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If you’re an architect, M&E contractor or work in construction, how sure are you that you fully understand smoke ventilation design? We’ve come across numerous examples of installations which don’t comply with current regulations. Building owners are blissfully ignorant but ultimately the ones in trouble if something goes wrong.

In this blog, we’ll discuss recommendations and regulations for getting the design, installation and commission of smoke control systems right. We’ll also look at a couple of real-life projects.

Why getting it right is so important

Good smoke ventilation system design is critical to the overall safety rating of a building. It’s infinitely harder to retrofit or upgrade equipment after a build is completed. So, during the initial building design phase, architects and contractors are advised to check they’re familiar with current regulations and best practice recommendations.

Consulting with a specialist can be useful. Smoke ventilation systems (also known as automatic opening vents (AOV) or smoke control systems) are complex pieces of engineering. But they do save lives, so it pays to do the job properly.

Design requirements vary from building to building. But the recent publication of BS 7346 Part 8 standard has made everyone’s lives easier. This safety standard now comprehensively advises architects and contractors on best practice from design through to installation and maintenance.

The responsible person (under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005) is likely to be your client, so remember that they are legally responsible for installing and maintaining an adequate fire safety system.

Clear benefits to AOV systems

The benefits to people and property are clear. Reports and statistics all agree: smoke is a killer. So, eliminating it during a fire makes a significant difference to the outcome. Let’s summarise the benefits of installing a smoke ventilation system:

  • Improved smoke control
  • Better fire safety and security
  • Emergency services able to access building and firefight more effectively
  • Improved natural ventilation
  • Energy efficiency is boosted
  • Costs are reduced

Do your due diligence when it comes to contractors

Working with a specialist pays dividends. However, not all ‘specialists’ are qualified to work with smoke control systems. Fire safety contractors who work with you on mainstream fire safety equipment such as alarms, extinguishers and lighting, may advertise smoke vent services as well. But have you checked that they are qualified to do both?

It’s of great concern to us that we’ve been approached, frequently, by clients who thought their contractor was qualified only to find they weren’t. It’s also worrying how many times we’ve had to correct faulty installations or redesign a system which isn’t fit for purpose.

Smoke ventilation design, install and maintenance is highly specialised. At the Silver Group, we offer a complete service in fire safety and smoke control, but this is not the norm. So please be aware that when someone says they can provide fire safety and smoke ventilation services, they may not have all the necessary qualifications.

Challenging building layout? Not a problem!

This case study is a good example of how expertise comes to bear when designing safety systems for a building with a challenging layout.

Kylna Court in Hertfordshire is a mixed block of affordable housing and office space. The buildings vary in size and layout as well as usage (residential and commercial). Construction group Jarvis was awarded the council contract and chose to work with us on fire safety.

Due to the layout and usage complexities, there had to be two separate fire alarm systems on the ground and upper floors. But they still needed to be linked. A sprinkler system had already been installed by a different contractor in the residential areas. This needed to be linked to the fire detection system. And on top of that, everything needed to be correctly linked to the smoke ventilation system to guarantee the vents would open when needed.

The blueprints were intricate, to say the least. And we were expected to guarantee that all the separate elements integrated seamlessly and could withstand rigorous testing. Our knowledge of complex building layout came in handy when designing each stage of the installation in line with regulations. The ground floor required a L2 level fire protection system, while the upper residential floors required a L5 level system.

Each floor had a different array of smoke and heat detectors, call points, alarm panels and interface units, carefully positioned to provide maximum protection to all inhabitants in the event of a fire.

And of course, this all had to be integrated with a complex smoke ventilation system comprising:

  • 12 window actuators
  • 6 smoke shaft door actuators
  • 13 controllers
  • 1 modular smoke control system
  • 38 photo-electric detectors
  • 5 roof mounted smoke ventilators
  • 25 manual call points

We also wrote a custom cause and effect programme during the commissioning phase to ensure that every eventuality had been identified and tested. Phew!

Housing association blocks and smoke ventilation systems

We work with many housing associations on projects which are less than straightforward. One client, Paradigm Housing Association, was building a complex of 97 apartments. They needed our help with fire safety and security which we were happy to deliver. However, the most challenging aspect, by far, was the smoke ventilation system.

Mindful of Home Office reports that smoke is the primary cause of fire-related deaths in the UK, everyone agreed that a suitable smoke vent system was needed. Getting the installation right so that the system was operationally effective was of paramount importance. And in this particular building, it was complicated by multiple corridors and stairwells – a feature of many housing association blocks.

We are one of a handful of companies in the UK which specialise in smoke ventilation, fire safety and security systems, making us a number one choice for this type of project.

The stairwell and corridors drove the design of the ventilation system which included window actuators, opening roof vents and a state-of-the-art control system. The vents could be opened in the event of fire; however, we also connected them to thermostats, so they would automatically open during warm weather, boosting cool air flow. And as a final bonus, we installed rain sensors on the roof so that the vents would close, if needed, during wet weather. A three-for-the-price-of-one solution!

Sounds good, but I think I need help!

Are you an architect or contractor in need of advice about an AOV or smoke control system? Have we answered some questions, but made you realise you’ve got a few more to ask?

No problem. We can definitely help. Our experience in this sector stretches far and wide. We’re confident there’s nothing you can throw at us that we can’t handle. Even better, our knowledge and expertise allows us to innovate, coming up with time-saving solutions while also keeping costs down.

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