When are fire sprinklers required in commercial and residential buildings?

Automatic fire sprinkler systems are an essential active fire protection measure and research conducted by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) identified that sprinklers worked as intended in 94% of fire incidents in both residential and non-residential buildings and controlled or extinguished fires in 99% of cases.

Despite mounting evidence of the effectiveness of sprinkler systems, the UK still appears to lag behind the rest of Europe when it comes to comprehensive regulation over sprinklers. This advice and guidance article looks at the current legislation for sprinkler systems in both commercial and residential buildings.

When are fire sprinklers required in commercial buildings?

UK legislation surrounding fire sprinkler requirements for commercial buildings can be difficult to understand. The guidance states that businesses (buildings with a fire area) spanning 20,000 square metres or more (and that are un-compartmented) are legally required to have a sprinkler system installed. For businesses smaller than this, the guidance can seem confusing.

All UK businesses employing more than 5 people or that are open to the public are required by law to complete a fire risk assessment for their premises. The assessment findings may require a business to have tailored fire sprinkler systems installed, despite there being no law or fire safety requirements stating that sprinkler installations are mandatory in commercial premises.

This inconsistency was highlighted in 2018 by the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety led by Dame Judith Hackett, which found that the regulatory system was ‘not fit for purpose’. The review stated that ‘England’s sprinkler laws appear to be lagging far behind those in Europe, where some countries now require systems for commercial spaces measuring just 3,000 square metres.’

When are fire sprinklers required in residential buildings?

Prior to 2020, the statutory guidance in England meant that only buildings taller than 30 metres and constructed since 2007 were recommended to have a sprinkler system fitted and existing high-rise structures must begin installing sprinkler systems if a fundamental change is made to the structure or use of the building.

In May 2020, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities published their amendments to the guidance through Approved Document B (fire safety) volume 1. These amendments changed the height requirement for sprinklers by stating that ‘blocks of flats with a top storey more than 11 metres above ground level should be fitted with a sprinkler system throughout the building.’

Sprinkler systems in accordance with BS 9251 (or BS EN 12845 for residential blocks of flats outside of the scope of BS 9251) should be fitted throughout blocks of flats above 11m. BS 9251 is the British Standard for the installation of sprinkler systems (amongst others) which covers:

  • Individual dwellings (houses, flats, and maisonettes)
  • Houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs)
  • Boarding houses
  • Blocks of flats
  • Residential care premises.

Currently, there is no requirement for existing buildings (buildings built before 2007) to fit potentially life-saving sprinklers. There is also a lack of comprehensive guidance surrounding sprinklers in newly built schools, and the FPA has been vocal in its concerns about the Department for Education’s proposals in changes to Building Bulletin 100: Fire Safety Design for Schools.

The FPA are the market leaders in sprinkler system inspections and sprinkler head testing. We provide detailed and comprehensive reporting, written by our team of experts to help ensure that your system works as it should. All sprinkler heads are tested in our purpose-built sprinkler laboratory in compliance with the LPC Rules for Automatic Sprinklers 2015 incorporating BS EN 12845, Clause 20, Annex K and LPC Technical Bulletin TB203. Find out more about our sprinkler services here.

Please be aware that considerable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained within this article at the time of publication, however any legislative (or other) changes that come into effect after this may render the information out of date until it is reviewed and updated as part of the FPA’s content review cycle.