Last edited 13 Oct 2017

The impact of automatic sprinklers on building design

The Impact of Automatic Sprinklers on Building Design: A fire engineering review, is an independent report produced by WSP, sponsored by the Business Sprinkler Alliance (BSA). It was published in September 2017.

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The report aims to raise awareness of the beneficial impact of automatic sprinkler systems, and provides those involved in the design and construction supply chain with useful information about design implications. It gives the reader an appreciation of whether the inclusion of automatic sprinklers for a particular scheme is worthy of further consideration.

Automatic sprinkler systems extinguish or control fires by discharging water locally. Sprinkler systems consists of water supply (tank, pump and valves) and sprinkler installation (pipes and heads). Detection is handled mechanically by heat sensitive elements that can be constructed from soldered links or glass bulbs containing oil based liquids. The thermal element holds in place a plug which prevents water from flowing from the sprinkler head. The thermal elements respond to localised heating which releases the plug and allows water to flow.

Key facts about operation include:

  • Automatic sprinklers will typically only operate in areas where fire is present allowing adjacent rooms or areas to remain unaffected.
  • Discharge in the presence of fire is extremely reliable (98 to 99.8%) and discharge in the absence of fire is rare.
  • Sprinklers have an 80-95% probability of being successful.
  • Generally cost and design complexity increases with fire risk.
  • Systems can be designed to conceal pipes, and the availability of decorative sprinkler heads allows them to be matched with the interior of the space.

The installation of an automatic sprinkler system can reduce the risk to life and the degree of damage caused in a fire event. As a result, it may be possible to reduce other fire protection measures.

The report focuses on the commercial and design impacts of automatic sprinklers rather than fire safety, exploring the ways automatic sprinklers can add value to building design, including:

Automatic sprinklers can permit:

  • Larger compartment sizes.
  • Reduced structural fire protection requirements.
  • Increased travel distances leading to possible design freedoms such as the removal of stairs.
  • Reduction in fire-fighting shafts.
  • Reduced circulation areas leading to increased useable area.

The report supports the view that automatic sprinklers should be considered early in the design process and dispels myths about cost and design freedom. It provides an introduction to sprinklers, an overview of design and operation, and considers areas of design impact, fire protection costs and commercial applications for offices.

The first section of the report discusses concessions allowed by standard fire safety guidance for a variety of building types if automatic sprinklers are incorporated. The second section provides a review of office building types and key objectives relevant to them.

You can access a copy of the report at: http://www.business-sprinkler-alliance.org/publications/impact-automatic-sprinklers-building-design-wsp/

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