There is no doubt that smoke alarms save lives – but only if they continue to work effectively for a long time. Social housing providers have a duty of care when specifying, but what should they look for?
Compliance with Building Regulations is a legal requirement for new build and change of use only, although many local authorities and housing associations use the regulations as a benchmark for refurbishment. Part B requires at least one smoke alarm on each floor and, in some cases, a heat alarm in the kitchen, which must all be inter-linked. They must be mains powered and, where battery backup is available, this can be from a regularly used lighting circuit (but not from a light fitting). Smoke alarms on ceilings should be at least 300 mm from walls or lights and not fixed to a surface that is much warmer or cooler than the space, as air currents may move smoke away. Guidance on where to use both optical and ion types of smoke alarm is included.
BS 5839 Part 6:1995 is the code of practice for design and installation and offers similar guidance to Part B. In terms of product compliance, BS 5446 Part 1:2000 applies. Here, specifiers are responsible for satisfying themselves that products comply fully, in all respects – not just "made in accordance with". They should ask for detailed evidence of full compliance. Third-party certification, as referred to in the Building Regulations, is the most secure means of achieving this, through organisations such as BSi.
This is the BSi system of certifying full product compliance with appropriate standards, resulting from exhaustive third-party testing, inspection and auditing. The Kitemark is recognised by 80% of the population as a symbol of quality and safety.
CE Marking is linked to the European Construction Products Directive, and a source of some confusion. At present, CE marking for smoke alarms relates only to compliance with certain aspects of electrical safety. It can be self-certified, it is not a quality mark and certainly does not signify full compliance with all aspects of BS 5446. But with the implementation of a harmonised European standard, the performance characteristics of products involved with life safety, such as smoke and heat alarms, will require full product conformity attestation. This must include third-party certification by notified bodies such as BSi. It is expected that most of the 600 or so harmonised standards will be in place within three years.
Duct down: The new cabling regsThe government has issued a new Building Regulations consultation document, Part Q, which could require that all buildings have cable ducting installed during construction. The aim of the document is to ensure that buildings including dwellings can be easily fitted with communication services such as broadband internet in the future. The document is particularly relevant to the housing association and local authority sectors as the government believes that the provision of broadband communication will help to prevent social exclusion within communities. It is considering whether to leave the take-up to market forces or give it a boost by incorporating some or all of the following requirements within Part Q.
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