Are Mist Fire Suppression Systems fit-for-use in domestic dwellings?
The Fire Safety Regulations Approved Document B makes no reference to Mist Systems as an option or otherwise – but clearly supports the use of Sprinklers and the Sprinkler Standard BS9251.
We are often finding the terms – sprinklers / mist – being used interchangeably – this is quite inappropriate and could be highly risky. They are very different systems.
In test cases, a mist system can put out certain fires – but it has to be said they take considerably longer than a sprinkler. Furthermore, a mist system can be effected by the immediate environment – which has a habit of changing (doors & windows open/closed, furniture gets moved around).
And whilst it is easy to find many examples where a Sprinkler system has saved lives – the same cannot be said of Mist Systems.
But it’s not just about meeting regulations. In this regard, the Grenfell tragedy has become a defining moment.
Grenfell has taught us that the building industry has a DUTY OF CARE – which goes beyond meeting regulations – to ensure that materials and systems installed are appropriate and Fit-for-Purpose.
Perhaps the questions is – how does the industry define and establish ‘fit-for’purpose’?
The current fire safety landscape…
Public anger aborted the first Grenfell inquiry hearings which started on Monday 2nd March 2020 ….
Grenfell survivors will ‘not settle for anything less’ than prosecutions – So tensions are rising and responsibilities are being tested!
Faced with a probable increase in LIABILITY and PROSECUTIONS if things go wrong, we need to be much more wary of accepting the marketing hype from suppliers and base ‘critical decisions’ on real-world empirical evidence.
Indeed, the Grenfell enquiry has highlighted possible cases of misleading marketing/sales tactics with respect to materials used for critical elements of construction – and in a similar vein, we have come across a considerable amount of misleading and downright incorrect information relating to mist systems – so caution is strongly advised.
The Fire Safety Regulations
All AHJ’s (Authority Having Jurisdiction – such as building inspectors or fire officers) should be aware of the Fire Safety regulations: Approved Document B volume 2 for domestic dwellings. This document refer to the installation of sprinklers in accordance with BS9251. BS9251:2014 is a fully verifiable code of practice which has 3rd party certification of both the components/materials and the actual installations.
Supporting the BS standard is real-world evidence – there is a long history of sprinklers saving lives – so the practical application is proven
There is a Mist code of practice BS8458 but neither ADB volume 1 or ADB volume 2 has any reference to it – and to be very clear, BS8458 is most definitely not equivalent to BS9251
In other words, no AHJ should specify or recommend a mist system to meet the Fire Safety building regulations under ADB1 or ADB 2.
But that’s where Sprinklers come in – because selecting a system that is proven to work is clearly the safest option.
What are the key deciding factors…
Given that sprinklers are a proven technology, it then become a simple case of examining whether Mist systems are capable of equaling or improving on a Sprinkler system.
The environmental factors
It is well known that Mist systems can be affected by various environmental conditions. Open doors or windows or furniture obstructing the mist spray or open spaces etc can all impact the effectiveness of a mist system. An example is the movement of furniture. Mist heads are typically set at a low height of around 1.4 – 1.5m up from the floor – how many people will always respect the full direction and span of spray from a mist head in a room when they are moving and replacing furniture? and what about new owners – will this knowledge be transferred?
These impacting factors are the reason why the Mist stsndard BS8458 is ‘Application Specific’. Each and every Mist installation should be tested as-installed to confirm it works as intended (and how is this accomplished?) – but even doing this test can not guarantee it will work in the future.
System complexity (the devil is in the detail)
Fact… there are many more potential points of failure in a Mist system! A sprinkler system with mains fed water supply has no electrical components (other than a dry switch) and no moving parts and everything is working stress free. But a mist system has a tank and a very high pressure pump, high pressure seals and high pressure pipework running around a building. There are minute orifices in the mist heads which could get clogged, and some mist heads have scanning/moving parts. And mist systems generally need an additional fire detector in the ceiling – which can look ugly. All these components can and do fail.
Indeed certain higher stressed component will have a limited life span and will need to be replaced at considerable cost – and annual servicing is a must. In comparison, a mains fed sprinkler system can easily operate over tens of years without being touched.
Mist system have many points of failure – mains fed sprinkler systems have very few by comparison
Mist systems are affected by environmental factors such as open spaces and drafts – sprinklers are not.
Mist systems have no third party accreditation. Sprinklers have full FIRAS accreditation.
Mist systems from different manufacturers are incompatible. All sprinkler system conforming to BS9251 are compatible.
Since mist systems are incompatable, installation companies are typically single supplier trained.
Sprinklers have a clear advantage – A sprinkler system fed from a mains water supply will be cheaper and more reliable than any mist system – both in the short and longer term.
Installation considerations of mist system
Indeed, as described below, the mist standard for domestic / residential BS8458 is far from being as comprehensive and specific as the Sprinkler standard BS9251, and the onus is on the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) and certified installers to go through a detailed test and confirmation regime to confirm if the proposed system and it’s installation design will be fit-for-purpose in each and every building. This introduces a significant degree of subjectivity and requires an AHJ to hold specific knowledge of the system in order to quantify and validate the results. We believe this is quite risky in a critical fire safety application.
Since companies such as ours are relied on to provide a fire suppression system which is always fit for purpose, the issues with mist systems weigh heavily on our choice for any given application.
Comparing the sprinkler standard BS9251 to the mist standard BS8458
The following should be noted…
1. The mist standard BS8458 is ‘Application Specific’. It is the ‘Application Specific’ nature of BS8458 amongst other aspects which differentiates it from the sprinkler standard BS9251: 2014 which is not application specific. Any suggestion they are equivalent is misleading.
2. Currently Mist system components have no certification. But for most life-critical applications, the third-party certification gives an important stamp of approval.
To install a mist system an installation checklist should be followed and the affects of the surrounding environmental conditions taken into account. The ‘Mist system installation checklist’ differentiates the installation from sprinkler systems which have no need for such a requirement.
The Mist system installation checklist* as recommended by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA):
Has the system been tested and approved by a third party approval body such as LPCB, VdS, UL or FM for the specific application intended?
Has all testing been carried out by a capable laboratory such as BRE, FM, UL, SINTEF, VdS, SP, VTT or CNPP?
Are products and components specific to the system approved for such use by a qualified third party approval body?
Can all claims made by the system supplier be verified?
Is there a formal agreement between manufacturer and installer?
Has the installer received training from the manufacturer?
Does the testing and approval data correspond to the intended use of the system?
Does the geometry of the space to be protected, including ceiling height, correspond to the testing and approval data?
Where insurers are the AHJ, ensure compliance with the insurer’s requirements /questionnaire / checklist.