The shocking images of the Notre Dame engulfed in flames on Monday is a reminder of how vulnerable even the most ‘solid’ of buildings is to fire.

Initial reports released yesterday on the cause of the blaze indicate the line of investigation is expecting an electrical fault may be to blame (click here). It may be recalled that it was an electrical fault that caused the appalling devastation at Grenfell Tower (click here).

Domestic electrical faults, in particular, are a high risk to occupants as it is highly likely people will be sleeping in the building which reduces the response time people have to escape. This led to the introduction of Part P of the building regulations in England and Wales which seeks to control the standard of electrical works in domestic properties.

‘Historic buildings were built in a different era under different rules and without any regard to fire standards.  The materials they are made from are readily combustible, often incorporating features which can assist the rapid development and hidden spread of fire. They are used and occupied in ways very different to their original purpose and design, with modern installations and equipment fitted in many of them. Without the right level of protection, this leaves the buildings and their visitors vulnerable to fire.’ (from Heritage and Ecclesiastical Fire Protection, accessed 18.04.19).

Glasgow School of Art – ‘The Mac’ – subject to two fires: 2014 and 2018

Heritage buildings often host outdated electrics which is a high-risk factor in starting fires. The cost of repairing a heritage building following fire, and subsequent water damage, is commonly higher than modern construction owing to factors such as the reduced skilled labour pool and the smaller volume production of traditional materials that has been pushed aside for concrete-based materials.

A National Database of Fires in Heritage Buildings managed by Heritage and Ecclesiastical Fire Protection, can be referenced here which gives an indication of how frequently these occur in heritage buildings.

Current industry guidance suggests that if the electrical wiring has not been changed in the last 25-30 years it requires to be overhauled. A periodic electrical survey, however, is a much better indication of the state of affairs in your particular property. For the sake of a few hundred pounds an electrical survey can either put your mind at rest, or highlight necessary work that should reduce your exposure to the risk of fire or electrocution.

The importance of fire detection and its regular maintenance cannot be overestimated.

Further References

Please note references below are not endorsed, but may help you to navigate to further information you may find useful:

  • An overview of rewiring by Home Building – click here
  • Periodic inspections of the electrical wiring – click here
  • The challenge of smoke detection in historic buildings – click here