Smoke ventilation installation – Fit for purpose?
In this second of the three part series exploring smoke control and fire safety in buildings from a contractors’ perspective, Will Perkins Group Managing Director, of smoke and natural ventilation specialist, SE Controls, looks at installation issues, regulations and compliance.
In the first part of this brief series, attention was directed primarily toward building design and the importance of compliance with the relevant codes and regulations to ensure that smoke ventilation system and related fire protection solutions are compliant.
Good building design, however, is only part of the smoke ventilation system story. A fully compliant design can be easily undermined or compromised at the point where the system’s components are selected and installed. System commissioning also has a vitally important role to play to not only ensure the system functions as the designer intended, but to also identify any areas where ‘tuning’ might be required to optimise the smoke ventilation system’s performance.
For example, it has been known for openings for ventilators to be sited in the wrong place during construction and smoke shafts to be incorrectly sized when compared to the original drawings and specifications. All of these situations not only create a headache for the installer, but also mean that the fire safety and smoke ventilation system is compromised, unless they can be corrected during installation and commissioning to meet the design specification and relevant regulations.
Clearly, this places additional demands on installers. Not only must they be capable of installing the smoke ventilation system to a high standard, but also be fully conversant with its operation and be capable of configuring and adjusting its operating parameters to be fully compliant and function to the original design spec.
This raises three core related issues. The first is the need to select the correct equipment from the outset, the second is that the system must be installed to the relevant standards of operation and the third is that installers must have the necessary skills to understand the operation and control of the smoke ventilation system and ensure it provides the protection for which it was designed.
When selecting equipment for smoke ventilation systems, it must be remembered that they are not a set of random devices that happen to be connected together. The automatic opening vents (AOV), sensing systems, power supplies, controllers and even the cabling are all designed as a complete system, where the quality and integrity of every element is critical for the system’s effective operation.
Prior to the introduction of the Construction Products Regulation, which came into force on July 1st 2013 and demands that all products are to be CE marked, UK installers were required to install components that are ‘fit for purpose’. Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations explained that this could be demonstrated by installing appropriate products bearing CE marking.
Inevitably, ‘fit for purpose’ was open to a wide degree of interpretation and possible misinterpretation, which could have a detrimental effect on the system’s performance. To help overcome this possible issue, many equipment manufacturers, including SE Controls, have been producing and supplying fully compliant products well in advance of the legal requirements. This clearly has assisted contractors in ensuring compliance with the Construction Products Regulation, which now makes the installation of appropriate CE marked products mandatory, in line with the rest of Europe.
To comply with CE marking requirements, products used in smoke & heat ventilation systems must comply with the BS EN12101 standard which includes performance specifications for smoke barriers, natural smoke and heat exhaust ventilators, powered smoke and heat exhaust ventilators, smoke ducts, smoke dampers, control equipment and power supplies.
BS EN12101 is supplemented by a range of further standards and guidance, which are designed to ensure that smoke control systems, including their installation, operate effectively and safely. BS9991 and the recently updated Smoke Control Association’s guidance on smoke control in apartment buildings, clearly explain industry best practice.
BS 8519:2010 not only provides a guide on cable selection, depending on how long the cable should remain functional in a fire, but also covers key aspects of their installation including fixings, containment and any jointing requirements to ensure that circuit integrity is not compromised.
Other mandatory directives also come into play, such as avoiding entrapment, where AOVs are located less than 2.5 metres from floor level and provision to install tamperproof devices, ensuring that unauthorised actuation is removed and the system cannot be compromised.
From a contracting perspective, an important and wide reaching standard for the installation of smoke control systems is currently under development. BS7346 Part 8 is a comprehensive code of practice for planning, designing, installing, commissioning, use and maintenance of smoke control systems. When complete and introduced, BS7346 Part 8 is likely to be used in conjunction with BS9999; BS9991; EN12101 and Building Regulations Approved Documents.
Ensuring that the system is constructed to meet the relevant standards is absolutely essential, but installation and correct commissioning is the key for effective operation. Installers have an obligation to ensure systems are at least ‘fit for purpose’ and follow best practice. The smoke control industry is working to raise installation quality on many fronts. The FIRAS Approved Installer Certification Scheme will move the industry towards third party accreditation and it is hoped that this scheme will be launched later during 2012.
Fire safety in buildings is, by necessity, a highly regulated environment and there is nothing new in that. Yet, the increasing complexity, diversity and detail of recent legislation and codes of practice place clear obligations on contractors to comply. It is absolutely essential that contracting standards are maintained and increased in relation to fire safety and smoke control systems. Whatever individual opinions might be held, legislation will ensure this happens and non-compliance will not be an option.
The final part of this series will be looking at the importance of regular maintenance of smoke control systems, the competence of the personnel undertaking this maintenance, the need for accurate and updated documentation and the legal obligations placed on stakeholders.