In this blog, we’ll look at how building and facilities managers of high-rise buildings can deal with these challenges to ensure the safety of all their inhabitants.
What is a smoke ventilation system?
As the name suggests, it’s a way of ventilating (or controlling the flow of) smoke in a building. The exact design of your ventilation system will depend on building layout and usage. However, all systems have one thing in common – they all automatically open smoke vents when triggered. For this reason, a smoke ventilation system may also be called an automatic opening vent system (AOV).
If you were designing a building from scratch, vents would be part of the original design and construction. They’re not only used for smoke ventilation; many buildings install systems which work as an everyday air ventilation system. If a fire breaks out, they have a dual purpose which is to also vent smoke, heat and fumes.
So, how do they work?
Heat or smoke detectors around your building are activated during a fire. This causes them to trigger the AOV system, opening vents in roof and wall space around the building. Smoke and heat rise naturally and can escape through the open vents. At the same time, clean air is drawn in, improving oxygen levels.
The importance of a smoke ventilation system cannot be underestimated. Smoke is a killer, deadlier than fire itself. It incapacitates people so quickly that within minutes they are incapable of rational thought or movement.
By removing the presence of smoke and fumes, evacuation from a building is less hampered. Exit routes, hallways and staircases can be navigated safely. Emergency services can firefight more effectively without smoke compromising their field of vision. In the absence of a ventilation system, building inhabitants must resort to crawling along the floor, desperately trying to avoid the toxic effects of choking smoke. This picture shows the impact smoke can have on visibility in a hallway, which is likely to be an exit route.
A full evacuation can take hours, particularly when a ‘stay put’ policy is in place. It’s important that your smoke ventilation system is designed in harmony with your building layout so it’s up to the job of saving lives.
What type of building benefits from the installation of a smoke ventilation system?
Fire safety legislation doesn’t specify categories of buildings which must install a system. However, the government has published this advice note which recommends that smoke control systems are used in buildings taller than 18m. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the advice if you’re also responsible for smaller buildings. Smoke control can only ever be a good thing and it’s worth considering in all cases. Remember that a smoke ventilation system protects property as well as people and can limit the damage inflicted by fire on a building’s structure and any possessions inside.
On the subject of responsibility, remember, if you’re the ‘responsible person’ as defined in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, you are legally liable for ensuring you’ve done everything possible to keep people in your building safe. This includes conducting a thorough fire risk assessment and installing appropriate fire safety measures (such as a fire alarm and other equipment).
If you’re not clear on your duties as a responsible person, we discuss them in more detail here.
Smoke ventilation installation: what to consider
Fire safety legislation has improved dramatically in recent years so building design is being challenged to keep up with the demands placed on it. In a high-rise block which was built decades ago, your challenge is to modify what’s there in line with current British safety standards.
We believe it makes sense to install a comprehensive, fully integrated fire safety system. Some building managers believe that fire safety contractors can also handle their smoke ventilation system. This isn’t necessarily the case. Usually, fire safety suppliers deal with fire alarms and other related equipment, while specialist contractors install and maintain AOV systems. At the Silver Group, one of our USPs is that we straddle both sectors, offering specialist services across the board. We’ve also got experience of developing complex systems in older, high-rise buildings which meet all safety standards and ensure you’re legally compliant.
There are a few options to consider:
- A natural system utilising the buoyancy of hot air and smoke
- A mechanical system using powered fans
- A combination of both, knowns as ‘mixed mode’
Building regulations are a serious consideration for you and retrofitting a smoke ventilation system can feel like a daunting task. You must comply with the regulations while fulfilling your duties as a responsible person and taking into account the peculiarities of building design. Pressure on space vs performance can make decisions feel impossible, at times. This is where advice from a specialist (like us) can really come in useful.
Expert advice and support makes a real difference
We have over 16 years’ experience in the smoke ventilation industry and our own in-house specialist consultant. What’s more, we work in partnership with SE Controls, the UK’s leading manufacturer of smoke ventilation systems. With full access to the latest technology and innovation, you can be sure you won’t find a better, safer system anywhere else.
And once we’ve designed a system that’s just right for you, we’ll oversee the installation and provide a maintenance programme to keep you trouble-free for years.
Smoke ventilation repair and maintenance
Whatever system you choose, it’s essential that it is fit for purpose. And that it continues to perform as the years go by. The most cost-effective way to take care of a complex fire safety system is to adopt a proactive, regular maintenance schedule.
Current legislation will almost certainly evolve and be updated, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to start from scratch each time. Equipment which is technically ‘outdated’ can still perform at an acceptable level if it’s well maintained. System upgrades will be inevitable down the line, but we can work with you to future-proof your technology.
When you work with one supplier on design and installation, your maintenance contracts are easier to manage. And, as we said earlier, simply assuming your fire safety contractor is qualified to manage a smoke ventilation system is dangerous. Make sure the people you work with are qualified and audited by independent experts. And check that they’re certified to perform maintenance on your smoke ventilation system – if you need a part replacing, can you guarantee they are original? Don’t risk invalidating your warranty (or worse) just to save a few pounds.