Grenfell Tower

Photo by Natalie Oxford

Before 1:00AM on June 14, 2017, the Grenfell Tower in London caught fire. Common understanding of the incident holds that a fourth-floor apartment caused the blaze, after flames blew through an exterior window and caused the cladding to ignite. The 24-story wall assembly was made of wood studs, rigid-board insulation, a two-inch air space, continuous insulation and Reynobond PE, manufactured by Arconic.

The Grenfell death count stands at 71. The time for action is now, both within the industry and within our company (for ten of the last twelve years, Alcoa/Arconic has been our top supplier).

Those well-versed in U.S. testing standards will note that the outbreak of fire at Grenfell has close similarity to the NFPA 285 test method. That test exposes a two-story specimen to 1151F heat for five minutes, after which a burner ignites within a first-story window opening. If the flames travel 10 feet vertically or five feet laterally, the specimen fails.

It is universally accepted that polyethylene, or PE, has never passed the NFPA 285 test, which IBC 2015 requires over 40ft. Furthermore, the code requires NFPA 285 below 40 ft. if metal composite material (MCM) is clad over combustible air barriers or insulation boards. Only fire-rated material—known generically as “FR,” which extrudes mineral fibers throughout the plastic core—meets NFPA 285 requirements.

Given the above, it is unbelievable that MCM manufacturers continue to manufacture PE at all. Our company has publicly called on the industry to divest from the material. In the meantime, NOW Specialties cannot in good conscience recommend PE core on an occupied space above 40 feet for any reason. IBC 2015 compliance is simply not good enough. Best practice would be for the project team to specify FR material for any MCM application, with exceptions for signage, trim and embellishments below 40 feet seem reasonable.

Nevertheless, in July 2017 we made the decision to only bid FR material. Our procurement pipeline has required a few PE shipments, and company owners have reviewed each of those on a case-by-case basis. We hope to announce by June 14, 2018, one year after the fire, that all of our MCM purchases are FR. But shockingly, not all MCM finishes are available in FR core. We will consider those applications as we need to.

Also in the second quarter of 2018, we hope to announce a third-party listing which assures every owner that, on any material that bears our accreditation label, the material has been fabricated, tested and audited to ensure NFPA 285 compliance, in addition to many other stringent test methods. Stay tuned as this initiative develops further.

Feel free to contact our ownership with comments. Start with fred at nowspecialties dot com.

November 2017