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Dealing with Defects: Cladding

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

Combustible cladding is a major issue for buildings throughout Australia, particularly apartment buildings. In February this year, a fire at Melbourne’s 41-storey Neo200 building thrust the issue back into the national spotlight. The fire, which was caused by a smoldering cigarette, started on the 22nd-floor balcony and quickly spread up another seven floors.

The Neo200 building is cladded with aluminium composite material – the same material used on London’s Grenfell Tower, which was tragically engulfed in flames in 2017, causing 72 deaths. Unlike Grenfell, no one at Neo200 was seriously injured. Nevertheless, the fire once again highlighted the grave danger posed by non-compliant building materials. It follows a similar fire at Melbourne’s Lacrosse building in 2014.

Non-compliant cladding is widespread

Aluminium composite material was found to be directly responsible for the speed and intensity with which the fires spread at Neo200, Grenfell and Lacrosse. Although the material is not approved for external use on high-rise buildings in Australia, its use is widespread.

In Victoria, 51% of the buildings audited last year did not comply with the National Construction Code. The Victorian Cladding Taskforce reported in October 2018: “Our investigations found dangerous materials are widely used on buildings throughout Victoria, a finding that is consistent with inquiries carried out interstate and internationally”.

Despite the safety risk, removing the cladding is proving extremely complicated, due to high costs and uncertainty around who is responsible – is it the construction companies, the building surveyors, or the state regulators who oversaw this systemic failure? Currently, homeowners are being asked to foot the bill to remove non-compliant cladding, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Facilities managers must understand risks

It is crucially important for facilities managers, as well as strata committee members, to find out whether their building is compliant, and to know what steps to take if it is not.

To help facilities managers understand their obligations, the FMA's Residential & Strata Division held two Info Network Sessions on the issue of cladding in Sydney and Melbourne in March. The sessions covered legislation, testing and compliance, Australian standards and council requirements. They also explored removal of non-compliant cladding, replacement products and installation options.

The FMA would like to thank Telstra, Express Glass, National FM, Henry & Hymas and Melbourne Building Management for sponsoring these events.

The FMA’s next Resi Strata Info Network Sessions will focus on “Dealing with Defects: Fire” and be held in Sydney on 3 July and Melbourne on 4 July