ABI Warned About Risks of Modern Building Materials Before Grenfell Tower Fire

By | June 27, 2017

“External cladding, made from combustible material can often cause significant fire spread upwards and between buildings, which is a particular concern for areas of high building density.”

This now sadly prophetic statement was the Association of British Insurers’ response in May to a recent UK government white paper on housing. The ABI’s statement was published just a few weeks before the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, which killed at least 79 people.

Modern methods of construction allow the design and construction of innovative new buildings, while cutting construction time and costs, the ABI said, noting however that the increase in the use of lightweight and combustible materials, such as insulation panels and timber frames, can help fires spread.

The introduction of large quantities of combustible materials into building design enhances both the probability of fire and potential scale of loss, the ABI said. Indeed, ABI claims data for fire in the UK show that show the average cost of a fire claim has increased from £5,550 ($7,068) in 2006, to nearly £15,000 ($19,104) in 2016.

“The number of fire claims has decreased from 71,000 in 2006 to 26,000 10 years later, but the significant increase in the average cost of claims clearly highlights that when fires do occur, the cost of damage is significantly higher,” the ABI continued.

The ABI said that fire is one of the few perils that consistently meets an insurer’s estimated maximum loss expectation. “Therefore, it is important to consider the implications of increasing the fire risk of a property, which insurers will take into account when offering cover.”

The association noted that building regulations and fire risk assessments were originally developed for a non-combustible and resilient housing stock, when minor deviations in the build could have been tolerated.

However, “slight modifications or bad practice in the installation of certain constructions, such as the joining of pre-fabricated pods, can lead to hidden voids through which smoke and water can permeate through a building, meaning a small incident, such as escape of water, or a small fire, causing disproportionately high costs to a significant part of the building,” the ABI said in its response to the government white paper.

“In the context of the Government’s white paper and concerns around rising fire damage costs, the ABI would encourage a review of building regulations to reflect the modern methods of construction and deviation away from more traditional masonry builds.”

The cause of the Grenfell Tower fire has been revealed by the fire investigators to be a Whirlpool refrigerator. The manufacturer of the cladding used in the tower, Arconic, announced on Monday it would stop selling the product for use in high-rise buildings.


Topics Construction

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