Housebuilders will be allowed to install sprinklers instead as part of overhaul of Part B of the Building Regulations

Fire escapes could become a thing of the past after the government proposed expanding the use of sprinklers in tall residential buildings.

The government’s changes to fire safety in Part B of the Building Regulations mean that housebuilders would be able to install sprinklers on dwellings more than four storeys rather than a fire escape.

The proposal, part of a radical revamp of fire safety, would force housebuilders to install sprinklers in residential care homes and buildings more than 30 m high at a cost of £1m a year.

The total cost of complying with the changes for the construction industry could be as much as £81m a year.

Other proposals include:

  • Removal of requirement for door closers in dwellings
  • Requirement for a smoke alarms in main bedrooms
  • More cavity barriers
  • Wider stairs in tall buildings
  • A regulation requiring developers to pass safety information to owners of non-dwellings

The government said the measures would prevent up to 18 lives and 367 injuries over a 10-year period.

The use of lifts could give us greater flexibility

Peter Bressington, Arup

The removal of self-closing devices in dwellings would save £14m a year in build costs, but would hit door closer manufacturers.

Peter Bressington, Arup director, said: “It’s a recognition of reality as people often block doors or take closers off.”

The most expensive proposal is to increase the width of stairs in buildings higher than 30 m to make evacuation and fire-fighting easier. The construction costs of this measure are estimated to be £33m a year.

However, the document says that, in some circumstances, lifts could be provided as part of a management plan for evacuation. Bressington believes this could reduce the area of stairs needed. “It could give us greater flexibility and lower construction costs, but the opportunity needs to be spelled out.”

The consultation period ends on 18 November.