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UK Cladding Ban Extension Proposed

Thursday, January 23, 2020

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England’s combustible cladding ban could soon be applied to more than high-rises as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick recently put forth new measures with the goal to move “faster and further to improve building safety” adding: “The slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated.”

The moves follow a slew of changes and investigations prompted by the 2016 Grenfell Tower fire.

Grenfell Background

During the early hours of June 14, 2017, a fire broke out in one of west London’s high-rises, the Grenfell Tower. The 24-story, 120-home apartment building had recently undergone a $12.73 million renovation that was completed in the spring of 2016.

At that time, the building was refurbished with a system of polyester powder-coated aluminum rain-screen panels, insulated exterior cladding and double-glazed windows, as well as a communal heating system.

Natalie Oxford, CC-BY-4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

England’s combustible cladding ban could soon be applied to more than high-rises as Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick recently put forth new measures with the goal to move “faster and further to improve building safety” adding: “The slow pace of improving building safety standards will not be tolerated.”

In April of 2018, new investigations revealed that the cladding fitted on the Grenfell Tower had been downgraded before it was installed on the London high-rise. According to tests that BBC News uncovered from 2014 and 2015, a zinc cladding had originally been specified for the tower, but another brand was substituted for a savings of roughly $388,700.

The following month, former Prime Minister Theresa May pledged $517.9 million to cover the replacement of unsafe cladding for social housing blocks. Privately owned towers were left to figure out the replacements on their own, however.

As a result, many property owners passed the renovation charges to residents, which in some cases cost them thousands of dollars to make their homes safe again. Many more still have yet to even begin the renovation process.

Cladding Ban

In December 2018, the U.K. announced a ban on combustible materials. Former housing secretary James Brokenshire announced that under the new legislation, combustible materials would not be permitted in the exterior walls for new buildings more than 18 meters (59 feet) tall. Those buildings include homes, hospitals, residential care facilities, dormitories and other student accommodations.

That ban limits the use of materials to products that achieve a European fire-resistance rating of Class A1 or A2. The legislation also cleared up what exactly the government meant by an “exterior wall,” defining it as an external wall as anything “located within any space forming part of the wall.” It also includes any decoration or finishes applied to external surfaces, windows or doors; roof pitches at an angle of more than 70 degrees; balconies and devices for deflecting sunlight and solar panels.

The policy also prohibits the use of timber materials in the external wall of buildings in those parameters as well, which will stop many project in their tracks, according to the Architects’ Journal, referring to developers using the cross-laminated timber construction method.

The materials ban took effect Dec. 21, 2018, but in December 2019 part of the ban was overhauled following a lawsuit by the British Blind & Shutter Association. (The court rules that the ban should not have included materials used on shutters, blinds and other products designed to reduce a building’s heat gain.)

More Fires

Concerns on the cladding ban only including high-rises were raised after a Nov. 15, 2019, fire in Bolton, U.K., in a student housing block referred to as “The Cube.”

ChiralJon, CC-SA-BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The materials ban took effect Dec. 21, 2018, but in December 2019 part of the ban was overhauled following a lawsuit by the British Blind & Shutter Association.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham recounted that the fire moved quickly, and that roughly 20 minutes after the blaze broke out on the fourth floor, the fire had already spread to the top.

One witness reported that the fire was “crawling up the cladding like it was nothing.”

According to The Cube’s planning records, the building was converted from offices into student housing in 2015 by RADM Architects. However, the fire brigade confirmed that the cladding used for the project was not the same as the aluminum composite cladding (ACM) used on Grenfell Tower.

What Now

Jenrick put forth several things for consultation on Monday (Jan. 20) including:

  • Extend the cladding ban from buildings 18 meters tall to 11 meters;
  • Extend the mandate of sprinklers in buildings from 30 meters to 11 meters;
  • A new regulator for building safety will start operating in shadow form under the Health and Safety Executive;
  • The U.K.’s first national chief inspector of buildings will be recruited shortly; and
  • Begin releasing the names of high-rise owners who have not begun remediation work.

The proposal was met with praise from industry members, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects.

“I’m pleased to see the government commit to addressing some of the urgent issues in U.K. buildings safety regulations and welcome proposals to extend requirements for sprinklers and the ban on combustible materials,” said Jane Duncan, chair of the RIBA Expert Advisory Group on Fire Safety.

“This year will mark the third anniversary of the Grenfell Tower Fire, and far too little has changed since the tragedy.”

   

Tagged categories: Building Envelope; Cladding; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Fire; Government; Health and safety; Laws and litigation; Regulations; Safety

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