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Combustible Cladding: To Replace or Not to Replace?

Combustible Cladding: To Replace or Not to Replace?
It’s a dilemma – or a ticking time bomb – many buildings are facing in Victoria right now. For those wrapped in a combustible shell, they are a living, breathing fire hazard. However, the solution is not always simple. There are pros and cons for replacing combustible, non-compliant cladding on complexes vs investing the time and energy to get a ‘Performance Solution’ approved by the Building Appeals Board.

Worldwide, there have been several large and fatal fires which have sparked a government crackdown to remove all combustible cladding from buildings.  Here in our capital, Melbourne, we have seen apartment tower fires spread swiftly through complexes including Lacrosse in Docklands, in 2015 and Neo200, as recently as February 2019 in our CBD.   

Gallagher Jeffs has been involved in several high-profile projects for cladding removal.  We understand well there are many considerations to factor in when deciding to replace or not to replace, but not all building owners or managers will be clear on how to best tackle this situation.   You have two main options:
  1. Try and get a Performance Solution passed through the Building Appeals Board.
  2. Replace the cladding.

Performance Solution

An alternative solution to replacing cladding is getting a Performance Solution passed through the Building Appeals Board. This can include the addition of things such as extra fire exits, sprinkler systems and smoking bans. And as with everything, there’s a procedure to follow, which not only takes time but can be expensive, too.

Firstly, you need ’as built’ documentation or have a detailed investigation undertaken by a façade engineer of the substrate behind the cladding to understand the wall make up. Is there insulation behind or sarking and are they AS1530.1 compliant? 

A fire safety engineer will then be required to assess if a performance solution is possible. Be aware this may be very expensive and very time consuming  – so have the conversation with them prior to getting their ‘gut feel’ before spending tens of thousands of dollars.  Added to this, there are often expensive legal fees involved.

Once you have your Performance Solution drawn up, you submit it to the Building Approvals Board and wait – perhaps longer than six months in the current clogged-up system – for a possible green light. 

While this option may seem cheaper and quicker at first, with no guarantees that the solution will even pass the BAB’s approval, it can be a risky path to take. It’s critical to have the full support from your building insurance prior to proceeding down this pathway. You should also consider waterproofing, current building regulations - in particular thermal requirements - and all service penetrations through the non-compliant material.

Cladding Replacement

Although replacing the cladding is a more certain (albeit more costly) way to resolve the flammability issue, you do run the risk of ‘opening up a can of worms’ when you tear off cladding to expose your building’s sometimes inadequate substructure – including possible mould, structural and water ingress issues. They may also have to be brought up to today’s standard for energy efficiency. This may be difficult for a number of older buildings.

In a recent example, a building’s combustible cladding was removed to reveal an insulation layer that was too thin for current building code requirements. The space, however, only allowed for 40mm of insulation (not the necessary 100mm), which meant the whole building had to be reframed. Needless to say, this came at great expense. The lesson? Removing cladding is not as straightforward as it may seem.

And because these expenses transfer to apartment owners within the building, we try to get a clear picture of exactly what’s involved at the start of the project – preventing any nasty surprises down the road.

We carry out in-depth tests and checks upfront, so we know where your building is placed within current building code requirements (that we’ve seen getting increasingly more stringent in recent years) and so that you don’t waste your time – and money.

We consider all factors:

  • Time
  • Money
  • What’s involved – scope of works
  • Other underlying building issues
  • Your budget
  • Insurance premiums
  • And weigh up the risks of either option.

We manage the whole project – from liaising with council, tendering to a select group of pre-qualified builders to providing superintendent services on site to ensure a smooth process from start to finish.

With numerous high-profile cladding replacement projects under our belts, including but not limited to Lacrosse and NEO200, our team can navigate you through these processes, to mitigate risk and optimise the outcome. 
Every case is unique and requires an enormous amount of technical and policy knowledge of how things work, as well as insider info on all the latest policy updates. We’re well equipped to handle all the details and to ensure the best decision is made for all involved. And when you consider we have recently been accepted to join Cladding Safety Victoria’s small panel of project management experts, you’ll know you’re in safe hands.

For more information on Gallagher Jeffs and our approach to the combustible cladding issue we face in Australia, contact us on +61 3 8610 3888.