- The International Code Council is considering changes that would limit the use of exterior panels made with combustible materials such as metal composite panels with polyethylene cores on building exceeding certain heights. The move follows a string of high-rise fires in which such panels were present, including at London’s Grenfell Tower last year, the Wall Street Journal reported.
- Panel manufacturers themselves, led by the Metal Construction Association, are lobbying for the changes, a reversal of their own efforts to increase the height allowances in the 2012 code. In addition, the association’s current recommendation, which allows flammable material to be used up to 40 feet, is 10 feet lower than what was required prior to 2012.
- One member of the committee that made the allowances in 2009 is also among those in support of the rollbacks, stating that the committee didn’t consider issues including elevation, the reach of fire equipment, and the inability of interior sprinklers to have any impact on an exterior fire.
Last year’s fire at London’s Grenfell Tower, which claimed the lives of 71 people, was one of several recent high-rise fires involving combustible-core panels. The Torch Tower in Dubai has had two fires since 2015, with the cladding allowing the flames to spread in both cases. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that there are thousands of structures around the world with similar materials on their exteriors, including an NFL stadium and airport terminal in the U.S.
The Grenfell Tower was retrofitted with Arconic panels in 2016 to help improve the structure’s energy efficiency; a recent report found that the cladding system was never tested for fire safety. Shortly after the fire, Arconic announced it would no longer sell the Reynobond PE panels.
The problem, explained the Financial Times, is that as flames from the initial fire flash to the outside, they catch the combustible material in the panels, allowing the fire to travel up the side quickly, breaking windows along the way and creating secondary fires on the upper floors.
Echoes of the trend are heard in other parts of the world, too. In Australia, the Canberra Times reported that the government paid contractors AUD $1 million to remove flammable cladding from a local hospital.
Following the Grenfell fire, the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat began studying the role of building facades in high-rise fires, with a goal of gaining insight into the issue and created globally suitable guidelines.