In this exclusive extract BAFSA talks about a potentially game-changing initiative to install cost-effective sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings. 

A new report details how a pilot project, sponsored by the sprinkler industry through the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, was undertaken in September 2011. The project resulted in the retrofitting of a fully comprehensive sprinkler system in a 1960s high-rise residential care home block of flats. Sheffield City Council owns the block, which is operated by Sheffield Homes as sheltered housing. 

The report demonstrates that it is both cost-effective and practical to retrofit automatic fire sprinklers in occupied, high-rise social housing blocks without disturbing residents. It challenges the Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser who in a 2011 report to the Department of Communities and Local Government said: "it is not considered practical or economically viable to make a requirement for the retrospective fitting of fire suppression systems to all current high-rise residential buildings." 

A primary objective of the Sheffield high-rise sprinkler project was to determine the practicality of installing a complete system without the need to decant residents. The project installation commenced on 30 August 2011 and was successfully completed on 28 September 2011.

Taking less than four weeks in total to complete all the work, the adopted approach ably illustrates how significant improvements in life and building safety can be readily achieved with minimal disruption. Sheffield Homes and Sheffield City Council place the highest value on providing appropriate levels of fire safety in all their housing and recognise that there can be additional safety issues relating to tower blocks. They were willing participants in this innovative project as they considered it would contribute to developing national thinking on how fire suppression techniques can be applied retrospectively.

There are over 4,000 high-rise blocks owned, or managed, by local authorities across the United Kingdom. Information provided by the DCLG list 213,199 individual dwellings in 3,778 high-rise premises in England.

 There are 797 such blocks in Scotland and 15 in Northern Ireland, but unfortunately comparable figures for Wales were not available at the time of writing.

In the 12 months prior to the commencement of the Sheffield pilot project installation, 13 fires in comparable properties occurred in the UK. These have resulted in 9 fatalities and 12 people, including 5 firefighters, requiring treatment for injuries or smoke inhalation.

This comprehensive report demonstrates that it is both cost-effective and practical to retrofit automatic fire sprinklers in occupied, high-rise social housing blocks of that period without disturbing residents.

In scoping the project, it was agreed from the outset that the full and true costs of the Sheffield scheme should be recorded and openly reported. 


Total Installation Costs  

The costs tabulated below show what the actual cost of a commercial contract between a housing authority or landlord and a sprinkler installation company would be. (At August 2011 prices).

Summary of Total Costs (covering 47 flats) 















The actual final cost of the project resulted in an average of just under £1,150 (£1,148.63) per flat. This includes the cost of utility rooms, common areas and office.

The sprinkler installation was carried at a cost of £1,150 per flat. The cost of annual maintenance will be £250 per year. If a contract for the whole block is entered into and if access can be guaranteed at the same time where this is required at 2011 prices. The combined cost of installation and maintenance provides an annualised cost per flat of £40 over a 30-year time frame. 


In recent years there have been a number of serious fires in older high-rise blocks that have resulted in occupant and firefighter fatalities. In 2011, a DCLG report suggested that retrofitting fire sprinklers to such buildings would not be cost effective or practicable.  The findings of the Sheffield pilot project, as presented in this report, suggests otherwise.


See next issue of FIRE magazine for full report including findings and recommendations.


Posted February 24th, 2012 at 1110 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: