29 Jun 2017

Residents urged to check apartment cladding for fire risk

7:56 am on 29 June 2017

An Auckland litigation lawyer is recommending clients take a sample of any aluminium composite cladding on their apartments to test whether it is combustible.


A file photo showing Auckland: Lawyer Paul Grimshaw said people in a dozen apartment buildings had contacted him wanting urgent checks of cladding. Photo: 123RF

Paul Grimshaw, who has represented thousands of leaky home claimants, said people in a dozen apartment buildings in Auckland had contacted him since the Grenfell Tower fire wanting urgent checks of their cladding.

At least 80 people are dead, or missing and presumed dead, after the blaze in the 24-storey west London tower block. Tests have revealed the exterior cladding failed safety tests.

Mr Grimshaw said he had told one Auckland client to bring in a cherry-picker to test their cladding.

"I recommended we go out there and actually take off a panel to check what type of material it is, but also to check the passive fire issues that may be behind the panel," he said.

There are three types of aluminium composite panel (ACP): PE is combustible, FR has 30 percent combustible material, and A2 has 7 percent combustible material.

Until this month, any of the three could be used to clad high-rises, as long as a fire report showed it met the Building Code.

Passive fire issues with panels can include a drainage gap behind the panel that extends up between units, allowing fire to spread up like chimney.

What is called passive fire design is meant to take account of such things.

But the Building Research Association (BRANZ) warned earlier this year there was evidence passive fire protection was not being effectively designed, specified and delivered in many buildings.

Passive fire issues have already formed part of lawsuits. They make up an estimated $6 million of the claims in the central Auckland Victopia apartments leaky building case.

"The council will be liable on those passive fire issues", Mr Grimshaw said.

"You would have thought that the council and the council inspectors would have learnt their lesson through the leaky building crisis, but they haven't.

"In fact, passive fire and structural issues is going to be the next crisis to hit Auckland."

Another Auckland civil litigation lawyer, Matt Josephson, said apartment body corporate managers and committees needed to be alert about ACP cladding.

"They should be making sure that their panels are compliant, and that's going to involve finding out exactly what sort of panels on the building, and the building consultants tell me you can't do that without testing them.

"You can't just rely on the paperwork, I wouldn't have thought, given the integrity of the building trades shown through the leaky building thing, and the other thing is you can't determine the problem by visual inspection."

Mr Grimshaw said the most common aluminium composite panel in use in New Zealand appeared to be of the FR category.

He said building occupants needed to be aware that it was fire resistant rather than non-combustible, and that the standard of passive fire design would determine how much time FR panels bought for people to get out of a burning building.

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