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Combustible Materials Banned on High Rise Buildings

As of the 21st December, combustible materials will be completely banned from the external walls of new-build, high rise structures over 18m.

The Grenfell fire tragedy caused shockwaves across the country, instigating a nationwide call for action against improper fire safety regulations and the appropriate materials for high rise buildings.

The government-issued impact assessment states that the objective of the policy is ‘to provide certainty about materials to be used in external wall systems of buildings within the scope of the ban.’ The path towards fire-safe high-rise building structures is therefore being driven by clearer regulations and guidance on what exactly defines an ‘external wall,’ and which materials are deemed suitable.

Suitable materials and included buildings

Only materials that hold the European classification of being A1 and A2 noncombustible will be accepted for use.

This leaves a narrower (but safer) scope of material options for architects and specifiers, eliminating the option of cutting corners by using cheaper materials. It may also be a catalyst for further industry-wide change as manufacturers aim for higher fire ratings. Materials such as Rockwool dual-density insulation boards, which are classed as A1 non combustible, would be fit for purpose under the new regulations.

The legislation applies to all ‘buildings with a storey over 18 metres high which contain a flat. Student accommodation, registered care premises, hospitals and dormitories in boarding schools all over 18m will also be covered by the plan.’ The document also specifies that any buildings undergoing a material change or alteration will be required to comply with the regulations.

It’s not only future buildings that are being heavily implicated. The government will also fully back local authorities in the emergency removal of combustible cladding materials (such as the ACM cladding used on the Grenfell tower) from any existing high rise building. Financial backing will be provided to recover the costs made by building owners.

What is an external wall?

Following consultation, the following definition has been given as to what constitutes an external wall and which elements will be included in the ban: anything ‘located within any space forming part of the wall… all elements of the external wall will be covered by the ban; including specified attachments such as balconies, solar panels and sun shadings.’

As a first step towards invoking urgent change, the message has been made clear. The short term expense of effecting change is far preferable to the potentially life-threatening consequences further down the road.

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