How the industry is reassuring residents over recladding

With the launch of the Cladding Safety Scheme (CSS) in July last year, thousands of mid-rise buildings are now eligible to have cladding that is potentially a fire risk replaced. However, living in accommodation that has elements that have been identified as a potential fire risk is a huge concern for residents. Here Liam Blears, head of facades at FSi Promat, explains the steps the passive fire protection industry is taking to reassure residents of the safety of recladding projects to protect against the rapid spread of fire.

Reassuring residents in these circumstances is not an easy task. After Grenfell, some of those in high rise buildings found themselves living in a building that was labelled as being unsafe and a fire risk. Not to mention the financial implications this caused with many instantly losing a significant value in their properties and being required to foot the bill for upgrading the cladding.

The Government introduced the CSS recladding programme to address this. But for private homeowners and larger projects the process of obtaining funding approval has been complicated. As a result, many residents have spent years waiting for recladding work. The scheme’s introduction opens a pot of £5.1 billion of Government funding to support the recladding of residential buildings of 11 metres and over (11-18m in London) to ensure no combustible materials are used on buildings above 18 metres and that extra requirements are met on those between 11 and 18 metres, which is great news. However, as an industry it’s vital that we emphasise the steps that have been taken over the last six years to ensure the cladding products used meet the necessary fire rating standards on fire protection and performance.

With the introduction of the Building Safety Act, competence has been moved firmly into the spotlight and demonstrating this is essential to reaffirming trust in sub-contractors, developers and, ultimately, residents.

At FSi Promat competency CVs are used to demonstrate technical expertise through up-to-date qualifications and experience. All cavity barrier projects are supported by a specialist team that have, or are working towards, the Institute of Fire Engineers (IFE) Passive Fire Protection Level 3 – the highest level available.

Technical support

Cavity barriers are integral to the safety of cladding systems, providing a seal to stop the fire spreading for a specified amount of time. While recladding projects on the surface are like new build projects, there is potential with retrofitting new cladding for complications to arise, which makes specialist support essential. The FSi Promat technical team works closely with project consultants and sub-contractors to make sure the correct cavity barrier is specified and that any installation issues are dealt with promptly – visiting sites to ensure that the required installation parameters are met.

Open State Cavity Barriers are designed to expand to fill a ventilation gap behind a façade in the event of a fire breaking out – and it is essential that the product specified can expand to the width of the gap. Within existing buildings there can be many challenges, such as having to accommodate for uneven gaps, or changes in the substrate. Being able to account for these conditions is vital for a cavity barrier to perform correctly. Which is why expert input is essential to ensure the maximum width has been accommodated and the application suitably tested to ensure it meets or exceeds the level of fire resistance.

Reassurance through testing

Passive fire protection products need to be tested to the highest standards – and backed by quality assurance at every level. All FSi Promat cavity barriers carry third party certification to demonstrate clearly that they meet the highest standards.

Recladding is often carried out on a building that is already in use, so the quality of the products needs to be supported by reassurances over disruption to the people living there. This means choosing products that are easy and quick to install. FSi Promat’s Silverliner Open State Cavity Barrier, for example, is a rapid fit system that is designed to be easy and quick to install, meaning there is no hot works, and that the passive fire protection can be installed with minimal disruption to residents.

Residents also want reassurance that the problem will be corrected first time. The Building Safety Act has underlined the need for accountability and competence that must now be displayed at every stage of a building’s construction. FSi Promat has always offered training and technical support in the installation of its products, along with site checks to make sure cavity barriers are installed correctly. This should be done as standard.

To reassure residents over their safety it is essential that awareness is raised of the role that third-party certification plays in demonstrating the effectiveness of passive fire protection – and of a commitment to standards in both the manufacture and installation.

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