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The topic of fire resistance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Construction
Wordcount: 5396 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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This dissertation looks into the various methods and systems that can be implemented in order to provide better fire resistance in listed buildings. The dissertation undertakes several main tasks as a part of understanding the various methods and systems that can be implemented in order to provide better fire resistance in listed buildings, including analyzing various case studies of fires in listed buildings, in order to see what happened and how these fires could have been prevented; undertaking a Literature Review to better understand the interventions currently used for providing fire resistance in buildings; undertaking an analysis of a case study of a listed buildings (Duff House in Banff) that have been subjected to fire resistance, in order to understand what was implemented and what worked in that particular building and why; and analyzing method statements for two suggested conversions of listed buildings in order to better understand the planning process and to understand the solutions suggested for improving fire resistance in these two listed buildings.

Chapter 1: Introduction

This Chapter will provide a general overview of the topic of fire resistance in listed buildings and will provide a list of the aims and objectives of the dissertation as a whole.

Section 1.1: Introduction

Fire is one of the chief threats to buildings, as it can cause high levels of damage in a short time (Pickard, 1994). Fire protection is generally used to prevent the outbreak of fires in buildings and to prevent the spread of fire within a building if a fire breaks out (Staniforth and Hayes, 1989). Dealing with fire protection in older buildings is problematic, however, as these buildings were not built with fire protection in mind and can be difficult to restructure, to be more fire proof, due to the building’s structure and the prevailing regulations which often prevent the structure of listed buildings being changed in ways that are necessary to make them fire proof (Taylor, 2004). It is necessary, therefore, to think creatively about how to fire proof listed buildings and this dissertation aims to outline how this can be done and how this has been done, through the use of several methodologies, including case studies and a Literature Review.

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Older buildings are usually classed as listed buildings, where listed building status means that the building then becomes subject to restrictions on what changes are allowed within the building, either to its structure or to its fabric, with the aim of preserving its historical authenticity (Pickard, 1994). This obviously makes fire proofing the building more difficult than for a non-listed building, due to the many restrictions that are placed on the alterations that can be made to the building (W.R. Dunn & Co., 2002). Listed building status means that not only the external structure of the building, but also its internal fabric, are subject to restrictions on what changes can be made, making it very difficult to incorporate fire proofing in to the building (Pickard, 1994). Fire protection can, therefore, be difficult to implement within the context of a listed building, and it is necessary for architects to think creatively, in collaboration with building regulations assessors and building conservationists, in terms of how to implement fire protection in such buildings (Wilson, 2006; Wahab, 2007).

Yet, listed buildings are precisely the buildings that need more protection, as they are generally made with high percentages of timber and other building materials that are vulnerable to fire, meaning that these buildings generally need high levels of fire protection. This problem is not a trivial one in the UK, with its many thousands of listed buildings, any of which, if destroyed by fire, would mean the loss of a large part of the UK’s cultural heritage (Adams, 1997). As such, despite the problems that protecting listed buildings from fire can present, in terms of thinking creatively around the strict building regulations that apply to listed buildings, it is necessary to protect these buildings from fire, as far as possible, in terms of protecting the UK’s cultural heritage. This is particularly important in light of the catastrophic damage that fire can cause in listed buildings, in view of the damage caused, in short time periods, in high profile fires such as those at Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace or the Savoy Theatre, for example.

Fire resistance is the term used to describe the use of interventions (such as building materials that are highly fire resistant or special doors and windows, for example) in buildings that are aimed at reducing or delaying the effects of a fire (English Heritage, 2004). These interventions are all subject to performance testing and in situ assessment, according to the dictates of the prevailing building regulations and the Fire Precautions Act (Adams, 1997). One major problem with listed buildings is that, usually, the materials used within the fabric of the building do not meet prevailing fire resistance standards and, therefore, aside from the fitting of additional interventions such as compartmentations and/or sprinklers, for example, it is often necessary to upgrade the materials used in the building in order to meet the prevailing ratings and standards (Pickard, 1994). This, however, involves some compromise, as there is a duty, in listed buildings, to preserve the original structure and architecture of these buildings (Adams, 1997; English Heritage, 2004). The issue of fire resistance in listed buildings is, thus, complex and merits an investigation such as that proposed in this dissertation.

In summary, then, as Kidd (2003) argues, fire is the greatest single threat to our built heritage as it can, once there is a fire within a listed building, rush through the building in a short time, destroying the fabric of the building and all of the history contained therein: its primary impact is, therefore, the potential loss of historical authenticity which is part of the cultural heritage of the UK (Kidd, 2003; Pickard, 1994). Whilst building conservationists can repair the damage done, to some extent, recreating copies of destroyed buildings, or parts of buildings, loss of the original parts of the building, or loss of the entire building means part of our cultural heritage is lost (Kidd, 2003; Read and Morris, 1993). It is clear, therefore, in terms of fire protection, that all legal requirements must be complied with, via meeting the relevant statutory obligations and dealing with the recommendations of the local fire service, in an attempt to maintain the building fire free and to retain the cultural heritage the building represents (Kidd, 2003; Clark, 2001).

As Kidd (1998) argues, attention was drawn to the complex issue of fire protection in listed buildings following the Hampton Court Palace fire, which led to the setting up of the UK Working Party on Fires in Historic Buildings. This became all the more important an issue following the Windsor Castle Fire, in which the resulting problems seem to have been compounded because the procedures followed by staff were not in accordance with the laid down procedures, because extinguishers failed to work and because the fire spread due to a lack of compartmentation, amongst other issues (Kidd, 1998; Clark, 2001).

These issues, which amount to an overall lack of understanding of the need for fire protection for listed buildings, and a lack of understanding of how best to fire proof listed buildings, have led to other, high profile, fires, such as the fires at York Minster and at Hampton Court Palace (Kidd, 1998). All of these fires highlight the need for adequate and appropriate fire precautions in heritage buildings of all sizes and uses (Kidd, 1998) and, as will be discussed in the next section, it is the purpose of this dissertation to assess the currently available methods and systems for implementing better fire protection in listed buildings, in order that listed buildings, and the cultural heritage they contain, can be better protected, for this and future generations.

Section 1.2: Aims and Objectives

The main aim of this dissertation is to look into the methods and systems that can be implemented in order to offer better levels of fire resistance in listed buildings, with a view to improving fire protection and decreasing the chances of listed buildings being damaged in whole, or in part, by fire.

In order to fulfill this main aim of the dissertation, several objectives will need to be met, including:

  • Undertaking an analysis of various case studies of fires that have occurred in listed buildings, including the fires at Weston Super Mare Pier, Windsor Castle and the Savoy Theatre.
  • Undertaking a Literature Review in order to better understand the current solutions for providing fire resistance in buildings
  • Undertaking an analysis of case studies of listed buildings (including Duff House in Banff) that have been subjected to fire resistance, with a view to understanding what worked in that particular building and why
  • Analyzing method statements for proposed fire resistance alterations in listed buildings, the conversion of Bishop Percy’s house in to residential dwellings and the conversion of The Boardroom House on The Square, in Mere, Wiltshire, in order to provide a better understanding of the planning application process and the possible solutions for fire resistance suggested in these two case studies.

The methodologies that were used to meet these four objectives are given in the next Chapter, Chapter 2, the Methodology section.

Chapter 2: Methodology

This Chapter will outline the methodologies that were used in order to gather the information that forms the basis of this dissertation, including a Literature Review and case studies.

As has been argued in the Introduction to the dissertation, fire protection is important in listed buildings in terms of helping to avoid fires in listed buildings and preserving the cultural heritage that listed buildings represent. Yet, this is no easy task, given the rigidity of the building regulations and the need to make amendments to listed buildings within the framework of the prevailing building regulations, which, generally, prevent any major changes being made to the structure of listed buildings (Adams, 1997).

Firstly, accounts of various fires that have occurred in listed buildings were assessed, including the fires at Weston-Super-Mare Pier, Windsor Castle and the Savoy Theatre. This was undertaken with a view to increasing knowledge of how fires can spread within listed buildings and understanding the current use of fire protection in listed buildings. In order to find information on the fires that occurred in these three listed buildings, an internet search was undertaken to be able to locate relevant information. Where necessary, recommended books were sought from the library and read, with a view to understanding how the fire began, how the fire spread and what was recommended, as a result of the fire, in terms of better fire protection for these three listed buildings. The results of this analysis are presented in Chapter 3.

Next, in order to understand what solutions are available for providing better fire resistance in listed buildings, a Literature Review was undertaken with the aim of developing a better understanding of the possible solutions for fire resistance in listed buildings. The Literature Review allows the gathering of information from various sources, including relevant textbooks, journal articles, magazine articles, the internet and various organizations aimed at providing information on fire resistance in listed buildings.

In order to undertake the Literature Review, firstly, the library’s online catalogue was searched with relevant key words (such as ‘fire protection in listed buildings’ and ‘fire resistance in listed buildings’, amongst others) in order to find relevant textbooks. These were then searched and read where applicable, in order to provide a broader understanding of the topic as a whole. This was then followed up with a similar search of the relevant online bibliographic databases, with the aim of retrieving relevant journal articles, the abstracts of which were then read in order to filter the most relevant articles for use in the writing of the Literature Review section of the dissertation. Around a dozen relevant articles were selected, as highlighted in the References section and as discussed in the Literature Review chapter. Next, an online search was undertaken, using Google, using the same key word combinations, in order to find any relevant, extra, information, from key organizations working in this field, for example.

Based on this information selected through this Literature Review process, the Literature Review section of the dissertation was then written, using the most relevant information found as the basis for a review section, highlighting the possible solutions for providing fire resistance in listed buildings. The Literature Review is presented in Chapter 4 of the dissertation.

Next, in Chapter 5, case studies are presented of various listed buildings that have been subjected to fire resistance, including Duff House in Banff. The use of case studies such as this allows the dissertation to explore, in more detail, exactly how fire resistance has been implemented in some listed buildings, highlighting the exact steps taken to provide fire resistance in some listed buildings.

Finally, Chapter 6 will present the analysis of two method statements for two listed buildings: the conversion of Bishop Percy’s house in to residential dwellings and the conversion of The Boardroom House on The Square, in Mere, Wiltshire. As listed Building applications are submitted to planning authorities as separate applications to ordinary planning applications, the method statements that are provided as part of applications can be very useful in terms of explaining how, exactly, fire resistance is suggested in these particular buildings. This Chapter thus not only provides an opportunity for understanding the planning process a little better but also for seeing, in detail, what fire resistance measures were suggested in these method statements.

Chapter 3: Case studies of fires in listed buildings

Section 3.1: Introduction

This Chapter will provide various case studies of fires that have occurred in listed buildings, including a discussion of the fires at Weston Super Mare Pier, Windsor Castle and the Savoy Theatre. The main aim of this Chapter is to see what happened during the fires and how these fires could have been prevented.

Section 3.2: Weston-super-Mare Pier

As discussed in Tibbetts (2008), Weston-Super-Mare Pier, a Grade II listed Pier over one hundred years old, was engulfed by fire in July 2008. It is thought that the fire started in a staff canteen area, perhaps from a pan of hot oil, although later investigations returned a verdict of ‘unknown cause’ (BBC, 2008). It is known that the fire alarm at the end of the Pier was triggered around seven hours before the fire services arrived to control the blaze (BBC, 2008), but that, as it was not an automatic alarm, and as no-one answered the emergency call from the fire alarm, the fire could not be contained when the fire services arrived and, eventually, the fire consumed the whole Pier.

It seems, therefore, that the fire began as a result of human error, although this has not been confirmed, and that the onset of the fire was not noticed by fire services, or anyone else, as the fire alarm system in place on the Pier was not working properly. There is, therefore, a case to be made, here, for the utility of automatic fire alarm systems, in conjunction with fire suppression system, which would have ensured that the fire was immediately quashed. The largely timber frame of the Pier did not help, in that the fire, unnoticed at its initiation, ran through the timber-framed structure, largely without compartmentation, meaning that the fire’s spread was intense and of high speed. It is likely that the fire would not have been stopped, given this, even if the fire services had arrived earlier (BBC, 2008).

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All in all, then, the fire could have been prevented, or at least better controlled, if better fire protection measures had been in place. The use of pans of oil in a reduced, timber-framed, space is not advisable and could have been prevented if an adequate and up-to-date fire safety manual had been in use at the Pier. The alarm system in place was, essentially, useless and the fire could have been noticed, and dealt with at a much earlier stage, if an automatic fire alarm system had been installed. This, coupled with an automatic fire suppression system, would have gone some way to containing, or lessening, the fire’s impact. It is clear, therefore, that a series of faults contributed to this fire, all of which could have been identified by a fire risk assessment and a more responsible attitude to fire protection.

Section 3.3: Windsor Castle

As Napier (2008) discusses, the fire at Windsor Castle started in the Queen’s Private Chapel and spread throughout the State Apartments, causing millions of pounds in damage to these buildings. It is thought that the fire started in the Queens Private Chapel, with the automatic fire alarm system alerting guards that a fire had broken out in that area (BBC, 1992). The fire quickly spread to other areas of the Castle and spread back to the site of the origin of the fire, as there was not sufficient compartmentation in the Castle to prevent the fire spreading (BBC, 1992). In addition, there was no automatic fire suppression system, as it had been decided that its installation, and activation, could damage the important historic interiors (Napier, 2008).

As with the Weston-Super-Mare Pier fire, then, the Windsor Castle fire ended up being worse than it could have been because the fire protection systems in place were inadequate once faced with a real fire. Adequate compartmentation would, for example, have stopped the spread of the fire, as would an automatic fire suppression system (i.e., a sprinkler system). That a Royal household did not have these precautions in place, given that it is a repository of some of the UK’s most treasured pieces of art and heritage, is a travesty: that this fire led to the issue of the revision of fire protection in listed buildings being taken seriously via documents such as Sir Alan Bailey’s report in to the fire at Windsor Castle is, however, a silver lining to this tragedy.

Section 3.4: The Savoy Theatre

The 1990 fire at the Savoy Theatre destroyed the whole interior of the theatre (a Grade II listed building), aided, it is thought, by the fire traveling through voids provided by the air ducts and ventilation systems in place in the theatre. Adequate compartmentation of the theatre and the Savoy Hotel luckily led to the containment of the fire within the theatre, meaning that it did not spread to the Hotel.

In contrast to the two fires already looked at, at the Weston-Super-Mare Pier and Windsor Castle, fire protection systems, such as the compartmentation of the theatre from the Hotel, meant that the fire was contained. Had better fire protection systems been in place, such as making the voids more fire resistant, however, it can be argued that the fire would not have been so devastating and that the not so much of the theatre would have been destroyed. The theatre thus suffered because of inadequate fire protection systems it had in place (i.e., no fire resistance in the voids and no automatic fire suppression system) but the Hotel was saved from fire by the compartmentation of the Hotel from the Theatre. It seems, therefore, that, as in the other two case studies, compromises were made, with regards to fire protection, perhaps because of financial limitations or perhaps because of some other reason: it is clear, however, that fire does not understand limitations placed on buildings by such compromises.

Section 3.5: Summary

In summary, this Chapter has reviewed three case studies of fires in three high profile listed buildings, showing major failings in fire protection in the three listed buildings. This information has been useful in terms of highlighting the fundamental need for adequate fire protection, from fire risk assessment to the installation of appropriate fire protection methods. These case studies have therefore served to inform as to the holistic nature of fire protection in listed buildings: it is not something that can be attempted in isolation, and needs to begin with a risk assessment to really understand the risks that are present and how these can be dealt with. Once this risk assessment has been carried out, it is then up to the owners to decide what level of fire protection they will implement, whether this be just ensuring human life is protected or ensuring total protection for the entire listed building. These issues, and others, will now be discussed in subsequent Chapters.

Chapter 4: Literature Review

Section 4.1: Introduction

This Chapter will provide an outline of the interventions that are currently used for providing fire resistance in building, including a discussion of active and passive fire protection methods and how, practically, the decisions are made as to which fire protection methods should be used, via fire risk assessments and in line with the prevailing building regulations which can make fire protection difficult in listed buildings.

Section 4.2: Literature Review

As discussed in the Introduction, listed buildings were built without regard for fire protection or methods for preventing the spread of fire: as such, many of these listed buildings are vulnerable to fire. Due to the invaluable nature of these buildings, in terms of the UK’s cultural heritage, and following several high profile fires in listed buidings, it is being increasingly recognized that listed buildings need better fire protection. This needs to be implemented, however, with the framework of the prevailing building regulations, which, for listed buildings, can be strict, as they are aimed at preserving the authenticity of the fabric of listed buildings (Adams, 1997). This section will look at the possible solutions suggested for implementing fire protection in listed buildings, via a review of the relevant literature.

As Napier (2008) suggests, for example, using risk assessments of the potential for fire and the most apt fire safety measures, whilst not offering any real fire resistance per se, can allow fires to be detected quicker, meaning that a) the authenticity of listed buildings is not compromised, as their structure does not need to be altered in order to undertake a risk assessment and b) that building regulations are not compromised (Adams, 1997). These interventions do not, however, as has been identified, provide any fire protection, rather just an opportunity to avoid fires, as far as possible, and to identify any fires as quickly as possible, if a fire does break out.

As Napier (2008) argues, however, in order to not compromise the historic authenticity of the building, and in order to reduce costs and to stay in line with the prevailing building regulations, it is sometimes necessary to manage the risk, rather than make alterations aimed at active fire protection (Clark, 2001). As Napier (2008) states, “the way the risk has been handled can affect the(ir) character (of listed buildings)”: sometimes it is not necessary, or desired, to move in to a building to implement active fire protection measures, such as compartmentation or adding sprinkler systems, and sometimes, therefore, passive protection measures are the most appropriate ones to implement.

As Napier (2008) discusses, prior to any works beginning on a listed building, with regards to improving fire protection via internal alterations, improvements or changes of use, a fire risk assessment should be undertaken. This should, ideally, thoroughly assess the following aspects of the listed building: what the vulnerable elements of the building’s fabric are; whether the existing layout of the building would allow people to escape satisfactorily, in the event of a fire; what are the means people could use to escape, in the event of a fire; whether the current fire control, detection, and alarm systems are working and are adequate for the needs of the building; whether a fire suppression system would be beneficial if installed; and what would the installation of a fire suppression system entail in terms of the necessary changes to the building and whether these would be within the framework of the prevailing building regulations (Napier, 2008). Once this risk assessment has been undertaken, the architect has a better understanding of where the building’s vulnerabilities lie, with respect to fire, and to ensuring the health and safety of its inhabitants/users and can, then, act to make the necessary improvements, within the framework of the prevailing building regulations (Adams, 1997).

As Napier (2008) discusses, in addition to the comprehensive risk assessment procedure, thorough checking of the building for combustible materials should also be undertaken. Fires are most usually caused by human error, such as burning candles, or using electrical devices inappropriately: as such, the sensible use of such devices, and education of the inhabitants/users of listed buildings could improve fire management in listed buildings, minimizing the danger of fire breaking out (Napier, 2008; Forrest, 1996). In addition, the regular checking of electrical appliances can also minimize the incidence of outbreaks of fire, as can the regular removal of rubbish and the regular removal of birds nests that might have accumulated in the buildings cavities and dust that might have accumulated in floor and roof voids: removing all of these potential sources of fire and potential sources of fire propagation can notably reduce the risk of an outbreak of fire (Napier, 2008; Gibbon and Forbes, 2001).

As Napier (2008) argues, though, undertaking a comprehensive risk assessment and manually checking, and removing, for combustible materials within the fabric of the building will only reduce the risk of a fire breaking out and will not help if a fire does break out. Thus, as Napier (2008) discusses, it is important to check the existing structure of a listed building in order to identify all openings, flues and voids within the structure (such a vertical ducts for piping or ill-fitting doors) that could provide potential routes for the spread of fire. Once such voids have been identified, these voids should, as part of the recommendations of the risk assessment process, be closed with tight seals made with materials, such as mineral wool quilt, that provide fire resistance (Napier, 2008; Gibbon and Forbes, 2001).

Fire breaks should be checked, also, and replaced or implemented where necessary: as Napier (2008) argues, although many buildings will have existing compartmentation, which can help to delay the spread of a fire, building regulations for listed buildings might require additional compartmentation, in situations where a change of use is being suggested, for example, or in terms of the risk assessment undertaken, which may have suggested the need for extra compartmentation, as a method for reducing the risk of a fire spreading once it has broken out. It is, at times, therefore unavoidable that amendments and adjustments will need to be made to listed buildings in terms of ensuring they are fire resistant (Gibbon and Forbes, 2001).

As Napier (2008) acknowledges, however, improving the fire resistance of a listed building can, and often does, impact on its character, especially because listed buildings were generally not built in the modern way, not using modern materials: instead of ceilings, for example, in some listed buildings, all that lies between the floors are floor boards, laying on floor joists. This can provide opportunities for the spread of fire, and, in order to improve the building’s fire resistance, several alterations would be suggested, including underlining the floor joists with plasterboard and adding a layer of mineral wool quilt (Napier, 2008; Gibbons and Forbes, 2001). This would, however, change the character of the ceiling and the floors and suggested alterations such as this would, therefore, need to be approved via the planning application for alterations to the listed building, as laid out in the prevailing building regulations. This will be discussed further in Chapters 5 and 6, which will look, in detail, at case studies of how fire resistance has been implemented, or are suggested for implementation, in several listed buildings.

It is sufficient to say at this stage that implementing better fire resistance in listed buildings is a delicate, complex, matter, that needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis, assessing the prevailing risks and making assessments of how best to minimize the chance that these risks cause a fire, within the framework of maintaining the integrity and authenticity of the original structure and fittings of the listed building.

Historic paneled doors are another area of contention when thinking about improving fire resistance in listed buildings as these doors are usually constructed from hardwoods, with thin panels that pose immense risks with regards to fire, as these doors do not provide the statutory 30 minutes of fire resistance (Napier, 2008; English Heritage, 2004). There are several solutions to this problem, the simplest being to fit some form of fire-resisting board over the door but, as this would change the appearance of the door, this is not acceptable in terms of the prevailing building regulations and would most likely be rejected in the planning application (Napier, 2008; Adams, 1997).

Other solutions thus need to be found, as discussed in Napier (2008), including adding fire protection inside the paneled doors or making new paneled doors from fire-resistant materials (perhaps thicker slices of the original wood, for example, which would provide more minutes of fire resistance). Again, these examples show how complex and delicate providing improved fire resistance is in listed buildings: the possible solutions found, for the risks identified, are more often than not a compromise between the various parties involved in the planning application and the implementation of the improvements, all of which takes place within the framework of controlling the costs involved.

For this reason, then, many such projects prefer to implement more passive fire protection systems, such as those mentioned previously: fire detection systems, for example, with the warning and suppression systems being selected in order to minimize any changes to the structure/fabric of the building (Napier, 2008). There are various passive fire protection systems available, which cater to a range of budgets and a range of situations, including: smoke detectors which can be extremely sensitive at detecting smoke in the air; flame detectors which alert the presence of the fire; and projected beam detectors that rely on interruptions in an infra-red beam of light to trigger the alarm (Napier, 2008). All of these can be fitted with (comparatively) minimal cost and disruption to the fabric of the building, especially as many of these detectors now have wireless capability and so can be fitted without the need to run wires through the walls of the building (Napier, 2008; Clark, 2001).


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