Over the last 18 months, the building regulations governing fire safety in England, Wales and Scotland have undergone the biggest shake up in over a decade. At the time of writing, a full technical review of the Approved Documents to Part B (Fire safety) in England is still underway, and is likely to take as much as two years to complete. A further consultation in England closed on 25 May 2020, and the industry is now trying to adjust to the new requirements, with half an eye on what might happen in the future. With this in mind, it is important to understand exactly what the new requirements are in each country and how to comply with them.

England

First to implement changes was England, with updates to Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations 2010coming into effect from 21st December 2018.  This regulation covers materials and workmanship, and the update restricts the type of materials that may be used in certain buildings with a habitable storey over 18m above ground level. The buildings it applies to are called ‘relevant buildings’, and are those which contain one or more dwellings, an institution, or a room for residential purposes. Included in the list are:

  • Sheltered housing
  • Student accommodation
  • Care homes
  • Hospitals
  • Boarding school dormitories

Hotels and government funded school buildings are not currently covered by this new regulation, as they already have their own more stringent requirements. However, this is one area that is being consulted about, and so may change in the future.

The requirement is for relevant buildings to have external walls that are constructed only with materials which achieve a European Classification of A1 or A2-s1, d0 in accordance with BS EN 13501-1:2007+A1:2009. There is a difficulty with some components of an external wall construction, as they are simply not capable of meeting these criteria, and this has led to a long list of exemptions (which is also under review). These include elements such as membranes, seals, gaskets, fixings, sealants and backer rods, even doors, door frames, window frames and glass. So, significant areas of the overall construction are not covered by the requirement.

The restriction also only applies to those relevant buildings noted above. All other buildings with a storey over 18m (such as universities and office blocks), and all types of building below that height, are not included. However, all buildings with a storey over 18m are required to either use the prescriptive route to compliance outlined above, or to use systems which have been successfully tested to the large scale system test BS 8414: Part 1: 2015+A1: 2017 or BS 8414: Part 2: 2015+A1: 2017, in accordance with BR135,‘Fire Performance of external thermal insulation for walls of multi-storey buildings’.

Approved Documents B, volumes 1 (dwellinghouses) and 2 (buildings other than dwellinghouses), have been simplified, and provide detailed guidance on how to meet the different requirements. One notable change is that, wherever possible, the British Standards have been superseded by the harmonised European Standard BS EN 13501-1:2018 to classify reaction to fire performance.

Wales

Wales is the most recent country to announce similar changes, which came into force from 13th January 2020. It closely follows the stance taken by England, publishing a circular on 29th January which sets out the scope of the new amendments to Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations 2010 – Materials and Workmanship for Wales.

The requirement for buildings falling within scope is again that materials which become part of an “external wall or specified attachment” achieve a minimum European Class A2-s1, d0 or Class A1 when classified in accordance with BS EN 13501-1:2018. Buildings in scope must have a storey at least 18m above ground level and contain either one or more dwellings, an institution, or a room for residential purposes, including student accommodation, care homes, sheltered housing, hospitals and dormitories in boarding schools. Rooms in a hostel providing temporary accommodation to those who are ordinarily resident elsewhere, hotels and boarding houses are not included.

The main Approved Documents B for Wales have not yet been updated, but applicable guidance can still be found there for buildings not falling within scope of the new requirements.

The restrictions in both England and Wales apply to the full height of the building, not just from 18 m and above.

Scotland

The Scottish Building Standards were updated in 2019, with new restrictions coming into play from 1stOctober of that year. In some respects, the standards are more stringent, capturing a wider range of buildings and having a lower trigger height of 11m. However, the guidance also takes a more pragmatic approach to the issue of compliance. Rather than simply implementing a blanket ban on certain classes of product, in all cases an alternative route is permissible by meeting the requirements of BR135 via BS 8414.

There is also room in the Scottish regulations for strictly regulated extended applications of the test using the new British Standard BS 9414:2019, recognising that innovative solutions may be developed in the future and that some flexibility could therefore be beneficial. Note that only better performing variations of the tested system would be allowed.

Going back to the new restrictions and other changes within Section 2 of the Building Standards Technical Handbook, a European Classification of A1 or A2 (s1, d0 is not mentioned) is required for external wall cladding and products exposed in a wall cavity on all buildings with a storey height more than 11m above the ground, regardless of use, and also for certain entertainment and assembly buildings, hospitals and residential care homes below 11m. The definition of what comprises external wall cladding has been expanded to include composite panels, timber panels, spandrel panels and infill panels.

As mentioned above, an acceptable alternative to this restriction, which is highlighted in clause 2.7.1 and cited throughout section 2, is to use systems that have been tested to BS 8414 and that meet the requirements of BR 135.

An additional alternative is the use of fire safety engineering for large and complex buildings, and the guidance on applying this route to compliance with the functional standards has been amended to improve clarity and robustness.

Other changes include the removal of all references to British Standards reaction to fire tests and classifications, in favour of the European Classification system. For buildings with a storey at 11m or higher, specified attachments such as balconies, solar panels and solar shading also fall under the new requirement to be constructed of products achieving a Euroclass A1 or A2 rating.

Northern Ireland

As yet, no changes have been made or are anticipated in Northern Ireland. Current guidance can be found here.