How will fire regulations affect my home renovation plans?

You must take fire safety into account before remodelling your property, says building control officer Paul Hymer

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Going open-plan

We’re making the ground floor of our two-storey home more open-plan. Can I remove the wall to the stairs and hallway?

Yes, with two conditions:

  • First, the first-floor bedroom windows must be egress windows to provide alternative escape routes – with an actual opening at least 45cm high by 45cm wide. The bottom of the opening should be no higher than 110cm from floor level.
  • Second, mains-powered and interlinked smoke alarms should be fitted to both the ground floor and the first-floor landing (within 7.5m of bedroom doors). If the ground-floor open-plan layout includes a kitchen, a heat alarm should be installed as well. Radio-linked alarms are an acceptable alternative to hard-wired interconnection cabling, but both need to be mains-powered with battery back-up, and can be wired from the lighting circuit by a qualified electrician.

Can I remove internal walls in my flat to make it an open-plan layout?

The entrance lobby or inner hallway of a flat is a fire lobby with fire-rated doors to the rooms leading from it. Therefore, the lobby cannot be removed to create an open-plan layout inside the flat as this will create a fire risk to the main stairs and the rest of building.

It is possible to remove walls between the rooms themselves, so long as the lobby hallway of the flat remains separated.

Loft conversions

I’m planning a loft conversion to my two-storey house, but my stairs rise from the living room, not a hallway. Is this permitted?

No, in this case, the stairway must be separated from the rooms by walls and fire doors, leading all the way to an external door, and not open-plan to rooms.

You could create a hallway by partitioning off the stairs from the room, or if the stairs are alongside a spinal wall separating two ground-floor rooms, you could form a lobby at the bottom of the stairs with fire doors leading to each room. So long as you have separate escape routes from both of these rooms, it would be acceptable.

If you really want an open-plan layout to include the stairs, sprinklers are usually the only option.

When converting a loft in a single-storey home, it is permissible to have the stairs within a room as you don’t need a protected stairway. In this situation, the requirement for an alternative emergency fire escape could be met by a first-floor window.

Garage conversions

I have an integral garage but without an internal door to it from the house. Can I fit one?

Yes, you can, but two fire safety requirements apply:

1. The door needs to be an FD30S fire door with a self-closing device fitted. Thirty-minute fire-resisting doors are best bought as a set with the frame because the latter is made from thicker timber than standard and is rebated to fit the necessary intumescent (which means it swells when heated) smoke seal to the sides and the head. Hence, you can’t use normal door frames for this purpose.

2. Internal doors to garages are the only doors in homes that need to be self-closing. Those with a checking action that pauses in the almost-shut position before fully closing are best, avoiding crushed fingers. The floor within the garage must be at least 10cm lower than the finished floor within the house to prevent fuel spillage running into the house. If it isn’t 10cm lower, the door sill will need to be raised by brick or concrete block to create this 10cm step over, or the floor of the garage should be sloping outwards to beneath the garage car doors.

Fireproofing walls, ceilings and beams

Must I box in a steel beam with plasterboard or can I leave it exposed or have it painted?

If the beam is only supporting the roof structure, it doesn’t need to be protected against fire. If it’s supporting a floor structure or walls above, it’ll need to be protected to 30 minutes’ fire-resistance. You can use specialist intumescent paint with that level of resistance (not simply flame retardant) instead of encasing it with plasterboard.

Can I line the walls or ceilings of my new rooms with timber boarding instead of having to plaster them?

Walls and ceilings need to be National Class 1 (or European Class D-s3, d2)- rated to restrict surface fire spread. Most timber is National Class 3-rated for surface fire spread, and is not permitted in rooms larger than four square metres in area or garages over 40 square metres. However, timber can be treated or painted with specialist coatings to achieve the Class 1 standard.