Sprinkler systems

Many existing properties across the UK could be better prepared for the risk of fire if sprinkler systems were fitted. However, with retrofit installations, pipework is surface-mounted onto ceilings and walls meaning systems can look unsightly, as well as being left open to damage. Gavin Byram, National Sales Manager at Pendock, explains more about the challenges, and how pre-formed sprinkler pipe boxing can be easily fitted by installers to ensure systems are discreet, aesthetically pleasing and well protected.

Sprinkler systems widely recognised as the single most effective method for fighting the spread of fires in their early stages can help to protect life, property and livelihoods. The National Fire Chiefs Council has found that people are up to four times safer and 50% likely to be harmed or injured in instances where sprinklers are installed. While there is currently no requirement to retrofit sprinkler systems in existing buildings in England (though this may change with the upcoming Fire Safety Bill), the list of organisations backing, recommending or campaigning for retrofit installations is long.

There have been calls for sprinkler systems to be fitted in many types of existing public sector and commercial buildings. The most well-publicised are, understandably, social housing tower blocks, following the Grenfell Tower disaster. A fire safety expert and others have said sprinklers would have stopped the fatal fire from spreading, and an independent review from the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee recommended that, where structurally feasible, sprinklers should be retrofitted to existing high-rise residential buildings to provide an extra layer of safety for residents. It also suggested that government should make funding available to fit sprinklers into council and housing association owned residential buildings above 18 metres.

Increased focus has been placed on schools too. Home Office statistics for England show the Fire and Rescue Services attended 524 fires in education premises in 2019/2020, and research from insurer Zurich Municipal suggests that schools in England are nearly twice as likely to suffer from a fire as other types of non-residential buildings. The company has also recently launched a parliamentary petition to urge MPs to change the law on sprinklers in schools. The National Fire Chiefs Council has recently reiterated its call for all schools to have sprinklers fitted, following the loss of two schools in Derbyshire (which did not have sprinklers) in early October 2020.

The installation of sprinkler systems has been recommended for many other types of public sector buildings, including care homes and hospitals, as well as commercial buildings. As a consequence, many property owners have therefore invested in retrofit sprinkler systems. In particular, we have seen local authorities and housing associations committing to fitting sprinklers in their high-rise residential properties, despite a lack of funding from government. Birmingham City Council, for example, is installing them throughout its 213 high-rise residential properties (at a cost of 31 million).

Exposed sprinkler pipework

Retrofit sprinkler installations can, however, be more challenging than new build projects, with the equipment needing to be fitted around existing structures, layouts and materials. With a retrofit installation, lengths of sprinkler system pipework are mounted onto ceilings and walls, rather than being concealed as would be the case in a new build property. As sprinkler pipework is usually made from chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), and is orange, it can be really unsightly.

Its essential for building occupants to feel comfortable with sprinkler system installations, but plans are not always met with immediate acceptance. Anecdotal evidence suggests that social housing landlords in particular can face resistance, especially in terms of aesthetics. While many tenants welcome sprinklers, some have refused to have them fitted in their homes because they believe the unattractive pipework would have a detrimental impact.

Aesthetics are also important in education environments, with it being suggested that interior design can influence learning. As for hotels, B&Bs and guest houses, the propertys interior tends to be an important factor for guests in terms of their experience, and whether they choose to return.

Sprinkler system pipework is therefore often concealed, or boxed in, so the visual impact is minimised. This goes a long way towards ensuring the sprinkler system is discreet and unobtrusive and complements the existing dcor. Concealing pipework also protects the system; accidental, or even deliberate, activation of sprinkler heads can have major consequences, including huge refurbishment costs.

Fitting sprinkler systems within live occupied sites is another challenge. In schools and hotels, installations can be carried out over holidays or during quiet periods, respectively, but social housing tower blocks will usually be constantly occupied. This makes it essential to carry out sprinkler system installations as quickly and efficiently as possible, with minimal disruption and inconvenience to tenants. In addition, the less labour-intensive the installation is, the lower the cost will be an important consideration for social housing landlords with limited budgets.

Pipework boxing is one area where savings can be made, by making a switch to pre-formed solutions. Some sprinkler system companies employ carpenters or joiners to fabricate boxing in solutions on site. This involves constructing a wooden frame around the pipework and then fixing lengths of wood or MDF to it. The materials will need to be cut to size and shape and the boxing will need to be primed and painted. This approach will usually involve a lot of measuring and adjustment; flats in tower blocks typically have different internal layouts or architypes, and sprinkler system designs also vary from one company to the next. On-site fabrication can therefore be time-consuming which can prove costly and can delay completion.

Example of pre-formed pipework boxing for a sprinkler system

The end result especially in terms of aesthetics and consistency of fit and finish are not always satisfactory (or acceptable) either. Subcontractors often find themselves under pressure to complete jobs within a fixed (and usually tight) budget and timescale, which can affect the level of quality and workmanship that can realistically be achieved.

An alternative is pre-formed, pre-finished sprinkler pipe boxing, which provides a neat, uniform finish while reducing the time and costs involved and minimising tenant disruption. It effectively covers lengths of sprinkler pipework running along ceilings and walls, with a small decorative cover plate concealing the sprinkler heads.

Its simple to fit and doesnt require painting, making it a cost-effective, quick solution. In fact, we estimate it takes half the time to fit pre-formed pipe boxing compared to on-site fabrication. In our experience, a full sprinkler system installation in a flat (including the pre-formed pipe boxing) should be completed within three days.

While boxing in was traditionally the realm of carpenters or joiners (being regarded as a specialist skill), todays pre-formed solutions mean a sprinkler system installer can carry out this work, even if carpentry and decorating skills dont come naturally. Installers can maximise their productivity and profitability on each job, which is particularly important in todays economic climate. Some installation companies report theyve been able to easily upskill their workforce, with the majority of installers being able to fit pre-formed boxing.

Sprinkler systems protect people and property, and retrofit installations have therefore been recommended for many types of existing buildings. The aesthetic impact of retrofit systems will however need to be mitigated, with exposed pipework being unsightly. Pre-formed pipe boxing is a simple, neat, cost-effective, quick solution that minimises upheaval and maximises profitability.

Pendock offers a range of sprinkler system pipe boxing and accessories, as well as assistance with drawing take offs and site visits.

Revisit this unmissable webinar to hear from ASFP's Niall Rowan, FPA's Jonathan O'Neill, FSF's Dennis Davies and FIA's Ian Moore on how COVID-19 has affected the fire safety sector. It's essential listening for the current moment.

Improving the aesthetics and appeal of retrofitted sprinkler systems with pipework boxingGavin Byram from Pendock explains how pre-formed pipework boxing can improve the aesthetics and ease of installation of retrofitted sprinkler systems.

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Improving the aesthetics and appeal of retrofitted sprinkler systems with pipework boxing - IFSEC Global

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October 23, 2020 at 6:50 am by Mr HomeBuilder
Category: Sprinkler System