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New Fire Regulations for Apartments
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (DHPLG), issued a Draft version of the Technical Guidance Document B (TGD B) on 25 June 2019. The purpose of this draft is to provide additional guidance on the necessary fire safety measures for open plan apartment buildings in Ireland.
The current version of TGD B (2006) still refers to BS 5588 Part 1 for guidance in apartment buildings. However, this was withdrawn in 2011 and replaced by BS 9991 which provided new guidance on sprinklered open plan apartment design.
Following a request from fire authorities for guidance on the applicability of BS 9991 the Department carried out a review of BS 9991 from an Irish Building Regulations context. This has resulted in the draft TGD B which contains additional requirements for open-plan apartments.
The Department instigated an 8-week public consultation period which ended on Friday 23 August 2019. A significant number of submissions were made highlighting the additional cost and querying the technical extent of the requirements proposed.
Over the past year, no idea has been too big or small, so far we have:
- Open plan apartments are not permitted in apartment buildings <11m in height to the top storey, where the apartments open directly into the stair i.e. there is no common lobby.
- Upgrade of apartment entrance doors from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
- The bedrooms should be enclosed in fire resisting construction, including a fire door with a self-closer
- The main kitchen cooking appliances should be located at least 3m away from any escape route from any inner room to the flat entrance door
- Corridor Travel Distances – where the apartments are sprinklered, travel distances in the common corridor can be increased to 15m. The travel distance is taken from the door of the furthest apartment to the door to the stair or firefighting lobby. The corridor with 15m travel distances should be provided with a natural smoke venting system.
- Firefighting Core Layouts – the new guidance states, “In a building used as flats, the firefighting lobby should not provide direct access to flat entrance doors”.
The document did not make any reference to transitional periods.
The Department stated that the cost impact was marginal but that in c.50% of the projects reviewed, there would be a cost implication of €1,100 – €2,200.
Private Sector view
A significant number of private developers involved in apartment construction and professional bodies made submissions to the Department. Some of these submissions were quite detailed and included financial analysis of the potential impact of the proposed amendments on their projects. Generally, it was found that the cost impact was significantly higher than the €1,100-€2,200 advised by the Department.
Mitchell McDermott carried out independent cost assessments for some of their clients which formed the financial part of the submissions to the Department. We found that the hard construction costs ranged from €8-€10,000 for a 2-bed apartment. However, if the proposed amendments required the resubmission of a scheme that had planning permission which was under construction but did not currently have a granted fire certificate, (number of schemes start under a seven-day notice while the planning application is being considered by the fire authority.
This is done due to the current delays in the system.) then the delay costs to the project including redesign, revised planning application, revised fire certificate application, landholding costs, vacant site levy and potential reduced revenues due to less desirable apartment layouts could add an additional €18,000 to this cost, bringing the overall figure to €26,000-€28,000.
Therefore, quite apart from the additional hard construction costs involved in the proposed amendments, the hidden costs involved in schemes that were already on site would even be more significant.
It was also found that schemes that did not have a sprinkler system installed as part of their design would require complete redesign for the travel distances and number of apartments per core. The Department have made significant inroads into apartment efficiency in their design guidelines and this particular aspect would negate any advancement in that regard.
Current Status (5 December 2019)
There has been no formal response from the Department to the submissions made on the proposed amendments. However, we understand that the Department may be considering a two-year transition period, a reduction in the extent of new fireproofing required within the apartment and a reduction in the separation distance from the cooker to the escape routes.
Author: Paul Mitchell