The Grenfell Tower fire in 2017 was one of the UK’s worst disasters in living history. It is a tragedy that would see 72 people lose their lives, and a further 70 injured as they attempted to escape their high-rise tower in North Kensington. This horrific event shone a devastatingly stark light on the dangers of cladding and the importance of putting the right regulations in place to ensure people’s lives are not endangered by the buildings they live in.
Following the fire in 2017, two terms became notorious among society: ACM cladding and ACM panels. But is this justified and what happens if you have this type of cladding or panelling on your building?
Are aluminium composite panels safe?
Aluminium composite panels (ACM) are lightweight cladding panels that are meant to be ideal for external building facades and fascia to improve the aesthetic appeal and durability of buildings. The flat panels consist of two thin aluminium sheets bonded to a non-aluminium core. When correctly specified, installed, and officially certified according to regulations, this building material has several advantages.
- Robust durability and light weight
- High weather resistance, particularly against rain
- Easy installation
- Low maintenance
ACM panels are often made with various types of cores that should be strictly reviewed and assessed for suitability and safety. These include mineral fibre (usually stone mineral wool), PUR (polyurethane) foam, PIR (polyisocyanurate) foam, polystyrene and PF (phenolic foam). The key criteria here are the height of the structure the panels are used for and their fire-resistant capabilities.
Was cladding the cause of the Grenfell Tower fire?
ACM cladding became notorious following the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, when cladding with a polyethylene core was thought to be at least partly to blame for the rapid spread of the fire around the outside of the 24-storey block of flats.
In the wake of the disaster, it was declared that an electrical fault was the cause of the fire. Following an official inquiry by Sir Martin Moore-Bick, it was deemed that the ACM cladding “acted as a source of fuel”. ACM cladding was also linked to several other fires, notably the Lakanal House fire in Camberwell in 2009, where six people died.
Does my building have ACM cladding?
If you suspect ACM cladding on your building, the first step is to identify the material. Aviva has produced a handy checklist that highlights key observations when reviewing composite materials.
- Two sheets of metal – one external, one internal
- Evidence of core material from joints, damaged sections, holes left from removed services etc.
- Panel identification marks (e.g. UV identification code on internal face, or printed identification tape on panel edging)
- Labels attached to the composite panels
- Panel profile indicating the type of cladding system
The Department for Communities and Local Government has been working with the Building Research Digest to enable fire testing of samples of cladding from high-rise buildings of concern. Shortly after Grenfell, the Department announced that in buildings with a floor over 18 metres above ground levels, and where ACM panels were identified, it would now be necessary to establish whether the panels comply with Building Regulations guidance, i.e. the core material should be a material of limited combustibility or Class A2.1.
In the five years following the Grenfell disaster, close to 500 buildings were identified as needing cladding remediation to ensure the safety of those who use them. As of February 2023, 95% of all identified buildings have either completed or started remediation work according to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
Finding ACM cladding: what’s next?
If you have identified ACM cladding on your building, here are some essential steps you should take:
- Check installation and support documentation to verify that the installation and the panels are approved by LPS 1500 and LPS 1531, and that the approved panels will perform adequately in case of fire.
- Ensure that your building is insured, bearing in mind that each insurer will have their own strategy in respect of underwriting risks containing Aluminium Composite Material. Make sure that you seek your insurer’s direct advice.
For specialist guidance and advice regarding cladding testing and your property portfolio, please get in touch with a member of the team at Bradley-Mason to discuss your requirements in detail. Our senior team provides expert advice throughout the lifecycle of your property, from building surveys and acquisitions to Reinstatement Cost Assessments (RCAs) and asset disposal. We combine our deep Building Consultancy skills with commercial awareness to fully understand and serve your business needs with a bespoke service to meet your current and future challenges.