Cladding refers to all the components attached to the building’s primary structure to form non-structural external surfaces. Cladding serves various purposes such as protecting the building from external variations, creating a controlled internal environment, provide security and privacy, provide thermal insulation, prevent transmission of sounds, prevent spreading of fires, provide openings for daylight, ventilation and access just to mention a few.
However, the type of cladding determines the level of safety that a property has. Most property owners do not have a technical background, which thus means that they do not even have the slightest idea of where to start. The first step is to ensure that you have cladding surveys to determine whether your home is safe for survival or not. The following are some of the steps that you should take as a homeowner.
The Grenfell Tower tragedy in 2017 was a wake-up call that saw various councils demand a review of building regulations. A good inspection will get into the building’s documentation. Some of the important areas include drawings, manual and warranties, façade maintenance, annual fire safety statements, and fire safety engineering reports that have been generated over time. The next area of concern is the location and extent of cladding on the building. The inspection should also establish whether there are fire mitigation measures such as water and sprinklers, and where they are installed. The proximity to fire escape and ignition sources are also recorded on this inspection.
A physical inspection to determine the type of cladding available will follow as documentation may fail to capture some crucial things which may lead to poor decisions. You can either remove a panel or retrieve small samples for lab testing to determine the type of cladding available. The first approach can be expensive and time-consuming, but it is also effective.
Different types of test can be done on the house depending on resources available and time. Density testing is the first type of test that gauges visual identification. The density of the materials used is a fixed property that needs to be tested. You can tell the core type of materials used through physical observation. You can also check the dominant colors to determine the type. For instance, if you find grey or white cores, then this is an indication that the material is resistant to fires.
Flame testing is the second type of test that will indicate the core type. Phenolic cores may char but will not melt when exposed to a flame. On the other hand, polythene cores have high ignition and will even burn after the flame has been removed. Fire retardant polythene will ignite with difficulty, then foam and swell as long as the flame is on.
3. Fire safety engineering
The first step aims at identifying where clapping is. The second step confirms the types of materials that make up the clapping. A fire safety engineer will now be ready to work on the report after the first two steps. Such a person will assign a level of risk to individual installation based on the information collected. The risks can be low, moderate or high. Low-risk installations can be left the way they are as they indicate that the house is safe. Moderate-risk installations can work with a few modifications such as the installation of sprinklers or even relocation of ignition sources. However, high-risk installations demand removal. Agents and homeowners must highlight the type of cladding in a house when selling. An agency in the UK was fined for failing to disclose that the cladding was made of Aluminium composite material.
4. Design remedial work
If the inspection and testing reports conclude that the cladding material is combustible and requires removal, then it should be replaced with others that are compliant. Finding an exact match may not be that easy. You may find some unavoidable changes in color or a slight change in performance. You may find some cladding materials that are not combustible but still do not meet the aesthetic requirements. Removal of external cladding will affect the acoustic and thermal performance of the house, and a good engineer should come up with a methodology that will manage these issues. Substitute cladding should be installed in a timely and fashionable manner.
It is quite evident that cladding surveys are important for every homeowner. Replacement of combustible cladding gives the homeowner assurance that the property is safe. The survey seems like a straightforward process, but sometimes it can be costly.