Earlier this week the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) released the results of the fifth of its large scale wall systems tests which were initiated following the Grenfell Tower fire. The two most recent tests have ‘passed’ the fire testing conducted by the Building Research Establishment meaning that these systems are compliant with Building Regulations.
The testing involves building a 9-metre-high demonstration wall with a complete cladding system including cladding panels, insulation and cavity barriers. This is then subjected to a replica of a severe fire inside a flat as it spreads out of a window, to determine whether it meets the requirement to resist vertical fire spread. While initially the government had announced that there would be six such tests each testing a different combination of materials and components, there have been reports that a seventh test is being considered using a different form of polyisocyanurate PIR foam insulation.
The fourth test conducted last week, combining Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding with a fire resistant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) and stone wool insulation (a form of mineral wool), was the first test undertaken so far which has passed which means that this combination of materials can be compliant with Building Regulations if installed and maintained properly. The fifth set of test results published yesterday assessed a cladding configuration featuring ACM panels with A2 filler (category 1 in screening tests) and polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam insulation and was also found to be compliant with Building Regulations.
These combinations could, therefore, offer a possible solution for some buildings with other cladding systems which have been identified as a hazard although the government’s expert panel has noted that cladding and insulation materials can vary between manufacturers and can have different calorific values.
DCLG is also issuing advice notes to correlate with each test results release which are available here. DCLG advises building owners to ensure that they have implemented relevant interim measures, in particular to ensure the local Fire and Rescue Service has visited to complete a fire safety audit to assess mitigations. This is particularly true if buildings feature cladding systems which have failed the large scale wall systems tests. If a Fire Service visit is needed an email should be sent to email@example.com.
ACM Panel type
Advice for building owners
ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3)
DCLG notes that the tests that government is undertaking are only illustrative examples of how different systems might behave and that building owners will still need to take their own professional advice on what steps to take depending on the materials they have on their buildings. As a first step building owners should identify the cladding and insulation materials on their buildings.
If building owners consider that the combination of materials of their building may be one of those which have failed the test or they are uncertain they should seek professional advice from a qualified engineer with relevant experience in fire safety, including fire testing of building products and systems, such as a chartered engineer registered with the Engineering Council by the Institution of Fire Engineers. Alternatively, this professional advice may be obtained from an assessor employed by a test laboratory accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) to carry out BS8414 and classify results to BR135 (the required standard in current Building Regulations guidance).
DCLG has also published a circular letter to building control bodies which sets out the planning and building control requirements that will need to be considered if cladding removal and recladding is required. This is available here. The Government cautions that, if owners decide, on the basis of professional advice and in light of further tests results, to remove their cladding and/or insulation, then this needs to be properly planned, and may take some time and the safety of residents during any work period should be a key factor for consideration.
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