Another disastrous tower broke out early this month in Melbourne’s CBD. The fire spread quickly up the outside of the Spencer Street Building, fuelled by the combustible ACP (Aluminium Composite Panel) cladding on the outside – the same type of cladding that sparked the deadly 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and 2014 Docklands fire. As another building goes up in smoke because of unsafe cladding, it is more important than ever to look at what sort of cladding you are using, and which types are fireproof.
While Aluminium Composite (ACP) Cladding (which is now banned or restricted in most Australian states) has fuelled so many tower fires, this does not mean all aluminium cladding is dangerous. To use a safe, non-combustible aluminium cladding, you need to carefully examine all the components it is made up of and whether it complies with the relevant Australian Standards.
Polyethylene: the silent killer
Composite cladding and ACPs have, up until recently, been hailed as a cheaper alternative to other cladding products, but many ACP products have been sourced from overseas, and do not meet Australian Standards, or make false claims about compliance. Typical ACPs consist of two thin sheets of aluminium, with a polyethylene core sandwiched between them. It is this polyethylene core that is to blame for the severity of many recent tower fires. Polyethylene is a highly flammable material, combusting easily as soon as it is hit by fire, and thus allowing flames to race up the sides of buildings. Australian state governments have been conducting state-wide audits over the past few years to identify buildings containing this unsafe, flammable material, and have it removed from homes as quickly as possible. To read more about the cladding regulations in your state, click here.
While ACPs are no longer a trusted cladding option, there are safer ways of using attractive, lightweight aluminium cladding on your building without the fire risk.
Solid aluminium: the safe alternative
Aluminium itself is a non-combustible material with good thermal conductivity. It is only when combined with flammable materials such as a polyethylene core or a wet paint finish that aluminium claddings can pose a fire hazard. Solid aluminium cladding is usually made from extruded, powder-coated aluminium, which dissipates heat, and if it is exposed to fire for a long period of time it will melt, not burn, preventing the spread of flames. Powder coatings will also only char, again keeping flames from moving rapidly across the surface. Solid aluminium contains no combustible materials or core, and is therefore a far safer cladding option for residential buildings. On top of this, solid, powder coated aluminium has the added advantages of being a flexible, lightweight and corrosion-resistant cladding type.
To be certain your cladding is safe, ensure it has passed third party testing – an independent assessment declaring that national fire safety requirements are fulfilled – and fully complies with AS 1530.1 and AS 1530.3. AS 1530.1 measures the combustibility of building materials by immersing a sample of the material in a high temperature furnace. AS 1530.3 test the flame retardant qualities of building materials including ignitability, flame propagation, heat and smoke release, by exposing materials to controlled levels of radiant heating. If a building product complies with these standards, you can be reassured it will not combust or release high levels of heat and smoke if exposed to fire. It is important to note that some suppliers of cladding materials may falsely claim to comply with Australian Standards in order to sell their products. You should always ask for official testing and compliance certificates when purchasing cladding, to be sure your cladding material is certified fire-safe.
DecoClad: a non-flammable cladding option
If you are looking for a non-combustible, yet attractive and lightweight cladding option, look no further than DecoClad. Our powder coated, solid aluminium cladding panels have been tested by CSIRO, and comply with AS 1530.1 and AS 1530.3. DecoClad is finished with our Super DurableTM DecoWood finish, a marine grade, textured woodgrain powder coating finish that is corrosion and UV resistant, and gives your building the attractive, warm look of timber without the maintenance.