In June 2017, a fridge caught on fire in the Grenfell Tower, a 24-storey residential tower block in London, England. Though firefighters were soon on the scene, the fire breached the original apartment’s window. Due in part to the combustible cladding that covered the façade of the tower, the fire quickly spread up the building and was soon out of control, trapping a number of residents inside. Overall, 72 people died in what was seen as a largely preventable tragedy.
To understand what happened at Grenfell Tower, however, it’s important to first know exactly what cladding is.
What is cladding?
Simply put, cladding refers to any material that has been placed on top of another material, creating an extra layer or skin. For many buildings, cladding has obvious benefits. It can provide insulation, weather resistance, and can help keep noise out. In addition, nice cladding can help an apartment block look more aesthetically pleasing.
Cladding can be made of wood, metal, brick, vinyl, or composite materials that can include aluminium, wood, blends of cement and recycled polystyrene, as well as wheat/rice straw fibres.
What makes it dangerous?
It’s important to state first that not all cladding is potentially harmful or dangerous. The Grenfell Tower, for example, was covered in a cladding made of aluminium-polyethylene panels, a combustible material that failed fire safety tests after the tragedy despite having been passed by a building control officer just two years before.
In addition, the use of combustible cladding was, at the time, not recommended for buildings taller than 30 metres, since firefighters’ ladders are unable to reach higher than this point.
What has changed since?
Thankfully, changes have been made since this event. On 22 October 2018, a new Combustible Cladding Regulation was introduced in New South Wales. The law requires owners of certain buildings to check for external combustible cladding and to register all affected buildings with the NSW Government.
This regulation applies to residential apartment buildings of two or more storeys, and applies if the building has external combustible cladding made of metal composite panels or certain types of insulated cladding systems, including those comprised of polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyisocyanurate.
Under this regulation, owners of new apartment blocks are required to register their building within four months of it being occupied.
What can you do?
Only building owners or their representatives are able to register a building. If you are unsure whether or not the strata that you are part of has combustible cladding and needs to be registered, it is recommended that you get in contact with the building owner, owners corporation or strata management for further information.
Need more information about current strata regulations? Then check out our document bank or get in touch with our friendly team.