Combustible cladding: New Zealand’s clear and present danger

New Zealand’s remediation of 228 buildings clad in highly combustible, polyethylene materials is a complex task, made all the more challenging by a lack of international standards and testing when it comes to cladding safety.

Anthony Lee, general manager of Exintech, believes this is placing the country’s construction sector, and the inhabitants of these buildings, at risk of an entirely new threat – replacing one type of unsafe cladding, with other unsafe cladding.

Earlier this year, his company launched Exinclad, a fire-proof and hail-proof architectural facade made from fused steel. Today, it is the only product to have passed the debris criterion of the full-scale fire test with Australia’s NATA accredited laboratory at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Lee says the journey to create Exinclad revealed a startling insight into the lack of safety regulation and testing in the global cladding market.

“Given the class action against suppliers of cladding containing dangerous polyethylene, it’s vital for all companies operating in the remediation of combustible cladding, or construction of new buildings, to do their research and only specify the safest products available,” he says.

“Surprisingly, a lot of industry stakeholders and decision-makers aren’t aware that commonly specified solid aluminium cladding fails the full-scale fire test.

“While not combustible, commonly used solid aluminium cladding products will drop large, heavy debris from burning buildings, presenting huge risks to first responders and surrounding property.

“And while it passes a basic non-combustion test, it fails the full-scale fire test.”

Lee says research commissioned by Exintech shows that replacement cladding here comprises almost 25% of all new cladding orders.

“The industry simply cannot afford to replace unsafe cladding with other unsafe cladding,” he says.

“Future class actions could be a reality if these failures are brought to bear in the event of a building fire. It’s not a risk anyone would want to take.”

Lee adds that industry has a responsibility to use the safest possible replacement cladding products and needs to ask suppliers the following questions to ensure they are protected:

• Has the replacement cladding product been tested to the full-scale fire test?

• Will the cladding replacement product withstand an actual building fire and help to protect inhabitants and surrounding property?

• Does the building insurer approve the use of this product to replace the existing cladding?

He says the prevalence of combustible cladding and the extreme risks it presents remains one of the greatest safety threats to our built communities.

“The onus to select safe cladding materials is on every participant in a building’s lifecycle, from the early planning and design phase, through to product selection, construction, certification, and maintenance.”

ExinClad not only passes all statutory and building material compliance requisites of Australia’s National Construction Code, it also surpasses Australian compliance requirements having successfully tested to the British Standard BS 8414 as modified to AS 5113 full scale fire testing with the CSIRO. The results of which have been independently assessed and supported in a report completed by GHD Engineering.