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Specifiers Journal 2015-2016

Specifiers Journal 2015-2016

Cost versus Value There

Cost versus Value There is often a temptation to cut costs when specifying the level of fire protection in a new construction project but does this offer value? Any building design will start with a client vision from which the architect, structural engineer and, increasingly, the fire engineer will need to convert the client’s aspirations into a practical and functional design that can be constructed within the client’s budget. Long gone are the days when a designer was shackled by the constraints of prescriptive fire codes, leaving today’s fire engineer free to model alternative solutions that will satisfy the relevant national building codes. So far so good, but there are two fundamental questions that need to be considered when addressing a client’s brief in relation to the required fire strategy, and these are: • Is the objective to protect people from a fire within the building and allow adequate time to escape, or • To protect the building and its contents from a fire? In reality the two approaches may result in very different fire safety solutions. If protecting the building itself from fire is not seen as a concern, then it can be designed to meet the minimum building codes required to ensure safe evacuation. This will result in the protection being cut to minimum levels, resulting in a smaller fire protection bill. But if the whole life of the building is taken into account, does this actually offer value? Designing to protect the building and ensure safe evacuation may cost a little more at the outset but could determine whether, post fire, there is a building/business to return to at all. Developing a fire strategy First and foremost, the client needs to be clear in terms of how he wishes his building to perform in a fire. This requires the building designer to ask a number of critical questions about key aspects of the client’s business needs, since this will impact on the fire strategy. For example, if the business is to survive: • What is the maximum acceptable damage value? • Should any fire be contained within a defined compartment area? Any building design will start with a client vision. Credit: Shutterstock/Mmaxer 98 SPECIFICATION JOURNAL 2015-2016

• How quickly should the fire be extinguished from the time of ignition? • How quickly should the building be reoccupied or trading? A Building Control Authority will approve a fire engineered design provided that it complies with the minimum fire code requirements for life safety. This does not mean that the building will be protected from fire, or that any attending fire service will attempt to save the building where there is no threat to life safety. Only by including additional measures recommended by the client or his insurer will protection of the building and its contents more likely be assured. Modern methods of construction One of the key aspirations in the commissioning of any building nowadays is one of thermal efficiency and carbon neutrality. The designer now has a wealth of building materials at his disposal to meet such ‘green’ credentials. But a key consideration that must be addressed is how well will these materials perform in a ‘real fire’ scenario. This is of particular importance where a fire engineered solution is employed, since this may have resulted in a reduced use of both active and/or passive fire protection measures. This makes the selection of building materials and the expertise employed to install them of paramount importance. The product/system supplier must be able to demonstrate by defined national testing standards (and not simply a small scale ad-hoc test), that the product or system can evidence appropriate performance in the conditions outlined within the building design chosen. Similarly the installation of such products or systems should be undertaken by competent installers who can demonstrate such competency via a third party audited process. Lifetime protection How the building is subsequently managed and maintained is also vital in terms of maintaining the fire strategy. For any fire engineered building to continue to perform its designed function, it is essential that the fire provision of the building as a whole is maintained adequately throughout its entire working life. It is vital that any breaches in compartmentation are made good. Credit: PS Applications Ltd It is important to ensure that all activities within the building that might affect its fire performance are monitored and responded to where necessary, since during the life of a building it will have work undertaken by a range of contractors, follow-on trades and maintenance staff. With so many different professions involved, all with different agendas and priorities, and all looking to offer value for money, there are so many opportunities for fire safety to be forgotten, misunderstandings to be introduced and decisions to be made about materials, layouts and installation without any real thought for the implications of these changes on life safety or on the ability of a building to withstand a fire. Follow-on trades, for example, plumbers, electricians and dry liners will regularly breach essential fire compartmentation in the process of their work, and whilst competent in their own respective fields of expertise, many of those involved will not have the required skill sets to ensure that they do not significantly compromise a fire compartment’s performance in the event of a fire. Lack of appropriate knowledge both by those that procure fire protection installation services and those that claim to offer such services without a recognised standard of competency, can and does lead to inappropriate installations. There are practical and commercial reasons for wanting to ensure that the passive fire protection components installed within a building are fit for purpose, not least that the cost of remediation after construction is complete is extremely high. But more importantly, why spend significant amounts of money on materials that may not be fit for purpose or, due to poor installation, may never work in the way in which they were designed. Cutting back on fire safety provisions and employing unqualified contractors may appear to save on cost but will not always offer value for money. For further information please visit: www.asfp.org.uk SPECIFICATION JOURNAL 2015-2016 99