By February 27, 2015 Read More →

Giving your customers the right advice

Basing your customer advice about smoke, heat and carbon monoxide on the latest British Standards, rather than Building Regulations, could pay dividends as well as save lives, explains Rex Taylor, Technical Support Manager of Kidde Safety.

Covering both new and existing homes, BS 5839-6:2013, Part 6: Code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire detection and fire alarm systems in domestic premises provides the definitive guidance on smoke and heat alarms. The latest edition, replacing the previous 2004 version, incorporates several important changes and covers sheltered housing for the first time.

Although taking a risk assessment approach, it does list the minimum Categories (in which areas smoke/heat alarms are required) and Grades (reliability of a system in terms of its power sources) recommended for different types of housing. Here, there are major discrepancies between the Code and Building Regulations Part B, applying to England and Wales.

For the majority of homes – including new or materially altered homes (such as loft conversions) up to three storeys and with no single floor over 200m2 – the Code recommends a minimum Category LD2. This means at least one smoke alarm in every principal habitable room and at least one heat alarm in every kitchen, in addition to smoke alarms in circulation areas.

But the current Approved Document B still falls well below this minimum standard, despite making reference to the Code itself. Part B continues to require only Category LD3 protection, with smoke alarms just in corridors and heat alarms in some (but not all) kitchens – the room where most fires start. As the Code points out, Category LD3, called for in Part B, might not prevent death or serious injury in rooms where fires start, such as living rooms.

There is therefore a strong case to use the Code recommendation of more alarms, rather than Part B. Responsible specifiers routinely exceed Part B requirements already. Interestingly, Regulations in the rest of the UK and Ireland do effectively follow the Code. And with devolvement of Building Regulations in Wales to the Welsh Assembly Government Part B might no longer apply there either in the future.

One area where all the Building Regulations and the Code are agreed is in demanding Grade D hard-wired, interconnected smoke and heat alarms with back-up power. Battery-only smoke alarms are not permitted where Building Regulations apply and, according to the Code, Grade F battery-powered alarms can only be considered in existing, owner-occupied, one or two storey dwellings – and then only where there is a ‘reasonable certainty’ that batteries will be replaced when necessary: sealed-in battery alarms can help resolve this issue. But with another important change, the 2013 Code of Practice now excludes battery-only smoke alarms from all rented homes.

Hard-wired interlinked

So, there is now a compelling argument to recommend electrical contractors to fit hard-wired, interlinked smoke and heat alarms as a matter of course. In Scotland, this is already a legal requirement in all rented housing, with at least one alarm on each floor, and the UK government is considering similar measures. Registered HMOs also need them to meet local authority rules, which may well extend with the growth of compulsory licensing of private landlords.

In existing properties, wireless interlinking technology can save time and disruption to the building fabric – particularly important with historic, ‘listed’ properties – when interconnecting smoke and heat alarms. For example, by using accessories such as Kidde’s Slick® Wireless Alarm Base, intrusive wiring between mains alarms, each powered from an adjacent lighting circuit, can be eliminated. This is also useful for extending an existing hard-wired interconnect installation of the company’s products. And it enables a Remote Test & Hush switch accessory to be used, which is helpful for elderly or disabled people, or where alarms are fitted on high ceilings.

CO alarms in all homes

There is also a strong case for encouraging customers to fit CO alarms in all homes and pressure is growing for mandatory installation in all rented properties. The main difficulty with CO is that the dangers are often far from obvious and it comes from a surprisingly wide variety of sources. We simply cannot predict all the possible causes of CO in a home, the actions of occupants and the impact of changes over time. However, CO alarms that provide an audible warning at exposure levels well below those critical to healthy adults can alert occupants – whether awake or asleep – and save lives.

Kidde 10LLCO Display PR

The latest guidance on CO alarms in domestic and other residential premises is provided by BS EN 50292:2013. It recommends that, ideally, a CO alarm should be installed in every room containing a fuel-burning appliance (or just outside boiler rooms for audibility) and also in other well-used rooms remote from the appliance, as well as all bedrooms. Where the number of CO alarms is limited, priority should be given to any room containing a flue-less or open-flue appliance and where the occupants spend most time. In addition, rooms with extended or concealed flues passing through should also have an alarm.

Building Regulations throughout the UK and Ireland all require CO alarms to varying degrees but only with installation of new or replacement combustion appliances – and that excludes those used for cooking. In particular, BS EN 50292’s more rigorous approach contrasts starkly with the 2010 Part J Approved Document applying to England and Wales. This only requires a CO alarm with installation of certain, solid fuel heating appliances, whether as replacements or in new-builds. The continuing toll of deaths and illness resulting from carbon monoxide incidents associated with other fuels and types of combustion appliances, including cookers, highlights the urgent need for a better standard than this.

10-year guarantee

All the national Regulations and the relevant British Standard are unanimous in allowing use of either mains or battery-only CO alarms where the battery is designed to operate for the whole working life of the alarm. Here, quality is key to long term, problem-free performance. For example, Kidde’s 10LLCO range of carbon monoxide alarms enjoys a full 10-year guarantee covering both alarm and sealed-in lithium battery. The CO sensors – the key component – are actually tested throughout a 10-year period or longer and Kidde also manufactures its own sensors, allowing tighter quality controls to be applied.

The alarms also have an extra End-of-Life/Fault LED and an alarm sounder designed to protect occupants and installers’ hearing when testing, with an initial lower level of sound being generated. Both models are small in size with a slim profile and can be wall-mounted or used free-standing. They are simply activated by the slide-on back plate, so preserving battery freshness until needed, and a tamper resisting self-locking installation system avoids battery theft.

Pictured here: Kidde’s new Slick alarms.

New Slick_alarms