Sprinklers and staircases: proposals to amend Approved Document B

The government is currently consulting on amendments to Approved Document B, which gives guidance on how to meet the requirements of the Building Regulations, including options for providing sprinklers in care homes and to recommend a second staircase be provided in residential buildings over 30 metres in height.

Second staircase in residential buildings

The consultation proposes introducing provisions for new residential buildings more than 30 metres in height to be provided with a second staircase. 

It states that this would provide benefits “such as added resilience for extreme events and reduced conflicts between emergency responders entering a building and those trying to escape, reducing the risk of the smoke ingress into an ‘escape’ stairwell. In addition, the provision of a second staircase, residents will have an alternative means of escape in the event one route became filled with smoke”. 

However, the consultation notes that concerns have been raised that this change “could make developments unviable due to a reduction of saleable floor space and increase costs”. It is estimated that the cost to business and society would be £1.6 billion over 10 years. 

If implemented, the government is “proposing a very short transition period”. This would “allow time for schemes to be completed but should not allow the opportunity for developments to get off the ground ahead of the new requirements coming into effect”. 

The consultation urges all developments to prepare for this change now. This will cause uncertainty for projects at an early design stage, as it is unclear if and when this change will be implemented, though the discussion on the transition period may indicate a strong wind in its favour.  

Sprinklers in care homes

The consultation seeks views on updating Approved Document B to recommend sprinklers in all new build care homes and extensions irrespective of height, though with a possible threshold for smaller homes and extensions of circa 10 beds. This is at an estimated cost to business of £161.5 million.

The consultation outlines several benefits: “Sprinklers control the fire size and reduce damage, minimising the risk of residents needing to be rehomed”, but acknowledges that sprinklers no longer provide an overall cost benefit for either life safety or property protection. The proposed transition period before the changes would apply is six months.

The consultation does not cover retrofitting sprinklers in existing buildings not undertaking building works. It states: “There is ongoing work looking at fire risk in specialised housing, and there is a separate discussion and a more complex case on retrofitting fire protection in existing buildings…It may not be a simple case for installing sprinklers in some existing buildings, and therefore a more bespoke approach is necessary”.

Other proposals

The consultation also launches a call for evidence on revisions to the guidance in paragraphs 10.6 and 10.7 of Approved Document B regarding materials and products used in the construction of external walls. These relate to provisions to restrict the combustibility of insulation materials used on external walls and received criticism during the Grenfell Tower Inquiry as lacking clarity. The consultation is seeking views on how to improve the guidance to ensure that it is as clear as possible. 

In addition, the consultation proposes to remove the national classification system for construction products (BS 476 series) and require all relevant construction products to be tested to the British Standard version of the European Standard. 

The consultation will run until 17 March 2023. Details of how to respond can be found here.


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.


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