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Building Cladding / Panelling - The Essentials


It is now a little while since the tragic events of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster and there are many investigations going on as to what the issues were, and what issues remain, in other buildings of a similar construction.

Inevitably, this has led to questions from a number of our clients and contacts as to what the implications may be for them and their businesses and what can be done about it. In this article, we will attempt to explain this and provide potential solutions or control measures for affected businesses.

Why are buildings clad in the first place?

To briefly summarise the position, usually for the sake of aesthetics, but occasionally for thermal efficiency, (or a combination of these), buildings are covered with a non-structural cladding. This is mounted on the building a short distance away from the actual walls. It usually takes the form of a composite material comprising two sheets of typically, aluminium, with a very thin filling of another material. It looks nice and modern, is relatively cheap to install and improves energy efficiency. It will also usually pass building control if properly fitted. The filling is the main issue that is causing the current problem and the government have focused on a type of cladding known as aluminium composite material (ACM), which was described above.

What is this filling made of?

The filling varies in type and flammability and is usually one of three types:

  1. Polyethylene often known as PE
  2. A mixture of 60-70% mineral filling in combination with other materials such as polyethylene. Often known as FR (or fire retardant)
  3. A product commonly referred to by manufacturers as their A2 product, in which the filling is about 90% mineral material.  

The polyethylene core material has been shown in tests carried out on behalf of the government in England to be capable of spreading fire rapidly up the wall and so has been deemed to be a significant hazard in buildings over 18 metres (typically six storeys) in height.

It can sometimes be difficult to tell which one you have by looking at it and is likely to require specialist knowledge by an RICS surveyor or façade specialist to identify the material. One way is to look at the original design specs of the construction, which should tell you what any cladding panels are made of, though it would be important to be sure that what was installed is what was specified.

What should be my next course of action?

Well, the first thing to do is to find out if you are affected. If your property is brick, stone or similar, it is unlikely that you will have an external cladding problem unless it has been refurbished with the panels. However, there may have been alterations to your property internally, (such as partitioning) or add on extensions, (such as a temporary coldstore), which may be constructed of particularly flammable materials. Equally, you may be considering erecting a new structure and to offer a pleasing façade, you may be looking at cladding as an option.

Where any of these are the case, it is most important and a legal requirement that a proper fire risk assessment is carried out. If you are in a managed building with cladding, you also need to liaise with the landlord accordingly to review any shared areas that may affect you.

It is important that all material information is disclosed to insurers as part of a fair presentation of risk and this would include the existence of any combustible panels such as those noted above. 

Let us know if we can help with any queries on the subject.