How Grenfell changed the rainscreen market
The tragic scenes at Grenfell are something that still linger painfully in the memory for many people. Since this terrible tragedy, the cladding sector has come under great scrutiny – perhaps more so than any other involved. It was the rapid pace at which the fire spread through the building which caused most questions. The fire brigade was called out at 12.54am but by just 1am flames had engulfed many floors.
Was ACM cladding to blame?
The sheer speed at which the flames spread through the tower block saw many look for possible causes. Doubts were raised over the ACM cladding used on Grenfell initially as a result. Sadly for the cladding sector, evidence has now confirmed this to be true. During the Grenfell inquiry, industry experts gave their view that the Reynobond 55PE rainscreen cladding used did not comply with the latest regulations around buildings.
Answers still being sought by families
The root of the investigation into Grenfell lies in getting definitive answers for the victims’ families. One issue to arise was the existing Building Regs themselves. Both lawyers and those within the industry claim they are not fit for the purpose intended. There have also been questions raised about the official tests for combustibility and how sure construction companies can really be when specifying materials. Ultimately, these lingering concerns around cladding are unanswered still and this has left many businesses nervous about which products they can safely use.
Current rules for building see Approved Doc B confirm that any building over 18 metres in height should have insulation which is classed as having limited combustibility. The issue comes when you learn that this is not the same as guidelines published by the BSI. Their BS9991 standards say that buildings over 18 metres should also have cladding of limited combustibility as well which has left many people confused. With doubts over how useful current British Standard tests are when classifying products as fire-safe and concern about how accurate fire performance labelling is on building materials, the situation is far from clear for all involved.
How will the cladding industry react?
The general air of confusion in the industry has encouraged some cladding specialists to act. This has seen firms retest the facades of buildings they have completed cladding work on to ensure complete fire safety. Some cladding companies have also decided to beat the long waiting list on combustibility tests in the UK by sending their materials off to facilities in Dubai.
The cladding sector may also react by using cladding other than phenolic insulation types. Pre-Grenfell, phenolic insulation had been widely used as it gives superior heat retention properties. This was a top priority for the UK Government at the time as it reduced heat loss from buildings. Post-Grenfell, however, more firms may begin using mineral insulation which is better for fire safety. The knock-on effect of this is that buildings will become more expensive to construct as extra mineral insulation is needed to retain heat. More steel will also be needed to keep the building structurally sound. An additional challenge for cladding businesses to think about is indemnity insurance cover. It is thought that companies could see big rises in their insurance premiums with more cover needed.
Changing markets for manufacturers and suppliers
Post-Grenfell it is fair to say the cladding sector hit crisis point as decisions around exterior cladding on buildings slowed right down. As the market recovered though, products such as A1 and A2 rated materials became more widely used. These types of cladding are non-combustible which explains their new-found popularity. Other products including concrete which is reinforced with glass and fibre cement have also become in demand. The construction industry has also reacted to the new landscape around fire safety by using experienced cladding contractors on projects. These expert firms are in demand now for the sound advice they can give on which are the most appropriate cladding materials to apply.
One report that many hoped would bring much-needed clarity to all this was the Hackitt Report. Published recently, it unfortunately did not quite hit the mark many expected. The report was in response to urgent calls for reform around building safety and greater accountability. Upon reviewing the current regulations though, the report did not call for combustible cladding to be banned.
Choosing the right cladding contractor is key
As the above shows, what happened at Grenfell will continue to have an impact on the cladding sector and construction in general. If you are constructing a new building in the wake of Grenfell, choosing a cladding specialist to treat your exterior walls with the safest materials is key. Here at alsecco, our products are A2 fire rated and suitable for use in the new cladding market that is emerging.
Our dedicated Brick Without Boundaries website provides comprehensive insight on how you can safely specify cladding above 18m high.
If you have a project you’d like to discuss give us a call today on 01785 818998.