Fire Testing

The government have published their response to the consultation on the use of cladding in buildings over 11m in England.

Combustible materials have been banned for use in external facades of buildings higher than 18m since 2018, following extensive lobbying in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. 

In early 2020, the government suggested also banning the use of such materials for buildings above 11m in height, and ran a consultation on this in May 2020, the response to which has just been published.

The release of this amendment covers the following changes:

  • The building types included within the ban – the legislation will bring hotels, hostels, and boarding houses within scope.
  • Metal Composite Materials – the legislation will introduce a complete ban on the use of the type of metal composite material that was used on Grenfell Tower (metal composite material with an unmodified polyethylene core) in the external walls of all new buildings and buildings undergoing building works, regardless of height or use.
  • Attachments – the legislation will include curtains and slats of solar shading devices within scope of the ban, with a limited exemption for ground floor awnings.
  • Exemptions – the legislation will amend the list of materials exempted from the combustible materials ban to include fibre optic cables and insulation up to 300mm from ground level. It will also provide an 18-month temporary relaxation for cavity trays in all forms of construction.
  • Performance requirements – the legislation will update the classification that materials must meet to comply with the combustible materials ban to the current version and allows the top layer of a balcony floor to meet the required standard using the horizontal-testing equivalent of the existing standard (which requires materials to be tested vertically).

The new rules also mean all new residential buildings higher than 11m will have to include a secure information box, which will give fire and rescue services access to important details about a building in the event of a fire. An evacuation alert system (an alarm that can be used to manually trigger an evacuation if a fire spreads out of control) is required for those above 18m in height. 

The government are also issuing an amendment to Approved Document B to introduce new guidance for external walls and balconies for residential buildings between 11m and 18m in height. This change will take effect in England on 1 December 2022.

This change in legislation results in banning nearly all combustible materials, including plastic, timber cladding, and high-pressure laminates on facades of residential buildings over 11m. Builders will still be able to use some combustible materials on buildings between 11m and 18m as part of a system that has passed a large-scale test.

As reported by Inside Housing: “The changes mean some combustible materials will be permitted on medium-rise buildings as part of systems which have passed a test. However, the new measures represent a substantial tightening of the existing guidance, which had placed no restrictions whatsoever on their use at this height.”

They also expressed concerns that this will lead “to the bizarre situation where buildings were being remediated due to fire safety concerns, while new properties were being constructed in complete compliance with the guidance using the same or similar materials.”

Building and fire safety minister, Lord Greenhalgh said: “We have introduced the biggest improvements to building safety in a generation under the Building Safety Act.

“These changes will support our tough new regulatory regime – ensuring fire safety measures are incorporated into new high-rise homes and all new residential buildings meet the same safety standards.

“It does not end here and I urge the industry to act quickly to update their practices in line with these new rules.”

For further information on which building work will be affected and when the changes take effect, the government have published an amendment booklet on their website.

Find out more about the FPA’s UKAS accredited BS 8414 cladding testing service.