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Maybe you are looking into the option of adding exterior cladding to your home or already have wall cladding on your property and are concerned with the safety aspect of it. Many homeowners wonder whether cladding is a safe addition to their home for peace of mind and even for regulatory reasons and planning permission.

As a whole, the majority of materials provided for cladding in the Western world today are safe from a structural standpoint. However, a clear issue that has been highlighted over recent years is how combustible cladding is. Before the Grenfell tragedy of June 2017, there were arguments amongst experts regarding the interpretation of the government’s advice on cladding regulations. The wording of the regulations before 2017 was not clear, and this led to confusion for the general public. This is a phrase that was used in the regulations at the time, “any insulation product or filler material should be of limited combustibility.” The phrase “limited combustibility” really displays how grey the area was and how much that could be argued in a court of law.

What are the Regulations for cladding?

Since the Grenfell tragedy, laws and regulations have been put in place to prevent this from happening again. Here are some changes to the law post-Grenfell:

  • Highly combustible Aluminium Composite Material cladding (used in Grenfell) will be prohibited outright for use in the external walls of all buildings during building work, irrespective of height.
  • Relevant buildings above 11m require non-combustible cladding of an A2-s1, d0 or A1 class or above.
  • Planning permission is required when recladding your home. If 25% or more of the external wall is re-clad, regulations would usually apply.

It is imperative to check before installation whether or not your project requires planning permission and that it adheres to building regulations and safety acts.

The government website can provide in-depth information regarding fire safety acts and the regulations necessary to remain safe and within the law.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-england-regulations-2022

What cladding materials are more dangerous than others?

The material that was used for the Grenfell Tower was ACM. ACM stands for Aluminium composite material and is now notorious for its rate of combustibility. Other materials, such as high-pressure laminate or HPL, have also been verified as unsafe.

As of this year (2022), there has also been a complete ban on MCM PE cladding panels (metal composite panels with unmodified polyethene). The previous ban on MCM PE cladding only applied to buildings higher than 11 metres. These changes will support fire safety measures and will be incorporated into any new high-rise homes and residential dwellings.

Wood and PVC cladding materials may not be the safest option to go for as they are still prone to catching fire. However, they are not as combustible as ACM. When installed correctly, with the correct treatment and applications, wood cladding can be extremely safe on your residential property. Fire-resistant timber cladding is safe and at low risk for low-rise buildings (usually classified as below 3 storeys).

Composite cladding manufactured with both plastic and wood fibres comes in various fire ratings and classifications for every different project. Most companies selling to residential homeowners provide class C fire-rated composite cladding, which is safe for low-rise developments. When a residential property is above 18m in height and more than 1m away from another building, it usually doesn’t require a specific fire rating. However, it is still always advised to check with your local planning authority first. Buildings such as offices, hotels or hostels are usually required to have a class B fire rating for safety reasons. This is the European classification.

Regulations for residential dwellings

It is both the homeowner’s and contractor’s responsibility to ensure that they are compliant with current build regulations. Here is the link for the fire safety section amongst residential building regulations https://www.planningportal.co.uk/applications/building-control-applications/building-control/approved-documents/part-b-fire-safety/approved-document-b-volume-1-dwellings. This document is from 2018, so if you are referring to this for the project, ensure to check that it is still valid.

When purchasing cladding from a supplier, ask about their fire ratings and check that the boards are fire tested before buying. Failing to adhere to safety and building regulations can result in prosecution and even legal action, where an unlimited fine can be imposed (sections 35 and 35A of the Building Act 1984). Prosecution is possible for two years after completion of the work.

Conclusion

Not all cladding is unsafe. If you choose a safe material of exterior cladding that is at low risk of combustion and correctly install your cladding whilst adhering to safety regulations, then your cladding should be perfectly safe. As a cladding supplier, we understand the importance of keeping you and your family safe and always recommend asking and researching first to check that the cladding you are purchasing is suitable and safe for your individual project.

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