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Automatic Windows

Guest Paul

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I live in a block of 34 retirement appartments, on the first floor we have one louvre window ( 3f X 4f with 7 slats ) at one end of an L shaped corridor. This window is our only means of ventilation and is only opened by the residents during the summer. We have been told not to open it at 'any' time because it's a fire 'smoke' window, even though it has two open/close handles. It does open automatically with the fire alarm, as does a small skylight window at the other end of the corridor. On the second (top) floor there are 'manual opening' casement windows at each end of the corridor with no such opening restrictions. Are fire regulations such that we must be stifled on the second floor and only get some air when the fire alarm goes off? The stairwells at each end of the corridor have a 'fire-alarm auto opening skylight', but we have been told that these will not open for fear of a back-draught. We are having trouble making sense of any of this.

I thank you for any help you can give us.


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I cannot see any fire safety reasons why these automatic ventilation windows cannot be opened for normal use. You need to get a full explanation why and who is prohibiting their use. When they talk about back draught is this in the fire service terminology? It could be that all the tenants are not of the same mind on whether the windows should open, one opens,one closes, which could result in damage to the system? You need a full detailed explaination.

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Hi Tom,

Thankyou for your response. We are told by our 'Lodge-Manager' that the Louvre Window on the first floor opens automatically with the fire alarm system to allow any smoke to escape, and this is the only time it should now be open. I say 'now' because for the previous five years there has been no restriction on opening. The explanation as to why the top floor needs no 'special' window is that the stairwells skylights which also open with the fire alarm, will sufice. Although as I have said, we are told these skylights will not open because of a possible back-draught, only the firemen would open these is they think necessary. This information comes from the 'Lodge-Manager'. The residents open the windows on both floors in the summer, there is no disagreement with each other over this. Is it usual to have automatic 'smoke' windows only on the middle floor - stairwell automatic 'smoke' skylights that don't open automatically? I thought a back-draught was a rush or air reigniting an oxygen starved fire, if the stairwells skylight windows were already open would a back-draught still be an issue?

Thanks again, hope you can help.

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All automatic ventilating systems have a manual override, in case the automatic fails to work, so I cannot see why the Louvre Window on the first floor cannot be opened other than when the fire alarm operates. You are correct about a back-draught and the Lodge-Manager's argument doesn't make sense the more ventilation the better. I cannot comment on the design of your system but you need high and low ventilation for a stack effect to work and the skylight could be the high(output) and the first floor the low(input).

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  • 5 months later...
Guest John Dudley

Are there not any MANUFACTURERS out there who can answer Paul's Question ?

I too live in a block of (52) Flats, and have been told off (!) for OPENING the Louvre Windows on a Hot (90degrees) Night, to allow a Through Breeze (Albeit slight) .

I am told I will "Damage the electrical system that opens the Windows"

But surely, if a fire broke out, then the Windows would ALREADY be open, to allow smoke OUT !!!!!

The only way damage could occur, in my opinion, is if when made OPEN, by Fire Drill for instance, the System must be re-set BEFORE the windows can be CLOSED manually.

I look forward to hearing from someone who can give a sensible answer

John Dudley "Old Git"

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  • 5 weeks later...

Vents are normally designed as vents,

  • Purely for Smoke Control or
  • Vents designed for Smoke Control and Environmental use.

When vents are designed and constructed, the mechanism will be designed around the perceived usage taking into consideration the amount of times the vent will be operated in the designed life span of the units, mindful of testing , maintenance, false alarm rates etc.

Vents designed purely as Smoke Control will have a lower factor in relation to quantity of operations than

Vents designed as both Smoke Control and for Environmental use. These will have a higher factor for the increased usage, opening and closing, while being used as a vent and still allow for the correct operation as a smoke vent when required.

If the vents in place are purely designed for smoke control and not as environmental, then additional used of the vents for environmental use may have an impact on the life span of the units. This may be the reason for the request not to use them, and would be justified.

If the vents are designed as duel purpose then there would be no safety issues if the vents were to be used for environmental reasons as well as smoke control when required.

I would ask the relevant person for the justification behind the request not to use them, and ask to see some form of supporting evidence from the maintenance company that would show that they are purely designed and installed for smoke related reasons and that they are not designed for environmental reasons.

After all you are a tenant, and as a tenant I am sure the common areas are yours to use as designed to, and if the design of the area was to have environmental vents in place, they are also yours to used for this purpose?

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