Paul Courson, UK managing director of cable management specialist, Cablofil, discusses the challenges of balancing cost management, disruption minimisation and fire safety in both commercial and public sector buildings.
It’s hard to imagine a time when such close scrutiny was paid to every penny spent on developing, enhancing and maintaining a building. Across both public and private sectors, budgets are tight and the pressure is on to find ways of rationalising expenditure without cutting corners. Fire safety is one area where there can be no compromise: not only does the building need to pass muster with the inspectors, it also needs to fulfil the principles of best practice due diligence to ensure that risk is minimised, safety is assured and exposure to the possibility is litigation should the unthinkable happen is completely eradicated.
The obvious answer for saving on capital expenditure is to abandon any plans to upgrade the building and just maintain what’s there, however, in most commercial and public sector setting this is not really viable. In the private sector, a more competitive environment means that buildings have to have an impressive specification that can develop with technology and adapt to tenants’ changing needs in order to set them apart and give them a commercial advantage. Meanwhile for hospitals and schools, the pace of technological developments, changes in trends and policy and the requirement for flexibility in the use of space all demand electrical installations that can be easily updated with minimum cost, disruption and impact on fire safety.
All of these considerations have been key factors in the development of EZ-Path, a cable management system with integral fire stop, which has been tested and certified to UK Standard BS 476:Part 20 and class EI60. Cablofil has pioneered this concept to address the usual costly and disruptive requirement to remove and replace fire stopping materials every time any changes are made to the services in the ceiling or floor voids. In a commercial building this is likely to happen every time there is a new tenant. However, fire safety requirements vary not just by building size and design but also by building usage as all these factors can have a significant impact on safe evacuation times. As a result, buildings where there are routinely occupants who are not familiar with their surroundings and the available exit routes such as hotels, shopping centres and visitor attractions are subject to much more stringent fire safety requirements. And where the risk posed by a lack of familiarity is exacerbated by potential problems with occupant mobility – such as in a care home or hospital setting – the requirement for effective fire stopping is even more stringent.
Conventional fire stopping plays an essential role in the fire safety installation of a building, helping to inhibit the spread of fire and smoke in the event of a fire. The use of fire stopping materials seals the openings and joints in fire-rated walls, ceiling and floor assemblies with fire retardant products to prevent the passage of flames, gases and toxic smoke. The problem during refurbishment projects is that even a small modification to the electrical services could require the removal and replacement of fire stopping materials. And in any environment where relatively frequent changes are needed this can increase the cost and disruption of the programme.
Part of the issue surrounding the cost of replacing the fire stopping materials is that there is unlikely to be anything wrong with the fire stopping: it simply cannot be re-installed once it has been moved to allow an updating of the electrical services. In terms of disruption, the removal and replacement of the fire stopping takes time, prolonging the refurbishment programme, it can increase the amount of post-programme clear up involved because of the amount of dust and debris produced.
Designed to suit both new build and retro-fit installations, EZ-Path has been developed to answer all these issues, offering fast and easy installation. The self-sealing system is made up of square section galvanised steel trunking which is pre-lined with specially-developed, inert fire stopping materials that expand dramatically in the event of a fire to form a high integrity seal against flames, smoke and fumes. It has been proven to offer maximum efficiency under any cable loading conditions, from empty through to maximum cable capacity, providing complete peace of mind and compliance with building regulations for fire protection.
The effectiveness of the EZ-Path system under varying cable loads is key to its functionality as provides future flexibility by allowing additional cables to be housed within the same infrastructure at a later date with minimum disruption and no replacement of the fire stopping materials. This is already proving particularly advantageous in the hospital sector where many hospitals are now installing the system during routine maintenance and refurbishment even if they have no current need to re-route, upgrade or increase cabling. By putting the system in place in anticipation of future changes, hospitals can future proof current works because, as and when new cables need to be installed, they can simply be added to the containment network. While this involves an investment in infrastructure upfront, the benefits in avoiding future costs and disruption make it a very worthwhile investment and just three changes to the electrical services will provide payback on the investment in the EZ-Path system.
A Healthy Approach
One of the hospitals that has taken this approach is Leighton Hospital in Stoke on Trent where the EZ-path system has been installed as part of an upgrade of some of the main corridors or ‘streets’.
The actual refurbishment project at Leighton Hospital did not involve any modifications to the electrical installation itself; it was mainly a cosmetic upgrade of the streets leading to Ward 2. However, the existing cable management system was nearing full capacity and it was likely, therefore, that the hospital would need to introduce new cable management to accommodate additional cables at some point. As a result, while work was already taking place within the ceiling voids, the hospital opted to install new cable management alongside the existing provision using Cablofil EZ-Path.
The new network of EZ-Path was installed over the top of the existing cable management installation, which meant that the original services could be left in situ. Any new cables that need to be installed in the future will be installed in the new EZ-Path containment and the self-sealing nature of the system will ensure that no further fire stopping is required. The void above the fire door was then sealed with fire stopping mastic and this will not need to be disturbed during any future changes to the electrical installation as the use of EZ-path will remove the need for changes to the fire stopping whilst ensuring that the compartmentation remains intact.
The challenge when managing building services is not simply to manage costs and ensure a safe and functional building, it is to ensure that any future costs are foreseen and that the building can remain safe and functional as it adapts to the needs of occupiers. The use of a cable management system with integral fire stopping that can be re-opened to accommodate more cable and self-seal again is one small element in addressing that challenge.
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