Sprinklers: frequently asked questions

Council’s position on sprinklers

The Council’s view is that sprinklers are the single most effective method of improving fire safety in high rise residential buildings. Since 2007 all new build blocks of 30 metres or higher (10 storeys or more) are required to be fitted with sprinkler systems. Whilst this requirement does not currently extend to existing buildings, the London Fire Brigade has recommended retrofitting sprinklers to existing high rise residential blocks to bring these up to modern standards. In July 2017, Wandsworth Council made the commitment to ensure all our blocks of 10 storeys and over meet this recommendation.

Are sprinklers necessary?

Sprinklers save lives and protect homes from damage in the case of a fire, they also assist firefighters in carrying out search and rescue operations. There is wide support for sprinklers from fire safety advisors, and technical and professional expert bodies.

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) have said that sprinklers play a significant role in reducing the impact of fire.

In July this year, London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: 'Sprinklers are the only fire safety system that detects a fire, suppresses a fire and raises the alarm. They save lives and protect property and they are especially important where there are vulnerable residents who would find it difficult to escape, like those with mobility problems'.

In July 2018, the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee published the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Next Steps report. The inquiry heard evidence from industry representatives, fire safety experts and building owners and considered the specific immediate changes needed to improve the safety of residential tower blocks. The Committee recommended: 'Where structurally feasible, sprinklers should be retro-fitted to existing high rise residential buildings to provide an extra layer of safety for residents.'

Sprinklers are invaluable in ensuring that our high rise blocks meet the highest safety standards and bringing existing buildings up to the standards of new build properties.

Why residents can't vote to decide whether to install sprinklers

The Council believes that sprinklers are a necessity and like any other essential safety measure should not be optional. The Council, as freeholder and landlord, has a clear responsibility to maintain its blocks and to keep its residents as safe as possible. It would be unacceptable if the Council failed to meet this important duty.

Sprinklers must be installed to every property in a block of flats to ensure they work as effectively as possible and to ensure that those in the property itself as well as those in neighbouring properties are protected. It would be unsound to conduct a vote on such an important safety measure.

Will sprinklers be fitted in communal areas?

No, sprinklers will only be installed within individual flats as this is where fires are most likely to start and where sprinklers will be the most effective in preventing a serious fire. This also avoids any risk of malicious activation.

Will sprinklers damage my flat if they are set off?

Modern accredited sprinkler systems operate on an individual room-by-room basis, therefore a sprinkler will only activate in the room where a fire is detected.

Sprinklers attack fire quickly and directly so less water is needed. A typical sprinkler discharges 55 litres of water per minute whereas a fire fighting hose discharges 600 litres per minute. Therefore, the damage caused by a sprinkler would be minimal in comparison to the fire brigade. The average area of fire damage in properties without sprinklers is 18-21 metres squared, whereas in properties with sprinklers the average area of fire damage is under 4 metres squared.

In the case of a fire, any damage to the property caused by the escape of water from a sprinkler will be covered by the Buildings Insurance.

Will sprinklers go off accidentally?

Incidents of sprinklers being accidentally triggered are extremely rare. Sprinklers are activated by heat, not smoke, and will only activate if the room reaches 60-70 degrees. Ongoing annual maintenance checks will be carried out to ensure they are working effectively.

Will the installation works be disruptive?

Sprinklers can be installed quickly with disruptive work limited to one or two days. Any damage to internal decorations caused will be fixed as part of the works. Sprinkler pipes and heads are contained within ducting which is run through the hallway where possible to minimise disturbance to your flat.

Will there be ongoing maintenance?

Yes, there will be annual maintenance checks of pumps and water tanks to ensure they are working effectively. There will also be annual visual checks of sprinkler heads within individual properties. The Chief Fire Officers Association estimates that annual maintenance costs for domestic sprinkler systems are between 75 to 150 pounds per house, per year and costs in flats may be lower.

Can I view somewhere where sprinklers have been fitted?

Yes, there are two show flats in the Borough. One in Roehampton and one in Wandsworth. To view the show flat contact your area team:

  • Western Area: (020) 8871 5530
  • Central Area: (020) 8871 5333
  • Eastern Area: (020) 8871 7439
  • Southern Area: (020) 8871 7288

Email: hms@wandsworth.gov.uk

Or alternatively view online.

Will residents be consulted?

Yes. In addition to the Tribunal application, the Council will consult with residents on a block by block basis as the programme of works is rolled out across the Borough. Those living in blocks affected will be kept up to date with the progress of works and Residents Associations will be informed throughout.