Refurbishment: Giving Historic Properties a New Lease of Life

As discussed in our previous blog post on the repair work being carried out at the Palace of Westminster, maximising fire safety in such a prestigious building can be a significant undertaking, but what about more commonplace historical properties and refurbishment projects?

London - Big ben and houses of parliament, UK

Given the shortage of land available, particularly in areas such as city centres, refurbishment projects are becoming increasingly popular, giving developers a chance to offer properties in desirable areas, while also reducing costs by working with an existing superstructure.

In some cases, period properties can also offer unique aesthetics, increasing appeal for future occupants and so increasing value, without the expense of recreating these features as would be required for a new-build property.

Despite these great advantages, it is also vital that a building’s fire safety is considered, as failing to do so can increase project costs, introduce delays, and in the worst case prevent the building from being used at all.

Depending on the level of the changes being made to the property, it may be necessary for an application to be submitted to Building Control to ensure that the proposed new fire safety solution meets requirements. For example, if the refurbishment will see occupancy levels increased, exit widths and escape routes will need to be reconsidered, and detailed in the application. This information will then need to be documented in a thorough report, explaining the fire strategy for the building before it can be approved.

There are two ways in which these fire strategies can be created, either based on a code compliant approach or employing an engineered strategy.

Code-based strategies carry some advantages, mainly faster approval by Building Control and strict guidelines to work to. However, it’s often the case that these guidelines don’t align with the building’s existing designs without the need for significant alterations to be made, which is undesirable or even impossible with older properties.

Engineered strategies, on the other hand, can work with a building’s existing structure, and are perfectly acceptable provided the proposed strategy is as safe as the suggestions made in ADB, or complies with its functional requirements.

In both cases, Fire Engineers such as the team at FDS Consult, can help. After carrying out a thorough analysis of the property’s designs, the proposed use and occupancy levels, appropriate fire protection systems can be specified which allow the inclusion of far larger open spaces than those allowed under the design codes. As well as providing additional saleable space within a building, this can also help to reduce the costs associated with dividing up or ‘compartmentalising’ an area with dividing walls.

Even protected or listed properties can benefit from this approach, with engineers examining the best way of incorporating fire safety systems within the building without altering its appearance.

This was the case when FDS Consult’s engineers identified the need to install a pressurisation system in a Grade II listed hospital which was being converted to residential use. By placing the system within the existing bell tower, it was possible to prevent the system from impacting on the building’s design while also providing an appropriate fire-safety solution.

Similarly, structural fire resistance can also be considered in a different way from ADB’s suggestions. By opting to work with documents such as Structural Eurocode PD 688-1-2, factors such as ventilation can also be factored in, allowing a reduction in the amount of fire protection required, which can be an essential alternative to upgrading a property’s fire protection.

While an engineered approach may be seen as the ‘alternative’ option compared to the traditional code-compliant method, it is the only way of having true flexibility of design, making it an extremely attractive option for developers.

By working with the team at FDS Consult, developers can reap the benefits of the UK’s stunning range of architectural styles, as well as the cost savings generated by removing the need for structural contractors and surveyors, a reduction in additional material requirements and a shorter construction times.

If you want to find out more, contact our team here:

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