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Scotland leads on smoke alarm coverage

Mar 2019 Safety, Security Systems | Comments Off on Scotland leads on smoke alarm coverage
Scotland leads on smoke alarm coverage

Andy Speake, national technical manager at Aico, explains how the Scottish Government has extended the existing high standard of protection from smoke and fire currently required in private rented housing to all tenures

Under The Repairing Standard, contained in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, legal and contractual obligations of private landlords are laid out to ensure that a property meets a minimum physical standard. Included within this are set requirements for Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms.

These requirements are more demanding than those placed on Registered Social Landlords and on new-build properties. Which begs the question why? Why should those living in social housing, for example, not benefit from the same level of protection as those in private rental properties?

The Scottish Government has asked the same question and, following a consultation in 2017 and a report of the findings in March 2018, has updated its legislation to extend the existing high standard of protection from smoke and fire currently required in private rented housing to all tenures.

Three’s a crowd

Until this point, specification and installation of smoke alarms have been governed by three separate sources:

  • British Standard BS 5839-6:2013, which is a code of practice for the design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of fire detection and fire alarm systems in domestic premises
  • Building (Scotland) Regulations – Technical Handbook (Domestic) – Fire, which covers new-builds, materially altered dwellings, loft conversions, certain building extensions and any work that requires a building warrant
  • Housing (Scotland) Act – The Repairing Standard, aimed at landlords in the private sector.
  • Unfortunately, none of them proffer the same advice or have the same requirements, despite being similar. This clearly makes for confusion.

    Classification explained

    To understand the changes that have been made, it’s important to understand that smoke alarm system design and installation is determined by Grades of alarm system to use and Categories of protection.

    Grades are the type of alarm system to be fitted. Grade D is the most common for domestic properties and the minimum requirement under BS 5839-6 and Building (Scotland) Regulations. Grade D requires one or more interlinked mains-powered smoke alarms (and heat alarms if required), each with integral stand-by supply. Back-up supply can be from a rechargeable Lithium battery or alkaline battery.

    Interlinking the alarms is necessary under these two documents. Interlinking alarms provides an earlier warning for residents and the best chance of escape. When one alarm goes off, all the other alarms on the system activate – and there’s little chance of the occupant sleeping through that noise!

    Categories are the level of protection afforded by the smoke alarm system. Categories range from High (Category LD1) through to Minimum (Category LD3) protection. Building (Scotland) Regulations insists on a Category minimum of LD2, while BS 5839-6 will permit LD2 or LD3 depending on the type of property. LD3 requires at least one mains powered smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey (ie hallways and landings). LD2 involves a further mains powered smoke alarm in the principal habitable room (usually the living room) and in every access room serving an inner room, plus a heat alarm is the kitchen.

    The types of alarms are also at a variance. There are three types of single sensor alarms – Optical, Heat and Ionisation – plus Multi-Sensors. BS 5839-6 does not specify which to use, but does recommend alarms with tamper proof batteries for rented accommodation. Building (Scotland) Regulations recommends Optical and Multi-Sensor Alarms.

    With the change to the legislation, we now have uniformity in Scotland, with the same rules applying to everyone.

    The new requirements

    The good news is the Category of protection has been raised to LD2, which provides medium rather than minimum protection. As mentioned above, this means:

  • Smoke alarms in rooms frequently used by occupants for general daytime living, such as a living room
  • At least one smoke alarm per floor
  • A smoke alarm in every circulation space, eg hallways and landings
  • A heat alarm in every kitchen
  • Carbon Monoxide Alarms where there is a fuel-burning appliance or a flue.
  • Less positively, the Grade of alarm has been extended to allow both Grades D and F. Just to recap, Grade D means mains-powered alarms, each with an integral stand-by supply (from a rechargeable Lithium or alkaline battery). Grade F is battery only powered alarms. The new legislation stipulates sealed long-life battery alarms with a maximum lifespan of 10 years.

    As before, all alarms must be interlinked. Interlinking can be achieved through hardwiring or by using wireless interconnection technology, such as Aico’s SmartLINK.

    What happens next

    In the private rental sector this essentially means no change as private landlords should already be complying via The Repairing Standard.

    In the social housing sector, the Scottish Social Housing Standard has been updated to reflect these changes.

    For privately owned properties, rented out or owner occupied, this legislation is now a minimum standard for safe houses, is a requirement by home insurance companies and forms part of any Home Report. Local Authorities are able to use their statutory powers to require owners to carry out work on substandard housing.

    Landlords and homeowners have two years to meet the new standard, but installing alarms at the earliest opportunity will clearly provide improved fire safety for residents.

    The approach taken by the Scottish Government is a sensible one in terms of both clarity and protection. What difference should tenure make to the level of protection provided? Is it right that someone renting in the private sector in theory benefits more than someone living in social housing? Scotland has led the way here and we can only hope the other nations take note.