Previously approved cladding system fails test
A COMBINATION of foam insulation and aluminium composite material (ACM) panels has been found to have failed fire tests after previously being approved.
Sky News reported on the test failure concerning ‘combustible’ Xtratherm Safe-R foam insulation and ‘fire-resistant’ ACM panels that had ‘been assessed as capable of complying with building regulations’. The combination had been ‘previously approved’ in testing, but has failed a retest, and the news outlet stated that ‘it is thought scores of high-rise buildings have been fitted’ with the combination.
The outlet noted that ‘as a result of the test failure the cladding's official assessment of fire safety is no longer valid’, and that ‘government assurances about fire safety in tower blocks have been thrown into doubt’. The previous official test results were published in 2015 and are said to have been ‘relied on by architects and developers’, with Xtratherm commenting: ‘As a response to the tragedy in Grenfell, we as a responsible manufacturer felt it prudent to validate this assessment and commissioned a full-scale test. The build-up did not pass.’
Both tests were carried out by Exova, which confirmed that the system ‘failed to meet the criteria’ and that the previous test results have been ‘withdrawn’. Xtratherm ‘did not say’ how many tower blocks had been fitted with the system, but one industry insider told Sky News that ‘there could be more than 50 high-rise buildings at risk’.
Sky News also noted that both residents and landlords of affected buildings ‘may not be aware their cladding could be unsafe because nothing has been said publicly about the test failure by the government, the certification bodies involved or by Xtratherm’. It also noted that ‘at least one tower block owner’, Peabody housing association, had removed combustible panels and fitted the Xtratherm system, at a cost of £500,000 on the Lucent Point block in Lewisham.
At this point, ‘it is unclear who will pay if those panels now have to be removed and replaced’, with the majority ‘in the process of being fitted over’ the insulation. The news outlet also stated that the system was approved under BR135 through a ‘desktop study assessment’, while Exova responded that it conducts its assessments based on the regulations.
It added: ‘We carefully review and analyse all relevant new evidence and guidance when it, and subsequent test evidence, is made available to us. Once we have completed a review and better understand this new evidence, we will consider it in relation to assessments we have undertaken in the past and take appropriate action, including their withdrawal if required.’
This comes after the recent announcement by insulation manufacturer Celotex that its insulation, which was on Grenfell Tower, ‘had been issued with a fire performance report’ by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) ‘which contained errors’. The manufacturer discovered what it called ‘differences’ between the fire test of the RS5000 foam panels at BRE’s laboratory in 2014 and the ‘crucial write-up’ of the test, or a BR135 report.
Housing Minister Dominic Raab responded to an urgent question in parliament from MPs ‘critical of fire safety advice for landlords’ that ‘there is now new advice because the existing advice is sound’. Shadow housing minister John Healey told Sky News that this claim was ‘no longer valid’, adding: ‘The pattern of response from the government has been across the piece is too slow, too confused, too narrow.
‘They simply can’t tell us yet how many buildings have unsafe cladding and insulation on them they've got to do a great deal more both to issue fresh advice and take action to make sure those buildings are identified and all the remedial work to remove the danger is done.’