Fire Risk Assessment

The right Smoke Alarms are imperative

We have already established in Fire Risk Assessment Basics that sleeping guests are particularly at risk from fire. Therefore your smoke alarm system must match the property and risk and be loud enough to wake your guests up.

If you let out a 300 year old farmhouse with 6 bedrooms and wooden walls then two individual unlinked battery-powered smoke alarms which cost £6 from B&Q will not adequately protect your guests. Conversely, there is normally no need to fit an elaborate fire alarm system with a central power supply and control panel in a single storey one bedroom barn conversion which meets current Building Regulations.

Before we go any further

We cannot stress enough that smoke alarms have a limited life span. Usually 10 years. It doesn't matter whether they are mains or battery powered. We regularly find properties where the alarms are out of date and need replacing. Smoke alarms are not fit and forget devices. Mains smoke alarms fitted in the late nineties and early noughties have dates on them which are hard to see, but their yellow plastic gives them away. All modern smoke alarms have the date of expiry clearly marked on them and this should be carefully recorded on a risk assessment and any out of date alarms replaced.

Out of date smoke alarm

Smoke alarm expiry date

Smoke alarm expiry date

Smoke Alarms - History

Prior to the 1970's smoke alarms were not available and many people died in house fires due to being overcome by smoke whilst they slept. Individual battery powered alarms appeared in the UK in the 1980's and most people fitted one in their home, typically on the landing ceiling outside the bedrooms. Having one smoke alarm was a huge step forward from none at all and the number of deaths in fires reduced as a result. In the 1990's the advice for battery alarms was to have two alarms,one at the top and bottom of your stairs which was a further step forward. From 1992, Mains Powered Interlinked alarms started to be installed in new houses. This was another step forward as interlinking the alarms gave earlier warning. These days modern building regulations require that all new houses (or houses that have been significantly altered) are fitted with Mains Interlinked Smoke Alarms usually to Grade D LD2.

Individual Battery Powered Alarms (non-interlinked)

We do not believe any holiday cottage owner should now be relying on individual non-interlinked battery powered smoke alarms with removable batteries. Whilst you can choose to rely on the very basic protection offered by battery alarms in your own home, holiday cottage owners have a duty of care which puts them in a different position. The smoke alarms in a holiday cottage need to provide a reasonable level of protection to people who pay to stay there.

As anyone who was involved in the maintenance of holiday cottages during the battery alarm era will also tell you, guests regularly remove the batteries from battery alarms rendering them useless. Battery alarms fall within Grade F of BS5839 and are only still included so that they can be categorised and used within the low-cost housing sector and owner-occupied properties.

What does the current Government Guidance for holiday cottages say?

The Government booklet "Do you have Paying Guests?" states at page 14, 'Premises similar to a family home (i.e. two or three storeys) are likely to need an automatic fire detection system that runs from the mains electricity (with battery back-up) and consists of interconnected detectors. Detectors will be needed in the staircase, corridors and bedrooms. This (technically known as a Grade D LD2 system) has been designed for domestic premises'.

Unfortunately this extract seems to contain an error. Grade D LD2 systems do not normally include alarms in the bedrooms. A system that also provides alarms in the bedrooms would be classed as Grade D LD1. Hopefully the government will correct this in future updates of the guide.

Our experience of working with professional Fire Risk Assessors is that they recommend a Grade D Category LD2 system for normal size holiday cottages. This is also the system typically specified in current Building Regulations.

Warning, if you rent out a very large property, that is somewhere sleeping perhaps 12 people and upwards, then you will need to consider a more elaborate alarm system meeting a higher specification. This is beyond the scope of this website and we would always recommend that owners of very large or complex properties seek expert advice on what type of fire alarm system is appropriate. This would also apply if your property is on three or more floors, has long or complicated escape routes or any single floor has an area of 200m2 or more.

Grade D LD2 - what does that actually mean?

All smoke alarm systems are categorised in BS 5839-6.

Grade D means a system of interlinked alarms (either hard-wired or radio linked) that are mains powered with an integral back-up power supply (i.e. a battery).

Category LD2 means smoke/fire detectors are fitted in all circulation spaces that form the escape route and in all rooms or areas that are of high fire risk to the occupants.

Single storey Grade D LD2

2 stoery house with Grade D LD2

Grade D LD2 - the weakness

A smoke alarm system to Grade D LD2 gives a very good level of protection in a family sized holiday cottage with normal risks. However, it does have an important weakness, no smoke alarms in the bedrooms. This means that a person sleeping in the bedroom is at risk from a fire starting in the actual bedroom. Provided the risk assessment finds that the risk of a fire starting in the bedroom is very low, then this weakness is probably acceptable. If however, it is believed that a fire starting in the bedroom is likely then a Grade D LD1 system is a better choice. This has smoke alarms in all the rooms except, bathrooms, shower rooms and toilets.

Grade D LD1

This provides optimum protection in typical individual holiday cottages.

Single storey Grade D LD1

2 storey Grade D LD1

Older Installations to Grade D LD3

If your property was built or last refurbished during the 1990's you could find that you have a Grade D LD3 system. This is typically a mains powered interlinked alarm at the top and bottom of the stairs. This system was a step forward from battery alarms but provides a very basic level of protection by today's standards. It really just protects the escape routes, not people in the direct vicinity of the fire. The good news for holiday cottage owners is that these systems can be upgraded fairly easily by an electrician to meet Grade D Category LD2 or LD1 by the addition of extra alarms either hard wired or radio linked.

Single storey LD3

2 storey Grade D LD3

Improved Audibility

The effectiveness of Category LD2 and LD3 systems can be significantly enhanced if an additional Smoke Alarm (interconnected) is installed in the master bedroom. This will help ensure that a responsible person will quickly be alerted to a fire and can arrange for an orderly evacuation of children and other vulnerable occupants. (Source: Aico Ltd, Smoke Alarm installation guide. Aico are a leading manufacturer of smoke alarms)

Smoke Alarms and the Risk Assessment Process

During the risk assessment process, the assessor must establish what alarms are currently fitted to the property. The questions that need answering are: what Grade of system is it, when was it installed, are the detector heads still in date and is this grade of alarm adequate in relation to the risk? If it isn't then the system will need to be upgraded by an electrician or fire alarm installer. Do You have Paying Guests, BS5839-6 and Building Regulations are persuasive that a Grade D LD2 system should be considered to be the minimum standard in a holiday cottage that is similar to a family home.

A note about radio-interlinked battery powered alarms

There are now radio-interlinked battery powered alarms available on the market which can be fitted by a DIY person. At first glance these seem attractive and are marketed on the basis that you don't need an electrician to fit them. These would be graded as Grade F because they are battery powered but could be installed to Category LD1, LD2 or LD3. Some are marketed as "equivalent to Grade D" because they have sealed 10 year batteries. We have suggested above that any battery powered alarm with a removable battery is not suitable for holiday cottages due to people's tendency to tamper with them. The sealed 10 year ones are better (because the batteries cannot be removed), but if you fit them yourself there is a question of liability if for example they failed to work. From an owners point of view, it is much safer to get a reputable electrician to fit a Grade D LD2 (or above) system. That way you can feel confident that the system is correctly installed and it will be their responsibility if there is a problem. If you are determined to fit a Grade F, LD1 or LD2 system yourself then you need to be absolutely certain that the interlinking works and the alarms are all installed in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.

Certificate of Installation

Most electricians will give you a Certificate to prove that the smoke alarm system they have installed meets the requirements of BS5839.

Notice how the installer has measured a sound level of 76.1db in the bedroom. This is important because the sound pressure level at the bed head should be 75dB(A). Measured at the doorway of each bedroom with the door open it should be at least 85dB(A), unless a fire risk assessment determines that the sound pressure level should be higher.

Certificate of Installation

Avoiding Nuisance Alarms

The major cause of damage to smoke alarms is people trying to stop nuisance alarms. These are caused for example by burning the toast. As will be noted from the diagrams above, kitchens should usually be fitted with a heat detector not a smoke detector to avoid nuisance alarms.

Alarm Maintenance

As part of any risk assessment, it will be necessary to establish a routine for maintaining and testing the smoke alarms. Most alarms need to be cleaned once a year with a vacuum cleaner, back up batteries should be changed regularly and alarms tested between lettings. For specific information, you must refer to the alarm manufacturers guidance.

Redecorating

Always cover smoke alarms with dust covers during redecoration.

Smoke alarm dust cover

Smoke Alarm Nonsense

The following picture illustrates that some people just make bad decisions when it comes to smoke alarms!

Smoke alarm nonsense