lordy - where to start!

30 Jun 2012
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United Kingdom
Ok this is a bit tricky. We've brought a town house and as such it has three floors. Currently the layout consists of a stairs on the ground floor running up to the next floor into a small hallway. The small hallway has two standard doors which open into the front living room. Walking through this room takes you to a separate stairs up to the top floor. Our plan was to replace the wall of the living room with a glass wall (approx 4 cm toughened but not fireproof) and remove the non fireproof door to the living room to completely open up the floor to bring in a lot more natural light and space. We are having new mains powered smoke alarms fitted per floor.

Upon speaking to building control we are having a few issues. The first one being that we've been told that our current layout isn't compliant as there's no protected exit from the top floor as the stairs goes down to the living room. The officer said that they can't make us change the stair layout but I'm not sure where that leaves us with regards to building and contents insurance.

I'd rather not have doors on the middle floor but it looks like we will have to, is this correct? Will we have to do this on every floor? Is this to stop fire and smoke only?

If we do go for the glass wall idea does the glass then have to be fire proof? Even if we aren't changing the stairs from their original design then whatever we do or don't do ,won't we still have the same compliance problem? We spoke to and got a quote from a private company who submit the plans and application etc for you and also asked their advice but they and the officer we spoke to got quite vague about the situation and we are none the wiser regarding the stairs situation. If anyone could shed any light then I'd be happy to here it!

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The latest Regs dictate that any habitable room in the house should lead directly in to (ie through one door) a protected stairwell that leads directly to an exit. Should a fire occur in your living room you will have no escape other than through a window and Building Control consider that throwing yourself out of a second floor window is risky.

This crops up fairly regularly on here though usually when people convert their lofts. Whilst your layout as it stands may not comply with today's regulations, if it was built that way (and it sounds like it was) then Building Control cannot make you change it and cannot make you improve it and is perfectly lawful. However if they are involved in works within the property they will not allow you to make the situation worse. Making it worse would have an impact on your insurance.

Building Control are vague in these situations as this situation is not exactly taken care of in the Regs and is a bit of a grey area, there may be some discretion applied or maybe additional smoke alarms or maybe sprinklers but they will only commit when forced to ie they are reviewing/approving the plans or are on site inspecting.

Its not entirely clear exactly what you have and what you are doing tbh, any chance of some quick sketches showing the plans existing and proposed? How can you 'completely open up the floor' when you are going to 'replace the wall of the living room with a glass wall'? :confused:

Its a poor layout anyway as all the heat from the rads in your living room is gonna shoot up the stairs.
Most people, agents and some inspectors interpret the building regulations as being the approved documents. The actual regulations will just say something like "There should be means of preventing fire spread" or "Means of escape shall be adequate", and then the approved documents will give one or two ways.

So there is flexibility in meeting the building regulations

If you are going for something non-standard, then you probably don't want a run of the mill plan drawer, and should look for someone knowledgeable and experienced in the fire safety side of things.

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