Fire Safety in Balconies: From Design to Use
High-rise development is on the rise. With limited land and an increasing population, it is natural to have vertical expansion. An increase in the construction of high-rise buildings has increased the chances of fire hazards. In recent times, London has seen some of the worst high-rise building fires.
This rise in the number of fires led to the widely known Hackitt Report. It provides important insights to control the hazards associated with high-rise living. Balconies too are a very important part of high-rise living. Providing residents with a private outdoor space in heavily urbanised locations. Balconies much like the actual building are susceptible to fires. Here are a few things to consider, from a fire safety perspective in balconies during design, construction and occupation.
(A) Fire Safety in Balconies: Design and Construction
Recently, the use of combustible materials on external walls and balconies saw a ban. Materials must be A2-s1,d0 rated or Class A1 under the European classification system.
The Type of Balcony
According to BRE, the balcony can offer an alternative means of escape. Especially when the main exits of the building are inaccessible in the event of a fire. The type of balcony can play a significant role, in the provision of a means to escape. A means of escape balcony is one which is built as an extension of the floor slab. A Juliet balcony may not be considered as a means of escape balcony.
Hayley, Architect at 3D Reid added: ” Fire safety is very important when specifying.”
The Thermal Aspect
Balconies often serve as a cooling projection for the building. Architects and contractors, while specifying the thermal bridge in the construction, should consider the combustibility of thermal break materials. Class A2-s1,d0 rated thermal break materials should be specified to ensure that the materials will not contribute to any stage of fire.
The Fire Strategy
Everyone, from the developers to the specifiers, and the managers, should be on the same page. All parties should assess the risk beforehand. Accidents can occur, so it’s important to save room for additional precautions. Hence, it is necessary to have room for some extra precautions.
Jayne Booysen, Compliance Manager at Premier Estates added, “The fire strategy needs to be considered. It is also important to consider if residents are disabled and how to evacuate. All these end-use considerations need to be taken into account. We then liaise with local authorities to tailor the fire strategy to suit the residents.”
(B)Fire Safety in Balconies: In Use
All the materials used in the construction of a balcony must be non-combustible, minimising the risk of a fire hazard. However, extra precautions must be taken once the building is in-use as combustible materials stored by residents on balconies can add to the risk.
Especially, in the summer barbecues can pose a serious fire risk in balconies. Many manuals come with specific instructions relating to the use of barbecues. Not only this, any kind of combustible material should not be kept on the balcony.
Kevan Brelsford, Fire Engineering Officer at the Greater Manchester Fire Brigade added “Barbecues are a key problem as they provide an ignition source in a small area. The coals may spill out and cause a fire.”
He added ” The idea is that the less you have to burn the smaller the fire will be, in case of a fire. Generally speaking, try and keep the balcony clear of combustibles. The less there is there, the less that can catch fire.”
Assess the Risk
If you want to assess the fire risk and are unable to do so, seek help from the professionals. The local fire brigade, fire risk assessors and compliance managers can provide good guidance for residents.
Jayne Booysen from Premier Estates added ” It is vital to consider how we can control residents’ behaviour. We need to communicate safety concerns of barbecues, heater and other ignition sources. Ensuring that leaseholders convey the issues of fire safety is paramount.”