Insurers slam fire test regime for building materials

Grant Prior 4 years ago
Share

The insurance industry has attacked the “utter inadequacy” of laboratory based fire safety tests on building materials.

ABI tests on cladding with vents
ABI tests on cladding with vents

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) commissioned the Fire Protection Association (FPA) to carry out research in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy.

The experiment recreated  “more realistic building conditions than those in which the standard tests are done”.

The ABI said real-life factors overlooked by the current official testing regime include:

  • Test fires which are only made up of wood. In modern blazes, around 20% of the materials involved are plastic.
  • Cladding materials are sometimes tested as a sealed unit, whereas when fitted on a building they often include gaps, and cover a far more extensive area.
  • Materials tested will be in manufacturer condition, but during their actual use will often be pierced by things such as vents or ducts.

The ABI called for an end to the use of all but non-combustible materials in construction in its submission to the Hackitt review.

It also demanded reform of the testing regime to replicates real world conditions to provide genuine evidence of how materials perform in a fire.

Huw Evans, Director General of the ABI, said: “Dame Judith Hackitt’s important work post-Grenfell has already recognised the building control system is broken.

“This latest research is yet more evidence that fundamental reform is needed to keep our homes and commercial premises safe from fire.

“It is a matter of urgency that we create the right testing regime that properly replicates real world conditions and keeps pace with building innovation and modern design.”

Jonathan O’Neill, Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association said: “The results of this important research confirm long-held concerns by many in the fire sector that the current cladding test standard requires urgent review to ensure that systems that pass are reflective of the systems that are installed and of the risks to which they are exposed.

“We urge BSI (British Standards Institution) to urgently reconvene the group responsible for this standard to consider the results of this research and to make changes to the standard as required.”

TESTS AND RESULTS

THE ISSUE: Test fires are only made up of wood. In modern blazes, around 20% of the materials involved are plastic.

Test 1: Two fires were created with the same energy content, one purely built out of wood, the other containing 20% plastic.

The results: The flames created by the fire containing plastic had a flame length around 1 metre longer than the wooden fire; the temperatures involved were 100 degrees hotter and still increasing when the plastic-containing fire had to be extinguished because it was exceeding lab safety conditions.

The implications: As well as the ability of the fire containing plastic to spread faster and create higher temperatures, building materials such as aluminium lose a lot of their strength at higher temperatures. A lot of cladding, including that used on Grenfell Tower, is made up of aluminium composite panels.

 

THE ISSUE:  Cladding materials can be tested as a sealed unit, whereas when fitted on a building they often include gaps, and cover a far more extensive area.

Test 2: Fires were started at the bottom of three columns. One had no cladding or cover at all, the second had cladding fitted to create a void but with sealed edges and ends, the third was clad with a void, leaky sides and some ventilation at the top and bottom.

The results: Fire climbed 1.5 metres up the open face before burning out and self-extinguishing; the sealed cladding unit also saw fire climb a similar distance before it ran out of oxygen and self-extinguished; the unit where the cladding had gaps rapidly caught fire up the entire 6 metre height of the testing column.

The implications: The availability of oxygen makes a massive difference to how materials respond to fire. In well-ventilated voids, such as behind some cladding systems, the rate at which fire spreads can be greatly increased by a chimney effect. Any tests which restrict the availability of oxygen in a way that doesn’t happen on a full scale building will not be able to correctly assess how the materials will behave in practice.

 

THE ISSUE:  Materials tested will be in manufacturer condition, but during their actual use will often be pierced by things such as vents or ducts

Test 3: A section of wall and cladding was set up with a plastic vent installed – a common feature – and a fire started beneath the structure.

The results: Temperatures inside the vent indicated it was providing an almost instantaneous route for fire directly into the void between the wall and cladding, long before the time it would take fire to break through the outside cladding panels.

Implications: Fire safety, particularly in high rise buildings, often relies upon assumptions about how long it will take fire to penetrate certain areas of the building. The presence of fittings such as vents can make a big difference to how materials perform and how a fire will spread, and needs to be realistically modelled in testing.

Latest news

Osborne makes £45m construction loss

Sale of infrastructure business balances books as contractor looks for zero-carbon wins
1 day ago

John F Hunt forecasts record revenue and profits this year

Demolition contractor back on strong financial footing after previously setting aside £5.6m for bid rigging probe
1 day ago

Notting Hill Genesis names £2.8bn framework winners

26 firms land places on main contractor deal: Full list
1 day ago

Green light for dual hotel scheme at Nine Elms

Two new hotel towers will share common basement
1 day ago

Trials start on cement-free pre-cast piles

Aarsleff is hopeful a product will come to the market shortly
1 day ago

Ex-Telford Homes boss to run green house builder

Jon Di-Stefano takes helm at M&G backed Greencore Construction
1 day ago

Subcontractors told to stop work on Brymor sites

£80m revenue southern contractor files letter of intent to enter administration
2 days ago

House builder Chartway sold to private equity firm

Cabot Square Capital signs another major construction deal
2 days ago

Murphy Group appoints new chairman

Capita chairman and investment banker John Cresswell to start in November
2 days ago

Tolent seals £40m Newcastle ‘future-living’ housing job

135-home Vaux scheme will be first of four neighbourhoods totalling 1,000 homes
2 days ago

Cruden takes first job at £1.3bn Edinburgh Waterfront scheme

Preferred bidder named for first 750 net zero homes at new Granton Waterfront coastal town
2 days ago

Trio of student towers to be built at Brent Cross Town

Ground works under way with main contractor due to be appointed next month
2 days ago

Keltbray gets start date for £50m motorway upgrade

Contractor hails "significant step forward" for highways business
3 days ago

Site workers settle for 5% pay increase

Contractors and unions agree one-year deal following months of talks
4 days ago

Rising wages and skills gap to overshadow materials issues

Materials and product Inflation tops 20% so far this year, but labour set to be next big headache
3 days ago

Erith pays £2.8m bonus to staff after ownership switch

Around 450 staff have on average received over £6,000 since move to employee ownership five years ago
3 days ago

Algeco lands £19.2m Leeds modular school scheme

Offsite specialist will supply and install 192 steel frame modules
3 days ago

Eight firms placed on £750m Midlands and Eastern framework

Next generation framework for jobs up to £7.5m employs a parallel plotting structure
3 days ago

Aston Villa unveil plans for £100m stadium expansion

Construction set to start next year on first phase of Villa Park upgrade
3 days ago

Skanska bans ‘swing-up’ lorry loaders after site death

Banned vehicles are used mainly to deliver bulky items like cabins and welfare units
4 days ago

HS2 agrees £78m variation on Euston tunnels cost

Skanska Costain Strabag seals extra payment for agreed changes to the scope of work
4 days ago

B&K breaks ground at £150m Newcastle HMRC job

Work gets underway on city's largest ever office project
4 days ago

New building safety laws come into force today

Leaseholders protected and new regulator for construction product manufacturers in wake of Grenfell
4 days ago

Peel submits plan for £150m cannabis production plant

Isle of Man seeks to become a leader in the emerging medicinal cannabis sector.
4 days ago

Tarmac buys first electric concrete mixer truck

Country's first battery powered mixer truck will start site deliveries this Autumn
4 days ago

Tilbury Douglas wins Dorset hospital upgrade

Construction could start in 2024 after Dorset County Hospital secures £77.3m of funding
5 days ago

McGee in £2.4m provision for bid-rigging probe

Demolition contractor says provision will cover the expected fine over cover pricing ring
5 days ago

First designs for £275m HS2 Midlands nerve centre

Contractor due to be named in Autumn next year for Washwood Heath hub
5 days ago

London Bankside Yards next project switches from resi to offices

Revised plan submitted for 18-storey office next to Blackfriars Bridge
5 days ago

Plans in for Cambridge North major mixed-use scheme

Over 400 homes and nearly 600,000 sq ft of office and shops planned for railway sidings site
5 days ago

Contractor services