Anorak News | Grenfell won’t work – the problem with banning combustible cladding

Grenfell won’t work – the problem with banning combustible cladding

by | 2nd, October 2018

Grenfell Tower was a horror, a grotesquery. That doesn’t, though, mean that any and every plan to make sure something like that never happens again is going to work. This latest insistence being a good example – all combustible claddings for buildings are to be banned. There are two problems here, one just a facet of reality, the other a rather more subtle piece of economics.

But they’re going for it all the same:

Combustible cladding ban set to be announced

As we know, one of the problems at Grenfell was that the covering they put on the building could – and did – itself burn.

Plastics, wood and products that include combustible materials such as aluminium composite panels will be banned in the external wall systems used in residential buildings more than 18 metres tall, as signalled by ministers earlier this summer. The only materials that will be allowed are those classed as A1 or A2, which includes materials such as metal, stone and glass, which seldom contribute to fires; or plasterboard, which makes no significant contribution.

It’s important to note what is being said there.

All combustible materials on outside of new buildings to be banned

Because that’s not what is being said.

The problem that reality presents us with is as with Paracelsus and his comment that it is the dose that is the poison. With fire what is combustible depends upon the temperature. Absolutely everything will burn at a high enough temperature – stars themselves rather show that. OK, different sort of burning but still. The argument is instead that things which might burn at any likely temperature are to be banned. Which is nice, but then we thought we’d already done that under the old building regulations. Those cladding panels on Grenfell weren’t supposed to burn either.

But we’ve that other economic point too. It is never true that we want to be perfect. The entirety of life is a series of compromises. We want everything to be “good enough” for the purpose to which it is being put, not so good that nothing bad can ever happen. Sure, bad things have costs – and people being burnt to death is a high cost indeed – but then so does preventing bad things. What we need to do is balance these out. We can make every car entirely safe for example, but they’ll move at 3 mph if we do. Thus we don’t even want to ban all combustible materials, we just want to ban those where the costs of not using them are lower than the costs of using them.

We’re not, therefore, going to ban all combustibles but then we shouldn’t either.

Posted: 2nd, October 2018 | In: News Comment | TrackBack | Permalink