One aspect of the public debate and discussion as to external wall cladding on buildings in the context of the Lacrosse building and Grenfell tower fires is: does the cladding comply with requirements?

When a cladding system is built to the outside of a building, as a matter of common sense and functionality, the cladding is meant to keep out water, heat, wind and other outside elements, even including earthquakes. Water that flows as well as water created through condensation or dampness are both relevant. If the cladding in place doesn’t keep these out of the building, this causes loss of amenity to building occupants, as well as degradation to the building and its structure. Obviously the cladding should be compliant in every respect, including in respect of fire proof and fire rating.

The problem of cladding being installed in both residential and commercial buildings which is, or is alleged to be, non-compliant with regulations and building codes has arguably dramatically increased. Or perhaps it is just that the public recognition of the issue has increased. Nevertheless, it is also accompanied arguably by the increasing use of more innovative external wall cladding products which possibly exist ‘on the edge’ of non-compliance. In Victoria, such products may be ‘non-deemed to satisfy’ products.

Deemed to satisfy wall cladding, for example, is cladding that has followed a set standard ‘protocol’ – in a sense what and how it was and is manufactured, the materials used and how it was designed. Because of this, the product is ‘deemed to satisfy’ regulations, codes and standards. With non deemed to satisfy products, however, something more needs to be shown. An alternative solution must be engendered.

This alternative solution has to provide evidence that it will meet performance requirements specified or required. In addition, the solution proposed must be equivalent to, or better than the deemed to satisfy methodology.

There is some flexibility in the alternative solution process. The relevant authority in the jurisdiction and/or the relevant building surveyor and/or a registered testing authority and/or code mark certification body is to be requested to give approval for the alternative solution. Further evidence may be requested as to how the proposed alternative solution meets performance requirements and or the deemed to satisfy provision.

Just because a code mark certification body provides a code mark, though, this is not necessarily evidence that the system complies with the regulatory requirements or standards.

Architects, designers and possibly other building industry professionals should be diligent when specifying what the non deemed to satisfy cladding is to be. As it is prima facie not in satisfaction as to what the requirements are to be, the cladding may be subject to processes such as extra evidence and further calculations, testing, and verification methods.

The earlier in the process of design and construction that such extra material is produced and put forward, the better. At the least, though, it should be done at the design stage. Applicants for approval should consider as part of the process any limitations or problems with the non deemed to satisfy material and aim to address the limitations and or issues early rather than later, and comprehensively.

The expert opinion of a building specialist may need to be sought and is often accepted in this context. Obviously, the overarching purpose behind all these processes is a comparison of the non deemed to satisfy system with the deemed to satisfy system.

It can be said that the fact there are non deemed to satisfy provisions available arguably caters for (notwithstanding the hurdles to be overcome in their acceptance) innovations, both technological and non technological, in design and construction as to cladding and other products.

I have head anecdotal evidence that some insurance premiums may be increasing in the construction industry, so industry professionals involved in the design and and or construction of external wall cladding materials may be best served by keeping in mind the things stated above. The dual approach adopted in Victoria at least, as far as reaching compliance with codes and standards for external cladding is concerned, is arguably in place to attempt to strike a balance between innovative and consumer targeted products versus products which are safe and compliant with necessary regulations, codes and standards.