Cladding is widely used throughout the construction industry. When cladding goes bad, it is only natural to question why we need it.
While cladding is used throughout every area of building construction, questions have been raised recently over its necessity. Considering the events surrounding Grenfell Tower, it is completely understandable that the public would become nervous about buying any building with cladding on the outside.
Throughout this article, we will try to explain the importance of cladding, why we have it, and what would happen without it.
Cladding on Buildings: More than a Pretty Face
Cladding is not just about improving the appearance of dull grey stone, but curb appeal is a factor. Who can deny that they would rather look at a building that has been clad in wood, or in fine steel sheets, than in dull stone? However, the original idea to clad houses in other materials had nothing to do with looks and everything to do with weatherproofing.
The wood cladding was popular from the 16th century to the 18th century in the UK. In the Dark Ages, wood cladding could be used to protect your home from the elements and to ensure better heat retention in the cold months. Similar evidence of this wooden cladding dates to the 12th century in Norway, where buildings had wood facades to keep out the winter cold.
The concept of cladding a building was patented in 1852 by two architects named Louis Henri Sullivan and John Van Brunt. Their original patent was to create cladding using protective panels which would protect buildings against fire.
The Benefits of Construction Cladding
This leads us to the benefits of construction cladding, particularly for high-rise buildings. The benefits include:
- Increased thermal energy efficiency – just like the people of the olden day England and Norway, we add cladding to minimize energy loss and keep our buildings warm.
- Weather resistance – when you live in a country that’s constantly damp, windy, or bitterly cold, cladding can protect the longevity of your building.
- Kerb appeal – we use cladding to improve the aesthetic of a building. This is the benefit that causes most anger surrounding the Grenfell deaths.
- Increased mechanical strength of the building – by adding the outer skin, we are making the building stronger.
- Improved resistance – a building with cladding is less prone to cracks, water damage, and sun damage over time.
In summary, we use cladding to protect, upgrade, and improve our high-rise buildings. So how did we get from building our homes to be warmer, weatherproof, and have better fire resistance, to cladding our buildings with dangerous materials?
Why Might External Cladding Be Dangerous?
As we are all aware, the dangers of high rise cladding lie in the flammability of the materials that are used in cladding. While many materials are completely safe, those which use combustible compounds are not.
The cladding used on Grenfell Tower, for example, was ACM cladding. These are panels of Aluminium Composite pressed together with a Polyethylene center. Polyethylene was combustible. This led to the exterior cladding on Grenfell Tower catching fire and spreading too quickly for the residents to get out, leading to seventy-two deaths.
What Might Happen to a High Rise Building Without Cladding?
Not all buildings have cladding because not all buildings need it. High Rises are particularly exposed to the elements. If you have a building with no cladding, it will be subject to cracks in the concrete, weather erosion, and will be less protected. The building will not be as strong, but it will still be safe. There is nothing to worry about if you live in a flat without cladding. If your flat does have cladding, however, you will need to go through the ESW1 process to buy or sell.