• Friday , 17 November 2017

Fire Door / Keep Shut

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Apartment Living in Dublin has come a long way since the problematic experiences of large-scale tenements and social housing flat complexes. But with a legacy of low quality housing stock and many of the recently built apartment schemes geared for the “buy to let” market, failing to cater for the basic requirements of long term occupancy of either the emerging diversity of household formats or traditional family centered living, apartment typologies remain largely discredited by prospective Irish homeowners. So, if urban apartment living is to become an attractive, valid, sustainable and long term alternative to the semi-detached suburban dwelling house, their spatial quality and long term adaptability will not only need to match that of a traditional dwelling house but to exceed it. While the minimum design and space standards for apartments were drastically improved in most Development Plans towards the end of the boom period, very few units have been built to the new standards to provide a reference and blue print for future multi unit dwellings in Ireland. But it is also Building Regulations, in particular Fire Safety Regulations that distinguish the quality of an apartment unit to that normally accepted in a dwelling house.

 

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Based on the problematic historic experience of large-scale tenements and social housing flat complexes, Irish Fire Safety Regulations, TGD Part B 2006, to date make a clear distinction between the Fire Safety requirement for a dwelling house and those for an apartment. Unlike the private dwelling house, apartments are required to have fire rated doors fitted with self-closing devices for all habitable rooms within the dwelling unit. This is to ensure that the doors leading from a room to the protected corridor within the dwelling are kept closed at all times and thus will help to prevent the spread of smoke and fire and keep the means of escape clear. While this might ensure a maximum of passive Fire Safety, it effectively reduces the apartment’s main circulation and entrance area to a minimized, sterile, functional space, permanently separated from the main living spaces and often devoid of any direct natural day light. In the everyday, the requirement for self-closing doors within an apartment means that any circulation between the main habitable spaces is accompanied by at least 2 self-closing door movements which amounts to an average of 100 per day for two people sharing a 2 bed room apartment and an average of 250 per day for a family of four sharing a 3 bed room apartment [1]. This is not only a hindrance for the day to day life of the occupants, it also poses a sometimes insurmountable and dangerous challenge to the more vulnerable occupants such as people with disabilities, the elderly, or small children. Doors fitted with self-closing devices hinder not only the inherent spatial fluidity and free movement within mainly single storey apartments, they often slam shut causing unnecessary noise both within and between apartments, and causing general discomfort where the preferred choice may be to leave internal doors open for a variety of reasons, some of which are of practical nature whereas others can be subjective or even emotional.

 

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Irish Fire Regulations are closely modeled on their UK equivalent and both used to share the approach to fire rated doors fitted with self-closing devices within apartments. However in 2006, a survey on the “Household Interaction with Self-Closing Devices on Doors” was carried out for Local Government [2] in the UK and reinforced the general awareness that such self-closing devices as a Fire Safety Measure are regularly removed, disabled or prevented from working effectively because they are considered to hinder occupants in their day-to-day life and that attitudes to self-closing devices tend on the whole to be fairly negative. The requirement for self-closing devices on doors within apartments was subsequently omitted in the revised Building Regulations 2010 (UK) [3], and thus bringing it in line with the relevant Fire Safety Regulations of most other European Countries where the requirement of fire doors fitted with self-closing devices within apartments is unheard off.

 

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As much as an entrance hall in a dwelling house, the entrance hall or corridor within an apartment is an integral part of domestic social interaction. In addition it defines whether an apartment can accommodate and adapt to the long term requirements of evolving household and occupancy profiles by constantly enforcing separation between main living areas. If apartment living is really to become a valid, sustainable and long term alternative to the semi detached suburban dwelling house, a review of current Irish Fire Safety Regulations for Apartments, in their current relevance, practicality, quality of space and effectiveness is required in line with the evolving household and occupancy profiles in modern apartments in Ireland. The recent change in the Building Regulations 2010 (UK) would suggest that the relevant Irish Fire Safety Regulations should be reviewed as a matter of urgency to allow the next wave of housing supply and also existing apartment schemes to benefit from the potential gain in spatial fluidity and connectivity, access to natural ventilation and day lighting as well as increased general quality of living and future adaptability.

 

[1] A case study prepared for the Learning from Housing Exhibition in 2014, covering three recently built apartment schemes of varying scales, unit sizes and occupancy profiles, documented the impact and practicality of current Fire Safety Regulation, in particular the requirement for self-closing Fire Doors both in common areas and individual units, on the day to day life of its occupants.

[2] Survey Title: “Householder Interaction with Self-Closing Devices on Doors”, prepared by Irving Associates for Communities and Local Government, Directorate of Communication, London, UK, as a Qualitative Research Report in August 2006.

[3] The Building Regulations 2010 (UK): Approved Document B: volume 2: Buildings other than Dwelling Houses: Appendix B: Fire Doors: Paragraph 2: All fire doors should be fitted with a self-closing device except for fire doors to cupboards and to service ducts which are normally kept locked shut and fire doors within flats (self-closing devices are still necessary on flat entrance doors).

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