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Fri May 07 2021

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Scope of cladding fire tests widens out

6 Jul 17 Tests into the combustibility of aluminium composite material cladding panels are to be widened out to consider complete building envelope systems.

Photo courtesy of Met Police
Photo courtesy of Met Police

Widening the testing was one of the first recommendations of the government’s new independent expert panel on safety, set up in the wake of last month’s Grenfell Tower fire.

The experts have advised further testing as the next step to be conducted in helping landlords to ensure the safety of their buildings. The government has accepted the advice.

Large scale tests will help establish how different types of aluminium composite material (ACM) panels in combination with different types of insulation behave in a fire.

The results of these tests will help landlords make decisions on any further measures that may need to be put in place to make their buildings safe following the Grenfell Tower fire. These tests will be undertaken by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), as before, and will not require any new samples from buildings.

Earlier this week the panel brought together a group of technical experts from a wide range of professions and organisations. The group discussed the processes that had been followed to identify whether buildings had ACM panels and the advice provided to building owners on interim measures and agreed that these were the right first steps.

The further tests – which will look at three different types of ACM cladding combined with different types of insulation – will be in accordance with British Standard 8414 in line with the panel’s advice. This involves building a nine-metre 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.

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In addition, the expert advisory panel recommended issuing further practical advice on immediate steps landlords should take to identify their wall materials including insulation. This will be published shortly, the government said.

The Department for Communities & Local Government has now commissioned the BRE to undertake these tests ‘as a matter of urgency’. The results will be made publically available. Landlords will be expected to take their own professional advice on what is required for their buildings in the usual way.

The expert panel has concluded that six combinations of cladding systems should be subjected to the BS8414 test procedure. The detailed design of each of the six, will be reviewed by the panel to ensure that it is representative of the systems that are in common use including the way it is fixed.

The six systems will incorporate each of the three common types of aluminium composite material panels, with core filler materials of unmodified polyethylene, fire retardant polyethylene, and non-combustible mineral. The two insulation materials used in the testing will be rigid polyisocyanurate foam or non-combustible mineral wool.

As previously reported, the expert panel is chaired by Sir Ken Knight, former London Fire Commissioner and former government chief fire & rescue adviser. It also includes Building Research Establishment chief executive Peter Bonfield, National Fire Chiefs Council chair Roy Wilsher, and EY partner Amanda Clack, who is president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

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