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12:44 pm, June 18th, 2017 - 14 comments
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For almost two decades there have been a number of perfectly acceptable domestic fire sprinkler solutions available in the NZ market. When building new I always wear the modest extra cost of installing them; our first ones during 2002. For most units it amounts to something under $4,000 which frankly is peanuts in the wider scheme of things.
The NZ Fire Service has persistently campaigned to raise awareness around this exceedingly effective way to save lives.
Yet it’s now 2017 and our building regulations remain silent on the topic. In light of recent events, this post needs no more elaboration.
I heard a guy on the news the other night saying in NZ it was mandatory for sprinklers to be in buildings eight storeys or higher and I thought surely that shouldn’t be so. I thought can that be true – I would have thought that there should be fire sprinklers in buildings wherever people resided from the ground floor up. We have some pretty piss poor safety regulations in this country if this is correct. But then considering some of the new buildings regulations I suppose anything goes these days. I wouldn’t like to be in some of our really big apartment towers sprouting up all over Auckland.
Some reports on the cladding and NZ application and some footage of Grenfell Towers.
But a New Zealand cladding company told Newshub aluminium composite panels have been used on buildings here since the 1980s, and possibly earlier.
The company, which didn’t want to be named, told Newshub it only uses fire-rated ACP cladding with a mineral core, but says there has been a lot of lower-cost, non-fire-rated material used in the industry.
The lower-cost material often has flammable polyethylene in its core, which is what was in Grenfell Tower’s cladding.
But it’s hard to tell the difference between that and the fire-rated mineral-core ACP, unless samples are taken and tested.
In the first link there is reference to sprinkler use in NZ, from about 3 minutes on, which must be installed if over 8 stories but may be only if under 8 stories. Nick Smith is also interviewed and has reports from his ministry and is confident that we do okay. A further interviewee said that a docklands fire in Australia that had the cladding didn’t result in loss of life, I think he meant that it had a sprinkler system.
If a sprinkler system is in place with proper stairways, the fire should be contained and not spread to the outer cladding. That is the thinking. However with very high buildings like Grenfell, every care should have been taken, non inflammable outside and inside and sprinklers and safe stairs and exits. And perhaps a mandatory jail sentence as well as compensation to the affected families. That would sharpen up the serious attention of those involved.
The OP is really about domestic installations. The design goal of these systems is much less rigorous than has been traditionally required for larger, multi-storied buildings. Their intention is to operate for at least 10 minutes after a fire starts, which is long enough to extinguish most small domestic fires, save lives and greatly reduce property damage.
They are only applicable for single/two storey domestic homes and fall under a different design code. It is much less expensive than the more complex and sophisticated one required for larger buildings.
Sadly many people are still not really aware of them.
That is interesting RedLogix. I remember once I had an idea that might reduce fires and rang the local fire station and asked whether my idea was in practice or who I should go to. The person on the phone was uninterested and i wonder if the way the Fire Service has been run has led to a top-down, reactionary approach to consideration about fires.
Often NZ approach is to lecture people, blame people, and put the onus on people rather than looking at ways where people can be helped by pointing up problems to remain alert to. There should be an agreement with insurance companies on reduced annual policy cost for buildings with approved sprinklers, an incentive that would save everyone money and precious resources. And on other household danger points – there is only one stove I think, that has a light by each element control to show it is on, I would like to see that sort of warning aid getting an insurance discount. I would like to see an automatic drop in element setting after 3 minutes on very hot so cooking would keep going but the stove heat would drop considerably, and fire and burn out pots would be less likely.
Under deregulation the pendulum has swung away from practical interaction with the public and replace with published warnings in formal speak. Regulation gets cranked up when someone wants to save government money. We now have health and safety regulations that are often cumbersome and pedantic.
I thought it was interesting to see how official warnings can get hung up on official speak – there were numerous notices about changing the speed limit on the alternative road to Christchurch but I couldn’t find in them what the actual new speed limit was.
But but but but what sort of rational householder can’t afford batteries for their free market smoke detectors? Burning to death is a choice that poor people make.
Domestic fire sprinklers require no batteries and zero intervention from the tenant. Basically most of our tenants don’t even know they are there; only a few have ever noticed the unusual and unobtrusive little dome in the ceiling.
You bring up the cost of batteries. There is also the problem of getting up to ceiling level to manipulate the workings of the smoke alarm. So a ‘sturdy’ stepladder is needed, or a very sturdy chair and a sick or shaky person, particularly the elderly will have problems getting up there, and more likely to result in a fall.
The intensive screech is a horrible noise and hard to stop when lack of battery energy or something else, non threatening starts it.
The feeling may be that when there are a number of alarms around the house the result is likely to be too alarming on an everyday basis!
One thing that should be encouraged is smoke alarms being installed on a wall high up, but easier to reach than ceiling level and less likely to result in a fall. A good idea for caravan owners is to have their smoke alarm attached with velcro, which make it easier and more adaptable for intermittent use or put up after finishing cooking etc.
In western Auckland the licensing trusts gave out free fire alarms to everyone in their area, with proof that they lived in the area. It was easily 7-8 years ago, but still one of the most positive and memorable distributions that the Trusts have ever done.
Nothing wrong with smoke detectors at all; they do save lives. Sprinklers are just way better.
500 dead at Grenfell?
Every day that goes by it gets weirder. Surely someone has a list of occupants and has been able to organise at least a rudimentary roll call by now.
In the absence of reliable information, speculation and suspicion will grow to fill the vacuum.
In a small kitchen I have two hotplates covered with a removable bench top. They are on a circuit simply for them which is only turned on when I use one of them perhaps once every three/four weeks.
This is to cook up a frypan which after cooking makes five pottles of ‘meat’ to be frozen and reheated in my microwave with rice or pasta.
I have had this frypan for over twenty years now and the only time it has been burnt was when my visiting son used it to cook bacon and eggs…. why? because I made a metal ring to support it above the element, ‘Wok Style’ I believe. He obviously used direct contact with the element. I usually leave it unattended for several hours to ‘slow cook’ as it bubbles happily on low heat[ below ‘1’ on the 1-5 dial.
Of course I designed and built my cottage to suit myself which most folk are incapable of doing for various reasons. Sprinklers look a great idea but I didn’t know about them until now. That is assuming I could have afforded such a system back then 🙂
Sounds interesting. Appliance manufacturers probably could do a fair bit more to reduce the very big risk of cooking accidents.
The cost of domestic sprinklers is a lot less than people imagine. They are designed to a much more relaxed standard intended to be ‘good enough’ to work in say 95% of scenarios.
First of all they are plumbed into the standard town water supply. No extra pumps, tanks or valves. The distribution pipes can be in plastic, the idea being if the fire reaches the ceiling cavity the sprinkler hasn’t worked and it was game over anyway. Typically only one, or sometimes two, heads are required per room. Low risk areas like cupboards are not covered. A typical unit might only require 5 or 6 heads at most and the cost of these is not great.
A sprinkler head is hidden behind a small, unobtrusive dome that has a eutectic alloy which melts (at about 75 degC) and drops off, the head itself then activates at a slightly higher temperature and drives a fine spray into the room. The idea of the spray is to rapidly absorb the infra-red heat energy of the fire and prevent it from spreading.
Ideally the pipes are in a big loop configuration and the far side of the loop from the supply point is plumbed to a toilet cistern to keep the water in the sprinkler system from ‘dead legging’. This means you don’t need special isolation valves at the town supply side.
Nor are there any alarms, batteries or any kind of regular maintenance.