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Fire regulation changes

New proposals to improve domestic fire safety with sprinklers are essentially unrealistic and miss an obvious opportunity to save lives at a much lower cost presented by existing guidelines for hard-wired smoke and heat alarms.

The first legislative steps have just been taken towards mandatory fire suppression systems in all new and converted homes in Wales. But, if implemented, proposals from the Welsh Assembly would add a claimed 1-2% - which could actually be much higher – onto the cost of a home. This would be a real disincentive to housebuilders operating in Wales. Owners and occupiers would also be faced with annual maintenance costs of £75-£150. Fire suppression systems have proved to be particularly effective in non-domestic buildings but raise a range of issues when applied to housing.

A much simpler solution to cutting fire deaths and injuries for a negligible cost is to address the illogical discrepancy between Building Regulations Part B – which applies to Wales as well as England – and the current Code of Practice for domestic fire alarm systems, BS 5839-6: 2004.

Currently, Part B requires smoke alarms just in corridors and heat alarms in some kitchens. But, as BS 5839-6 points out, this: "might not therefore prevent the death or serious injury of occupants in the room where the fire originates". It is worth remembering that around half of all domestic fire fatalities occur in the room of fire origination – and more in bedrooms.

BS 5839-6 is recognised as the authoritative guidance for both new and existing dwellings. It requires smoke or heat alarms in living rooms and a heat alarm in every kitchen, where most fires start, as well as the usual smoke alarms in circulation areas – all hard-wired with power backup and interconnected. But there have been other proposals for an extra, linked smoke alarm in the main bedroom too, essentially to wake sleeping occupants in a fire. And some alarm manufacturers offer CO alarms that act as sounders for interconnected smoke alarms as well as protecting against carbon monoxide poisoning.

So, for the negligible cost of installing 2 or 3 additional hard-wired alarms during construction, our homes could have in-built, comprehensive fire and CO safety. And it’s still not too late to alter the current Welsh Assembly proposals for sprinkler systems into these far more realistic measures.

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