Following the public outcry over Grenfell and the numerous failings identified in subsequent investigations, most notably the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety (Hackitt Review), the government has adopted a no-compromise approach to fire safety in social housing. While legislation based on the Hackitt recommendations has yet to be made law, primarily due to delays relating to the Brexit process, social landlords and regulators have recognised the urgent need to offer protection and reassurance to all residents.
Social landlords are under intense pressure to act on this commitment by delivering rapid enhancements to the fire systems in their properties, without compromising on quality or effectiveness, and there is a growing industry-wide consensus that wireless is the most effective way to achieve this.
Why choose wireless?
Whereas traditional wired systems can take weeks to install, with outlays for fire watches, resident displacement and unknown job costs, wireless devices can be programmed on or offsite and installed in minutes to offer maximum protection, with no need for wiring or redecoration. This offers a number of benefits for specifiers and installers in social housing, whether they require a rapid solution for a permanent fire system, or a temporary installation.
Many people think of wireless devices as being best suited to large industrial sites or historic buildings, but they can also offer significant advantages to the social housing sector. Simple and hassle-free installation can offer cost benefits, with additional savings on redecoration, cabling and labour. It’s possible to be in and out of each property in minutes, minimising the upheaval for residents and offering them long-term reassurance. If the landlord is required to update or replace the fire system outside of the normal refurbishment cycle, these are all advantageous factors.
Wireless technology is prevalent in most electronic devices from phones to laptops and security systems, and fire alarm systems are no different. With over 20 years of development having gone into them, wireless fire systems have reached new heights of quality and reliability, with devices ranging from optical, multi-criteria and heat detectors to notification, alarm, interface and control units. Our own Hyfire range also include a Visual Alarm Device (VAD), which is certified to EN54 Part 23, using LED technology to extend battery life. All wireless devices available in the UK need to be certified to the relevant EN54 standards and fully compliant with BS5839 Part 1.
Fire panels are wired via a loop to translators, from which wireless devices can be used on their own to build fully wireless systems of virtually any size, or mixed with compatible wired products to provide seamless hybrid solutions, offering total flexibility to specifiers and installers. A pre-installation survey guarantees the cost of the job, there being no hidden surprises as no holes need to be dug in walls, and also ensures that the system will perform just as any wired system would. The scale of these systems is limited only by the number of devices that the fire panel can handle.
Due to the way wireless devices are managed, they can also be retrofitted to an existing fire system without any need to replace the existing wired components. This would be particularly useful, for example, in a high-rise block with a system that previously only covered stairwells and communal areas. It would be possible to add detectors, sounders and other devices inside the residential units with minimum upheaval and no requirement, in most cases, to replace the existing system.
Wireless and hybrid systems can be monitored and controlled remotely in the same way as a wired installation, offering a 24/7 view of system integrity. In terms of monitoring and control, wireless systems are essentially identical to a wired system in config and control terms so all cause and effect, false alarm management and monitoring required on any standard system is already available.
Implementing the Hackitt Review
Two specific terms repeated many times in the Hackitt Review were the principles of ‘risk ownership’ and the need to treat ‘buildings as a system’. These are directly relevant here because, by taking steps to ensure that each property has a fit and proper fire system, landlords are in effect taking ownership of the potential threat of fire within that building, primarily in order to minimise fire risk, to ensure that residents are alerted and evacuated in a timely manner should the need arise, and also to achieve rapid containment and suppression of the fire, using internal systems, the Fire Brigade, or more likely a combination of the two.
Social landlords also now recognise more than ever that the fire system is a vital cog in the overall system that manages and protects every building with two or more residential units, and especially those with three floors or more. We are seeing this in the ways that different elements within the building, ranging from fire systems to HVAC and CCTV can now interact to enhance safety and efficiency. Even fire door closers, which were once acoustically triggered, can now be linked directly and wirelessly to the fire panel to maximise their effectiveness.
Wireless technology has a key role to play in delivering on the Hackitt Review recommendations. This is not due to any specific mention, or stated preference for, wireless devices in the report, so much as the way that wireless can offer rapid and simple solutions for landlords and their fire systems installers. For example, one major social landlord in the south of England has embarked on a rapid review and upgrade of the fire systems right across its estate, accelerating a cyclical process that would usually span a decade or more. In this case, the organisation has installed more than 13,000 Hyfire wireless devices across 400 sites in 2019 alone. Without wireless solutions, this would be an even more expensive and complex undertaking, causing major disruption for residents who are very often elderly or infirm.
The Future is Wireless
In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy and the Hackitt Review, industry bodies such as the FIA have recognised the value of wireless technology to help meet both the revised legislative environment and the expectations of social housing residents, especially in high-rise developments. The Scottish Government, which has introduced legislation in response to the review, specifically mentions the use of wireless and hybrid systems as acceptable for the upgrade, expansion or replacement of existing systems.
With Grenfell and its aftermath continuing to make the news and the UK government expected to bring forward legislation based on the Hackitt Review in 2020, the pressure on social landlords to deliver rapid and effective solutions is only going to increase. This means we can expect the use of wireless technology in the social housing sector to increase further in coming years, quite possibly to a point where it becomes the first choice of many installers.
By Paul Parkes, UK & Ireland Sales Manager for Hyfire wireless fire detection and alarm devices.