The Rapidly Changing Skyline

Bernadette Barker BA (Hons) Dip Arch RIBA MSc Construction Law & Arbitration FCIArb DipICArb C.Arb MIFireE

Barker Consultants

Have you looked up recently at the skyline and paid attention to all the new flats going up?

Don’t you think some of them now appear remarkably similar?

I do.

It is highly unlikely you will see balconies constructed with timber decks and railings or glazed balustrades on new buildings

Instead you will most probably see balconies with metal railings, metal decks and metal soffits.

Did anyone envisage the changes to the elevations that would occur with the advent of the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2018?

The ban on the use of combustible materials in the external walls of buildings has been implemented through amendments to the Building Regulations 2010. The ban is set out in Statutory Instrument 2018/1230 and applies to any building work (as defined in regulation 3) carried out in or on a building in scope of the ban (as defined in regulation 7(4)).

The requirement is that building work on such buildings must be carried out so that only materials which achieve European Classification A1 or A2-s1, d0 become part of an external wall or specified attachment (as defined in regulation 2) unless covered by one of the exemptions in the regulations.

Under this amendment balconies are covered by regulation 7(2) and therefore the materials used are required to be Euroclass A2-s1, d0 or better.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term Euroclass, the Euroclass classifies the reaction to fire, as well as evaluates multiple aspects such as ignitability, flame spread, heat release, smoke production and propensity for producing flaming droplets/particles. The system is recognised as the standard of fire safety across Europe.

The European classification standard EN 13501-1:2018 ranks construction materials in seven classes with regards to their fire behaviour: A1, A2, B, C, D, E and F. The same document also gives a classification of these materials with regard to smoke development (s1, s2 and s3) and the formation of flaming droplets/particles (d0, d1 and d2).

Breaking down the classification we have:

Fire Behaviour

The reaction to fire classification determines how much a material contributes to the behaviour of fire. A2-s1,d0 is non-combustible in Scotland and of limited combustibility in England and Wales, while at the other end of the scale, an F rating is easily flammable.

A full breakdown can be found below:

A1 = non-combustible materials

A2 = non-combustible (Scotland) and limited combustibility (England and Wales)

B, C, D = ranges from very limited to medium contribution to fire

E, F = high contribution to fire

A2 = non-combustible (Scotland) and limited combustibility (England and Wales)

Smoke Development

The ‘s’ part of the classification refers to the total smoke emitted during the first 10 minutes of exposure to fire:

S1 = little or no smoke

S2 = quite a lot of smoke

S3 = substantial/heavy smoke

Formation of Flaming Droplets/Particles

The ‘d’ part of the classification relates to the number of flaming droplets and particles that are produced within the first 10 minutes of fire exposure.

The index is below:

D0 = no droplets

D1 = some droplets

D2 = quite a lot

In relation to the A2-s1, d0 requirement we therefore have:

A2 = non-combustible (Scotland) and limited combustibility (England and Wales)

S1 = little or no smoke

D0 = no droplets

And it is not only the Building Regulations that have had an effect on the elevations of buildings and will continue to do so.

British Standard BS 8579: 2020 Guide to the design of balconies and terraces, states that components of balconies (including the supporting structure in a free-standing balcony) on all buildings with an occupied floor over 11 m above the lowest ground level and all buildings with stacked balconies, regardless of level of highest occupied floor, should be constructed from materials achieving class A1 or A2-s1, d0, in accordance with BS EN 13501‑1:2018. It also states that components for balconies for all other buildings and arrangements should have risk of fire spread assessed and mitigated in the design.

The Standard states though that where it is not possible to achieve all aspects of life safety and performance using materials of at least class A1 or A2-s1, d0, minor components such as seals, gaskets, fixings, membranes (including waterproofing membranes), laminated glass and thermal breaks could be exempt from this recommendation, if an assessment of the risks proves adequate resistance to the spread of fire is maintained.

The Future?

In relation to these changes we can but only have:

  • Safer buildings;
  • Increased range of product offered by manufacturers;
  • Clarity in product information from the manufactures to facilitate selection of materials; and
  • Greater awareness by designers of the products they are selecting.

And as the product range for balconies increases so will the skyline. Until then don’t expect variety.

These are the views of the author and not of Barton Legal, and should is not to be treated as advice or guidance