Grenfell Tower: Fire risk in cladding

Nova, Inc., joins the rest of the world in mourning the victims of the tragic fire that occurred at London’s Grenfell Tower on June 14, 2017. At least 80 people were killed and many more injured.

Nova is paying special attention to this devastating situation because it has been reported that the residential building’s cladding system played some part in the tragedy. Grenfell Tower had been recently renovated and re-clad with an aluminum composite material (ACM). This exterior cladding system has become popular in recent construction because it is relatively inexpensive and has good insulating characteristics. It is used to retrofit existing buildings and to clad new buildings.

Sadly, the Grenfell Tower fire is not an isolated event. At least eight examples of exterior building fires caused by flammable ACM have been in reported in the United Kingdom, China, South Korea, France, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.*

This technical note is intended to briefly explain differences in cladding standards, aiding Nova clients in determining potential fire risk exposure related to this issue.

The fire risk in ACM panels is in the insulation. The panels used on Grenfell Tower used a polyethylene (PE) foam insulation. These panels are classed as low-combustibility rather than non-combustible. In the U.S., this cladding cannot be used in buildings taller than 40 feet.  Similarly, it is not allowed for use in towers over 22m in height in Germany. Recently, the manufacturer of the cladding used at Grenfell Tower stopped sales of the product for high-rise buildings.

There are panels with higher fire resistance or that are non-combustible. These are typically mineral-rich “fire-retardant” polyethylene or mineral wool-insulated panels.

All cladding panels used in construction and retrofitting must be fire-tested and will have some fire compliance documentation that has been used to support their use. However, it is being reported that some panels now being tested retrospectively are failing combustibility tests.

Nova wishes to highlight the risk of ACM cladding to our clients, as it may be prudent to carry out a risk screening of your portfolios outside the U.S., especially in the U.K., Europe, Australia, and the U.A.E., where these panels are in wide use.

As part of the risk screening, you may also consider that combustibility tends to be a bigger liability in tall buildings, as fires in shorter buildings can be more easily extinguished with conventional fire fighting equipment.

For more information contact:

Jim Gott

Director, UK and European Region

Jim.gott@novaconsulting.com

 

*Reported exterior building fires caused by flammable ACM

 

  • 1991 fire at flats in Knowsley Heights, Liverpool, UK
  • 2007 fire at the Water Club, Atlantic City, USA
  • 2009 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell, London, UK
  • 2009 Beijing Television Cultural Center fire, China
  • 2010 Wooshin Golden Suites fire in Marine City, Busan, South Korea
  • 2012 Mermoz Tower fire, Roubaix, France
  • 2014 Lacrosse Tower fire, Melbourne, Australia
  • 2015 fires at the Marina Torch and the Address Downtown, Dubai, UAE

 

 

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