25 March 2021
By Jeff Anderson
As you will be aware from blogs we’ve written in the past, in recent years, cladding has been a hot topic (no pun intended) due to the focus on combustible cladding which has caused a number of high-rise building fires and sadly, numerous deaths.
As a recap, Cladding refers to the extra non-load bearing layer in the exterior finishing of a structure. Akin to a skin, it may be connected to the structure or a transitional layer of battens or spacers and its purpose has been two dimensional — to shield the interior of the structure from harsh weather, thus acting as an insulative barrier, and to complement aesthetics.
Why Cladding has been used
Traditionally, cladding has been produced from cutting edge lightweight materials including light alloys, polymers, concrete mixes, reused polystyrene and fibre-reinforced composites of plant material. Modestly priced and practical, cladding these materials can be moulded and cut to suit any size, with a wide assortment of surface finishes. It has meant it can be adapted tomost architectural designs at an attractive price..
Risk factors aside, high-rise residential and commercial builders/architects made use of cladding panels to add flair, insulation and points of difference to their construction. But – due to the fact that many panels made use of cheap (flammable) materials – the risks of older panel technology became far too apparent when a number of residential towers ignited, the flames couldn’t be controlled and the fires took people’s lives. The main problem was that the inside core of non-compliant panelling is made of a non-fibre foam which melts when exposed to intense heat (as in the case of a fire). It becomes fuel for the fire as it melts, dripping down the building spreading the flames as the flames simultaneously work up the building.
and the materials used in them continue to dominate the news. In current years, those involved in new buildings and refurbishment of old ones have used cladding to be nearly the default design factor of architects and due to its capability to transform what may be an ordinary building into something extra modern and aesthetically pleasing.
The problems it caused
There is a long history of fire cases involving prominent structures using exceptionally flammable outer cladding boards far and wide around the globe. Australia has its fair share extending back numerous years particularly in apartment buildings. The 41-storey Neo200 building fire thrust the issue back into the national spotlight. Caused by a smouldering cigarette, the fire started on the 22nd-floor balcony and quickly spread up another seven floors.
The building was cladded with the similar aluminium composite material used on London’s Grenfell Tower which was tragically engulfed in flames in 2017, causing 72 deaths. Luckily, no one at Neo200 was seriously injured but the fire highlighted the grave danger posed by non-compliant building materials once again. Following a similar fire at Melbourne’s Lacrosse building in 2014.
Aluminium composites were determined to be directly responsible for the speed and intensity with which the fires spread at Neo200, Grenfell and Lacrosse. Although the material is no longer authorised for exterior use on high-rise structures in Australia, its use is widespread. The dangerous and risky materials are used on buildings throughout and many audited constructions do not comply with the National Construction Code a finding that is consistent with inquiries carried out interstate and internationally.
A new World Order
With changes in recent years in law and thus construction codes, the fact is, old panels have been deemed as non-compliant meaning they need to be removed and replaced on the buildings they are adhered to, and only new, compliant panelling can be used moving forward.
New laws were enacted to to ensure there were no more tragedies like those listed above. These laws are part of a whole-of-government response to the fire safety risks posed by the use of external combustible cladding in residential and commercial buildings. Commencing on 22 October 2018, the relevant new laws are the Environmental Planning and Assessment Amendment (Identification of Buildings with Combustible Cladding) Regulation 2018 and State Environmental Planning Policy Amendment (Exempt Development – Cladding and Decorative Work) 2018.
What these laws have meant is that all new construction which makes use of Cladding must use products which have been shown to be compliant. Further, all existing buildings which have combustible cladding must undertake to remove and/or replace this cladding with the newer technology options available in Australia.
For new buildings, the cost is part of the build process, however, for existing buildings, time has shown that the financial burden of replacing the materials has been a sticking point, as have disagreements between owners, builders and manufacturers as to who should bear the cost. In short, who oversaw this systemic failure and should now pay for remediation?
Introducing Project Remediate
Recognising the delays which were apparent, the number of court cases which were being disputed and the overall risk everything posers if not remedied, as a mitigating measure, the NSW Government introduced Project Remediate in 2020. This is a three-year program to help with the financial and technical support required in managing the process of redressing combustible cladding on Class 2 private apartment complexes in NSW.
The NSW Cladding Taskforce entrusted with identifying buildings with combustible cladding for remediation was also established. As an overview (what it means for you) Project Remediate is a NSW program for removal of risky cladding set in place for qualifying building owners and proprietors of private high rises (Class 2) in NSW. These include multi-use buildings, for example part commercial/part residential who have been confirmed by the Taskforce and consent authority (local council or Department of Planning, Industry and Environment) as having a high-risk combustible cladding façade that requires remediation.
Where the program really makes a difference however, is through the ability for these parties to obtain interest free loans which they use to rectify combustible cladding on their residential apartment building(s) with the interest on the loans paid for by the NSW Government.
In an associated initiative, a project assurance service will be set up and coordinated via the Office of the NSW Building Commissioner to work with owners’ corporations to project manage the NSW cladding removal plan and rectification work. The service will make sure that rectification is carried out to a high standard and will encompass assuring and controlling risks, costs and the quality of cladding rectification. To manage and oversee each rectification project, a Managing Contractor will be appointed. This service will be at no cost to the owners’ corporations.
As a result of the above measures, the onus again shifts to Property managers, builders, engineers, business owners, as well as strata committee members, in needing to better understand the risks and consequently finding out whether their building is compliant, and what steps to take if it is not.
Time is a factor and something that needs to be considered in the process, so if you are unsure and want advice which can speed the process up, or want advice about Project Remediate, speak to one of our specialists at Remedial today.
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