Engineering, News

Combustible cladding: new rules and safer alternatives

As the cladding crisis continues and more buildings are deemed high risk, it’s time to look at fire-rated alternatives. Cladding-related upheaval looks set to continue in 2019, with the nation’s building ministers agreeing at the most recent Building Ministers’ Forum in February to an in-principle ban on combustible cladding in all new construction.

This follows an amendment to the National Construction Code in 2018 prohibiting the use of combustible cladding on new high-rise buildings greater than three storeys.

Meanwhile, states and territories – spurred on by the Grenfell Tower fire disaster in London in 2017 and the Neo200 tower fire in Melbourne in February – are moving forward with their individual reviews of cladding on existing high-rise buildings, and have begun issuing orders to property owners to remove or replace polyethylene core aluminium composite panels at their own expense.

The number of building owners who will likely need to remove or replace cladding is significant. In NSW, a taskforce has so far identified more than 400 buildings – 85 of them high-rises – where cladding poses a “high risk”; while in Victoria 200 buildings have so far been deemed “some risk” and a further 47 assessed as “high risk”. Major buildings such as John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and the ABC’s headquarters in Sydney have been identified as posing a potential fire safety risk.

There are growing calls for the government to act more quickly and decisively. In the wake of the Neo200 fire on 4 February, the Australian Financial Review declared “the cladding crisis is running smoke rings around [Victorian] politicians”, whom it accused of fumbling the state’s regulatory response to the cladding issue.

Victorian residents are also up in arms: in that state, the list of buildings deemed at high risk from flammable cladding has not been publicly released, stoking concerns among apartment owners. Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald warned it was “only a matter of time until high-rise disaster strikes again in Sydney”.

Some property developers and owners may take a better-safe-than-sorry approach to the issue in 2019, engaging builders to replace cladding which they know – or simply suspect – falls foul of the new standards before the government orders them to do so. And developers of new buildings will be expected to perform due diligence when selecting materials or risk the wrath of both the government and consumers.

For those who are ready to act now, two new products available through Brickworks offer an attractive alternative to polyethylene core aluminium composite panels for builders and developers. INEX>BOARDS and Terraçade cladding systems are both tested to AS 1530.1 and certified non-combustible.

The Terraçade Ceramic Façade System is a ventilated rainscreen that incorporates fired clay tiles installed onto custom support rails. The tiles carry a 100-year colourfast warranty and are available in a wide range of colours, sizes and finishes.

INEXBOARDS are made from low-carbon magnesium oxide and employ fibre-reinforced Engineered Cementitious Composite (ECC) technology. In addition to AS 1530.1 compliance, they have passed AS 5113 “Fire propagation testing and classification of external walls of buildings”, achieving an EW rating.

The test found that INEXBOARDS both limited the spread of fire and protected the structure of a building.

Already, these products are being used successfully in new builds such as the Peak apartments at Putney Hill in Sydney, where the developer chose INEX over a competing product due to its superior fire-resistance properties. Builders considering either product can feel confident that they offer market-leading and regulation-compliant fire resistance for 2019 and beyond.

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