Updated: Apr 21
With today’s demand for increasingly flexible, open-plan workspaces and homes, meeting fire regulations has become problematic for architects and designers.
The demand for open-plan homes in the new-build sector has snowballed, leading to one housing development company, St Mowden, to find that searches for open plan house were up ‘168% from 2019 to 2021,’ while similar ‘searches for “open plan kitchen living room floor plan” were up 400% from 2020 to 2021 – and up 6,285% when compared with searches from 2019.’
A direct correlation can be drawn from changes brought about by lockdown- a time when many families found themselves trying to negotiate home-learning, while working from home, and spending more time in the house for recreation. People need spaces that allowed for clever zoning and a wide variety of uses, and the open-plan home strode to the fore, providing homeowners with the flexibility they needed.
Different types of buildings require compliance to a variety of legislations to be deemed as safe to be inhabited.
Dwellings(houses) are covered by Approved Documents of the Building Regulations 2010. For the purposes of fire safety, Document B from the Approved Documents outlines the necessary steps in construction that create fire protection. These include ensuring escape routes are ‘sufficiently protected from the effects of fire and smoke,  that internal fire spread over linings is inhibited by using materials that ‘adequately resist the spread of flames,  and that structural measures are taken to ensure stability and inhibit the spread of fire, which could mean ‘compartmentation’ or the use of ‘automatic fire suppression systems.’
How is compartmentation traditionally ensured?
Traditional, or closed floor plan homes are based around the idea of separate rooms for cooking, eating, and relaxing, constructed from walls and have features such as windows or doors.
These spaces are easier to fireproof as walls are already specified to include fire resistance, from the structural inner to the lining applied over the top. Doors and windows can also be specified to have improved fire rating, but they do not legally have to be installed in typical house construction unless you have a property spread over 3 or more floors (including a loft conversion), or in a doorway leading from the main house to a garage.
However, traditional, closed floor plan homes cannot provide the homeowner with the benefits that come from open plan living.
So how can compartmentation be achieved without typical fire-resistant walls and fire doors?
The modern, transitional answer to that architectural, and health and safety nightmare, is Active Fire and Smoke Curtains.
Fire curtains are an excellent way of providing compartmentation flexibly. It allows the building to maintain an open-plan design with easy visuals throughout the room, while maintaining adequate fire protection, and compartmentalising the space should a fire occur. This means that flames and smoke are contained and are prevented from spreading for an allotted period, as decided by the specification of the fire curtain. This maintains a clear escape route for occupants and allows access for fire-fighters.
Another major benefit to a fire curtain, is in relation to the overall aesthetic and “feel” of a building. Some spaces need to ensure a particular design throughout, that a fire door or shutter would blight and would make an eye-sore of. This is progressively evident with the increase in modern, glass and steel-clad construction, as with high-rise flats and offices, such as 100 Bishopsgate- a project that was a real “high point” for Adexon® (if you can excuse the pun!)
Fire Curtains come with many safety features to ensure all contingencies are covered. All Fire Curtains will be installed with emergency retract buttons, or key switch emergency overrides to ensure the fire curtain can be raised off the ground to allow egress if inhabitants are caught behind the curtain after deployment, while gravity fail-safes and back-up batteries ensure they deploy and can be retracted again even if the power source is damaged.
Types of Fire Curtains
Adexon® Active Fire Curtains come in three varieties, meaning no matter the size or orientation of the space, we have a curtain to suit you! All Adexon® Fire Curtains feature a headbox that is installed above the ceiling to remain discreetly tucked away and are fully customisable with RAL colour powder coating applied to the side guides, headbox and bottom bar so it can blend seamlessly in with your décor.
Vertical Fire Curtains descend vertically, in a manner much like that of a roller blind, or shutter and create a seal with the floor. This is the standard configuration for Active Fire Curtains.
Horizontal Fire Curtains come across the space from left-to-right, or vice-versa for example, in a museum or atrium, to provide a layer of protection between floors, especially if there is a large opening between the floors.
Concertina Fire Curtains envelop free-standing features, for example staircases or lifts, but can also envelop a space, such as a kitchen or a technology hub. In the event of a fire, it descends vertically on all sides and create a seal with the floor, in whichever shape is necessary.
The black square indicates the RAL powder-coated bottom bar, which is slightly descended. When fully retracted, the bottom bar would not be visible and would be hidden by the ceiling panel at the top left of the shape. You can also see the stainless steel side guides, which can also be RAL powder-coated to blend in with the décor of your room.
Fire Curtain Performance Types
All Fire Curtains provided, installed, and maintained by Adexon® adhere to the British Standard BS EN-1634, where they are referred to as ‘operable fabric curtains.’ This ensures they are CE marked and provide a method for ‘determining the fire resistance of door and shutter assemblies, ’ including operable fabric curtains, or Fire and Smoke Curtains as we will refer to them.
Fire and Smoke Curtains that adhere to BS EN 1634 will have passed rigorous testing procedures, such as those outlined in BS EN-1363: 1. The tests include full construction of a fire and smoke curtain inside a furnace where it is monitored visually and electronically to ensure that every curtain, if installed correctly, adheres to the same expected European standard and is safe and ready to protect your home.
These tests allow for certainty In the key performance types, including:
Integrity- how long, in minutes, the test specimen can prevent the passage of flames and hot gases through and to prevent the occurrence of flames on the unexposed side, of the curtain in this instance. Labelled as E.
Integrity and Insulation- how long, in minutes, the test specimen when exposed to fire on one side, can restrict the passage of flames, and keep the temperature on the unexposed face to below-specified levels. Labelled as EI. *It is important to note that the installation of this curtain requires installation of a sprinkler system also, as no the sprinklers are essential to assisting the Fire Curtain to reach its insulation value.
Integrity and Radiation- how long, in minutes, the curtain, when exposed to fire on one side, can restrict the passage of flames and temperatures through the curtain, so it is safe to pass in an emergency. Labelled as EW.
· Smoke Leakage- how long, in minutes, it takes for smoke and gas to leak through the curtain. Labelled as S
Creating open-plan homes: a Case Study
An example application for a fire curtain would be to replace a separating kitchen wall, to create a fully open-plan kitchen, dining, living space that removes all barriers to eye-lines and improves light flow. (See Fig.1)
By removing the separating wall, the homeowner could increase the size of a small kitchen, increases preparation and storage spaces and removes the negotiation of carrying hot meals through multiple separate doorways, instead carrying them easily and safely to the dining table without interruption.
She can lessen the amount of heating elements she would need to run, utilising one heating source and using previously wasted heat generated from cooking that would be able to flow from the kitchen to living spaces, keeping it warmer in the winter. The patio doors in the main living space would also increase ventilation and remove the risk of a hotspot in the kitchen in the warmer, summer months.
She can remain involved in the activity going on in the main living space, increasing the ease of hosting and socialising. Where previously she would be shut out of the space, she can carry out her tasks and continue to communicate easily.
The homeowner could also increase the value of her home, as ‘removing an internal wall to create an open-plan kitchen and diner can cost around £3,500 but could add between £5,800 and £48,500 the value of an average home’,  alongside increasing the amount of natural light spread, which helps to make the space look and feel bigger.
However, by removing walls and doors inhabitants can be less fire-safe and removes compartmentation- a key component of fire safety, which helps to keep fire and smoke from accessing other spaces in the home, allows fire and fire damage to spread to other rooms and of course removes, or hinders escape routes, as doorways are often removed or filled in (as we see above).
By installing an Active Fire Curtain at the edge of the kitchen, compartmentation principles can be reinforced, which will keep the fire separate from main living and dining space and allow for safe egress from the building, if a fire should occur, without impacting on the overall look and feel of the space and increasing the maintaining the flexibility of usage.
Other domestic applications for Fire Curtains
Homeowners that live in terraced houses with party walls in shared loft spaces can also utilise fire curtains to separate their own loft space from that of their neighbours.
These passive fire curtains hang fully deployed in the loft space and do not require the addition of a motor, fire or smoke alarm, or control panel as they are stationary. By remaining ever in place, this variety of fire curtain falls into the Passive fire protection classification, as it does not require a signal to begin protecting the space, unlike an Active fire curtain, as explored in the case study above.
Active Fire Curtains would also be ideal for the protection of:
free-standing, internal staircases, with a Concertina Fire Curtain,
covering lifts or open spaces within walls with a Vertical Fire Curtain, or
separating open floors around an atrium with Horizontal, or Vertical Fire Curtains.
As we have explored, although it may seem complex, adding a fire curtain to your home can allow for vastly increased flexibility, in terms of space and installation options, and can mean that your open plan home is as fire-safe as can be.
 St Mowden, ‘Open plan living is here to stay, according to new research by St.Modwen Homes,’ <https://www.stmodwen.co.uk/open-plan-living-is-here-to-stay-according-to-new-research-by-st-modwen-homes/> 14.10.2021
 Image from Pexels.com,courtesy of Max Vakhtbovych.
 H M Government, The Building Regulations, 2010. ‘Approved Document B: Fire Safety,’ Requirement B1, pg.18
 H M Government, The Building Regulations, 2010. ‘Approved Document B: Fire Safety,’ Requirement B2, pg. 52
 H M Government, The Building Regulations, 2010. ‘Approved Document B: Fire Safety,’ Requirement B3, pg.59
 Staff photograph of an Adexon® Vertical Fire Curtain. The black square indicates the RAL powder-coated bottom bar, which is pictured slightly lowered. When fully retracted, the bottom bar would not be visible and would be hidden by theceiling panel at the top left of the shape. You can also see the galvanised steel side guides, which can also be RAL powder-coated to blend in more with thedécor of your room.
 BSI standards publication, ‘BS EN 1634-1:2014,’ page 6.
 Paraphrased from BSI standards publication, ‘BS EN 1363-1:2012’ which outlines the fire resistance tests needed for achieving BS EN 1634.
 FMB- Federation ofMaster Builders and the HomeOwners Alliance, ‘How to £50,000 to the value ofyour home in 7 days,’ quoted on Chancellors.co.uk, ‘What Adds Most Value to aHouse?’ ttps://www.chancellors.co.uk/resource-centre/useful-information-for-sellers/what-adds-most-value-to-a-house>14.10.2021
 Image of a large, open loft space, from Unsplash.com, courtesy of Sebastian Herrmann.