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Retrofitting a Means of Escape

(19 Posts)
venys Wed 08-Jun-16 11:56:59

Hi, we seem to have got stuck. Our 1930s semi had a loft conversion 30-40 years ago. No paperwork to speak of. Last year we removed a load bearing wall to make kitchen lounge etc open plan. Despite using an architect (our fairly newly qualified friend) and another friend as experienced builder - no one thought that we would now have to conform to current building regs on means of escape should there be a fire. We haven't actually changed the fire risk though as there was no door in the kitchen anyway. But still we would like to keep the family safe. Problem is that BC won't give us help on designing the solution and us being an arse. We have given him a design from a busy friend who is a fire engineer for a commercial company and BC wasn't happy. Private BC gave us guidance which I thought we had complied with in the previous document. We can't change to private BC easily since the process had started with LA. My only hope is go to a structural engineer who will do a design for £1000. But I am not sure even that will be accepted. I am not sure there are any residential fire engineers near us. Surely we aren't the only ones. Has anyone experienced similar and how did you overcome it?

wowfudge Wed 08-Jun-16 13:01:27

What's the cost of going back to the private BC adviser? If it's less than a grand then could you do that? Can an architect not advise?

Liminalstate Wed 08-Jun-16 13:19:21

I don't really have any advice as such, just sympathy as I am currently going through something similar as well. I've just bought a house with 3 floors and an open plan kitchen/front room. I've involved BC from the start though and luckily building control have been very helpful. I did a lot of research myself by reading through Approved Document Part B (Part 1) to try and understand what the fire Regs are and Part K about stairs. I would recommend doing this as it really enabled me to properly discuss the options with building control (I understand that people have less issues/visits if building control think they are competent/understand the regulations). It's really unfortunate for you that both your architect and builder didn't realise the alterations would be subject to building control sign off, as all the approved documents state that if any material alterations/building work is done the current regulations apply.

You said that the LA BC had rejected the plan your Fire Control friend had done-what were the reasons for that rejection? As far as I understand you could look at a protected means of escape in the open plan area ie an enclosed and fireproof staircase leading to an outside door. (This is the option I am going for). I think some BC will accept a sprinkler or misting system if the upper floors are separated from the ground floor by a fire door? Are these options for you? I'm just wondering if its possible for you to speak to someone else at BC as it sounds as though the officer you're dealing with is not being very helpful?

I hope this gets sorted for you.

venys Wed 08-Jun-16 15:55:02

We tried doing the escape out of the first floor route but he wanted something more - like fire curtains which cost about 8k each. He keeps harping on about properties in the more affluent area of borough which are undergoing hundreds of thousands of pounds in refits. We live in a very modest suburb and we would run the risk of over capitalising going down this route. Unfortunately private BC can't create a design document as its not their remit. In order to get them involved would mean writing a letter to LA to try and convince them to allow us to change regulators. Unfortunately my OH is also hopeless at working through problems, and being motivated to make things happen. But good at moaning about the house. I have 3 kids including 1 newborn I can't put down so impossible for me to sort a tricky situation on my own. OH and the LA BC are impossible to get a hold of as our inspector Is only in some of the time and the teams admin is so poor that messages don't get through. ;(

Liminalstate Wed 08-Jun-16 17:46:12

Congratulations on the Newborn and well done for even being able to type-I remember struggling to recall my name for the first 6 months of my DS life.

OK so its really not fair for your OH to expect you to deal with this. Could your Architect friend/Builder friend not help here? (they have kind of got you into this mess). There is usually mediation available or an appeal process (as a last resort) if BC have flat out rejected your suggested solutions and you feel their recommendations are too onerous. However someone (*not you*) would need to research how to go about this and read through some previous appeal judgements. Link here www.gov.uk/guidance/building-regulations-appeals--6#b2-internal-fire-spread-linings

Sorry this is happening to you-its the worst timing by the sounds of it. BC is very bureaucratic and I do think your Architect or Builder needs to help out here.

venys Wed 08-Jun-16 18:18:35

Thanks for your kind words. Everyone has been as useful as a chocolate teapot in this case. Except for our poor fire engineer friend who is actually snowed. So we can't really go back to him to re write the documents. I am reluctant to complain to the council if we actually want something out of this - might make the situation worse. Will have a look at that link thanks. PS newborn is asleep on me hence I type. She is pretty cute. OH in charge of the others smile

AveEldon Wed 08-Jun-16 18:26:48

When we looked at having work done on our open plan house the builder said that BC would be an issue
He suggested wired smoke alarms in all rooms, adding a door to the kitchen and putting a stud wall in to separate the stairs from the open plan downstairs

His suggestion was you do it, get sign off and then remove it all again

The other option to keep an open plan feel that might work would be crittall glass/doors

venys Wed 08-Jun-16 19:26:13

Yeah I am thinking that might have to be the case and to use fire resistant glazing cost permitting. The door that might have to be at the bottom of the stairs is in quite a tight spot. I know we can take off the fire door although I wouldn't want to risk my family's life. My dad was a fireman, he didn't talk about what he saw much but I know some of it was disturbing sad

venys Wed 08-Jun-16 19:27:36

Forgot to say though it seems chicken and egg. You can agree on a solution but then. What happens if you can't afford it? Seems difficult.

AveEldon Wed 08-Jun-16 20:41:00

You have to remember that house fires are much less common than they used to be and your first line of defence is a working smoke alarm

whois Wed 08-Jun-16 22:37:48

Can you install some kind of fire ladder from the loft instead?

venys Thu 09-Jun-16 07:50:58

Got the wired smoke alarms and house completely rewired. We only have a plug in induction hob too. Although this doesn't help with BC. The loft is already converted whois - the stairs have no risers. Wanted those filled in last year but the builder never ended up doing them!! I haven't mentioned I hate all things property and the people involved as they never do what's asked of them.

whois Thu 09-Jun-16 11:31:14

Ah I see.
What a pain!

venys Thu 09-Jun-16 11:42:58

Stalemate I suspect

Sandbagsandgladrags Thu 09-Jun-16 14:28:23

I had a similar issue. DH and I pored over the building regs and found something along the lines of the test being "not making alterations that make your house materially less compliant with the regs". We argued successfully that the alterations we wanted wouldn't do this - the house wasn't compliant currently, and still wouldn't be, but not by a materially greater amount. You might be able to do something similar by emphasising that you bought the house without a door off the kitchen. What counts as 'material' is open to interpretation.

Agree with a PP that I wouldn't be overly concerned with fire risk - the number of house fires each year has declined massively in recent years. Effective smoke alarms help manage this. And building regs change frequently so loads of houses aren't up to current standards. Be careful though of making adjustments for building regs then ripping them out - I understand that can affect your home insurance.

venys Thu 09-Jun-16 15:09:33

Cheers for that sandbags. We have actually gone down that route but BC says the building regs are not like planning in that you have a statute of limitations. I have seen conflicting info on this so not sure how we can push the point. I think my problem here is that we have already removed the wall so won't get compliance certificate until we do the means of escape. This is fine until we go to sell the place!

Sandbagsandgladrags Thu 09-Jun-16 16:42:53

Aaah ok I get you - you do want to be compliant with fire regs. Sorry for misunderstanding. In our case our aim was to get structural approval of something that many of our neighbours had already done prior to the stricter fire regs. Neither of us smoke, we don't have a chip pan or overload plug sockets and we have decent smoke alarms. So we decided being fire non-compliant was a risk we were prepared to take. I respect that not everyone feels the same way though.

lastnightiwenttomanderley Thu 09-Jun-16 16:58:29

Hi OP.
I'm a Structural Engineer - what is it they are proposing to do for the £1000? Fire engineering wouldn't normally come under our remit, especially with regards to means of escape, so please make sure that they know what they are talking about before you part with any cash.
Yes, Building regs are a bit of a pain in how they are applied retrospectively. Others have given very good suggestions - though it sounds like these wont work for various reasons. Unfortunately fire proof glazing doesn't come cheap sad
Can you wait until your fire engineer friend is less snowed under? It's hard to advise without having seen the exact scenario - I also work in an architectural capacity so happy to take a look if you want to PM me any info.
PS. Has your architect friend just graduated or just qualified with their RIBA pt 3? I'm very surprised that they weren't aware of this as it's a well known PITA!

venys Thu 09-Jun-16 22:56:07

Thanks for your message Last night - like you I am reluctant to go the structural engineering firm for the reason that the BC would not accept that they are indeed professionals in this aspect. And I think we have pushed the favours too far with our fire engineer friend - when we lived closer and pre kids we would see each other often but now don't see him at all. I have no idea about the architect but he did seem clueless when we were all emailing each other (fire engineer , architect and ourselves are all mutual friends). Anyway, might take you up on the offer if having a look at the docs when I get back on my computer. Newborn beckons often so it may be a day or two. CHEERS smile

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