Uncovering The Dangers

In March 2018, the Minister for Planning issued a Ministerial Guideline “Issue of building permits where building work involves the use of certain cladding products” under Section 188 of the Building Act of 1993 (Vic).

This Guideline was issued to limit the use of non-compliant, combustible building materials ACP and EPS. There is currently an ongoing audit into the use of these products on existing buildings as they’ve been proven to pose a risk to public safety by aiding the spread of fire.

Most in the building community know that these products have been heavily restricted in recent years, but many are still in the dark about the specifics of these materials and why they’re not up to code. Here, we break down the two materials, why they were frequently used as well as what makes them dangerous.

Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP)

ACP is generally used for its speed of installation, weatherproofing, and exterior appearance, but it doesn’t improve a building’s structural integrity. It’s often been chosen as it’s a flexible material that can bend around curves and corners while still maintaining durability.

ACP is used in the form of flat panels typically between 3-6mm in thickness. These have two thin aluminium sheets that are bonded to a non-aluminium core. A Polyethylene (PE) core sits between the two aluminium pieces, which makes these panels non-compliant.

This product is a thermoplastic that does not hold up well when exposed to flame. This highly combustible core is what makes the material so dangerous and has caused the Victorian Government to restrict its use.

There is more than one type of ACP panel. While the ACP PE is the most combustible and dangerous, there is another common type of cladding called ACP FR (Fire Retardant). While this other material has a mineral fill with a low percentage of Polyethylene, a fire inspector still needs to certify it before it’s deemed fit for use in multi-storey building projects.

According to a Building Product Safety Report released by the Government of Victoria, “When it burns, a kilogram of polyethylene will release more energy than a litre of petrol.”

This product has been identified as a significant contributor in the rate of fire spread and loss of life in fires such as the Melbourne Lacrosse fire and London’s Grenfell Tower. The Guideline states that building permits may not be issued for ACP with a core comprising more than 30% polyethylene.

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)

Builders often chose EPS for its ease of installation and insulating properties which protected residents from the harsh Australian heat. It’s also cost-effective, making it an easy choice for builders who were unaware of its danger.

EPS is usually sealed off with a weatherproof rendering such as cement. This product is sometimes used in combination with ACP polyethylene in building cladding work. Often, chemical fire retardants are used with EPS, but they may dissipate and do not stop combustion at high temperatures.

Polystyrene is also a thermoplastic produced from petroleum and does not stand up well to fire or high temperatures. It is known to melt or drip when exposed to flame and can quickly spread fire which is why it’s classified as highly flammable.

With the same equivalency to petrol as Polyethylene, the Victorian Government’s report states “when burning, polystyrene … release(s) two and a half times the amount of energy as an equivalent amount of wood”.

Under the Guideline, a building permit may not be issued where EPS is planned to be used as part of an external rendered wall system. Due to the finish on this type of cladding, it is often hard to identify. There is currently an ongoing state-wide audit to find and evaluate the use of EPS on multi-storey buildings.

If you need assistance with building cladding compliance or the replacement of combustible cladding, contact the experts at Maz Group today.