Advice Note on Balconies on Residential Buildings

Published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

This Advice Note provides advice on the risks arising from balconies on residential buildings.

This Advice Note is written for residents and building owners of residential buildings with multiple dwellings (i.e. blocks of flats), although the principles may also apply to other building types.

 

  1. Summary

1.1. Balconies made with combustible materials are a potential source of rapid fire spread on the external wall of residential buildings.

1.2.The department’s position, endorsed by the Expert Panel, is that the building regulations required that the material and construction of balconies should have been such that balconies should not compromise resident safety by providing a means of external fire spread, even before the introduction of the ban on combustible materials in December 2018. We have previously issued Advice Note 14, which advises building owners to ensure they have assessed the risks with regards to external walls, and this note clarifies the advice in relation to balconies.

1.3. Building owners should be aware of the materials used in the construction of their external wall, including the construction of balconies and the potential for any horizontal and vertical fire spread due to their arrangement on the external wall. These should be considered as part of any fire risk assessment.

1.4.The view of the Expert Panel is that the removal and replacement of any combustible material used in balcony construction is the clearest way to prevent external fire spread from balconies and therefore to meet the intention of building regulation requirements and this should occur as soon as practical.

1.5.Building owners should inform residents about the risks arising from the presence of combustible materials on balconies. They should make clear that smoking, the use of barbecues and storage of flammable property on balconies can increase that risk. Advice from fire and rescue authorities is clear that barbecues should not be used on balconies.

 

  1. Balconies

2.1.Balcony fires can spread to the adjacent balconies or into the building. If combustible materials have been used in the balcony or external wall system, it is possible that fire may spread rapidly across the façade. The risk is increased if combustible materials are used extensively (i.e. in floors and facades of balconies and in certain geometries).

2.2. Paragraph B4 of Schedule 1 of the Building Regulations 2010 sets out that:

“the external walls of the building shall adequately resist the spread of fire over the walls and from one building to another, having regard to the height, use and location of the building”.

2.3.Approved Document B paragraph 12.5 also sets out that “The external envelope of a building should not provide a medium for fire spread if it is likely to be a risk to health or safety.”

2.4. The department’s view, endorsed by the Expert Panel, is that these provisions apply to buildings regardless of height and that building owners need to ensure that any balconies do not compromise resident safety by providing a means of external fire spread.

2.5.The government has taken action to address the risks arising from balconies on new buildings in the revisions to the Building Regulations introduced in December 2018. This requires balconies on new residential buildings over 18m to be made of non-combustible materials (i.e. materials classified as A1 or A2-s1, d0).

2.6.Existing buildings of all heights may, however, have balconies which have been constructed using combustible materials (excluding escape balconies, which should already have used non-combustible materials).

2.7.Building owners should therefore ensure that they understand the materials used in the construction of existing balconies, irrespective of the building height. Building owners should assess the associated risk of external fire spread and take appropriate action to manage this risk and ensure compliance with the principle set out in Requirement B4 of the Building Regulations. This should include assessing whether adequate fire protection is in place to resist fire spread both across and through the external wall.

2.8.Where there is doubt over the materials used, or risk presented, building owners should seek professional advice from an appropriately qualified and competent professional (i.e. a fire engineer or construction professional with significant knowledge and experience of fire safety).

2.9.Building owners should also ensure that any risks arising from balconies are considered as part of the fire risk assessment and information provided to residents.

2.10. In assessing the level of fire risk from balconies, building owners and their professional advisers will want to consider the extent of use of combustible materials, the geometry of combustible materials in balconies and external walls and whether there are large spans of combustible material which may assist horizontal and/or lateral fire spread.

2.11. The view of the Expert Panel is that the clearest way to prevent the risk

of external fire spread and is to remove and replace any combustible material with one that is non-combustible (classified as A1 or A2-s1, d0).

2.12. The fire risk on balconies can also be increased due to the use of balconies as storage. A significant number of balcony fires start from the unsafe disposal of smoking materials and the misuse of barbecues.

2.13. Building owners should have policies in place as to what can and cannot be stored and used on balconies by residents and should review these in the light of the materials used in the balcony construction. They should also communicate with residents to develop their understanding of these risks.

2.14. There have been several incidents of balcony fires which have led to external fire spread. BRE Global published examples of this in their 2016 report “Fire safety issues with balconies”.

2.15. The BRE report concluded that “…managers and risk assessors all need to be mindful of the potential fire risk associated with fires on balconies from their incorporation into the building…”. The Expert Panel supports this advice.

2.16. The BRE Global report quoted above also identifies that there are additional risks from materials used to prevent heat loss through thermal bridging that may increase fire spread. Building owners should understand whether these materials are present and consider them as part of their assessment of risk.

 

  1. Resident concerns

3.1. Residents with concerns about the fire safety of their premises should contact their managing agent, management company or landlord in the first instance. They should be able to provide them with information on fire safety of the building and how this is being managed. Building owners should respond promptly to any such requests.

3.2.If residents are unable to obtain fire safety information, or believe their concerns are not being addressed appropriately, then there is information on the government website about organisations who can provide support at:

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/building-safety-programme-other-fire-safety-concerns

3.3. Any urgent fire safety concerns should be raised with the local fire and rescue service.

 

BS 5839-6: 2019 – Quantum’s Advice

This latest Q Briefing has been produced following requests from clients wishing to further understand the practical implications of this new British Standard in relation to existing residential properties and to new / refurbished residential properties.

Note: This latest guidance should be read in conjunction with the previously produced Q Briefing BS 5839-6 2019 – What has changed?

 

Principle changes include:

  1. The scope of the standard has been expanded to include ‘supported housing’.

 

  1. Grades of fire alarm systems have been re-defined – there are now eight grades compared to six before (note Grade B & E have not yet been defined).

Grade A: A fire detection fire alarm system, which incorporates control and indicating equipment (CIE) and power supply equipment and which is designed and installed in accordance with all the recommendations of BS 5839-1:2017.

Grade C: A system of fire detectors and alarm sounders (which may be combined in the form of smoke alarms) connected to a common power supply, comprising the normal mains and a standby supply, with CIE.

Grade D1: A system of one or more mains powered detectors each with a tamper-proof standby supply consisting of a battery or batteries.

Grade D2: A system of one or more mains powered detectors each with an integral standby supply consisting of a user-replaceable battery or batteries.

Grade F1: A system of one or more battery powered detectors powered by a tamper-proof primary battery or batteries.

Grade F2: A system of one or more battery powered detectors powered by user-replaceable primary battery or batteries.

Note: it is now recommended that in rental properties a Grade D1 system is installed i.e. sealed batteries as they are more reliable.

 

  1. There has been a revision of Table 1 in the guide which covers the recommended grades and categories of fire alarm systems for different types of properties.

Example changes include;

Sheltered Housing (New) – Grade D2 LD1 system.

Sheltered Housing (Existing) – Grade D2 LD2 system.

Supported Housing (New) – Grade D1 or A LD1 system depending on the height of building and number of bedrooms.

 

  1. Guidance has been updated to take into account the publication of BS 5839-1:2017 and other standards published since the last full revision of BS 5839-6 in 2013.

 

  1. There is new guidance to prevent blocking or delaying of fire alarm signals transmitted via social alarm systems in sheltered housing to an alarm receiving centre (ARC).

 

New definition added for:

  1. ‘3.13 dispersed social alarm (telecare) system – system that provides facilities for social alarm initiation, signal transmission, alarm reception, reassurance and assistance for use by older and other persons considered to be living at risk within a single private dwelling, using a private phone line or IP connection to an ARC’

 

  1. ‘3.63 telecare-enabled fire detection and fire alarm system – fire detection and fire alarm system that is interfaced with a social alarm system (3.58), such that there is a facility for signal transmission, alarm reception, reassurance and, where necessary, assistance (e.g. summoning of the fire and rescue service)’

 

  1. There is an increase in the standard of protection in sheltered housing flats from Category LD2 to Category LD1:

Clause 9.1.2 advises:

All dwellings need to be protected to at least the standard afforded by a Category LD3 system. However, for new housing, other than flats in sheltered housing, a Category LD2 system is appropriate. If the risk to occupants from fire in any part of the premises is deemed to be high, a Category LD2 or Category LD1 system is always appropriate. For example, a Category LD1 system needs to be provided in sheltered housing flats and if the occupants have an impairment or disability (mental or physical) that could delay their escape from fire. If it is intended to protect reliably any occupant (regardless of impairment/disability or age) in the room where a fire originates, a suitable Category LD2, or a Category LD1, system needs to be provided. For the highest level of protection of all occupants who might occupy the dwelling over the lifetime of the fire detection and fire alarm system, a Category LD1 system would be appropriate.

 

  1. There is a new addition to the Category of System part regarding analogue systems:

‘It is anticipated that analogue telephone services will cease to be provided within 5 to 10 years of publication of the 2019 edition of this part of BS 5839, as the UK’s telecoms infrastructure is upgraded to digital connectivity. This shift brings a number of opportunities to improve the speed and flexibility of alarm transmission, but in addition has major implications for existing fire detection and fire alarm systems that rely on the fire alarm signal to be transmitted to an ARC or other responder. Many services that employ analogue connectivity, such as sheltered housing, supported housing fire detection and fire alarm systems, and dispersed social alarm (telecare) systems, will need to be upgraded, adapted or replaced to ensure that signalling equipment operates correctly. There is a risk that a great number of vulnerable people could lose the technology on which they rely, and it is likely that other health and care services would be significantly impacted as a result. Manufacturers, designers, installers and maintainers, in addition to other persons responsible for these systems, need to ensure that a process is in place to confirm that their equipment is compatible with the changes and that testing protocols are in place to verify that signalling is not compromised.’

 

  1. There is a new addition to Clause 9.1.6 re social alarms:

‘f) In sheltered housing, measures should be put in place to prevent receipt of alarm signals by any ARC from being significantly delayed if, prior to the fire alarm signal, a device on the social alarm signal is operated in the flat of fire origin or in any (or all) other flats. At the very least, under these circumstances, the display at the ARC should immediately indicate unambiguously a waiting fire alarm signal, without the need to interrupt speech communication initiated in response to a signal from a social alarm device.

 

  1. There is clarification regarding sprinklers being used as heat detectors (but not equivalent to) (Clause 10.1.3).

 

  1. There are new rules for power supplies to Grade C & D & F systems (see also above).

 

  1. There is new guidance regarding manual call points being fitted with covers. (Clause 18.2 d).

 

  1. There is guidance regarding LD systems being linked to ARC if occupants have mobility/sensory impairment that would impair their evacuation, or speech/hearing impairment that would preclude communication by telephone with FRS (Clause 20).

 

  1. There is further guidance for sheltered housing alarms (Clause 20d).

In sheltered housing, facilities should be provided for automatic transmission of fire alarm signals to the fire and rescue service (via a fire or social ARC), both in the case of fire alarm signals from individual dwellings and signals from any fire detection in the common parts. When a scheme manager is on site, the alarm signal may be transmitted to the scheme manager, but, if the scheme manager does not respond to the alarm signal within 30 s, the signal should be relayed automatically to the ARC. The facilities should automatically open a two-way speech channel to permit filtering of fire alarm signals.

 

  1. New guidance on fire alarm testing frequencies.

Grade A systems continue to be tested as before i.e. weekly, periodically and annually.

All other systems (C,D,F), only require monthly testing and annual maintenance.

In the case of smoke alarms, any heat alarms, and multi-sensor fire alarms, this test may be carried out by the use of a test button on each of the smoke alarms and heat alarms installed in the premises. If an alarm has no test button, assistance with testing should be sought from a competent person. In the case of interlinked alarms, the “one alarm, all alarm” feature should be verified. The alarm should be visually inspected, and any defects should be noted for action. Clause 25.2 c).

 

  1. Guidance regarding fire alarm maintenance.

Grade A as per Part 1 systems.

Other grades annually – see table 3.

 

  1. Log Books are required for Grade A and systems in Sheltered or supported housing (Clause 27.2).

 

  1. New guidance that communal fire alarm systems should not normally be installed in purpose-built blocks of flats:

 

  1. The document states that due to compartmentation, communal areas in blocks of flats should not have AFA system, but, nevertheless, if the provision of a fire detection and fire alarm system in these areas can be justified, the recommendations in BS 9991 and BS 5839-1 can be followed. B.S. 9991 recommends that systems installed in communal areas are installed to BS 5839 Part 1 and that where warning devices are installed in specialised housing, they should cater for the applicable sensory conditions and therefore, should be compatible with specialist devices such as vibrating alerters, visual alarm devices, etc. Warning devices should also allow for supplementation where personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) dictate a particular need.
  2. The guidance also refers to Grenfell and states that automatic fire alarm systems installed in flats to compensate for defects in external cladding are considered a temporary measure and should be removed when the cladding is rectified, and are outside the scope of the document (BS 5839 Part 6: 2019).

Building Water Systems Requiring Disinfections

January to May of 2019 saw three different premises, managed by Quantum clients, returning with Legionella results of above 1,000 CFU/L (samples taken by Quantum during Legionella Risk Assessments).

As you may be aware 1,000 CFU/L is the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) action level at which significant remedial action, most commonly system disinfection, is required.

System disinfections by their very nature are costly, labour intensive and can be disruptive to business continuity. Hence, they are best avoided by ensuring appropriate Legionella management by the M&E contractor and their Legionella service provider.

With ambient temperatures becoming warmer over the coming weeks, this time of year often sees an increase in reported high levels of Legionella and other bacteria in the water systems within buildings. Cooling towers will be especially prone to this seasonal variation, however hot and cold water systems are affected also.

A review of the high Legionella results found the following contributory factors;

1. Continuous chemical dosing systems installed to provide Legionella control, instead of hot and cold temperatures, not achieving suitable chemical concentrations at sentinel outlets or throughout the system.

A further briefing note is being put together on this topic, however, the key point to note at this time is that like temperatures (where hot water systems should meet a minimum 50 degrees Celsius at all outlets, and Cold Water Systems a maximum of 20 degrees Celsius at all outlets), chemical systems should also be maintained within minimum and maximum concentrations, and this should be monitored monthly by the Legionella service provider.

2. Monthly monitoring by the M&E contractor identified that hot water temperatures were not achieving the correct temperatures for thermal Legionella control, however no further action was taken. Note: It is a requirement of the HSE that regular Legionella sampling is undertaken in the event control measures are consistently not being achieved.

3. The Legionella service providers being employed by the M&E contractor not being members of the Legionella Control Association (LCA). The LCA is presently the only recognised means by which a company can demonstrate competence within the field of Legionella management. Any companies’ membership can be checked by following this link:
https://www.legionellacontrol.org.uk/directory.php

Should you require any further information, please feel free to contact Tom De Ronde, Quantum’s Principal Legionella Consultant: Tom.deRonde@qcompliance.co.uk