Cladding Safety Update by Ian Laurie


As reported earlier this week by the BBC, in an update regarding the concerns about Aluminium Composite Materials (ACMs) the BRE has highlighted that, to date, no High Pressure Laminate (HPL) cladding systems have passed the rigorous testing being undertaken following the Grenfell disaster. HPL is being tested as a result of the wider concerns raised in respect of cladding systems generally.  At the same time the BRE advise that some ACM systems, such as Kingspan’s Apolic, have in fact passed the testing. The BRE tests serve to demonstrate that concerns with cladding run deeper than simply the cladding material, and that it is the wider construction that must be considered. 

With regards the HPL systems tested to date, the BRE found that these generally released heat 25 times more quickly than similar non-combustible materials, and that the level of heat released was in fact 115 times greater.  Clearly in a fire this would result in significant heat load on affected sections of a building, and in particular the cladding carrier system.  Based on the figures the risk of spontaneous combustion of materials could be significantly increased, and fire barriers are likely to be less effective as the cladding acts as a carrier for significant heat build-up that may by-pass the barriers themselves.  Differential thermal stresses that could result in warping or failure of elements are also likely to be increased. 

It is important to note that the BRE are not saying HPL itself is at risk of failure, indeed as some ACM systems have passed testing, it is likely that certain configurations of HPL will be given the green light.  Cladding is under the spotlight currently however so it is important for the industry to be aware of the concerns now being raised in respect of what has previously been considered a ‘safe’ material.

The ongoing testing of systems will ultimately lead to safer construction in the UK, but it is possible that the current reviews will lead to concerns with other types of cladding, and further ‘failures’ may well be highlighted. 

Watts Surveyors have already gained extensive experience in undertaking cladding inspections for a variety of clients and building types, if you have concerns regarding any of your buildings we would be pleased to help. 

Ian Laurie is a Director in Watts Group Manchester’s Commercial Building Surveying Team
Tel:  0161 831 6180

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