The Road to Grenfell Hell was clad with Green Intentions

Posted: June 27, 2017 by tallbloke in Accountability, Analysis, Big Green, government, greenblob, ideology, Idiots, Incompetence, Legal

grenfell-firesequence

Report written by commenter ‘stickywicket’ at Spiked online

Everyone has been shocked to the core by the images of the inferno that engulfed the Grenfell Tower, killing 79 people. Most were horrified by the suggestion in the Times that the cause of the fire might have been penny-pinching on the type of cladding used in the recent refurbishment of the building. It seems unbelievable that they didn’t spend an extra £5,000 for fire resistant cladding.

This is probably not the whole story. The revelation that a further 70+ tower blocks have failed fire safety tests tells us that there is an endemic problem. We don’t know the precise reasons for the fire yet, but we should certainly look at the influence of slavish devotion to green regulations.

The Grenfell refurbishment project apparently cost £8.6m, or >£70K per flat. The cost of the cladding, per the BBC Panorama documentary was £2.6m or >£20K per flat. This does not look like a project that was done on the cheap.

What pointers do we have that the drivers of the choice of materials might have been something other than small cost differences?

First, the regulations relating to cladding appear to be unclear, with some Government ministers suggesting the PE version on high-rise is illegal but others saying the rules are ambiguous. However, the manufacturer’s own guidelines say the FR version should be used on buildings over 10m and the even more fire resistant A2 version over 30m.

So, what might cause somebody to go against manufacturer guidelines? Well, the polyethylene (PE) variant of Reynobond cladding used is twice as thermally resistant as the fire retardant (FR) variant that would have cost £5,000 more to install. This is important in the context of the planning application and the regulations governing the refurbishment of buildings covered below.

Second, the insulation used was apparently Celotex RS5000, made from polyisocyanurate (PIR). Sky News has reported this material produces hydrogen cyanide when it burns and is, as we saw, highly combustible. This material is also rated A+ in the BRE Green guide. Interestingly, Celotex is 40% more insulating than the alternative incombustible Rockwool product. Celotex has thermal conductivity 0.021W/mK, compared to Rockwool Rainscreen Duo slabs of 0.035 W/mK.

It appears insulation performance was the main criterion used for material selection, not fire safety.

We also need to challenge the wisdom of spending more than £20,000 per flat on cladding in the first place. No matter how insulating the cladding was, this cannot be justified by the potential savings made on fuel bills to the occupants. A small portion of this money could have been used to install sprinklers for fire safety and install internal insulation. Energy efficient appliances were out of scope of the refurbishment project, but could have been fitted.

What do the planning application and the regulations tell us?

The Sustainability and Energy statement makes clear that “improving the insulation levels of the walls, roof and windows is the top priority of this refurbishment”. Indeed, they parade their green credentials by boasting that “the proposed insulation levels far exceed those required by Building Regulations”. In other words, they deliberately chose materials to be more insulating than required. There was no discussion of the fire safety impact of cladding and insulation or the potential need to install sprinklers. It appears concerns about insulation levels trumped any other consideration, even fire safety.

The report used by Kensington and Chelsea council to decide the planning application considered the application against many policies such as amenity, diversity of housing and climate change, but not apparently, any fire safety policy. The council admonishes itself for only achieving a ‘good’ rating against its climate change objective, but congratulates itself because “the proposed alterations which include the new windows, cladding materials and internal heating system will all provide a significant improvement to the sustainability of the building”.

The BREEAM report used to assess the sustainability credentials of the refurbishment has 43% of its evaluation criteria weighted towards Energy, a further 8% towards Materials and just 17% towards Health and Wellbeing, a small portion of which is devoted to fire safety.

They achieved a measly single credit for saying they would install fire and carbon monoxide detectors in each flat. But they got a total of 10 credits for improving the energy efficiency and reducing primary energy demand. They got a further 19 credits for using “materials [that] will have a green guide rating of at least A+” and 8 more for using highly insulating materials.
In summary, 1 credit for fire safety and a total of 37 credits for green environmental measures.

The primary focus of the BREEAM framework is energy efficiency, with precious little focus on fire safety. Is it any wonder fire safety was apparently disregarded? It would be interesting to see what the BREEAM scores would have been had they used the FR/A2 versions of the cladding and Rockwool insulation.

This evidence points to environmental concerns trumping other considerations when choosing the refurbishment materials. It certainly challenges the narrative that the choice of cladding material was driven by cost cutting.

This surely leads to several questions for the Public Inquiry:

1) What was the primary purpose for choosing Reynobond PE over Reynobond FR or A2? Was it cost or was it insulation performance.

2) What was the reason for choosing combustible PIR insulation instead of incombustible Rockwool? Was it insulation properties or cost?

3) PIR insulation is common place in the building industry. Why are these products allowed to be placed in any buildings, when they are clearly combustible and emit poisonous fumes when burnt?

4) Why does ‘sustainability’ rank higher than fire safety in building regulations?

5) Should the building regulations be changed to place greater emphasis on fire safety over and above sustainability considerations?

Of course, it is too early to allocate blame, but surely the Public Inquiry should tell us whether we have sacrificed 79 people on the altar of Gaia.

_______________________________________________

Reynobond specification: https://www.arconic.com/aap…

Reynobond fire solutions (p2, top left): https://www.arconic.com/aap…
Rockwool Rainscreen Duo specification: http://www.rockwool.co.uk/p…

Celotex RS5000 specification: https://www.celotex.co.uk/p…

BREEAM Report: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/ido…

S & E Report: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/ido…

RBKC officer report: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/ido…

Comments
  1. oldbrew says:

    It appears that when the ‘PE’ cladding was fitted it was rated Class 0 (top rating) in the UK but is now rated Class 3 (worst rating) after the latest tests.

    The list below shows some countries e.g. Germany already rated the ‘FR’ (flame retardant) version higher than the PE.

    See this Evening Standard report:
    Tower cladding: Why has material failed safety checks and caused mass evacuation in Camden?

    Plymouth Community Homes said of Mount Wise Tower, an at-risk high-rise: “It has been found to be aluminium coated with a polyethylene core, which has been rated as category 3 under the new controlled test conditions.

    “The fire rating scale goes from 0 to 3 (with 0 being the highest safety score and 3 being the lowest).” [bold added]

  2. tallbloke says:

    Interesting. I wonder if the spurious 0 (highest) rating was awarded to steer the green priority past building and fire safety regs.

    Who awarded that 0 (highest) rating when?

  3. oldbrew says:

    “You are testing a material in isolation,” said David Metcalfe, the head of the Centre for Window and Cladding Technology. “What we need to consider is how it performs as a system – it’s the cladding, it’s the support system, it’s the insulation, it’s the cavity barriers, it’s all of these things combined to determine what happens in a fire.”

    It was also reported that an 11-storey building in the German city of Wuppertal was being evacuated because it had similar cladding to Grenfell.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/27/may-orders-national-inquiry-after-100-failure-rate-in-high-rise-cladding-tests
    – – –
    Other reports also question whether it was the combination of materials that caused the problem rather than the cladding on its own.

    At a guess the test has changed to assess this.

    Btw if they now get a 100% failure rate with the tests, is there any point in carrying on with these tests? The answer is known.

  4. Tim Hammond says:

    I assume that the costs were paid by the council, and thus there was never any “penny pinching” as such – the money saved was spent on residents elsewhere, say a part-time nursery teacher.

    And if the council had a number of buildings it was cladding, then the savings in total wold be higher.

    Whether targets for Greenery skewed how the money was spent or not, the simple fact is that the council spent £70,000 per flat on the refurbishment, which is a considerable amount of taxpayer’s money. It might have been badly spent, but then this narrative becomes one of the state spending badly rather than the state not spending, a narrative which doesn’t suit the Left quite so much.

  5. tallbloke says:

  6. Joe Public says:

    By October 2008, all larger public buildings will require an annual Display Energy Certificate (DEC) highlighting their energy performance. This is to be displayed prominently in a place visible to the public. These buildings will also require an Advisory Report (AR) providing recommendations for energy improvements each seven years.

    https://www.ndepcregister.com

  7. Joe Public says:

    Energy Performance Certificates for your business premises:

    Overview

    An Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rates how energy efficient your building is using grades from A to G (with ‘A’ the most efficient grade).

    When you need an EPC

    You must have an EPC if:

    you rent out or sell the premises
    a building under construction is finished
    there are changes to the number of parts used for separate occupation and these changes involve providing or extending fixed heating, air conditioning or mechanical ventilation systems

    You can be fined between £500 and £5,000 based on the rateable value of the building if you don’t make an EPC available to any prospective buyer or tenant.

    When you must display one

    You must display an EPC by fixing it to your commercial building if all these apply:
    the total useful floor area is over 500 square meters
    the building is frequently visited by the public
    an EPC has already been produced for the building’s sale, rental or construction

    https://www.gov.uk/energy-performance-certificate-commercial-property

  8. TerryS says:

    This report from 10th Jan 2014 is by the planning officers and details the conditions the planning application is granted. Paragraph 4.10 states:

    4.10 External Appearance and Public Realm
    The scheme proposes the re-clad of the building with zinc over-cladding with a
    new window system. For the new window system and heating to work efficiently
    the whole building is required to be over clad. The zinc panels proposed to the
    majority of the building are a light grey/silver colour. The tower will then have
    white monochrome infill panels at the podium level and between the windows.
    The lower levels will feature darker grey panels which define the base more
    clearly and the entrances to the building. The new windows will feature a
    ventilation section that will allow for the individual residential units to be
    ventilated without opening the main windows. The main windows will be
    openable but to a limit, for the safety of the residents. It is proposed that the
    windows are tilt and turn so that they can be cleaned from the inside which is
    supported.

    Note that zinc panels are specified. This is also stated in the design and access statement Part 2 which refers to them as zinc composite rainscreen cladding. The Reynobond is aluminium composite cladding so when and why were the plans changed? It is my understanding, although I could easily be wrong, that zinc composite is cheaper than aluminium composite.

    A hint might be in this drawing which contains the following:

    Panels being made up to suit materials available from supplier at short notice

    This statement is ambiguous at best but it could mean that they were let down by one supplier (zinc cladding) so took what was available from Reynobond which happened to be the PE.

  9. Firstly, it is very likely that more than 79 lost their lives. There was sub-letting which was not been identified. There were, it appears, overcrowding in some flats maybe with hidden economic “migrants”. A figure of 600 dead has been suggested but probably the number is around 150. The building certainly was not “sustainable” when it was likely to be burnt down. “Sustainable” is stupid political word without meaning. Nothing is sustainable.. Mines run out of economic ore. Products get replaced by better products. processes become uneconomic. Trees (eg Oak) for timber are chopped down to maybe replaced by quicker growing ones like Pine. Old houses become unlivable because ceiling heights and doorways are too small, or there are not sufficient efficient bathrooms, Many want to phase out petrol engine cars in the vain hope of electric ones but also want to phase out efficient coal and gas fired power generation. In the supposed “renewables”, wind turbines burn up often before reaching their economic life of 10 to 15 years.
    UK is best out of the common market and getting rid of stupid laws that make life difficult and unsafe.
    I see that a State in Germany will stop subsidising wind power generation and make it difficult to build new ones. UK should follow.

  10. tallbloke says:

  11. Graeme No.3 says:

    tallbloke:
    There are numerous tests for fire resistance, some quite useless, others more severe and others dreamt up by some civil servant who meant well. (I’m not kidding, a test for train and bus seats specified a rolled up front section of the daily newspaper – except the Saturday edition – be placed on the test seat and be set alight with a match. It would take uncoated polyurethane foam to fail that).
    So it is possible to ‘shop around’ for tests with the ‘right’ result. Several suitable tests would then be listed on the data sheet and might well be enough to get through the Approval process.

    Unless the Authority had some knowledge of the tests or good advice as to which one to use as the standard it is quite possible that material X would get through, esp. if the price was right, and that it had been used elsewhere.

    Given its use this cladding should have been tested in a vertical position with a hot flame nearby.
    There were problems reported about lack of emergency exits, lighting, no smoke exhaust and no fire extinguishers or other fire fighting means.
    I am sure it will all be covered up.

  12. michrey1000 says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’m a landlord in Canada. We are constantly being approached by green suppliers. We feel that stricter legislation with regards to green compliance will be coming. It’s never a simple decision to implement green projects. We switched the toilets in one building to energy-efficient ones. We ended up with an increase in the water bill. I think it’s because people felt they could now waste water because they had efficient toilets. Just shows that implementing green options is never a simple, straightforward decision.

  13. A C Osborn says:

    Graeme No.3 says: June 28, 2017 at 1:46 pm “I am sure it will all be covered up.”

    I am sure that it won’t.

  14. oldbrew says:

    ‘Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid said more than 1,000 fire doors were missing from five blocks in the borough [Camden] and a number of stairways were not accessible.’

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40396448

    Hard not to notice such things, if checks are made.

  15. Bitter&twisted says:

    And what about the fridge that caught fire/exploded, causing this disaster?
    It most likely had butane, or some other flammable refrigerant gas, rather than inert and safe CFCs, banned by the actions of the greens for allegedly harming the ozone layer.

    Only murderers here are the greens, not the Tories.

  16. That 1984 documentary is outrageous Craig. This goes back further than I thought, and, worse still, the threat was known!

  17. catweazle666 says:

    Once again the “Greens” end up with blood on their hands.

    But hey, when you’re “Saving the World™”, what do a few dead birds, bats, whales and children matter compared to that warm, fuzzy feeling of sanctimonious satisfaction?

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    Number of failed blocks now reported over 100. IIRC it was 120 and rising.

    100% of buildings inspected have failed.

    All anyone needed to know was that ethylene burns like gasoline and polyethylene is effectively “polygasoline”. It has no place in a building structure.

    I’ve tossed PE bottles and jugs on a fire. Nice clean fast gasoline like flames…

    Folks need to go to prison over this.

  19. ferdberple says:

    We ended up with an increase in the water bill. I think it’s because people felt they could now waste water because they had efficient toilets.
    ≠==========
    The low flow toilets in Canada created numerous problems. You had to flush them 2 or 3 times to empty the bowl so water usage went up when using the water saving design. A secondary but bigger problem was that plumbing standards were designed for higher flow. As a result the solids collect in the pipes where they dry and solidify into poop cement, blocking the pipes until you run a snake through the system.

    But of course it is all OK because the intentions were good.

  20. Keith Willshaw says:

    The planning application for Grenfell Tower specified that the insulation used would be Celotex FR-5000 which is polyisocyanouranate foam which is classed as fire resistant. The alternative of mineral wool which is completely non combustible was rejected as it was 10% less efficient as an insulator.

    What was fitted was a polyethylene foam which is NOT permitted in high rise buildings as it is highly flammable. This was no accident as the same happened on dozens other tower blocks. This is criminal behaviour and demands a long spell in jail which ideally should be in a block specially clad in their product of choice.

    [Moderation note] The material, rightly or wrongly, had been given approval. The apportioning of culpability will be decided by the inquiry, not by this blog or comments on it.

  21. It doesn't add up... says:

    One important thing to note from the planning permission: the uninsulated concrete walls were leaking energy at a rate of 1.5 W/m^2/K. Originally the press were suggesting the surface covered was 2,500m^2, but I think later they latched onto some invoice that suggested 3,250. The year round average temperature in London is about 12C. If we take the desired inside temperature as 20C, that gives the total rate of energy leakage as (20-12)x3,250×1.5W, or 39kW. Multiply by 8760 hours in a year and we get 341.64MWh per year. Since heating was provided by a communal gas fired system, where gas prices are of the order of 3p/kWh or £30/MWh or less, we are talking of the order of £10,000 p.a. worth of energy that was the maximum that could be saved by cladding the walls. Against that they spent £2.6 million on the exterior insulation of the the walls – a simple payback period of about 250 years, a.k.a. green economic insanity, or vanity.

    The planning permission application points out that the green building regs call for a level of 0.3W/m^2/K, and that they aimed to beat it by 50%, achieving 0.15W/m^2/K.

    The poor insulation levels and air tightness of both the walls and
    the windows at Grenfell Tower result in excessive heat loss
    during the winter months. Addressing this issue is the primary
    driver behind the refurbishment.

    The proposed insulation levels far exceed those required
    by Building Regulations. Insulation improvements may only
    happen once or twice in a buildings lifetime due to the
    complexity and disruption caused. For this reason we are going
    over and above current building regulations to make sure the
    building continues to perform well into the future.

    https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-952368.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=952368&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1

  22. Stickywicket says:

    @keithwilshaw

    The installed insulation was Celotex RS5000 (see 16 June update: https://www.celotex.co.uk/ ).

    The polyethylene foam is the core material in the Reynobond aluminium rainscreen cladding, which
    was installed on the outside of the the insulation.

    They used the PE version of Reynobond, which is twice as insulating as the FR version. It is questionable whether the PE version was legal for buildings over 18m. The Government is saying it is illegal, but some are saying that the way the rules were interpreted by standards bodies and inspectors made it permissible in some circumstances. As is referenced in the post above, the Arconic guidelines say A2 (even less combustible than FR version) should be used on buildings over 30m.

    I think this will be a key question in the Inquiry.

    The Celotex insulation is made from polyisocyanurate, which is 40% more insulating than Rockwool.

    Celotex RS5000 has thermal conductivity 0.021W/mK, compared to Rockwool Rainscreen Duo slabs of 0.035 W/mK.

  23. Stickywicket says:

    BBC now saying the change from zinc to aluminium cladding was driven by cost-cutting. But they say both products have the same official fire rating (though elsewhere they say the aluminium cladding is less fire retardant than the zinc).

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40453054

    I wish they would publish the source documents, so we can make our own mind up.

  24. craigm350 says:

    @fenbeagle
    It is outrageous. Possibly why Sadiq Khan said one sensible thing, namely that it was due to
    “years of neglect from the council and from successive governments”
    The disaster was foreseeable but was clearly a long time coming

  25. “a significant improvement to the sustainability of the building” Complete fail.

  26. Hunter says:

    Green policies kill.

  27. dscott says:

    Let me state it crassly, this was all about making the most money from the greatest tax subsidy possible. Now you have your reason why, you need look no further or spin some elegant answer to soften the horrible tragedy. The residents of Grenfell died because of the greed of the green scammers. The ugly truth here is that the people who push Climate Change did so for their sponsors who make millions from offering and installing products. The whole thing is a sales gimmick.

    Why do you think Merkel has reacted so childishly at Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement? Trump sees it for what it is, a scam to steal public funds and transfer it into the pockets of certain well connected unscrupulous wealthy people. Without the US going along, the scam looses it’s profit margin and longevity. End of story

  28. tallbloke says:

    My old friend (cough) Leo Hickman posted this at Carbon Brief
    https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-grenfell-tower-fire-and-the-daily-mails-green-targets-claim

    Trying to say ‘green’ wasn’t a high priority in the refurb at Grenfell. He’s proven wrong by the introduction of the document he quotes in support of his unsupportable thesis.

  29. robert smith says:

    These towers were safe until the refurb. Insulation was one but not the only motivator for the refurb and crucially it was not done in response to any particular regulation ‘green’ or otherwise. I think you are confusing policy objective with regulation.

    Secondly the decision to clad the building and which cladding to use were two separate decisions. It was the second of those that was at fault, and that was a highly technical decision. We simply dont know yet whether that was inside building codes or not, nor do we know who made that selection and on what criteria.

  30. oldbrew says:

    The Lord Bishop of Chester:
    ‘I do not know whether any other noble Lords saw “Newsnight”, last Thursday, when Professor Richard Hull, professor of chemistry and fire science, summed up the cause of the Grenfell tower tragedy as follows:

    “The Government has prioritised insulation over fire safety”.

    It will be interesting to see how the judicial inquiry looks at that.’

    http://www.thegwpf.com/lord-turnbull-the-lord-bishop-of-chester-on-reforming-the-electricity-market/
    – – –
    Not just this government but the ones before it, going back to Labour’s Climate Change Act in 2008.

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