Interiors 779 views Oct 17, 2017
Sprinklers create office design opportunities

While the life-saving benefits of sprinklers are undisputed and well-known, the inclusion of automated sprinkler systems within offices can add value to a scheme by increasing design options, saving on capital costs and reducing the construction programme. An adequate level of fire safety is a statutory requirement but the decision as to how the fire safety measures are achieved is down to the designer.

A recent BSA report, produced by leading engineering consultancy WSP: The Impact of Automatic Sprinklers on Building Design – Commercial Sector, Offices, outlines the beneficial impact that incorporating sprinklers can have and how they can add value to building design. Sprinklers are a key component in the long-term strategy of any building and if considered early in the design process, they can be included at little, and sometimes at no cost.

One of the key advantages of an automatic sprinkler system is it enables the balancing of fire protection measures which in turn opens up a number of significant design opportunities. An office which has automatic sprinklers allows occupants more time to escape when a fire occurs, which for the designer means they can incorporate longer travel distances and narrower door and stair widths, freeing up their design. In addition, the maximum travel distances in an office building can be increased by around 15% when an automatic sprinkler system is incorporated. This provides flexibility in the location of staircases and reduces the necessity of introducing escape corridors.

Another design benefit with sprinklers is in the number of firefighting shafts and fire mains can be adjusted.  In a building without sprinklers, a firefighting shaft should be provided such that no part of a floor is more than 45 metres from a fire main outlet in a protected stairway. If a building is fitted with sprinklers, the distance can be increased to 60 metres.

Sprinklers act to limit fire growth so that compartment sizes can be increased, which in turn offers additional design options.  In addition to greater freedom in the building layout, sprinklers can work to contain a fire and limit fire to the compartment of origin.

Building Regulations Approved Document B recommends that buildings are separated sufficiently, or that a portion of the building’s facade should be fire-resistant to prevent fire spreading between buildings. The area of facade required to be fire-rated is proportional to the distance between the facade and the site boundary. However, because automatic sprinklers inhibit fire size and therefore spread of fire, the non-fire-resistant area of facade can be doubled, giving designers greater flexibility in facade design and layout.

In addition to the flexibility introduced in terms of the façade material and internal layouts, there is a misconception that sprinkler heads cannot be concealed and are visually unappealing. The use of concealed heads, however, ensures that they can be discreet when desired.

Ultimately, the consideration of automatic sprinklers at the earliest stages of the design will enable stakeholders to realise and benefit from a wealth of design freedoms. Through robust research and by looking at different building types and design options, the consideration of automatic sprinklers should be part of any robust design development for a new office project.

For more detailed information about the benefits relating to different building types and design options, download The Impact of Automatic Sprinklers on Building Design, Commercial Sector Applications – Offices which is available by clicking