Building Standards technical handbook 2017: domestic buildings

The Building Standards technical handbooks provide guidance on achieving the standards set in the Building (Scotland) Regulations 2004 and are available in two volumes, domestic buildings and non-domestic buildings. This publication is available in html and also in PDF format (in 'supporting documents' ).

This document is part of a collection

2.0 Introduction

2.0.1 Background

Life safety is the paramount objective of fire safety. Domestic buildings should be designed and constructed in such a way that the risk of fire is reduced and, if a fire does occur, there are measures in place to restrict the growth of fire and smoke to enable the occupants to escape safely and fire-fighters to deal with fire safely and effectively.

There are more than 7000 reported fires in dwellings (e.g. houses, flats and maisonettes) every year in Scotland. Fires can have a devastating effect on the lives of people and results in around 60 deaths and 1700 injuries each year. The most common cause of accidental fires in dwellings is the careless disposal of cigarettes and matches in more than 40% of cases. Accidents involving cooking accounts for more than 20% followed by electrical, space heaters and candles at around 5%. Statistics also show that the consumption of alcohol is a contributory factor which increases the risk of an accidental fire occurring. Occupants who are alone at the time of the fire and are in the room of fire origin, are more likely to suffer injury (e.g. burns and smoke inhalation) or even death in some cases.

It is impossible to eliminate the risks from fire altogether and the prevention of deliberate or accidental fires caused by the actions of occupants within a dwelling are outside the scope of building standards. For advice on best practice relating to fire safety in the home, visit the Scottish Government website or contact the community fire safety officer at the local fire and rescue services.

Although beyond the scope of this guidance, the adoption of good fire safety practices should be encouraged to reduce the risk of fire occurring in the first place. Fire prevention will not only save lives but will protect property and reduce environmental pollution.

The standards and guidance in this section are designed to work together to provide a balanced approach to fire safety. The building elements, materials, components or other parts of the building identified in the guidance should follow the appropriate performance levels that are recommended throughout the guidance. However where a dwellings element, material, component, or other part of a building is covered by more than one standard, the more demanding guidance should be followed.

2.0.2 Aims

The purpose of the guidance in Section 2 is to achieve the following objectives in the case of an outbreak of fire within the building:

  • to protect life

  • to assist the fire and rescue services, and

  • to further the achievement of sustainable development.

Protection of life - it is important to recognise that the standards will not guarantee the life safety of all building occupants. Occupants in dwellings do not normally perceive themselves to be at risk from fire and are not usually aware of the speed that fire can spread. The risk to occupants is greater if they are asleep during the outbreak of fire as they are likely to be roused more slowly. Occupants should be warned as soon as possible following the outbreak of fire and the guidance to Standard 2.11 provides recommendations for the installation of alarm and detection systems in domestic buildings.

Fire and rescue service - in some cases, occupants will not react quickly enough before being overcome by the effects of the fire and smoke and as a result, may require to be rescued by the fire and rescue service. For facilities to assist the fire and rescue service, see Standards 2.12 to 2.14.

Sustainability - the building regulations are primarily concerned with the protection of people from the dangers inherent in buildings, rather than protecting the owners of buildings from any economic loss which might occur. However following the guidance in the handbook will continue to embed active and passive fire protection systems within buildings which should reduce the likelihood of the total destruction of the building following the outbreak of fire.

2.0.3 Scope

Guidance in this section may not be appropriate for the following buildings as they are rarely designed and constructed in Scotland:

  1. dwellings having an individual storey with an area more than 200m2

  2. houses with a storey at a height of more than 18m above ground level

  3. domestic buildings containing a basement storey at a depth of more than 4.5m below ground level

  4. domestic buildings with a communal room with an area more than 60m2

  5. domestic buildings containing catwalks, openwork floors or escalators

  6. domestic buildings containing places of special fire risk

  7. domestic buildings having an escape route over a flat roof or access deck, or

  8. domestic buildings with a storey at a height of more than 60m above ground level.

For the purposes of (a) above, the area of an individual storey includes the area of a gallery or sleeping deck but excludes the area of an integral domestic garage.

In the case of a mixed use building containing non-domestic and domestic accommodation, reference should be made to the Technical Handbook for non-domestic buildings as well as the guidance contained in this Handbook.

In the case of sub-clauses (a) to (h) above, the alternative approach described in clause 2.0.7 should be used.

2.0.4 Method of measurement

The rules of measurement in Section 0 of the Technical Handbook may not be appropriate for the guidance in Section 2 Fire. For example, to establish the height of the topmost storey for fire and rescue service facilities, the height should be measured from the fire and rescue service access level and not necessarily the lowest ground level. Therefore, methods of measurement unique to fire are described within the guidance under each of the relevant standards.

Plant Storeys - for the purpose of measurement, the height above ground to the top most storey excludes, roof-top plant areas and any top storeys consisting exclusively of plant rooms.

2.0.5 Latest changes

The key changes that have been made to the standards and guidance from 1 October 2013.

  • Standard 2.5 - guidance amended to allow smaller luminaires (with TPb diffusers) to be arranged closer together.

  • Standard 2.6 - guidance amended with regards the 'reaction to fire' classification for external wall cladding for dwellings where the wall is not more than one metre from the boundary.

  • Standard 2.7 - guidance amended with regards the 'reaction of fire' classification for external wall cladding for dwellings where the wall is not more than one metre from the boundary.

  • Standards 2.11 - revised guidance on smoke alarm for inner rooms in dwellings.

2.0.6 Explanation of terms

Flat or maisonette - for the purposes of the guidance in Section 2 Fire, a flat or maisonette entered only from the open air at ground level and with no storey at a height of more than 4.5m should be regarded as a house and follow the guidance accordingly.

Protected routes of escape - throughout the document there are references to protected routes of escape these include: open access balconies, galleries wholly or partly enclosed below, protected lobbies, protected zones, protected enclosures, external escape stairs, basements and alternative exits. This list is not exhaustive and is not intended to cover all parts of a building providing protected routes of escape. For example, separating walls and separating floors also protect routes of escape but are covered by the guidance to Standard 2.2.

External areas - a roof, an external balcony or an enclosed courtyard open to the external air, where the area is more than 8m2 and to which there is access for a purpose other than maintenance, should be regarded as a room. It is not intended that these external areas be treated as apartments which create inner rooms to dwellings.

A circulation space in a dwelling is an area mainly used as a means of access and egress between a room and an exit (e.g. hallways and stairwells).

A sleeping deck within a room should be regarded as being part of that room. However for the purposes of the guidance to Standard 2.9, sleeping decks which do not fall within the definition of a gallery should be regarded as a separate room or storey as the case maybe.

2.0.7 Alternative approaches

Fire safety engineering can provide an alternative approach to the fire safety measures contained in this Technical Handbook. It may be the only practical way to achieve a satisfactory level of fire safety in some large and complex buildings.

Fire safety engineering may also be suitable for solving a problem with any aspect of the design which otherwise follows the guidance in this Handbook. Alternative fire safety measures include for example, the use of automatic fire detection, automatic fire suppression or ventilation systems in conjunction with passive fire protection. It is reasonable to demonstrate compliance with the functional standards by alternative means and in such cases, the verifier and the fire authority should be consulted early in the design process.

Not all cases of variance from the guidance will require the appointment of a fire engineer. Reference could be made to ‘A simplified approach to alternative fire safety strategies’ Scottish Government (2010)

Existing buildings - it may be appropriate to vary the guidance contained in this Handbook when assessing the guidance against the constraints in existing buildings or in buildings which are listed in terms of their architectural or historic interest. In such cases, it would be appropriate to take into account a range of fire safety features, some of which are dealt with in this Handbook and some of which are not addressed in any detail. For more detailed information, guidance is contained in the ‘Guide for Practitioners 6 – Conversion of traditional buildings’ (Historic Scotland)

Fire engineering designs can be complex and many require extensive use of engineering judgement. The following documents are cited to ensure that the guidance given encompasses best practice worldwide:

  • BS 7974: 2001 Application of fire safety engineering principles to the design of buildings, or

  • International Fire Engineering Guidelines, 2005 (IFEG).

The use of either document assumes that those carrying out or assessing a fire engineering approach have sufficient technical training, knowledge and experience to understand fully the risks involved.

The objectives of any fire safety strategy should be established first and designers and verifiers should be aware of the importance of the design assumptions. For example, the strategy should include an assessment of the system reliability. This will help to ensure that the fire safety objectives have been met.

Responsible person - it is important that owners/responsible person understand that the fire safety measures installed in a building need to be maintained and tested over the life time of the building so that they will operate effectively. BS 7974 and IFEG assume that all aspects of the fire engineering strategy are capable of being maintained and deployed over the lifetime of the building. If for example, alterations are found to be necessary due to changes to the building layout, the original strategy may need to be re-evaluated to ensure the fire safety provisions have not been compromised. For this reason, the fire strategy should preferably support any fire safety risk assessment required under Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, as amended.

Fire safety engineering involves the use of scientific based calculations and/or statistical information to demonstrate an adequate level of safety for a specific building, structure or installation. In this regard the fire safety strategy is based on performance rather than prescription. Therefore fire safety engineering is about the need to identify the fire hazard, assess the fire risks, understand the consequences and to offer fire safety strategies and designs to show how the objectives have been met. The ‘tools’ that support fire engineering can include calculation methods which are used to demonstrate that under a worst reasonable case, tenable conditions are maintained during the evacuation period. For example, a smoke exhaust fan in a smoke reservoir within an atrium space fails to operate but the smoke layer height continues to be maintained by the activation of a stand-by fan.

It is recognised that fire engineering is still a rapidly developing field and as such does not have the standardised codes for approaching and solving problems compared to other engineering disciplines. The documents identified above aim to provide a structured framework for assessing the interaction between, buildings, people and fire, and to facilitate innovation in design without compromising safety. They provide information on how to undertake a detailed analysis of specific aspects of fire safety engineering in buildings.

In practice, both frameworks provide a flexible but formalised engineering approach to fire safety which can be applied to new or existing buildings to show that the functional standards have been met.

BS 7974: 2001 Application of fire safety engineering principles to the design of buildings is supported by 8 published documents:

  • Part 0: Guide to the design framework and fire safety engineering procedures

  • Part 1: Initiation and development of fire within the enclosure of origin

  • Part 2: Spread of smoke and toxic gases within and beyond the enclosure of origin

  • Part 3: Structural response and fire spread beyond the enclosure of origin

  • Part 4: Detection of fire and actuation of fire protection systems

  • Part 5: Fire service intervention

  • Part 6: Human factors: Life safety strategies – Occupant evacuation, behaviour and condition, and

  • Part 7: Probabilistic risk assessment.

International Fire Engineering Guidelines IFEG have been developed for use in the fire engineering design and approval of buildings. The objectives of the guidelines are to provide:

  1. a link between the regulatory system and fire engineering

  2. guidance for the process of engineering, and

  3. guidance on available methodologies.

The IFEG sub-systems bear a very close resemblance to the sub-systems used in BS 7974: 2001 and are set out below:

  • fire initiation and development and control

  • smoke development and spread and control

  • fire spread and impact and control

  • fire detection, warning and suppression

  • occupant evacuation and control, and

  • fire services intervention.

Clause 1.3.2 of IFEG states that "Typically, each building project is unique and similarly, each fire engineering evaluation is unique". It is not sensible, therefore, to set down detailed guidance on how the fire safety analysis should be undertaken. Instead, it is the responsibility of the fire engineer to plan the analysis for the particular project, based on the decisions taken during the preparation of the fire engineering brief as discussed in Chapter 1.2.

2.0.8 Relevant legislation

It is important to be aware that there is other legislation, apart from building regulations, imposing requirements for means of escape in case of fire and other fire safety measures that will come into force when the building is occupied. It is therefore recommended that consultation with those responsible for such legislation takes place before the application for building warrant is finalised. Any necessary fire precaution requiring additional building work can then be included in the application.

Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 Part 3, as amended introduced a fire safety regime which applies mainly to non-domestic buildings. The regime does not generally apply to domestic buildings but may apply where staff are employed or members of the general public have access e.g. a dental surgery within a dwelling. The regime also applies to domestic buildings that are licensed as Houses in Multiple Occupation and to some domestic buildings where certain care services are provided. Those domestic premises covered by Part 3 of the 2005 Act, as amended are defined in Section 78 of the Act.

Persons with obligations under the Act are required to carry out a fire safety risk assessment which may require additional fire safety precautions to reduce the risk to life in case of fire. For example, measures to reduce the risk and spread of fire, means of escape, fire-fighting equipment, fire detection and warning, instruction and training. Other measures are prescribed by regulation. The fire safety risk assessment should be kept under continuous review.

There is sector specific guidance for various building uses on how to comply with Part 3 of the Act, such as guides for premises providing sleeping accommodation. This guidance can be found on the firelaw website

In many premises, existing fire safety measures have been incorporated in accordance with building regulations, however it is possible for a higher standard to be applied as a consequence of a fire safety risk assessment.

Section 71 of the 2005 Act makes it clear that terms, conditions or restrictions in licences, including statutory certification or registration schemes, are to have no effect if they relate to fire safety requirements or prohibitions which are or could be imposed under Part 3 of the 2005 Act, as amended.

Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006 made under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 and contain provisions which are part of the fire safety regime. These regulations must be considered along with Part 3 of the 2005 Act, as amended. The regulations contain further requirements in respect of fire safety risk assessment and obligations of duty holders.

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 are intended to protect people working in construction and others who may be affected by their activities. The regulations require the systematic management of projects from concept to completion and throughout the life cycle of the structure, including eventual demolition. The CDM Regulations require designers and those who control or carry out construction work to identify hazards associated with their designs or work (including risk from fire) and plan to eliminate, reduce or control the risks.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) - the domestic Technical Handbook should be used for HMOs that are dwellings and the non-domestic Technical Handbook should be used for all other HMOs. It should be noted that HMOs may also require to be licensed under the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 - Order 2000. To be classified as a House in Multiple Occupation, the accommodation must be the only or principal residence of 3 or more people from different families. In relation to fire safety aspects, HMOs which require a licence are also subject to Part 3 of the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, as amended and guidance is available on the firelaw website to assist those with responsibilities for licensed HMOs understand and comply with fire safety legislation.

The Care Inspectorate is responsible for regulating a diverse range of care services some of which are delivered in non-domestic buildings (e.g. care homes, nurseries, independent hospitals, hospices, residential schools, secure accommodation) and some in domestic buildings (e.g. childminding, supported accommodation, adult placement services). The services are inspected by the Inspectorate against national care standards issued by Scottish Ministers some of which include physical standards for the premises. The Inspectorate consults with the fire authority on fire safety matters as part of the care service registration process. Where the applicant for a warrant intends to use or provide such a service, they should consult the Inspectorate for advice.

2.0.9 Annexes

Annex 2.A - Resistance to fire

Resistance to fire is expressed in terms of fire resistance duration and reference throughout this document to a short, medium or long fire resistance duration, are explained in annex 2.A. The performance levels include properties such as loadbearing capacity, integrity and insulation.

Annex 2B - Reaction to fire

Construction products are expressed as non-combustible low, medium, high or very high risk and explained in annex 2.B. The performance levels include properties such as the ease of ignition and the rate at which the product gives off heat when burning. This document does not give detailed guidance on other properties such as the generation of smoke, fumes and flaming droplets/particles.

Annex 2C - Vulnerability of roof coverings

Roof coverings are expressed in terms of low, medium or high vulnerability and explained in annex 2.C. The performance levels relate to the capability of a roof to resist penetration from fire and flame spread when the external surface is exposed to radiation and flames.

2.0.10 Independent schemes of certification and accreditation

Certification - Scottish Ministers can, under Section 7 of the Building (Scotland) Act 2003, approve schemes for the certification of design or construction for compliance with the mandatory functional standards. Such schemes are approved on the basis that the procedures adopted by the scheme will take account of the need to co-ordinate the work of various designers and specialist contractors. Individuals approved to provide certification services under the scheme are assessed to ensure that they have the qualifications, skills and experience required to certify compliance for the work covered by the scope of the scheme. Checking procedures adopted by Approved Certifiers will deliver design or installation reliability in accordance with legislation.

Third party accreditation - Since the performance of a system, product, component or structure is dependent upon satisfactory site installation, testing and maintenance, independent schemes of certification and accreditation of installers and maintenance firms of such will provide confidence in the appropriate standard of workmanship being provided.

Confidence that the required level of performance can be achieved will be demonstrated by the use of a system, material, product or structure which is provided under the arrangements of a product conformity certification scheme and an accreditation of installers scheme. Third party accredited product conformity certification schemes not only provide a means of identifying materials and designs of systems, products or structures which have demonstrated that they have the requisite performance in fire, but additionally provide confidence that the systems, materials, products or structures actually supplied are provided to the same specification or design as that tested/assessed.

Third party accreditation of installers of systems, materials, products or structures provides a means of ensuring that installations have been conducted by knowledgeable contractors to appropriate standards, thereby increasing the reliability of the anticipated performance in fire.

Local authority verifiers may accept the certification of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance with the relevant standard. Similarly, local authority verifiers may accept the certification of the installation or maintenance of products, components, materials or structures under such schemes as evidence of compliance with the relevant standard. Nonetheless, a local authority verifier may wish to establish, in advance of the work, that any such scheme is adequate for the purposes of the Building Regulations.

Many certification bodies which approve such schemes are accredited by UKAS.

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