Cladding: is our response to tragedy adequate?

FunderMax’s Paul Hughes questions whether the UK is doing enough to prevent further disasters following the Grenfell fire, and suggests where improvements should be made

© Natalie Oxford I

n the early hours of 14 June 2017 Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey social housing tower block in the borough of Kensington & Chelsea became engulfed in flames.

Almost instantly following the disaster which claimed 71 lives, the cladding system retro-fitted to the building became the main focus of attention for the media, grieving families and the UK Government. A rapid response from Governmental leaders then followed, to quickly establish and deploy initial blanket-testing measures on all residential buildings above 18 metres high. It is worth considering this initial reaction in greater detail. In doing so, we can not only understand the implications for the UK’s rainscreen industry, we may just be in a better position to adopt the changes needed to ensure the safety of Britain’s high-rise buildings and more importantly their occupants.

Missing the point

It has been widely reported from numerous sources that the build- ing’s facade presented risks to fire safety and as such, the UK


Government in collaboration with the Building Research Establishment (BRE) took immediate steps to conduct an audit of all similar tower blocks across the country. The prime motive was to ensure risks were identified and addressed. However, it has become apparent that these initial tests were merely to check whether the core, or filler, of the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding panel samples, were of a type that would fail the limited combustibility test for an individual element of a wall in a tall building. As the panels only form one part of a whole wall system, rather than isolate and individually test a single component, BRE should actually have audited and fire tested ‘complete systems’ more akin to the system used at Grenfell. The reality today is that a building and its rainscreen cladding might be deemed safe if it is installed as part of a whole wall system. One that when all elements are combined, offers sufficient fire spread resistance in-line with required standards. Arguably, the immediate reaction to deploy tests that are not as robust as they could be, and that do not check whole wall systems,


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