How Bilco’s Natural Smoke and Heat Ventilators are contributing to the overall safety of Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) across the United Kingdom

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There is no doubt that the student population is growing. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) student numbers have almost doubled since 1992.

Despite the referendum result on Brexit, international students still see the UK’s higher education institutions as an attractive investment.  A recent article in Housing Hand reports that university applications from Chinese students have almost doubled over the last decade.  With the sterling – yuan exchange rate 8% lower than before the Brexit referendum this growth is expected to continue.

A Universities UK report, ‘Higher Education in Numbers’, states that in the academic year of 2015/2016 there were 2.28 million students studying in higher education in the UK including 1.75 million undergraduates.

Many of these undergraduates are living in Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) for the duration of their first academic year whilst away from home. This type of accommodation provides excellent opportunities for students to live, work and rest within a space that is operated by staff who provide basic assistance, services and supervision to the building and their occupants.

With so many undergraduate students occupying PBSA the general risk profile is relatively high, particularly when it comes to fire safety.

Data provided by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) states that during the academic year of 2011/2012, 514 fires were recorded across student accommodation in Great Britain alone. 58% of these fires were said to be due to misuse of cooking appliances!

Research highlights those under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication as also having a higher risk profile.   The National Union of Students (NUS) Research Services found that 66% of students they surveyed had cooked after midnight and 50% had done so under the influence of alcohol.

The research and statistics are sobering. They present a challenge for architects, specifiers and contractors.  When it comes to ensuring a fire strategy that will provide a safe place for students and staff to live and work the emphasis has to be on incorporating trustworthy, operationally reliable, high quality products.   Products that will meet the standards set out in the Building Regulations and the British Standards.

There are different ways in which a fire can start but it is a known fact that fire spread by convection is the most dangerous and causes the largest number of injuries and deaths. When a fire starts in an enclosed space the smoke rises from the fire and gets trapped by the ceiling.  Once trapped the fire spreads in all directions over the entire room space.

Sugarhouse Close - close up of smoke ventBilco’s range of Natural Smoke and Heat Exhaust Ventilators (NSHEV) products are specifically designed to provide a solution that prevents the excessive build-up of these hot gasses.  By exhausting smoke, Bilco’s NSHEVs reduce the risk to life from smoke inhalation, aid in visibility, provide a means of escape for occupants, protect the building from excessive smoke damage and provides valuable time for firefighters to tackle the blaze.

Bilco’s products have a proven track record and have been specified and installed in numerous student accommodation projects across the UK including developments in Hertfordshire and Edinburgh.

Ninety Bilco UDF-50 REM Natural Smoke and Heat Exhaust Ventilators (NSHEV) were installed at the College Lane Campus, University of Hertfordshire.   The standard size double leaf smoke vents were fitted by commercial roofing company T R Freeman.


In Scotland seven Bilco MUGEW-50REM single leaf smoke vents were installed on four blocks of Edinburgh’s prestigious student accommodation – Sugarhouse Close, located just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile.  Bilco also supplied OS2 control panels for the smoke vents.  The control panels are dual purpose. The battery backup system ensures that in the event of a mains power loss, the vents will still open due.  The control panel also allows the Fire Officer to manually override the smoke control system if necessary.

Bilco’s NSHEVs are available in standard and customised sizes and form part of an integrated approach to design, construction and fire safety. The range is fully compliant with the Construction Products Regulation 305/2011. Ventilators are supplied CE marked with a Declaration of Conformity and manufactured to meet the demands of Building Regulations, Approved Document B, BS9999 and EN12101-2, guaranteeing a high build quality and a product that is operationally reliable.

If you are designing, specifying or building student accommodation and require quality products, please get in touch by calling 01284 701696 or visit for further information.

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