Post-Grenfell construction: the arrival of new fire safety regulations - Ashfield Group

The danger of flammable building materials became part of the national conversation after the Grenfell disaster. It gave the industry pause for thought and it was only a matter of time before safety concerns became formalised with official regulations which come into force on 21 December. The Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (S.I. 2018/ 1230) and amended Approved Document B and Approved Document 7 Guidance apply a ban on the use of combustible materials in external wall systems and balconies. It means that architects, developers and contractors will only be permitted to use materials that are A2-s1, d0 rated or Class A1 under the European classification system set out in the standard BS EN 13501-1 subject to exemptions.

The regulations provide new requirements and definitions which depart from Approved Document B2, Schedule 1 B4. They prohibit alternative routes to compliance, including a desk-top study or a test to BS 8414 to achieve BR135 certification.

What is defined as an external wall material?

External walls are defined as “anything located within any space forming part of the wall.” The new regulations also apply to the following elements:

  • External decorations
  • Any windows and doors in the wall
  • Any part of a roof pitched at an angle of more than 70 degrees with general access
  • A device for reducing heat gain by deflecting sunlight
  • Balconies and solar panels attached to an external wall

What types of buildings are subject to the new regulations?

The changes apply to buildings with a floor above 18 metres from the ground, used for the following purposes:

  • Residential (including student accommodation)
  • Registered care premises
  • Hospitals
  • Dormitories in boarding schools

It is important to note that the new regulations are not retrospective – they only apply to the above buildings in the following circumstances:

  1. When the material forms part of an external wall in either new build construction or as a replacement within a refurbishment project/cladding replacement scheme
  2. When the building’s use is being changed to one of the building types listed above e.g. an office block being converted into apartments

What are the likely impacts on the industry?

The government has published an assessment which sets out the impact of the ban in comparison to a ‘do nothing’ option. This includes projected cost implications for various types of developments. The ban is primarily concerned with increasing safety for building occupants. It is, of course, an extremely welcome progression from a safety perspective. As a contractor involved in a wide range of residential projects, Ashfield Group also views it a welcome step from a development perspective. The new regulations provide greater clarity which makes the route to compliance much easier to define and navigate for all stakeholders, including contractors, architects, designers, developers, installers and Building Control. This will streamline the design and specification process at key stages of the project timeline.