Hvordan få best mulig brannsikkerhet i eksisterende bygningsmasse?
Ved at byggeregler og krav stadig forbedres, er det ingen tvil om at brannsikkerheten øker og forbedres på en måte som beskytter liv, eiendommer og miljøet. Nylig innført lovgivning kan i de fleste land gjøre at de ytelseskravene som allerede eksisterer, blir delvis ignorert. Dette kan hovedsakelig skyldes vanskeligheter med forundersøkelser, problemer i forhold til kostnadseffektivitet samt den generelle kompleksiteten i problemstillingene. Spørsmålet er; hvordan kan disse hullene fylles mer effektivt?
The Grenfell Tower Scenario
We can begin this discussion by referring to the actually effective ways that this issue has been handled. If we look at the United Kingdom, post Grenfell fire has not been like before that tragedy took place. It was one of the major incidents that led to an equally major amendment in the codes and regulations. As tragic as this incident has been, as good the change it has brought up upon the fire safety importance and the awareness that followed. People now realize how much of a factor that a simple cladding system can play and how much damage it can bring in terms of lives and properties.
Backtracking New Regulations
However, Grenfell Tower fire not only resulted in introducing new legislations, it has also resulted in backtracking those codes. Buildings with similar cladding as that used in Grenfell were now required to change and adapt to the new regulations. This gave rise to a nationwide campaign of surveys, testing, and removal of that type of cladding. The retrofits that took and are taking place came along with a huge bill to both the government and the owners, but that’s a discussion for another day. So, will it always require a disaster as huge as the Grenfell one for us to reconsider the issues we currently have and address them accordingly? I hope that’s not the case.
The Balance Between the Price Tag and the Effectiveness
This comes at an exceptionally high price tag. If we wait for the disaster to happen, people will most definitely lose their lives. And if we start surveying and studying our existing stock, shareholders will be paying a hefty price on a process that will take a long time and require a lot of manpower. A type of balance is needed.
In countries that are developed enough to have an effective collation system of their existing building stock, the process is much easier and much more well-organized. A desktop review of the building construction licenses and permits can result in a preliminary understanding of how deep the problem can be. This can be then detailed to include a site review and surveys to understand the scale of the needed amendments and retrofits. The existence and continuous amendment of the current regulations can also play a major role in simplifying the process.
Other not-so-lucky Countries
However, this can be very tricky in countries that don’t possess that type of information, or perhaps have non-computerised versions of those documents. For example, Lebanon’s records of building permits do not include the specific material used on a building. It can for instance specify that the cladding is composite aluminium panels, or the such, without specifying the type of system, insulation, cavities, dimensions, etc. This will most definitely require on site inspections for all the buildings that are suspected of having issues, which can prove very difficult to undertake. Sometimes the problem can lie in a topic that has never even been considered before. An example of that is a type of outdoor curtains that is used to enclose almost every balcony in apartments across the cities of Lebanon.
The photographs attached shows an example of those curtains within a typical, concrete built construction, apartment building in Beirut, Lebanon .
These curtains are made out of plastic or Nylon materials to be able to resist weather conditions such as heavy rain. They would also need to be thick enough to resist high wind speeds and provide an enclosure sturdy enough for the balconies. Moreover, those balconies would enclose all types of plants to large furniture items to sometimes electrical appliances such as washing machines and dryers in smaller apartments.
Yet, as including those curtains is not considered as a change to the building itself but rather a furnishing item, there are neither surveys about those flammable plastic hangings nor any type of testing to how much damage they can incur in the case of a fire. The materials they are made of entail very quick ignition as well as very fast fire spread. The fact that they fully cover building facades can result in major fire propagation from one apartment to the other as well as fire movement into the balcony and its components by means of flaming flying debris. Any person walking around Lebanese cities who knows a little bit about fire propagation can understand that these flammable sorts of “cladding”, can pose a major threat to life safety. However, as there are no tests or regulations that control those issues, nothing has, or will be in the near future, done about this.
The other issue would be testing the system’s components according to the specific’s country’s legislations to verify whether or not they would be acceptable. And this can defer greatly from a country to another, just like fire retardants are still freely used in certain countries and completely banned in others.
For starters, both developed and under-developed countries need to make sure that all their new additions to the building stock is fully compliant, including a margin that accounts for future flexibility. Then, an automized system should be adopted for countries that need it, one step at a time.
Rather than waiting for something major to happen, action needs to be immediately taken and changes to be subsequently rolled out. The more testing and surveying that takes place, the easier problems can be tackled even before they arise. International testing and unification of performance requirements can most definitely enhance the procedure and cut down both the costs and the timeframe needed.
If people in Mexico can use materials and systems that have been tested in the United Kingdom and proven efficient, then why not? An international market of both materials and codes, sharing experiences, both successes and failures, are the road to solving a long due crisis.