With June marking the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, Andy Batterham, Group Technical and Innovation Director at Ibstock, discusses the importance of working in partnership to specify solutions that not only meet the highest fire safety ratings but also add value to a building project.
“In the wake of the second anniversary of the Grenfell Tower disaster, the UK government has recently announced a £200m fund to speed up the removal and replacement of unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on more than 170 privately-owned, high-rise buildings.
“The latest round of funding comes at an important juncture for private property owners. According to a report published in April by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, just 15% of private sector buildings identified with ACM cladding, which is unlikely to meet Building Regulations, had been effectively remediated. This leaves the private residential sector some way behind its public counterpart.
“The spending pledge is just the latest in a series of government initiatives seeking to improve building safety. In his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in October 2018, James Brokenshire, Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government, reiterated his Party’s promise to change current building regulations and ban the use of combustible materials for all new high-rise residential buildings, hospitals, registered care homes and student accommodation – legislation which came into effect on 21st December, 2018.
The MechSlip solution
“At Ibstock, we maintain our belief that brick represents the most realistic, economically-sound solution for modern construction, regardless of the scale of the project. What’s more, certain brick types can provide solid answers to real concerns about fire safety – giving every stakeholder across the supply chain confidence in a building’s safety credentials.
“It is this ‘belief in brick’ that led us to innovate and develop an all new brick slip cladding system, Ibstock Kevington’s MechSlip, in partnership with metal envelope specialist Ash & Lacy. The solution is completely unique to the UK market. Extremely lightweight, the mechanically fixed brick slip system delivers all the benefits of natural clay brick but is over 50% lighter than traditional masonry, reducing structural loads. What’s more, it’s the first fixed brick system to use real Ibstock Brick and contains no combustible parts.
“The system works with the use of slip-cutting technology, which allows the vast majority of stock and wire cut bricks to be mechanically fixed into horizontal rails at flexible heights. Crucially, this enables the use of both linear and low-profile bricks and means bricks can be arranged in any desired pattern.
A safety guarantee
“As a mark of the system’s superior safety, MechSlip was recently certified A1 to EN 13501-1 standard. This is the highest possible level within this standard – a testament to the rigorous safety testing in place for all Ibstock Kevington products. This involved testing in a third party laboratory, known as a Single Burning Item (SBI) test. The results of this test confirm the Fire Growth Index Rate (FIGRA), the Lateral Flame Spread (LFS) and the Total Heat Release (THR600s).
“EN 13501-1 classification is considered by many in the industry to be the most robust means of proving fire safety compliance. This is because an SBI test simulates the start of a fire, to assess the fire behaviour of building products. This means that the classification is based on a certain-end situation, as opposed to a hypothesis.”
Understanding the benefits
“For contractors and specifiers alike, the benefits of the MechSlip solution are clear. Chief among these is that it’s entirely non-combustible, having been certified A1 to EN 13051-1 standard. The solution has also been independently tested by the Centre for Window & Cladding Technology (CWCT), which uses a number of testing mechanisms to determine the level of serviceability of cladding systems – subjecting it to varying levels of water, air and solid object impact.
“Alongside the obvious safety benefits, MechSlip also delivers reduced installation times and lower associated costs for specifiers – an important consideration at the outset of any project. Designed with usability firmly in mind, MechSlip has been configured to address many of the issues commonly faced by contractors and specifiers. For example, MechSlip can be installed via mast climbers, eliminating the use (and cost) of scaffolding. What’s more, the deployment of MechSlip can also ease a contractors’ reliance on skilled trades at the installation phase – a particularly important consideration given the current labour shortage in UK construction.
“The Government’s recent funding pledge is a vital step forward in the fight against unsafe buildings. However, the wider architectural and construction industries must continue to innovate to ensure there are viable, reliable and cost-effective alternatives coming to market.
“Ibstock is committed to supporting contractors and specifiers in delivering buildings, which meet vital safety standards. What’s more, we recognise the importance of industry-wide collaboration in achieving safer buildings – something our partnership with Ash & Lacy bears testament to. We’re incredibly proud that we have been able to pioneer a product which meets the rigorous safety standards needed to achieve EN 13051-1 certification. Our hope is that the use of MechSlip will give architects and tenants alike valuable peace of mind that their building is fire safe – a guarantee not just on paper, but borne of stringent, laboratory testing.”