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LD1 Category Specification and the IoT: Connected Fire Safety Technologies

13 July 2020

THE DISPARITIES between Approved Document B (Fire Safety) Volume 1 and the recent revision of Part 6 of BS 5839 present housing providers with varying guidelines on the minimum requirement of fire safety provisions their property portfolio should currently specify. Ian Ballinger outlines why housing providers should consider pairing an LD1 Category specification with the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence to future-proof their housing portfolio.

There are now over 15 million ‘smart homes’ throughout the UK as individuals continue to look for solutions designed to make life within their property easier, safer and more efficient. With regard to the social housing sector in particular, advancements around Internet of Things (IoT) technology are supporting housing providers and the Fire and Rescue Services in protecting individuals thanks to the specification of preventative (rather than reactive) fire safety measures compliant with an LD1 Category specification.

While some rented housing providers may not initially look to adhere to this specification as the current legal requirement is an LD3 Category, the latest developments in smoke alarm technology are offering greater flexibility when it comes to connected and cost-effective fire protection.

These technologies are not only compliant with an LD1 Category specification, which future-proofs the property against potential regulatory changes, but also allow for adaptability and enhancement at a future date to meet the individual level of risk each tenant presents.

Connected approach

This can be achieved through the installation of a new generation of connected fire safety systems that feature both Smart RF and Predict technology, providing effective remote monitoring of each property through a wireless network of alarms. The technology allows housing providers to easily monitor and manage the status of alarms in real-time across their entire housing portfolio, highlighting any potential issues as and when they occur.

Historically, a collection of smoke, heat and carbon monoxide alarms will have been installed and tested upon initial installation, then only tested (at best) once a year. In a worse case scenario, after the initial installation test the alarms may never have been tested by tenants.

This is where social housing providers can benefit from IoT and connected fire safety technologies using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to bridge the gap in communication between a property and its tenants as professionals benefit from silent network testing automatically conducted every 18 hours for each property. That assists in providing a clear due diligence trail of compliance (if and when required), but also confirms the status and performance of each alarm.

In theory, the remote monitoring capabilities that connected technologies offer can help support a significant reduction in overheads over time, as the costs and requirements for physical property visits and subsequent missed appointments are eliminated. This approach towards fire safety delivers the highest standards of protection in the most cost-effective way, as providers can use Smart RF and Predict technology to instantly view the performance of each alarm in real-time to understand the trends and levels of risk aligned with each property.

Adaptable technology

The adaptable technology also allows individuals responsible for the management and maintenance of housing portfolios to use IoT-focused technology to easily upgrade the fire protection systems installed throughout their entire housing stock in the future, subsequently reducing the challenges related to asset management and the associated costs.

This upgrade can be achieved by simply adding a Smart RF radio module into the alarm, allowing the wireless interlinking of up to 50 alarms within one network. This permits the creation of a safety network with access to vital information including current status, alarm history, replacement dates and system health through the activation of a secure cloud-based connected gateway.

By using AI through a connected fire safety system, which itself employs a gateway featuring an algorithm and patented Predict technology, it can highlight trends and high risk patterns of behaviour. Being able to pinpoint tenants who’ve become vulnerable or high risk in a completely automated way means that housing associations are able to use their resource to target and support those most at need, both improving safety and ensuring they’re using precious resource efficiently.

Legislation curve

The 2019 revisions to Part 6 of BS 5839 provide professionals, specifically landlords, with a Best Practice guide regarding the provision of fire safety for their new or materially altered and existing properties. The update recommends upgrading from Category LD3 specification (the previous minimum requirement) to a Category LD2 specification. The fire safety provision in sheltered housing flats has also been increased from a Category LD2 to a Category LD1, highlighting an area of potentially higher risk.

In relation to Building Regulations that cover new or materially altered dwellings, it’s clear there’s a current disparity between the laws in England and Wales, which stipulate an LD3 minimum requirement, and the publications in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which recommend a minimum requirement of LD2.

When compared to BS 5839-6, which advises a minimum requirement of LD2 in most rented single occupancy situations, it becomes apparent that the Building Regulations for England and Wales are not as closely aligned to those of its neighbours, subsequently resulting in an element of confusion over what level of protection is required.

The current minimum requirement for newly built or materially altered domestic dwellings in England and Wales is a Category LD3 specification, which requires the installation of a Grade D mains-powered smoke alarm with battery back-up in the circulation areas of each storey of a building, such as landings and hallways, which form part of an escape route. Within the 2019 revisions to BS 5839-6, the recommendation of Grade D has been further defined into Grade D1 (sealed or rechargeable back-up) or Grade D2 (replaceable battery back-up).

For the private and rented sector in particular, a Grade D1 specification for maintenance purposes is seen as the most pragmatic solution, removing the obligation to replace batteries during the life of the alarms. Protection can be taken one step further through an LD2 Category specification, which requires the installation of a heat alarm in the kitchen in addition to a mains-powered smoke alarm (with battery back-up)in the most habitable/high fire risk room, such as a living room. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, along with other European countries, this level of specification is the current requirement under local Building Regulations.

Approved Document B review

While the UK Government has recently announced that Approved Document B (Building Regulations for England and Wales) will be subject to a full review, housing providers shouldn’t wait for changes to reinforce their Duty of Care. Housing providers can demonstrate Best Practice through the installation of alarms that meet an LD1 Category and can successfully future-proof their housing stock from any regulatory changes that may occur at a later date, while appropriately managing the level of risk each individual tenant presents.

An LD1 Category specification is designed to offer maximum protection through the installation of alarms in all areas of a property where a fire could potentially start. This includes alarms in all circulation spaces that form part of escape routes, in addition to smoke alarms in all high fire risk areas (ie living rooms, bedrooms and dining areas). This also includes the installation of a heat alarm in a kitchen. To offer the highest levels of protection available, Thermoptek multi-sensing or optical alarms should be installed.

By following a Best Practice policy that adheres to an LD1 Category specification through the use of IoT and Smart RF fire safety technologies, housing providers can not only ensure compliance with current and future regulations, but also successfully identify the level of risk (or, indeed, an increased risk) posed to their tenants and properties.

Remote monitoring delivers many capabilities, allowing professionals within the housing sector to have a comprehensive understanding of those tenants at a level of high or increased risk and who require swifter intervention.

Ian Ballinger is Head of Projects and Certification at FireAngel