Campaigns Environment, Safety and Standards Regulation and Enforcement

Cladding tests – the facts

Natalie Williamson
Written by Natalie Williamson

It is almost two months since the fire at Grenfell Tower and since then a formal inquiry has been launched to establish how and why a fire could spread so quickly and claim so many lives.

The RLA is fully supporting the work the government is doing to prevent such an atrocity ever happening again. The first stage of this work is conducting testing of compositions used in cladding as part of the Government’s Building Safety Programme.

We want to reassure you as much as possible that much of this testing is unlikely to affect RLA landlords, however as the landscape around fire safety is likely to change we feel it best to keep members up to date with all information that is passed on to us from central government.

What is the Building Safety Programme?

As part of the Building Safety Programme DCLG is currently conducting extensive testing, combining three different types of Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) with three different types of insulation to see how the combinations behave in fire. Of the three combinations tested so far all have failed to meet current Building Regulation guidance.

Expert fire safety groups, one in Wales and one in London will then analyse the results and will make recommendations based on the types of ACM cladding and insulation and how they react to fire.

What is being tested?

Six tests are being undertaken, in the following order, with six different combinations of insulation and cladding materials which are commonly used in high rise buildings. An additional 7th test has also been taken.

  1. ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests) with PIR foam2 insulation
  2. ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests) with mineral wool insulation
  3. ACM with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with PIR foam insulation
  4. ACM with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with mineral wool insulation
  5. ACM with a limited combustibility filler (category 1 in screening tests) with PIR foam insulation
  6. ACM with a limited combustibility filler (category 1 in screening tests) with mineral wool insulation
  7. ACM with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with phenolic foam insulation.
What have the results shown so far?
  1. ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests) with PIR foam2 insulation and ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests) with mineral wool insulation –  BOTH wall systems failed the test, which means it did not adequately resist the spread of fire over the wall to the standard required by the current Building Regulations guidance.
  2. ACM with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests), and Polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam insulation – This wall system wall failed the test, which means it did not adequately resist the spread of fire over the wall to the standard required by the current Building Regulations guidance.
  3. Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding with a fire resistant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) and stone wool insulation (a form of mineral wool) – This wall system passed the test, which means it adequately resisted the spread of fire over the wall to the standard required by the current Building Regulations guidance and which is set out in BR135.
  4.  ACM with A2 filler (category 1 in screening tests) with polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam insulation –  This wall system passed the test, which means it adequately resisted the spread of fire over the wall to the standard required by the current Building Regulations guidance and which is set out in BR135.
  5.  ACM with a fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) with phenolic foam insulation – This wall system failed the test, which means it did not adequately resist the spread of fire to the standard required by the current Building Regulations guidance and which is set out in BR135. Based on this result and an earlier test, and in the absence of any other large scale test evidence, the Expert Panel’s advice is that it is unlikely that any combination of ACM cladding with fire retardant polyethylene filler (category 2 in screening tests) and rigid polymeric foam insulation would pass the BS8414-1 test, and therefore meet current Building Regulations guidance.
  6. Aluminium Composite material (ACM) cladding with a limited combustibility filler (category 1 in screening tests) with stone wool insulation – This composition passed. The government’s expert panel advises that the results show that this combination of materials can be compliant when installed and maintained properly. While government has not been informed of any tall buildings over 18 metres in England using this particular combination of materials in their wall system, it could offer a possible solution for some buildings with other cladding systems which have been identified as a fire hazard through previous large-scale tests.

DCLG has published the following guidance and results on their ‘Building Safety Programme’ website here.

Does this affect me?

In terms of the testing on cladding that DCLG is currently undertaking as part of its ‘Buildings Safety Programme’ this is not likely to affect many of our membership. We want to make clear that there is no need to panic. The testing of cladding that DCLG are requesting is only relevant to you if,

  • You own the freehold to a purpose built block of flats with cladding on the walls and the building is over 18m high (6 storeys) **This is the priority group***
  • You own a leasehold / buy to let unit in a high rise tower block over 18m (6 storeys) where there is cladding on the external walls
  • You own the freehold of a purpose built block of flats with cladding on the external walls made up from ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests) with any combination of insulation.

What do I do if this testing does apply to me?

Freeholder  – Block over 18m

If you own the freehold of the building (you are the building owner),there is cladding on the external walls made from ACM and the building is over 18m high then you are considered the priority group that need to conduct this testing.  In this instance it is your responsibility to get a sample of the cladding and send this off to DCLG for testing. For the first sample there will be no cost to you. You can find out how to do that here.

Freeholder  – Block under 18m

If you own the freehold of a purpose built block of flats that are under the 18m height and you believe that your building may be clad in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) DCLG are requesting that samples are sent to them if you think that the cladding be made up from ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests) with any combination of insulation.

The Expert Panel do not believe after the testing of this composition that any wall system containing an ACM category 3 cladding panel, even when combined with limited combustibility insulation material, would meet current Building Regulations guidance.

Although it is buildings that are over 18m high that are of particular risk, we would still recommend that you send a sample of this type of cladding to DCLG for testing if you suspect your building may be clad in these materials. More information on how you can do this is available here.

You can find out more about the Category 3 compositions that have failed current Building Regulations guidance here. 

Leaseholder

If you are a leaseholder  / buy to let landlord with a unit that you rent in a high rise tower block then please contact your building owner to ensure that they are aware of the cladding testing and that they have put interim measures in place. DCLG are specifying building owners to have responsibility for conducting the testing but also check with building managers too. It is not your responsibility to send off the sample.

Official advice from DCLG states that  ‘Where the entire block is not owned and managed by the same party, please ensure that only one sample is provided and that any necessary permissions are obtained for taking and sending off the sample. We would not expect individual leaseholders within a building to send off samples for testing.’

If you are a leaseholder and you own a unit in a building under 18m and you are worried that the building may have cladding with ACM with unmodified polyethylene filler (category 3 in screening tests), and Stone wool insulation (a commonly used form of mineral wool insulation), then please contact the building owner to ensure that they have sent off a sample for testing.

In all circumstances it is important that owners / landlords have robust fire assessments for their properties. You can find out more about fire safety in our overview of fire safety here .

We would also suggest that you request to see the results once the freeholder receives them.

If you have any questions about the testing process please email PRShousingchecks@communities.gsi.gov.uk

What happens next ?

DCLG is advising that interim measures should be put in place as early as possible, preferably before samples go off for testing for buildings over 18m with cladding .  DCLG sent this letter to Housing Associations and Local Authorities with advice on measures to take if it is determined that the insulation within Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) is unlikely to be compliant with the requirements of the current Building Regulations guidance. We have had advice from DCLG that these measures can also be applied to buildings that are privately owned. You can read the letter here.

There are many complexities around responsibilities for remedial work that need to be further ironed out. DCLG has said that cost of any remedial action will be the responsibility of the owner of the building. We are working with other PRS partners to try and push the government more on what alternatives there are to the failed cladding, who will take responsibility and who is liable.

However, in the meantime if you get a failed result back for your building or the block where you own a flat we have been asked to tell members to seek professional advice from,

  • A Qualified engineer with relevant experience in fire safety i.e. a chartered engineer registered with the Engineering Council by the Institution of Fire Engineers
  • An assessor employed by a test laboratory accredited by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service to carry out BS 8414 tests and classify results to BR135
  • The Local Authority
  • The Local Fire Service

All of the documents that you will need are here.

The documents hosted here give specific guidance for the type of cladding that has been tested, the result and what to do next. This is the only guidance that we are able to refer members to at this time.

We will keep you up to date with all updates as soon as we receive them.

For all of our members that may not be affected by the cladding testing but are still concerned about fire safety please refer to our overview of fire safety documents here. 

About the author

Natalie Williamson

Natalie Williamson

Natalie Williamson is the Senior Policy Officer for the RLA and has worked for the Association since 2013. With almost ten years experience in Housing policy and research since graduating from the University of Manchester in Philosophy and Politics , Natalie leads on the RLAs Health and Safety , Welfare and Fuel Poverty Policy areas.

Prior to working for the RLA Natalie worked for a DCLG appointed National Body for Home Improvement Agencies and worked with multiple Government Departments on policies to enable older people and those living with disabilities to remain independent in their own home. Whilst working here Natalie wrote and had published a good practice guide ‘Supporting People in Private Rented Sector Housing’.

Since taking up her position at the RLA Natalie has worked hard to change the narrative of private landlords by working on research projects on welfare and homelessness and also delivered the RLA Safe and Secure Home to help Landlords achieve safe housing for their tenants.

1 Comment

  • What an absolute mess this is, with huge consequences throughout the world. How is it that the Building Regs are being shown to be totally inadequate? Did no one do any proper tests before? Why is polyethylene allowed if its so combustible? So many questions.

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