Media release I Solutions to help manage the emerging problem of combustible building cladding
27 November 2017
Melbourne – There have been many major fires around the world involving combustible cladding on the external facades of buildings. The most notable in Australia being the Lacrosse fire in Docklands, and overseas the disastrous Grenfell fire in London where more than 60 people lost their lives.
“Following the Lacrosse fire, the Victorian Building Authority undertook an audit of 168 high rise residential and public buildings in Melbourne and identified that 51% of those audited buildings had cladding fitted in a non-compliant manner”, says John Kehoe, partner in the Construction Team at Gadens. “This result suggests there could be thousands of buildings in Australia with combustible cladding and that the problem could potentially be much worse than what we have seen to date”.
Over the past 10 to 15 years many buildings have been constructed using Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP). ACPs are frequently used in buildings because of the need to improve thermal or acoustic aspects of the design, and also because the panels are a comparatively cheap building material to use. ACPs typically have on each side of the panel an aluminium skin that is 0.5 mm thick and a core of 2 to 5 mm of polyethylene. The problem with ACPs is that heat from a fire will conduct quickly through the aluminium skin and melt the core of the panel and potentially cause the panel to catch fire. This problem is exacerbated where ACPs are improperly installed, leaving the core exposed.
At first glance, it is difficult to assess whether ACPs have been installed because most cladding looks the same or very similar.
“Ways of assessing whether there is a potential problem include checking the initial design of the building and the materials specified for use in constructing the building, and arranging for the testing of a sample of the façade to identify and confirm the materials used in the cladding”, adds Adrian Clifford, a senior associate in Gadens’ Construction Team. “It’s important to be aware that often the building may not have been constructed as initially designed, as was the case with the Lacrosse building”.
Mr. Kehoe concludes with the following advice:
“For developers undertaking new building projects, we recommend the following actions:
Ensure that all building practitioners involved in the design, approval or installation of the cladding are appropriately registered and qualified;
Require the builder to provide a sample of each significant component of the building’s material so that this can be used for testing at a future point in time;
Have an independent fire engineer certify the initial design of the building and also the construction when completed to certify that the construction accords with the design; and
Have in place a procedure which ensures, for example with foreign manufacturers, that materials or panels supplied in fact comply with the requirements of the contract and all legal requirements. In particular, we recommend checking whether the material or panel has been certified by the supplier or independent certification bodies approved by the CodeMark Australia scheme.”
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