Fire tests: challenging a burnt-out system

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  1. The focus post-Grenfell has been on cladding.

    I’d be interested to know how the standards for curtain walling are being reviewed, as it seems that there is no guidance at all of any kind in the UK.

    That a fire will melt through aluminium very fast, and a paltry BS 476 firestop between the floor and a curtain wall will then be ineffective seems obvious. But having repeatedly had a contractor argue the point of ‘show me where it says’ in BS 9999 (or anywhere else relevant) that anything more than a firestop to the back of the aluminium is required, I have to wonder why this design guidance is so lacking, given projects with curtain walling systems weren’t exactly invented yesterday?

    That the USA has fire standards (ASTM E 2307) was actually a surprise to our facade consultant, who didn’t think anything was needed at all to achieve the 120 minutes compartmentation (integrity and insulation) our project requires.

    So, with so many high rise projects now in London, when can we have clear guidance as to objective requirements?

    Or do we need a major fire in a building spread through the curtain walling system before this is addressed?

  2. I agree with your comment, having recently carried out a number of 8414 tests on systems using vented fire breaks that are currently being approved by building control on high rise buildings. They are failing when tested to 8414. These types of intumescent fire breaks fail to last 7 minutes, even the suppliers of these breaks confirm that they are combustible and have only been tested between two masonry walls.

  3. The need of the hour is define and clarify responsibilities and liabilities. As an example who is held accountable if a building collapses? Or if rain water seeps inside the building. Or the plumbing or ductwork fails or does not last as promised.
    Testing labs , as Chris points out have a primary role for creating data end evidence of how given materials supplied for testing behave.
    Establishing a clearer knowledge of the supply chain within the construction industry would be a good starting point.

  4. I have now commissioned and been present at 4 off AS5113 Assessments of the BS-8414 Fire Test. The AS5113 is certainly a more stringent assessment then the BR135, one in which the UK should consider. Whilst i read criticism of the same from time to time, “all” need to note if 100% PE ACM was subjected to this test when ACM was in its infancy (late 80,s), then we would not have lost so many souls. “Bench testing” allowed 100% PE onto the market.
    Our tests are seeing “DNC” Insulation failing, DTS Sarking/Lining going up in smoke, whilst seeing the respected Alpolic F.R and other 70/30 ACM’s proving they do work, with no propagation of flame beyond the fire source.
    However, like i have seen in the UK, and here in Australia, some manufacturers are being allowed to “fudge” their tests at the Private testing facilities.
    Eg, fail on the first ($60 K) fail on the second (another 60 K) and miraculously (another $60 K) pass on their third test. Then all Industry see’s “we passed”, yet when you see the final “poor drawings”, in which the end user on site is to construct the same as tested, there has been so many changes, non typical fabrication and installation, the end result is twice the price to realize the same as “allowed” to be tested system.
    Thank God, we have a Government owned “regulated” facility here in Australia (CSIRO) of whom has a new $4 Mill purpose built indoor facility. This team ensures what is being tested, how it is being installed, truly represents the manufacturers standard install details. No second goes here!
    Industry needs to keep learning from a reputable testing facility, one in which provides a very high quality standard of reporting, eg very clear 3D Drawings, very clear everything ! Any one wanting a copy of our latest CSIRO test report of the BS8414 test, i am happy to email it to you !

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