New buildings across the UAE must be fitted with non-combustible cladding that better halts the spread of flames, as the authorities seek to improve standards following a series of alarming high-rise blazes.
Details from the updated UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice were broken down for global and local manufacturers, distributors, engineers and architects at a conference in Dubai yesterday.
“What the code has done this time is taken it one step higher and pushed the industry to use the highest grade cladding material, even higher than what was used in the past," said Andy Dean, head of facades at engineering firm WSP, speaking at the Windows Doors and Facades event on Tuesday.
"And it makes absolutely sure we are moving from the limited combustible range to the non-combustible range. What they have done is essentially raised the bar for the material required in the core. Now the standard is even higher and it increases the margin of safety,”
Renewed focus has been placed on safety following the Grenfell Tower blaze in London, the Address Downtown fire on New Year’s Eve 2015 and the recent Torch tower, the second in the building in 30 months.
Experts have said the ingredient that fuelled the flames in fires in the UAE and globally was the highly flammable thermos-plastic core sandwiched between aluminium composite panels, which are banned in new constructions.
The core must now consist of the highest quality fire-retardant minerals that actually limit the spread of a fire.
“We now in the UAE require the highest grade of aluminium composite panels to be used on buildings. The grade is potentially higher than other jurisdictions might appropriately use on their facades,” Mr Dean said.
“The outer two layers of the panels are skins of aluminium and the core is a composite of polymer and mineral.
"The race has been on among suppliers for many years to get the polymer content down and as a result reduce the fire load. What manufacturers are using now is a fire-retardant mineral which when it degrades, gives off water that takes energy and heat out of a fire.
"And if you take heat out of the fire, you reduce its propagation. The new grade material also has a low level of polymer that is down to 10-12 per cent from 100 per cent earlier.”
In response to questions from the audience, Mr Dean and other experts explained that this did not make the facades fully fire-proof.
This was because necessary installations such as gaskets, sealants, which are required to prevent entry of wind and water, meet safety standards and do not cause a fire to spread, but may be combustible.
The code also specifies that the entire façade system and not just the component must be tested for new buildings.
“The core has to be tested alongside the full scale system so the components and the system must be submitted for approvals, earlier it may not have been enforced as much,” said Jonathan Gonzalez, project engineer of Underwriters Laboratories Middle East, which conducts testing, certification and inspection.
“We come in at the beginning of the design stage so it’s understood what the test requirements are and installers and manufacturers table their products to comply with the standard. Globally the fires have triggered everyone’s attention, now what we can do is spread awareness.”
The code also includes a 10-point advisory that specifies the “core of the façade material will be tested in exposed form, along with the panel and the façade system,” with the façade inspected throughout the installation process.
The responsibilities of everyone from owners, installers, consultants and the tenants are also defined in separate detailed chapters from the design through to the maintenance stages.
The updated UAE code is largely based on codes established by the National Fire Protection Association, a US-based organisation, and also uses European testing standards.