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Combustible Cladding: What It Means for Property Managers and Owners

Posted by HiRUM Software Solutions - 26/03/2019

The ‘Combustible Cladding’ Backstory

Within the last couple years, the term “Combustible Cladding” has shown up in the news more often and has become a major topic of controversy throughout Australia and the world.

For the most part, the spark of outrage is a result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy that occurred in London back in 2017, which caused 72 deaths and over 70 injuries, and was deemed the deadliest structural fire in the UK in almost 30 years. Unfortunately, the use of combustible exterior cladding and insulation in the construction of the building was a major contributing factor of the disaster.[i]

Three years prior, in November of 2014, a similar situation occurred in Melbourne’s Lacrosse Apartments in which a cigarette sparked a fire on the 8th floor and spread rapidly up the building due to the combustible cladding used in construction. Luckily, all 400 people were evacuated from the building safely. The owners of the damaged apartments filed a lawsuit which the court ruled in their favour. As a result, the building company was ordered to pay $5.7 million in damages to the owners, with an additional $6.8 million in damage claims still outstanding.[ii]

Most recently, on the 4th of February 2019, an apartment fire broke out at the Neo200 apartment building in Melbourne’s CBD. The fire moved quickly up a total of 6 floors before it was extinguished. 200 residents were evacuated safely with no injuries or deaths. It was found that small parts of the building around the balconies where the fire occurred were built with combustible cladding, and the cladding may have been one of the main fuels that escalated the fire so quickly. [iii]

What is Cladding?

For those unfamiliar with the term, cladding is a layer of protective materials that separates a building’s interior components from exterior conditions like weather and sound. The lack of safety standards and regulations relating to the materials used in exterior cladding has created extreme fire risks and hazards. [iv]

Combustible cladding materials and why they’ve been used

Outer cladding layers made of aluminium, zinc, or copper and core insulation materials like polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyisocyanurate are among the materials proven to be hazardous. But why were these materials used? Over the years, as material costs increased and the supply of Australian-made cladding products decreased, builders turned to cheaper internationally-sourced options which hadn’t been tested in accordance with Australian fire standards.[v]

What is being done about the issue?

The Australian government and the Fire Protection Association of Australia have looked more closely at the issue since these disasters and speculated that there could be tens of thousands of buildings throughout Australia which have been built using these non-compliant, possibly combustible cladding materials.

Even though concerns about combustible cladding have been evident from as early as 1990, unfortunately little has been done about the issue.

In the last year, with the controversy now more in the limelight, states have started to put laws and regulations in place. For example, NSW has passed two laws, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Identification of Buildings with Combustible Cladding) Regulation 2018 (PDF, 117 KB), and State Environmental Planning Policy Amendment (Exempt Development – Cladding and Decorative Work) 2018 (PDF, 128 KB) which states that owners of buildings with external combustible cladding must register with the government. Currently, it seems as though little to no enforcement is occurring for those who fail to comply. However, it’s likely that there will soon be steep fines and other strict consequences involved for those who don’t take necessary action. [vi]

Who’s paying?

Another issue is determining who is responsible to pay for the costs associated with replacing the non-compliant materials. It is essentially up to the strata agents, property owners and managers to find out if their property has been constructed using hazardous, combustible cladding materials, and if so, to fix it on their own accord and out of their own pockets. Last year, leading up to the Victorian state elections, a plan was set in place called The Cladding Rectification Agreement scheme, which promised low-interest loans to property owners to help pay for removing the cladding. But since the scheme was launched, there haven’t been any loans granted in Victoria, and only a handful of councils in Melbourne have agreed to participate. It is evident that a lot still needs to be done by State and Federal regulators to ensure the vast number of potentially hazardous properties is decreased substantially. [vii]

What you need to do

For now, state governments have outlined a checklist of steps that should be taken by property managers and owners alike in order to ensure the safety of your property. The steps listed below are general, so be sure to visit your local government website to ensure you’re taking the necessary actions specific for your location.

Step 1: Do you have Combustible Cladding?

The first step is to find out if your building has non-compliant/potentially dangerous cladding. This can be done easily with a quick review of any design and construction documents associated with the property. If the property has cladding made of aluminium composite or EPS materials, there is a good chance it may be hazardous.

Step 2: Register Your Property

In each state, it is required that any property with non-conforming or combustible cladding is registered. It is recommended that you visit your local government’s website and follow steps on how to register. Keep in mind, states are beginning to enforce fines and penalties for properties that fail to register by certain dates.

Step 3: Get Up-To-Date

Next, the annual fire safety statement for the property should be reviewed and verified that all is up-to-date. It should also be confirmed that all fire safety maintenance measures have been addressed. All annual fire safety statements should be properly displayed in your building.

Step 4: Have your property inspected

Finally, it is recommended that your property be inspected by a fire safety professional. The fire safety professional must check the overall fire safety of the building, review and inspect the cladding and provide you with a list of any applicable steps necessary to maintain or improve the building’s fire safety. If any non-compliant materials or hazards are discovered, it is recommended that immediate action is taken. [viii]

For a simple and worry-free inspection experience, we recommend utilising HiRUM’s Inspection App. With our Inspection App, you can easily schedule, set up, customise and manage various types of inspections all from one platform, keeping important forms and details in one place for easy access. It also saves a lot of time, reducing manual processes and minimising human error.

For more information and updates about state specific laws and regulations relating to the combustible cladding controversy, please visit your local government website. We have included links to each page below.

Queensland: https://www.qld.gov.au/

New South Wales: https://www.nsw.gov.au/

Victoria: https://www.vic.gov.au/

South Australia: https://www.sa.gov.au/

Western Australia: https://www.wa.gov.au/

Northern Territory: https://nt.gov.au/

Australian Capital Territory: https://www.act.gov.au/

 

Sources:

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/dec/13/grenfell-tower-inquiry-what-weve-learned-so-far

[ii] https://www.accomnews.com.au/2019/03/contractors-judged-liable-in-shock-apartment-fire-ruling/

[iii] https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/same-as-grenfell-tower-cladding-fears-as-fire-rips-through-melbourne-cbd-apartment-building-20190204-p50vgl.html

[iv] https://www.hunker.com/12333229/what-is-exterior-cladding

[v] https://www.whitbread.com.au/the-whitbread-channel/an-insight-strata/updates-cladding-laws-victoria/

[vi] https://www.planning.nsw.gov.au/Policy-and-Legislation/Buildings/Combustible-cladding

[vii] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-16/combustible-cladding-risk-affects-thousands-but-few-fix-options/10804014

[viii] https://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/housing-and-property/fire-safety-and-external-wall-cladding

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