The Building Industry’s Secret Threat Explained

Many high-profile residential fires have hit the news in recent years, as seemingly safe buildings go up in flame before our eyes. While many fires are accidental, what many fail to realise is that the materials chosen for these buildings directly impact the rate and spread of these fires that decimated the lives of many. A hidden threat lying dormant on many building facades, combustible cladding, is a danger that we all need to educate ourselves on.

Cladding is essentially the outside skin of a building. Typically, this is placed in order to improve the aesthetic of the building, thermally insulate, and create a weather-resistant finish. While the use of cladding isn’t being contested, the materials chosen for the cladding can have an effect on the safety of the building.

There are two types of combustible cladding being Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP) and Expanded Polystyrene (EPS). At least one of these has been directly linked to major recent blazes such as the Lacrosse Apartments in Docklands, the NEO200 tower on Spencer Street and London’s Grenfell Tower.

ACP consists of two outer metal layers as well as a core material which is usually between 2-5mm thick. Products that use aluminium as the outer layer are the most common while the panel cores could be made of a variety of materials that vary in their combustibility and capacity to spread fire. A common choice for the inner material is polyethylene (PE), a vinyl polymer which is the main component in making this product dangerous in a fire.

EPS is an external wall system composed of bulk foam insulation fixed to a structural frame and then sealed, rendered and/or painted. This type of cladding may shrink, melt or ignite when exposed to elevated temperatures. This material is considered very unsafe for use in multi-storey buildings as the capacity for a fire to spread along it is great.

The Victorian government, through a new entity called Cladding Safety Victoria is currently performing a state-wide audit to trace the use of non-compliant building materials such as ACP and EPS. This includes multi-storey apartment buildings, hotels, student accommodation buildings, hospitals, schools, etc. The recommendation of building surveyors takes into account the combustibility of the material combined with the safety systems present in the building.

Currently, the owners of these buildings have been hit with a major question. They must choose whether to spend money on the removal and replacement of potentially flammable building materials, or face the risk of increased insurance premiums, decreased property valuations, and possible legal action. While the costs of these replacements are expensive, the alternatives are equally off-putting and potentially financially disastrous.

Want to learn more?
Whether you’re a resident, builder, property manager or potential investor, being educated on building materials is important. Learn more about our cladding services at Maz Group or contact us for more information.