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Grenfell Tower fire | Sprinklers 'would have cost £200k'

Grenfell Tower fire Kensington

The cost of retrofitting a sprinkler system to the Grenfell Tower would have been around £200,000 according to the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA).

The issue of retrofitting sprinkler systems to existing buildings, especially high rise, is once again being brought into sharp focus following the fatal fire which broke out in a 24 storey tower block in North Kensington in the early hours of Tuesday.

Recent changes to legislation suggest the industry considers sprinkler systems have a tangible benefit.

In 2007, changes to building regulations in England stipulated any new high rise building (above 30m) should have a fire suppression system installed, such as a sprinkler system. In Scotland, the threshold is lower at 18m and in Wales recent changes now require all new residential buildings to have a sprinkler system installed.

However there is no comparable regulation for the existing building stock. This is what the BAFSA and Business Sprinkler Association (BSA) is now campaigning for.

After a major fire at Lakanal House in Camberwell London in 2009, a coroner’s report recommended a raft of measures including encouraging the consideration of retrofit sprinkler systems in similar local authority owned buildings.

Cost is often a factor which is cited for choosing not to retrofit a building. However, Fire Sector Federation chair Paul Fuller says for a building like the Grenfell Tower, the cost would have been around £200,000 - around 2% of the reported refurbishment cost.

Structural considerations of putting large and heavy water tanks on the top of buildings may also play a part in the practicality of fitting a system. However Royal Berkshire ex-chief fire officer Iain Cox says there are ways around this.

“Often you have a big tank on the roof for domestic water supply - no one would have an objection to using that water if you put the fire out,” he says.

Although he does concede that this could be an additional factor if the existing water supply cannot be used, he says the problems can nearly always be resolved.

This resolve was put to the test in 2011 when Sheffield City Council decided to retrofit a fire suppression system in a 13 storey 1960s sheltered accommodation block.

The test concluded the installation was not as onerous as had previously been thought.

According to a report on the project it took less than one working day per flat to install the system and did not require residents to vacate their properties. The total cost was £55,134, around £1,150 per flat. This project used the existing water supply, but it says on a similar retrofitted tower block where this was not suitable, a tanked 30min of water supply and two electric pumps cost an additional £10,000.

The cause of the fire and the reason for its rapid spread is yet to be ascertained, but the BAFSA response is sobering.

“At this stage we cannot be certain how the fire started. Reports suggest it began in an apartment on the fourth floor. If that is correct, it is highly likely that a sprinkler system would have prevented the fire from developing as it did,” a BAFSA spokesperson.

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