Following the tragic fire at Grenfell on 14th June 2017, this has understandably prompted a complete review of the claddings used on high rise residential buildings. Following extensive consultation, the Government has issued revised guidance dated Nov 2018 banning the use of combustible materials in certain high rise buildings, and has confirmed this now applies to balconies.

When it comes to fire safety, this is a area we have done a lot of research. A lot of progress has been made when it comes to regulations, with all materials now having to be Class A above 18m. One key feature which has become clear through our research is the impact a Class A soffit has on restricting fire spread. Not only does it stop any embers falling down, it also acts well in dispersing the heat from a fire below.

In order to better understand the protective effect of soffits on the balcony in the event of a fire, we have commissioned some balcony fire safety testing at the Exova test centre in Warrington. For one of these tests, a full-size balcony Cassette® was constructed to fit the furnace size. This was fitted with class C decking (the least non-combustible product currently used by Sapphire), and a variety of soffit panels were fitted so the relative effect of these could be monitored.

Sapphire advocate the use of aluminium soffits on all balconies. However, where soffits have been omitted or are perforated (for architectural or cost reasons) there is a clear evidence to suggest the use of class a decking should be considered to reduce the risk of rapid balcony fire development.

Combustible Materials Ban

The combustible materials ban was announced in October 2018, essentially unless an exemption was made anything which wasn't class A2 or more was banned, however the exemptions lacked a lot of clarity e.g. Laminate glass was an exemption in windows, but not in balustrades. The ban come into action on 21st December 2019 and applied to all new builds and refurbs above 18m, but not to buildings already built, or which had had planning granted.