Fire doors for the the Stairwell

In our last post we looked at the importance and layout of your existing stairwell and it’s compliance with the fire regulations set by local planning departments.

To summarise, the stairwell is the no. 1 escape route from the home in the very unfortunate circumstance of a fire breaking out.

If you convert your loft and plan to use it as added living space, you’re building inspector will insist you replace all standard doors in the stairwell for fire doors which confirm to British Standard BS 476 (BS 476 for fire resistance of building materials / elements).

Fire Door

Fire doors (if kept closed) will give you a very important 30 minute window to escape the building in the outbreak of a fire.

What’s more the actively help control the deadly smoke by incorporating an intumescent seal. Intumescent fire and smoke seals can either come as part of the door or can be fitted separately.

These special seals react when heated (during the fire) and swell to many times their original size to create a smoke and flame tight seal around the door.

Fire door prices and availability

Thankfully fire doors are big bulky like you find in public building and they also don’t those giant self closing mechanisms on top either.

They are readily available in the high street DIY store with prices ranging from a low £30 mark up to around the £200 mark. Both doors from this example comply with BS 476.

For more information on fire doors and to view a selection of designs try Wickes.

The Stairwell – Fire safety

Before you can think about whether you want a traditional spindle staircase or a modern bespoke glass and aluminium floating staircase, you’ll need to give some thought to where your new staircase will be placed and how you’re existing layout will affect it’s placement.

Practicality of use and complying with fire safety regulations will have to be considered before you go to the time and expense of building or ordering a new staircase.

Regulations state that the stairwell should give you the best possible of chance of escaping the loft rooms should a fire break out below in another room.  For this reason it’s very important to have a ‘fire protected stairwell’.

Fire protected stairwell

Should the worst happen, and a fire breaks out while you’re upstairs in the loft then you’ll have options;

  1. Climb out of any velux or dormer window on to the roof
  2. Escape down the stairs and out of the house.

Option 2 is obviously the best bet, no body would want to be stuck on the roof of a burning building. Hence the need for a fire protected stairwell.

Take into account your existing stairwell / room layout. Do you already have a stairwell that’s separated from the rest of the rooms? or is your stairwell open plan i.e. coming straight from the living room up to a small landing for the bedroom and bathroom?

If you’re stairwell is separate, that’s a good start but you might still need some extra construction work to fireproof the walls between the stairs and other rooms.

Those of you with an open plan stairwell, where the stairs come straight from one of the rooms will have to build an enclosing fire proofed wall to block the stairwell in to protect it and your escape in the awful event of a fire breaking out.

Fire resistant walls

Plaster lats being upgraded for fire safety

The vast majority of loft conversion use the existing stairwell as a starting place for the new stairs up to the loft room.

Take a look at the walls you have a work out how they’re constructed.

If you have an old property and they’re all brick then that’s ideal, no fireproofing is needed for solid brick.

Newer properties will probably have internal stud walls with simple plasterboard or lats and plaster and it’s these types of walls that need to be brought up to spec to comply with the fire regulations set by your local council.

Fire regulations are measured in time, i.e. the walls, door and floor of the stairwell should give you at least 20-30 minutes of escape time should a fire break out.

Plaster board and plastered lat walls don’t fulfill this requirement so will need to be upgraded with a special fire-retardant fibre-board or have the cavity packed with a fire-retardant mineral wool.

Lat and plastered walls will need to have the plaster and lats removed on the stairwell side, packed with fire retardant rock wool and re-boarded with suitable heat proofed boards.

Our photo shows an existing stairwell which has had plaster lats removed, ready to be covered new fire-proofed boards.

Important: Regulations vary from planning dept. to planning dept. so before you start any work, make sure you get an up to date list of regulations from your local council office. 

Heating Options for Your Loft Conversion

An important decision, but not a very exciting one is how you’re going to make your new loft rooms comfortable and warm by making sure their is enough heat to keep you and your family warm.

Of course a new conversion should be well insulated and will receive lot’s of warm sunshine coming through the Velux windows or dormer windows during the day, but as we all know in the UK, the nights can be bitter cold.

I want to you to think of heating before any work is started because some options will need to be considered before the new floor goes down. Let’s take a look at the most common options you have.

Heating your new loft rooms.

The three main forms of heating available are: 1. plumbing into your existing domestic combi boiler / radiator system. 2. Installing underfloor heating. 3. Plug in oil filled radiators, fan heaters.

Using your existing combi boiler with additional radiators.

radiatorPipesLoftConversion

If your home already has a combi boiler with radiator then adding additional radiators to the system should be one of your first considerations. You will need to extend the current hot water heating pipes into the loft, so the advice of an experienced plumber will be needed to make sure the new pipes are taken from your existing heating loop at the correct place.

The good thing about radiators is they’re relatively cheap and won’t need replacing. They come in all shapes and size. Designer ones are available which means you can turn them into a feature rather than a standard white box on the wall.

The bad thing about radiators is you need to know your existing combi boiler will be powerful enough to run them. You’ll need to know the output of your current boiler and how much your current radiators are using before plumbing in the new radiators. Radiators also take valuable space in your loft rooms, taller designs might the best option rather than traditional wider ones which will eat up wall space.

Underfloor heating for the invisible warming touch

Gaining a lot of popularity over the last 5 years, underfloor heating has became a popular choice for many, especially for conservatories, loft conversions, bathrooms.

The rise in use has brought down the prices and it’s now available to the DIYer from the big chains like Wickes and B&Q.

Electric underfloor systems means there’s no need to alter existing pipework or modify your current heating system. Kits are readily available and designed to be used by a capable DIY enthusiast.

The good thing about underfloor heating is it doesn’t take up valuable wall or floor space in the loft. It’s readily available in different sized mats, which could mean each room could be heated separately. It’s readily available and designed for DIY installation, maintenance free and silent.

The bad thing about underfloor heating is repairing it could be difficult if not impossible. Will raise the floor slightly which may make existing flooring uneven but this should be a problem if you’re laying a whole new floor in the loft.

Plug in oil filled radiators and portable heaters

One option is to forego fitting heating altogether and use portable heaters to warm the loft area when they’re needed. Leaving out a heating system should make the loft conversion cheaper and easier, both in materials and labour, especially if you need to bring in an experienced plumber or qualified electrician.

Portable heaters tend to be smaller so have limited heat output, they should be fine for small / medium rooms but if your loft is open plan you’ll need something with more power.

They’re also not particularly suitable if children are around. You wouldn’t want a heater being moved too close to something which could catch fire, or worse, be pulled over on top of a small child. Safety first.

The good thing about portable heaters is you may already have a couple you could use. Lowers the cost of the actual conversion. They come in all shapes and sizes and some can also be wall mounted. You have the option to easily heat each room separately,

The bad thing about portable heaters is they take up floor or wall space unlike underfloor heating. Might not be powerful for large open plan lofts. Not suitable for children’s rooms.

Resources.

Wickes underfloor heating mats for the DIYer