Cladding is now the centre of attention - by Robert Cooper
Cladding is now the centre of attention
Are our strict Aussie standards being met?
It has become quite commonplace in the building of new multi-storey towers or the refurbishment of old ones, that cladding is used with the aim of deflecting heat off the building, keeping the inside cool and at the same time giving it a shiny new look. We have also seen cladding utilised in modern domestic dwellings and apartment blocks. It is essentially two pieces of sheet metal with a plastic core in between, and they can vary in thickness of between 5mm up to 100mm. The Insurance Industry calls it EPS or Sandwich Board. Usually the thinner versions are used for insulating buildings (we call cladding), while the thicker versions are used in cool rooms because of their great insulating properties. In fact some buildings are even built out of the material, particularly cold storage facilities. The trouble is, that the plastic core is often extruded polystyrene - for cladding, polyethylene. Highly flammable if it catches fire and also produces a poisonous gas when burnt which can affect all those in close proximity, in particular firemen even if they are using breathing apparatus.
" ... 3 storeys or higher, a fire retardant core is demanded ..."
In the case of the Grenfell Tower, the fire started from an electrical fault in a domestic fridge. With no sprinkler system to immediately dowse the fire, all that was needed was for the fire to spread in the room, blow out the glass in the window, and then ignite the cladding on the building. It is widely believed this is the reason that the blaze spread throughout the entire building so quickly. In 2014, a fire at Melbourne's Lacrosse apartment building in the Docklands area of the city saw cladding come under similar scrutiny. Then on New Year's eve 2016 in Dubai, a multi-story building burnt down, and the cladding used was also blamed for the quick spread of the fire. It has been discovered that buildings here in Brisbane utilised cladding that was not up to the appropriate fire safety standard required by regulators. Cheap Chinese manufactured cladding purporting to meet Australian safety standards at a fraction of the price of the correct material, is a big temptation for some. We all like to save money, but at what cost? For this reason, who knows how many other buildings have the wrong material used. But when it is discovered following a fire, it is unlikely insurers will be keen to settle a claim as the conditions of the policy expects buildings to meet all Australian standards and the various building codes in the country.
" ... ICPS Australia have developed a cladding test ..."
Brad Nicholls, CEO of ICPS Australia, said that testing of cladding is all important to ensure safety. ICPS suggested to insurers that all cladding should be tested as non-conformity presented serious safety hazards. ICPS Australia have developed a cladding test, and said that the industry needs credible information to assess dangers. Building documentation for residential construction is frequently non-existent, incomplete or not credible, it is important to devise a way in which cladding already installed on buildings could be tested to identify potential risk. If you are a building owner with such cladding, we urge you to have it checked as soon as possible. The safety of those that occupy the building is more important than anything. There is another argument for countries overseas, that they do not have the strong regulations we see here. We cannot afford to relax these at any time. Also, simply to provide cheap affordable housing, governments have exempted regular laws on Fire Protection such as mandatory sprinkler systems, thermal and smoke alarms, fire hoses and extinguishers, along with adequate fire escapes, with the excuse they get damaged or stolen by the poorer classes. A dangerous mixture all around that was bound to one day cause a disaster. We all have a duty to abide by Fire Safety regulations because they are there to save lives. Property can always be replaced. What you may not know is that Australia has set very high standards for this type of material in recent times, particularly when used in the construction industry. For buildings that are 3 storeys or higher, a fire retardant core is demanded. General Advice Warning This advice is general and does not take into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should consider whether the advice is suitable for you and your personal circumstances. Before you make any decision about whether to acquire a certain product, you should obtain and read the relevant product disclosure statement.