Fire Detection in Heritage Buildings


Earlier this year, Clandon Park, an 18th-century mansion in West Clandon, Surrey, was severely damaged by fire. After a fire started in the basement and rapidly spread to the roof, only one room remained unscathed after the roof collapsed causing irreversible damage, despite the best efforts of over 80 personnel and 16 fire engines.

This Grade 1 listed Palladian mansion has been managed by the National Trust since 1956 and, although open to the public at the time of the incident, fortunately no one was injured.

Apart from being a historic building, the Clandon Park mansion was also home to an important collection of 18th-century furniture, textiles and porcelain among other historical articles. Many items have reportedly been salvaged from the buildings remains, however it is reported that among the items destroyed were at least six Victoria Crosses and one of the footballs that was kicked across no-man’s land on the the first day of the Battle of Somme.

Heritage buildings such as these often play host to valuable items, are open to the public and often serve a different purpose to their original intention. They have not been designed with any kind of consideration to fire regulations and therefore pose significant challenges and considerations  for fire risk assessors and engineers.

Requirements for Heritage Building Fire Detection Systems

There are no clear guidelines as to the type or extent of detection that is required to protect historic buildings such as these. Legislation simply states that we are legally required to provide suitable methods of detecting a fire and giving the appropriate warning. This leaves us with a number of factors to consider:

  • The safety of the buildings visitors – Naturally the priority of the fire alarm system is to provide a suitable and timely warning to ensure evacuation procedures can be initiated before any visitors or staff come to harm.
  • Preservation of the buildings and its contents – Valuable, important and irreplaceable historical items are often stored in historical buildings, not only this but the buildings themselves need to be kept safe. Therefore, fast and reliable detection is extremely necessary to allow fires to be extinguished before any considerable damage is caused.

The Challenges

Heritage buildings are often big buildings with large areas and high ceilings that traditional point detectors are not always best suited to. On top of this they often have a number of objects on display throughout their many rooms, that not only act as kindling, helping fires to spread more rapidly, but can also cause an obstruction for other types of detection.

Preservation of buildings’ aesthetics is also of high importance. Traditional point detectors can be unsightly and disrupt the beauty of intricate facades and decorated ceilings, again counting against traditional detection as a suitable fire alarm system.

The Solution

A system that uses aspirating smoke detection (ASD) can provide the ideal solution for protecting heritage buildings from fire.

  • ASD has the ability to actively draw air from the protected area meaning that obstacles such as objects, high ceilings and large areas are easily overcome.
  • It can provide a very early warning of fire, allowing appropriate action to be taken before a fire spreads out of control.
  • Detectors can be installed in areas that are not open to the public.
  • Sampling points are small and can be easily concealed while pipe networks connected to detectors can be run in ceiling and floor voids, thus helping to preserve the building’s aesthetics.

Eurofyre are specialist suppliers of aspirating smoke detection systems to cater for any application. The systems we provide include Xtralis VESDA-E, Xtralis ICAM and Eurofyre’s own EF range. We pride ourselves on being a complete system supplier, providing exceptional customer support throughout the whole process.

For more information on the aspirating smoke detection systems that we have available, or to discuss the right solution for your smoke detection needs please feel free to get in touch either by telephone on +44 (0)1329 835024, email to [email protected], or via the form on our contact page.