Officials to Change Safety Tests After Failures
A 100 percent fire fail rate of 200 cladding samples of high-rises in the United Kingdom is leading officials to recommend broadening the tests.
The tests—prompted by the fatal fire at London’s Grenfell Tower on June 14—are currently limited to buildings that have the panels made of the same aluminum composite material that was used in Grenfell and fire experts are saying that they need to be expanded to other types of cladding systems, predicting that more would fail.
Niall Rowan, COO of the Association for Specialist Fire Protection, noted that non-ACM systems, such as CEP and Carea, though not made of aluminum, have a similar construction to the Reynobond ACM panels used in Grenfell.
“If you put this cladding through government testing, it would fail, I would put money on it,” Rowan told The Independent. “They are different materials to the Reynobond but they would all have a similar reaction to fire under the fire test.”
The testing is measuring the cladding to a combustibility to an “A2” standard, or “limited combustibility.” However, the A2 standard isn’t required in the U.K. building regulations in Approved Document B. Instead, building regulations cite class 0, or Euroclass B, which is a lower fire safety score.
Testing had also been previously limited to the core of the panels, and not the structure as a whole. Now, six ACM systems will be analyzed with a variety of insulations. The testing of both materials together is in accordance with the British Standard 8414.
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“This involves building a 9m-tall demonstration wall with a complete cladding system—including panels and insulation—fixed to it, and then subjecting it to a fire that replicates a severe fire in a flat breaking out of a window and whether it then spread up the outside wall,” the Department for Communities and Local Government said in a statement.
The systems will incorporate the three common types of aluminum composite material panels, with core filler materials of unmodified polyethylene, fire-retardant polyethylene and non-combustible mineral. The insulation materials used in the testing will be rigid polyisocyanurate foam or non-combustible mineral wool.
The Approved Document B had been set out in 2009, which means that at least since then, anyone associated with construction on a high-rise building in the U.K. has been operating under the lower safety standards, which is why the Royal Institute of British Architects (which is not represented on the safety panel) has released yet another statement urging the review of Approved Document B.
“This is why we have been pushing for a review of the building regulations for years and why many in the fire sector are very angry because this should not have happened,” Rowan said.
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RIBA’s statement says that because of the 100 percent failure rate, it is demanding that the Approved Document B be revisited immediately, and not just with amendments.
“The RIBA believes that the review of Approved Document B must be a comprehensive, transparent and fundamental reappraisal, rather than amendment or clarification, and should begin without delay to remove uncertainty, provide clarity and protect public safety,” the statement reads.
The Reynobond aluminum panels are also still certified by the British Board of Agrement as “fit for their intended use provided they are installed, used and maintained as set out in this certification” despite that the product has been withdrawn by the manufacturer (Arconic) due to fire safety concerns.
Neither the Reynobond PE nor the insulation paired with it—Celotex RS5000, a brand of polyisocyanurate—did not meet combustibility tests by themselves, according to products specifications and safety experts.
Now, it’s unclear whether the two were tested together as a BS 8414 test, as per building regulations. The 8414 must be commissioned by a government-approved independent agency, and records for such a test have yet to be recovered.
Further, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council, which is responsible for making sure all building plans are consistent with regulations, has declined to comment on whether it had checked on an 8414 for Grenfell.