Content supplied by Plumis Ltd

Open plan layouts can create a more light, contemporary and spacious way of living. They promote a communal life; encouraging connection between families and helping them build a sense of togetherness. Your home can really benefit from the added sunlight, it’s wonderful for entertaining, and don’t forget, it can also add value to your property.

Looking for inspiration? Whether planning a loft conversion, a kitchen-diner, or a split-level knock-through ground floor, a new website called OpenPlanned is demonstrating how. On a genuine mission to consign dark, dingy corridors and cramped rooms to history, it is a free source of regulation-busting inspiration, information, and expertise for homeowners. Homeowners can search a database of suppliers that includes architects, builders, installers, surveyors, loft conversion specialists, approved building inspectors and many more by type and location.

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Whatever type of open plan layout you choose, you’ve got to comply with building regulations, which can put limits on what you’re able to build, especially when it comes to fire safety. In the event of a fire, it’s your responsibility to provide safe escape routes. Follow our guide to find out how you can achieve these fire safety standards without compromising your designs, and still get that all-important building certificate.

Why is open plan a problem?

An open plan layout is where you have larger rooms with few or no dividing walls. Even if planning permission isn’t required, if you’re going to go open plan, your project will need to comply with the building and fire safety regulations, also known as Approved Document B (ADB). ADB outlines the set of fire safety standards a building must meet by law in England and Wales.

Now depending on which rooms you’re combining, the more open the layout and the higher your property or your flat from ground level, the more problems you’ll face. Ultimately the one question you need to answer is – will it be safe to escape if there’s a fire?

If you’re going open plan then you’re likely to have “inner rooms”, that’s a room reached through another living area, like a bedroom off a lounge in a flat. They pose a serious fire risk because, if a fire starts in the access room, there’s no escape route and you could get trapped.

You need to ensure the escape route is only connected to open plan areas with fire suppression so someone can escape through. You’ll definitely need fire suppression or a sprinkler system installed in the following examples:

  • The ground floor area of a three-storey house has the living room or kitchen open to the staircase.
  • Your flat has bedrooms, off one of the living areas, where the floor is 4.5m from the ground outside.
  • Your two storey house or bungalow has windows that are too small to be deemed an escape window, and the living area is open to the escape route from an inner room (for example a two-storey holiday cottage with open plan staircase).

What’s the solution?

When it comes to inner rooms, Approved Document B suggests that they might be allowed if a suitable fire suppression system is installed. So to get approved, get your building certificate and make sure you’re complying with all the fire safety standards, you’re looking at a residential fire suppression system or sprinkler.

Conventional sprinkler systems are based on the British Safety Standard BS 9251. The problem with these sprinkler systems is that they were traditionally designed for large industrial spaces so they can be expensive to install and difficult to retrofit and, if you’re using mains water, you may need to upgrade your water supply or find a location for a tank.

It’s really difficult to give an accurate quote for a residential sprinkler system based on the size of your house, but a rough cost for a fire sprinkler system to be installed in a modern home with a suitable mains water supply, can range from £2,000 for an average 2 bed property, to upwards of £10,000 for a 5-6 bedroom home. You’ll also be liable for mains water supply costs (if you need that extra water supply).

Is there an alternative?

Fitting the right fire suppression system into your home doesn’t have to double the cost of your loft conversion or ruin your design plans. There’s a convenient and cost-effective alternative in Automist Smartscan, a retrofittable sprinkler alternative that uses water mist to fight fires.

Award-winning Automist is a complete replacement for conventional water sprinkler systems. Activated by a heat detector, it comprises a wall-mounted swivelling misting nozzle whose inbuilt infrared sensor locks onto the seat of the fire and sprays it with water mist. In contrast to water sprinklers, this fills the air with mist, keeping the overall temperature down.

Your Automist quote will depend on how much of your property needs to be covered and the shape of the rooms. It’s best to contact your local retailer, but we can tell you that one recent customer who had Automist installed on a 4-storey house with loft conversion, was quoted £10k for a traditional sprinkler system, because it would have been necessary to upgrade the water main.

You can find out more here with this cost comparison table.

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For architects and other building designers, it frees up options for open-plan living without compromising on safety or falling foul of the Building Regulations. It occupies hardly any space and runs off the water mains, avoiding the need for separate storage tanks. More than that, it is elegant and discreet, designed to complement contemporary living.

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