What is it about sprinkler systems that screams expense? Is it the huge expanse of pipework running through the building? The thought of further plant and change to existing infrastructure? Is it the thought of water winding its way around your building waiting to pounce and flood your tenants? Is it the thought that after all that, it may never be needed?

Yet, the human in you knows that these systems WILL save lives in the event of fire. Something that became all too evident in 2017.

Ian Robertson, CEO at PropertyServe, explores further.


Myth busting

First a few updates to bring you up to speed…

  • The metal pipework is gone. Modern day installations of residential sprinkler systems have adopted an innovative CPVC pipework and fittings system which is fully fire tested and approved for use in residential sprinkler systems. This means no steel pipework, no cutting machines, no oil and no loud noise.
  • Retrofit domestic systems can typically ‘plug in’ to existing infrastructure utilising the BCWS or MCWS systems.
  • Wet Risers – Water is held in the central riser storage tank until triggered to deploy through the wings of the building by the fire brigade.
  • Dry Risers – Only the fire brigade can charge these systems with water upon arrival at a fire or for testing.


Lets look at the numbers

In 2012 BAFSA (British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association) demonstrated that it is cost effective and practical to retrofit automatic fire sprinklers in existing high-rise tower blocks in particular in those constructed between 1950 & 1970.

In a pilot project, which installed automatic fire sprinklers in a 13 storey, 1960s tower block in Sheffield – Callow Mount, BAFSA demonstrated once and for all how significant improvements in life and building safety can be achieved with minimal disruption by retrofitting an automatic fire suppression system.


It was agreed that the 47 residents would remain in occupation throughout the entire installation. If a system could be retrofitted into a completely occupied block, then this would provide evidence that concerns over practicality for fire sprinkler retrofits were entirely unjustified.

Although this was a challenge, there was little doubt about the practicality of retrofitting a CPVC sprinkler system, provided the right product and material was used. Using CPVC eradicated any need for cutting or welding equipment, or any noisy threading machines. Installers could make necessary adjustments on-site by cutting the piping to the exact measurement needed.


In 2012 the average cost per one bedroomed flat was just under £1,150  which included the provision of sprinklers in utility rooms, common areas, bin stores and an office.

It took approximately one day per-flat to complete the installation of the 47-flat tower block.

Significant cost-savings were made during installation, as only one man is needed per section to install CPVC pipes and fittings.


Widen the scope

Since then BAFSA members have worked with Councils in the UK, retrofitting some 100 of the 4000 older, high rise tower blocks.  Experience has shown that costs vary according to several factors including:

  • Finishing – some councils require all pipework to be boxed in.
  • Sprinklers alarms – in compliance with BS9251 the sprinkler indicator panel will simply show which floor the sprinkler system has activated. However, some clients prefer each flat to be separately monitored on the sprinkler panel which is considerably more expensive.
  • Number of bedrooms – Callow Mount were all one bedroomed flats.
  • Complexity of the overall refurbishment project – what other works are being completed at the same time.
  • The overall dimensions of the block.

An analysis of retrofitting work in high rise tower blocks completed in the past 5 years confirms that costs per flat average out between £1500 and £2500 per flat.

More recently we have completed retrofit installations to a number of social housing apartment blocks in the North West. All installations were retrofit applications into existing tenanted units with the costs ranging from £1250 – £2400 per flat dependent on the layout, infrastructure and client requirements.

We can all appreciate that despite the downward trajectory of costs associated with retrofit sprinkler systems, they remain a big ticket item. However, with the significant steps taken by the industry to become more agile and affordable, coupled with the ever increasing demand from all parties, not least tenants, to provide safe places to live, is it time to consider retrofit sprinkler systems for your upcoming budget?

* It is essential that all fire protection and prevention contracts are undertaken by competent people utilising 3rd Party Approved products which are suitable for the task in hand.


Ian Robertson is CEO at PropertyServe; sole supplier on Lot 1 of our Fire Safety Works framework.