A building fitted with QuadroClad panels

A building fitted with QuadroClad panels

QuadroClad panels’ abilities stressed

The panels made by Hunter Douglas have both the skins and core made of aluminium and stand up to new safety requirements

01 May 2013

Recent fires in high-rise buildings in Dubai and its neighbouring states have cost lives and caused considerable damage. It turns out insulation materials used in the façade cladding fuelled the fires, while falling façade panels, still burning, caused a lot of danger at street level. The incidents have led authorities to toughen fire safety regulations.

“The only façade panels that can stand up to the new requirements are Hunter Douglas’ QuadroClad panels,” Hunter Douglas claims. “Unlike competing products, the QuadroClad panels are delivered by Hunter Douglas as a complete fire-resistant façade system.”

Dubai’s fire safety regulations are among the toughest in the world. For each utility function, they include detailed requirements as to fire compartments, construction materials, sprinkler installations and fire alarm systems. Among other things, cladding is subject to the NFPA 255 norms, the Standard Method of Test of Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials.

However, the four fires that broke out in high-rise buildings in the Dubai region last year offer evidence that when it comes to fire safety regulations it’s hard to be too strict. On November 18, a fire in the 34-floor Tamweel Tower in Jumeirah Lake Towers caused a panic outbreak. Earlier in the year, there were two incidents in Sharjah, UAE, in which the Al Tayer Tower in Al Nahda (59 floors) and the Al Baker Tower in Al Taawun (25 floors) burned to the ground. In Doha, Qatar, a fire in the Villagio Mall on May 28 took the lives of 19 people.

Fire analyses have brought to light the vulnerability of the façade cladding, among other things. While the panels themselves are usually made of aluminium, the insulation material is usually synthetic and contributes to the spreading of fire. Also, fire evidently causes the panels to become unfastened, causing danger to bystanders and –from the viewpoint of fire containment – placing lower floors and neighbouring buildings at risk. Smoke development and melting materials produced by the panels, also known as ‘burning droplets’, are also risk factors.

In response to these findings, the Civil Defence Fire Code Council (CDFCC), which reports to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, has issued stricter fire safety regulations. A recently published appendix to the ‘UAE Fire and Life Safety Code of Practice’ presents the following additional requirements, among others:

• Non-fire-resistant façade panels may no longer be used in buildings higher than 15 m;

• New building projects must be assessed for fire risk and approved by the Civil Defence Engineering Department;

• All façade panels must be tested for fire-resistance, obtaining the highest classifications in terms of non-flammability and they must also be entirely free of synthetic insulation.

Most of the façade panels on the market are so-called standard Aluminium Composite Material sheets (ACM) with a core of petroleum-based, flammable material. These panels pose a huge fire hazard and have a D Classification – the lowest fire safety classification – according to European norm EN 13501. Investigations have shown that most of the panels used in the towers mentioned above were ACM sheets. ACM sheets with a higher fire safety classification, such as B1 or A2, do exist. However, the disadvantage of these products is that they are sold as standalones and have not been tested as complete, fire-safe façade systems.

With its QuadroClad product, Hunter Douglas has for many years manufactured and supplied a sustainable, ventilated façade cladding system that can stand up to the highest requirements in terms of fire resistance, fire spread and fire flashover. Both the skins and the core of the QuadroClad panels are made entirely of aluminium.

The system was tested in 2011 in Germany according to European norm EN 13501, obtaining an A2 fire safety classification. This means the panels are non-flammable and do not fuel fire. As far as smoke development is concerned – a factor that can cause even more casualties than fire – the QuadroClad system scored an impressive Class S1 mark (very low smoke development). Tests have also proved that the panels do not produce any ‘burning droplets’.

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