In construction, the collective term cladding refers to the materials that are applied to a building’s exterior.
Cladding can serve specific purposes like improving thermal energy efficiency and protecting structural walls from weather, or simply enhancing the appearance of a building. In some cases, it performs all of these roles.
Sometimes incorporated into a property’s original design, it is also often installed later and added to an existing building. This can happen when the materials used are found to be dangerous or become old and damaged.
Are there different types?
Cladding takes many forms. It can resemble traditional brickwork and rendering or use modern metal systems. Manufacturers make panels from many other materials including vinyl, glass, and wood. These panels combine with composite materials like cement blends or recycled polystyrene fibres, helping them insulate and protect properties.
Regulators recognise some cladding as dangerous to fire safety. These types include HPL (high pressure laminate) and ACM (aluminium composite material). These solutions became a concern after involvement in serious UK fires. In 2017 ACM cladding caught fire in London’s Grenfell Tower and HPL in a University of Bolton building in 2019.
Identifying the materials used isn’t always possible by examining façade panels. Expert investigation is often required.
Why is it a danger?
In terms of fire safety, different risks need to be considered. Cladding made with combustible material is a serious risk. When fire breaks free from doors, windows, or ventilation it can ignite the materials used. Once exposed to flame, fire can spread rapidly across building exteriors.
Most systems incorporate fire stoppage measures. However, it’s important to understand that some techniques are more effective than others.
Does every building feature cladding?
Not all buildings use cladding. New build tower blocks, and renovated concrete buildings are using it increasingly. It’s worth noting that the presence of cladding does not necessarily threaten building safety. Many modern cladding solutions work to mitigate fires spreading on their surface.
What do current building regulations state?
Revisions to the UK building regulations took place in 2018, banning the use of combustible materials in certain cases. Buildings of a height exceeding 18 metres with more than one home within can’t use this cladding. This law applies to hospitals, student accommodation, residential care homes and tower blocks.
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