On 26 November 2020 further changes to Building Regulations Approved Document B (Fire Safety) will take effect. Announced earlier this year as part of the government’s on-going response to the Grenfell Tower fire, these changes will obviously be of significance to social housing providers planning the construction of new high-risk residential buildings (“HRRBs”) or carrying out material alterations to existing HRRB stock.

The key changes include:

  1. extending the requirement for sprinkler installation for residential or mixed-use buildings, to include buildings of 11m in height; and
  2. new guidance and requirements for the provision of consistent wayfinding signage for fire and rescue service personnel in residential buildings with a top storey more than 11m above ground level.

It should be noted these amendments apply in England only, and will apply to all building works for residential or mixed-use buildings where:

  1. A building notice or initial notice has been given to, or full plans deposited with, a local authority on or after 26 November 2020; and/or
  2. Works commence on or after 29 January 2021 (including where a building notice, initial notice, or full plans were deposited with a local authority before 26 November 2020).

These changes will therefore apply to both the construction of new residential buildings of 11m or higher and also to existing buildings where works which constitute material alterations are being undertaken.

The updates require that sprinkler systems are installed to individual dwellings, but not to corridors or stairs, providing that those common areas are “fire sterile”. There are also clear requirements for the wording, location, visibility, size, font, colour and mounting (to name but a few) for wayfinding signage, with similar requirements also being established for flat indicator signs.

The adoption of an 11m threshold for sprinkler installation is notable because current definitions of HRRBs generally assume an 18m height. Given that the new regulatory regime envisaged by the Building Safety Bill (the “Bill”) will apply to the owners of HRRBs, the updates to the Building Regulations do raise questions as to whether a lower threshold height of 11m may be adopted for HRRBs under the Bill. The potential for HRRBs to encompass a greater number of buildings will be of real interest and significance to social housing providers.