Fire Safety - Means of Escape


All occupied buildings: houses, flats, multi-storey offices, shops and factories must have a means of escape in the case of fire. It’s a requirement in all new building design as well as during extensions and many of the bigger alterations.

Protected Routes

The new homes you see being built today will have means of escape as a critical influence on layout – called ‘protected routes’ which provide 30 minute fire resisting floors, walls and doors. These will be designed into the building plans, for example bedrooms opening on to hallways and/or landings must have direct access to this enclosed fire resisting ‘protected route’ staircase which gives a final exit at ground floor, typically the front door. The challenge arises when alterations or extensions affect this layout.

Extensions are less of a problem as the plans are assessed and approved first by Planning, and then by Building Control, but some internal alterations most definitely require formal approval. It’s worth noting that if building work requiring approval is completed without the involvement of your local Building Control surveyor, this could result in structural or other defects, such as damp, and have an adverse effect when it comes to selling or re-mortgaging your property.

The Building Regulations Approved Document B ‘Fire Safety' sets out what’s required to provide the means of escape relevant to your building proposals. Other sections of the document may also be relevant to your proposals; it’s worth checking them out before you start on a project – and your local Devon Building Control team are always happy to give advice.

Common alterations classed as building works may need to be controlled not only by Approved Document B ‘Fire Safety’, but by other Approved Documents. Works include:

  • structure
  • resistance to moisture
  • sound
  • ventilation
  • foul drainage
  • wood burners and other sources of heating
  • protection from falling and impact with glazing.

1. Removal of walls

Typically, to open up the ground floor, it not only affects the ‘protected route’ as mentioned earlier, but if not assessed correctly, it can result in the wrongful removal of a structurally load bearing wall with potentially disastrous consequences.

2. Loft conversions

These can be either fully converted to create living space or part converted to form an insulated and heated storage room. Both require Building Regulations approval. The allowable means of escape of fire from a converted dwelling vary depending on the number of storeys;

a. Single storey, for example, bungalows;

When the converted dwelling is served by only one staircase, all rooms should have an emergency exit window (bathrooms and WCs exempt), or have direct access to a ‘protected route’.

b. Two storey dwelling with a third storey loft conversion;

When a dwelling is served by only one staircase, it is typical that the converted loft storey should be served by a ‘protected staircase’ throughout all levels and provides a direct access to a ground floor final exit (typically a front door) to outside.

Other solutions can be considered through professional guidance.

You will also be required to install automatic smoke detection and alarms. Mains-wired interlinked smoke detectors with battery back-up must be installed on each storey, placed within the protected staircase within 7.5 meters of every habitable room door.

Here we’ve given a general overview; it doesn’t show the full requirements of the ‘Means of Escape’ Document B. Every application needs to be looked at in in its own right, so that all other aspects of the proposal can be taken into account. We’re always pleased to look at your proposals and give advice.

Don’t forget! Mistakes can endanger lives, and result in costly remedial work.

Contact us by email or call 01626 215793 or visit Devon Building Control website.

This article was written for us by Devon Building Control Partnership.