Cladding Matters

The common and complex issues relating to cladding, the apparent related consequences to the victims of Grenfell, and the effects on property owners, are serious implications for the construction sector, highlighting inherent difficulties. These issues and their consequences exemplify underlying and long-standing problems for the industry resulting from pressure on margins, reluctance to invest at the pre-construction phase and the slow pace of adopting and deploying innovation across the industry.

Whilst the industry awaits the outcome of the full Grenfell inquiry process, we see the perceived and real impacts of cladding-related effects can be considered in 5 correlated ways:

Product/System Selection/Specification – In terms of product/system selection and specification we see legacy issues relating to poorly interpreted criteria, vague and misunderstood regulations and standards and lax application of the building control process. These lead to non-compliance requiring remediation and, naturally, conflicts and dispute regarding culpability and liability – often in an expensive post-hoc context.

Design and Design Development – common issues arise where the parties have either delegated design responsibility, leading to design error or are believed to have failed to design correctly. In these cases, our support is essential in not only quantifying the extent and nature of and potential culpability and responsibility, but also in supporting the process to introduce appropriate remediation.

Procurement – a key link in the chain of custody from design intent to installation on site; given the drive to delegate down design responsibility and the ever-present pressure to introduce ’Value Engineering’ in its various guises, Adair sees examples of incremental, often well-intentioned taking of opportunity to realise potential and apparent savings – this stretches the resilience of the ‘specification’ sometime catastrophically. Without adequate checks and balances this ‘mission creep’ approach can be overlooked.

Installation and Workmanship – the quality of the way a product is installed can be comprised without the knowledgeable and consistent site supervision of skilled and competent tradespeople. A common theme for cladding cases Adair encounters is cavity barriers and firestopping whether present/absent, the quality and correctness of the fixing and the integrity as a whole of the installation. This is often not apparent unless or until the cladding system is removed and they are visible sometimes years after PC but still within the defects liability period.

Maintenance and lifecycle implications – one of the many reasons cladding is used, especially in retrofit and refurbishment, is to re-purpose and prolong the life of existing buildings and to extend the period for which the embedded carbon remains captured. Given that, for example 95%+ of construction in London is refurbishment (as opposed to new build), this is a very significant environmental contribution. So, not only is the performance of the cladding important to the investor/developer, and the occupiers (through lower maintenance and energy costs), it has huge environmental impact. Correctly specified and selected cladding systems and components, installed properly, and performing as designed and intended should bring enduring value as an investment.

A further important aspect of the cladding theme is the prevailing impact on cost and ease of obtaining insurances across the piece. Adair is seeing increasing consequences for all markets as a result and we are working on cases where insurers, those of the employer client or their contractor, are driving claims relating to disputes – these are complex and require sophisticated expertise and nuance.

The Adair team currently has over £300m of matters relating to cladding, on over 50 buildings around the UK.  Examples of current cases are:

Project: Large Retail Unit – South London

Scale: £53M claim against specialist subcontractor

Scope: Claim for replacement of ACM based cladding system alleged to be non-compliant in regard to non-combustible insulation, together with alleged non-compliant exterior timber louvres, plus alleged inadequate cavity barrier installation.

Project: Multiple Tower, Residential Unit – Southeast London

Scale: £6.0M claim for cost of remediation

Scope: Multi-element ACM and {Ceda] Cladding Installation; cavity barriers

Project: 100+ unit residential scheme

Scale: £4.5M claim for cost of remediation

Scope: Incorrect and noncompliant specification and consequent installation of combustible insulation; product and system failure arising from inappropriate materials used in ‘aggressive’ environment (marine)

For further information on how our team can help within this sector please contact justin.sullivan.co.uk or stewart.owen@adair.co.uk.