Aluminium decking and balcony manufacturer AliDeck have published their 2021-2022 Balcony Fires Report. In light of the ongoing building safety crisis, the data collected from Fire Services across the UK using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is extremely concerning.
A total of 310 Balcony Fires occurred between August 1st 2021 and July 31st 2022, up from 213 the year prior for a 46% year-on-year increase. The most troubling statistic within the report is that, of the 310 fires on balconies, 182 were related to smoking for 59% of the total.
London alone accounted for 163 fires on balconies, an increase on the previous year’s tally of 150. Smoking accounted for two thirds of London balcony fires (107) which means that on average London Fire Brigade responded to two or more smoking-related incidents on balconies per week with arson, candles, and electrical faults making up the bulk of the rest.
There is a high risk that a major fire could take hold in external wall systems and attachments where combustible materials are present. Traditionally, balconies have been constructed with timber or composite decking and there are countless such balconies across the UK.
The amended Building Regulations should go a long way to prevent new-build construction introducing further combustible wall systems and balconies to the built environment. Designers and architects, though, should carefully consider all specified materials in the context of this clear evidence of reckless behaviour by residents.
Richard Izzard, AliDeck’s managing director, said “With over three quarters (76%) of the recorded fires caused by human action, urgent intervention is required. We saw in our previous Balcony Fires Reports a similar story, that most fires on balconies are completely avoidable. A carelessly discarded cigarette can easily ignite flammable materials, and there have been fires where cigarette butts have landed onto balconies below and caused major fires. This has to stop.”
Changing human behaviour will be difficult but removing combustible materials from the equation and designing in fire-safety is eminently achievable. Aluminium is rapidly becoming the de facto standard for architectural metalwork and its increasing use will help to prevent fire spread across the external envelope and balconies.
“We had hoped to see the number of fires caused by smoking fall across the last 12 months, due to the increased awareness around fire safety as well as the progress made in remediating combustible balconies,” continued Izzard. “Clearly, stopping residents from smoking on their balconies will prevent many fires occurring. The surest route to minimise the risk, though, is to carefully specify non-combustible materials in new-build and to fully remediate combustible balconies on existing buildings.”
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