Grenfell Tower – the lesson is high quality, high fire resistance products
As materials used on towers and other buildings all over the UK fail fire safety tests, alsecco UK continues to supply best in class cladding products to keep building occupants and users safe.
As of the end of August, the full-scale fire test programme for exterior rainscreen cladding combinations, instigated by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) through the Building Research Establishment, has resulted in four test failures from the seven combinations tested. This has led to 228 residential buildings over 18m identified as featuring these unsuitable products. Local authorities and other Registered Providers are now seeking clear advice as to how they should tackle the necessary remedial work to their blocks.
alsecco are major suppliers of cladding solutions to high-rise buildings across the UK but the solutions differ fundamentally from those tested by the BRE. alsecco supply External Wall Insulation (EWI) systems to this sector, both social housing and private residential, and these systems benefit from render, brick or ceramic finishes and the primary insulation type over 18m is non-combustible mineral fibre, the Ecomin 300 and 400 systems. Unlike rainscreen cladding systems recently tested using ACM panels and incorporating a ventilated cavity, EWI systems are directly fixed to the substrate and have the insulation encapsulated in a weather-protection layer. alsecco Ecomin systems have passed fire tests under the same stringent test conditions and are suitable with no height restrictions for masonry and steel frame construction methods. Some buildings have already had combustible panels and insulation removed and alsecco are replacing these panels with our Ecomin systems.
In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell tragedy, alsecco were contacted by many clients of completed and in-progress high-rise projects seeking reassurance as to the materials used on their buildings and their compliance with Building Regulations. As a responsible supplier we had already undergone a thorough examination of our technical records and were able to provide this reassurance from specifications, technical details and photographic evidence of work carried out. From the inspections of our Technical Installation Managers who work alongside our installer network, we had this information held in company records. From this information, landlords have been able to provide confidence and comfort to residents of these multi-storey buildings, many of whom thoroughly enjoy the high-rise living experience but understandably want to feel safe in their homes.
Those of us close to this industry were both alarmed and exasperated by much of the journalism employed during the weeks following Grenfell. Cladding was cladding was cladding and it took some time before construction methods and the materials used were correctly identified by the popular media. There was also frustration that the purpose of these systems – thermally improving and rejuvenating tired buildings – was being lost in the noise. At the time and in the weeks since I have attended a number of resident meetings on both current and forthcoming developments and we have been able to show through the demonstration of our own fire tests, which we have packaged into a short video, that the systems specified by alsecco fully comply with Building Regulations and are fire safe through the use of non-combustible materials. Without doubt, the knowledge of fire compliance, cladding technologies and materials have improved in asset teams, surveyors and property specialists post-Grenfell.
As work now turns to making existing buildings safe, the choice of technologies and materials is not as straightforward as would first appear. An obvious move is in the direction of non-combustible materials but resident perception has led, in some instances, to even non-combustible rainscreen solutions being rejected through their association with Grenfell Tower. In one such instance, the leader of Barnet Council said: “While the difference in the cladding system at Granville Road mitigates the fire risk, we are not prepared to take any chances with the safety of residents.” That is the real issue: making sure residents are safe. While the accusations of failure are being levelled at a systemic failure of Building Regulations and fire safety measures as much as the materials themselves, it makes sense to use cladding that offers first class fire resistance. I believe that it is temporary but we have seen even low-rise two storey schemes being transferred from polystyrene, Building Regulation-complaint systems to non-combustible mineral fibre Ecomin in a belt-and-braces, risk averse approach.
As already mentioned, alsecco Ecomin systems are Euroclass A approved and BBA or DiBT certificated and are produced after robust research and development. As the UK subsidiary of DAW SE, a German company with a long history of pioneering coating materials, alsecco UK is proud of its ability to offer facade materials that are cost-effective and a good match for a wide variety of buildings. Cladding of the type used at Grenfell Tower has been banned on buildings over 22m high in Germany since the 1980s so the company has had over 30 years to develop safer materials with much lower combustibility ratings.
It is expected that Euroclass A systems will be the minimum standard required for cladding any external facade in the UK when new Regulations are put in place. There is no question that the routes to BR135 Compliance via desktop assessments of individual components will be a thing of the past with more substantial evidence through test performance being required. With its expert knowledge, product development skills and considerable experience, alsecco UK is well placed to provide systems that keep occupants safe and comfortable. Please contact us if you are interested in our help and knowledge in this highly important design element to new and refurbished buildings.