Choosing Fire-Resistant Aluminium Cladding

Aluminium cladding products are great for a variety of reasons. They are lightweight and durable, easy to work with and require very little maintenance. They are flexible and versatile and can be used to create an ideal balance between functionality and architectural aesthetics.

However, aluminium composite panels (ACPs) have been in the news for the wrong reasons lately. In 2014, a fire in a Docklands high-rise in Melbourne caused $12 million damage and resulted in major compensation lawsuits. In 2017, a fire decimated the Grenfell Tower in London. Both of these fires were attributed to poor-quality ACP products.

As a result, there have been changes to building regulations regarding the use of cladding products, issues with insurance companies refusing to cover buildings and inspectors, refusal of occupancy permits on non-compliant buildings, and apartment and building owners being forced to foot the bill for the removal of cladding that shouldn’t have been used in the first place.

In July 2017, the Victorian Government established the Victorian Cladding Taskforce. Its purpose was to look into the use of non-compliant external wall cladding in Victoria and to make recommendations for safety improvements.

As you can see, there have been some major changes regarding guidelines for the use of external wall cladding in Melbourne. Obviously using inferior quality external cladding products can cause some serious issues. So, let’s have a closer look at the cladding materials in question and how you can avoid these problems by using high-quality and completely non-combustible aluminium cladding.

What are Aluminium Composite Panels?

Aluminium composite panels (or ACPs) are made up of two thin sheets of aluminium bonded to a polymer core. The composition of the polymer core varies depending on the ACP product. Some products have a 100% polymer core, usually polyethylene. These are known as PE.

Other varieties include ACP FR products, which have an approximately 30% polymer core; ACP A2, which tend to have a polymer core of less than 10%; and aluminium honeycomb products, which have a honeycomb-pattern aluminium core instead of a polymer core.

Solid aluminium cladding panels are also available. Although, since these are made from 100% aluminium, they are technically not composite panels.

Why are ACP Products a Fire Risk?

Firstly, not all ACP products are combustible or a fire risk. Aluminium itself is not combustible. However, the insulating polymer core inside old-style panels is flammable.

Aluminum has a melting point of about 660°C. During a serious building fire, temperatures can reach upwards of 900°C, causing the aluminium sheets to melt and the polymer core to ignite. The fire can then spread across the building facade via the ignition of the flammable polymer core.

ACP products

Since it’s the core that determines the combustibility of ACPs, ACP PE products with a 100% polymer core pose an extremely high fire risk. Some FR products with a 30% polymer core are also considered high risk.

A2 products, aluminium honeycomb and solid aluminium cladding products are extremely low risk due to the low volume or complete absence of a polymer core.

Changes to cladding regulations

In 2018, the Victorian Minister for Planning issued new guidelines for the use of certain external wall cladding products. These guidelines outlined new levels of compliance for the use of external wall cladding products.

The guidelines required that building surveyors only issue a building permit for the installation of certain ACP products where the use has been determined compliant by the Building Appeals Board. It specifically refers to ACP products with a core consisting of 30% or more polyethylene. Solid aluminium cladding or panels with a less than 30% polymer core are not subject to the new guidelines.

The Victorian Government also established Cladding Safety Victoria, a $600 million initiative aimed at reducing the risk associated with combustible cladding on residential apartment buildings and publicly owned buildings.

So, what does that mean for you?

If you’re considering renovating or doing a new build with aluminium wall cladding, you need to make sure you choose a cladding product that meets the new guidelines for exterior cladding.

Solid aluminium cladding products — like Alfrex Solid, Mondoclad or Vitradual — contain no polymer core and are completely non-combustible.

Other non-combustible alternatives to ACP products include steel cladding (such as Colorbond), aluminium extrusion panels, fibre cement panels (like Vitrapanel) or ceramic or terracotta panels.

If you’re buying an existing house or apartment, you should also make sure you find out what type of cladding has been used. Talk to a registered builder and ask them to look over the cladding materials during the pre-purchase inspection. If you’re a tenant in a residential building or part of an owners corporation in an affected building, visit the Cladding Safety Victoria website for more information.

It’s important to note that while old-style ACP products (generally designed and manufactured prior to 2012) may not meet the new guidelines and still pose a fire risk, all new, premium-quality panels are designed to not only meet the guidelines requirements, but exceed them.

Aluminium external wall cladding is still one of the best and most versatile building products available. However, it’s vital that you are aware of the differences between products and understand the guidelines around the different styles of cladding.

If you’re uncertain about your cladding products, talk to the team at MG Alucacladding today. Give us a call on 0418 373 563 or contact us online. As a premier supplier and installer of premium external wall cladding in Melbourne, we can talk you through the available products and make sure your cladding meets (and surpasses) all relevant safety and compliance guidelines.