Following yesterday’s disastrous fire at Grenfell Tower near London’s Shepherd’s Bush, the UK Government is now initiating an urgent study of all refurbished tower blocks on which exterior cladding has been installed.
The Daily Mail has reported that Grenfell Tower was equipped with overcladding by East Sussex-based company Harley Facades Limited in a contract valued at £2.6 million.
External cladding of various makes is widely used throughout the world. The cladding has the advantage that it acts like a giant “tea-cosy” on a building and provides better heat insulation for tenants – making their properties warmer and reducing heating costs .
In Penarth, external cladding – made in Poland and NOT of the same type used on the Grenfell Tower – has recently been installed on the outside walls of Vale of Glamorgan Council-owned apartment blocks in St Luke’s Avenue and on other nearby social housing blocks.
Once covered with render – as in the St Luke’s Avenue homes – there’s nothing to indicate external cladding is present (other than that the external dimensions of the building are slightly larger than they were before).
However – long before yesterday’s tragic fire – some experts were expressing concerns that if the external cladding catches fire in multi- storey buildings, such fires can have “devastating effects on human life, business and property”.
The building industry “Redbook” – produced by the research charity the BRE Trust – issued a press release some time ago warning of the potential fire dangers involved in installing external cladding:-
Industry expert Tony Baker of BRE Global had written “If a fire in a room on a lower storey of a multi-storey building breaks out of a window or door opening, there is potential for fire to spread quickly up the external cladding system and break back into the building through windows in upper stories. The same concern applies with an accidental or malicious external fire started in a wheelie bin or an area of stored materials. This form of fire spread has the potential to escalate rapidly potentially breaching compartmentation within the building, reducing the time or options available for evacuation and the ability to contain the fire.“
The type of cladding installed at St Luke’s Avenue and other Vale of Glamorgan properties is certified by the British Agrement Board and has a “reaction to fire classification B -s1, d0 in accordance with BS EN 13501” .[ the “EN” letters indicate this is a common standard across the whole of the EU] .
The type of cladding applied at St Luke’s Avenue is not certified for use in buildings greater than 18 metres in height, but is said to meet all the current building regulations.