Why combustible cladding is a hot mess and why you should care

Certain types of cladding cause building fires and put the lives of residents at risk. State governments have banned the use of combustible cladding and called for its immediate replacement, but it still looks like a tall order for building owners. While new projects can follow these regulations, there’s still much confusion about its assessment and removal from existing buildings.

In Melbourne alone, 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 this month. Last year, London’s Glenfell Tower put the scare in the public and law makers everywhere.

Learning from these incidents, Australian state governments have already banned the use of combustible cladding and have called for their immediate replacement. However, when it comes to public safety, cladding appears to be an issue of national concern that surpasses boundaries.

Let’s discuss why combustible cladding is a hot mess and why you should care, so you can take necessary steps to keep your strata property safe and compliant with state regulations:

Why is cladding a big problem?

Most Australian buildings tend to have some form of composite cladding made of thin metal panels such as Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) along with a polymer core. While this doesn’t specifically strengthen the building, it allows for some amount of insulation.

However, if insulation is your goal, you should look for non-flammable alternatives because ACP definitely increases the risk of fire, especially if the building has lax fire safety measures. All it can take is a wrongly discarded cigarette to set off a fire, as it appears was the case in the Spencer St. incident in Melbourne.

We understand you may have a horde of questions – how do you know what kinds of cladding are fire-prone and what are not? How do you remove them from your existing building and replace it without compromising the very structure of the building? What if you cannot remove the cladding – does that mean you may have to tear down your building altogether? How much would it cost you to have the cladding replaced?

The good news is that the Victoria government is offering tripartite loans to help building owners with their cladding replacement costs.

What should you do?

  1. Find out your state regulations regarding cladding replacement: New South Wales requires a mandatory registration for all commercial, residential and mixed-use buildings that are two stories and above. Queensland regulations require building 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.
  2. Get your building assessed to find out if it has combustible cladding: Risk assessment is key. Understand what kind of cladding material is used, 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.
  3. Retain a copy of inspection and certification documentation for compliance checks: If you’re unsure of the process and requirements, take the help of your strata manager 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.
  4. Take every step to enforce fire-safety and precautionary measures in your building: 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. If you live in strata property, you must also take care to remember small things such as keeping fire-exits unblocked by vehicles and common areas uncluttered during emergencies.
  5. Have your building insured for fire safety: You know the drill. Find out what kind of insurance policies your owners corporation has taken for your building. You can also evaluate insurance policies from competitive providers to insure your own property – being safe is your right.

All said and done, the time for action is now. Also, taking precautions and being compliant goes a long way in saving you a whole lot of headache and damage control in the long run.

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