Why combustible cladding is a hot mess and why you should care
Cladding materials can cause building fires and put lives at risk. This has led state governments to ban the use of combustible cladding and called for its immediate replacement.
In 2017, London’s Glenfell Tower triggered a scare in the public and law makers everywhere. In Melbourne there have been two recently recorded cases of building fires resulting from unsafe cladding – the Lacrosse building in 2014 and the Neo200 building in Spencer St. incident in early 2019.
Learning from past incidents, Australian state governments have already banned the use of combustible cladding such as Aluminium composite panels (ACPs) and other metal panels with polymer cores, and have called for their immediate replacement with safer alternatives.
Let’s take a look at why combustible cladding is a hot mess and why you should care so you can take necessary steps to keep your property safe as early as possible.
Why is cladding a big problem?
- Fire risk status: The most important reason is that certain forms of composite cladding, particularly ACPs along with a polymer core have been found to be highly flammable. There are other forms of cladding that may also be risky, but there isn’t enough information about all kinds of cladding that may be a fire risk
- Old buildings vs. new buildings: Many of the existing buildings in Australia have some form of composite cladding which may or may not be at risk from fire, but need to be examined anyway to assess the level of risk. While it may be easier for new buildings to comply with these regulations from the outset, removing cladding from existing buildings is a problem in itself
- Fire-safety standards: Many old buildings have compliance issues with respect to fire safety. Outdated equipment, irregular maintenance, lax compliance, etc. add fuel to the problem.
- Varied state regulations: Although it appears to be an issue of nation-wide implications, cladding replacement regulations are different for each state.
- Lack of financial support from government: There is little to no financial support from government to encourage property owners to remove cladding which may require huge works such as the tearing down the building. While the Victorian government is offering tripartite loans, it is under the discretion of the local councils to assess the risk status of buildings. Many councils are however, unwilling to take part in the process at this point. Moreover, the loan does not seem attractive as it doesn’t promise low rates of interest.
What should you do?
- Know your state regulations: New South Wales requires a mandatory registration for all commercial, residential and mixed-use buildings that are two stories and above. Queensland regulations require owners to follow a compulsory checklist regarding cladding material in use and comply with a two-stage assessment of their buildings. Read this article to know about the cladding regulations in your state.
- Get your building assessed: Risk assessment is key. It is important for you to know what kind of cladding material is used in your building, how safe it is by Australian Building Code fire-safety standards, how to remove or replace it with safer alternatives and what to do in case of emergencies.
- Retain a copy of inspection and certification documentation for compliance checks: If you’re unsure of the process and requirements, your manager can assist to get your building’s registration, cladding checklist and assessment in order. Keep track of government specified deadlines so you don’t end up paying huge fines. If you’re in Victoria, your owners corporation will be notified by the inspectors before your building is due for assessment. The inspector will also provide reports for further assessment by a fire-safety panel. You may want to get in touch with your council to consider your options to take advantage of the tripartite loan scheme.
- Enforce fire-safety measures: Have you got enough fire-safety equipment and warning notices in place? Are they in visible and accessible areas of your property? Are you conducting regular fire-checks and drills? Making fire-safety a priority can make all the difference for your property. You should also take care to remember keeping fire-exits unblocked by vehicles and common areas uncluttered during emergencies.
- Evaluate your insurance: Find out what kind of insurance policies have been taken for your building. You can also evaluate insurance policies from competitive providers to insure your own property – being safe is your right.
Taking precautions and being compliant goes a long way in saving you a whole lot of headache and damage control in the long run. To stay updated on legislation changes happening in your state, subscribe to our newsletters today.