the time to fit pre-formed pipe boxing compared to on-site fabrication.

We offer a range of accessories, including access panels and a bracket system that eliminates the removal of asbestos ceilings. We also offer site visits and assistance with overall project design.

The alternative, which is still used by some contractors, is to fabricate their own solutions while at a property by cutting lengths of wood or MDF to size and shape, then gluing it around the pipework before finally painting it.

This approach can understandably be very time consuming and costly, as it usually involves a lot of measuring and adjustment as flats in tower blocks typically have different internal layouts.

The results are not always satisfactory in terms of aesthetics and consistency of fit and finish either. Also, when considering the large number of flats on a major residential estate, the cumulative costs and potential for delays can mount up.