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Grenfell Tower Inferno A Disaster Waiting To Happen

June 15, 2017

Very worrying news about the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in London.

The Telegraph is reporting that the main factor in the fire spreading so quickly may have been the vertical cladding installed two years ago to meet green energy efficiency targets.

The cladding acts as insulation, but fire experts believe it can create an updraft between the walls and cladding which caused the fire to spread so quickly.

This sort of cladding is used worldwide as an easy way to insulate old buildings.

As one expert put it, the quest for sustainability has trumped other concerns.

The full story is here:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/14/grenfell-tower-inferno-disaster-waiting-happen-concerns-raised/

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50 Comments
  1. DAVID ROWE permalink
    June 15, 2017 9:51 am

    The first priority is to install inflammable materials, not flammable cladding as reported in the Daily Mail, if that report is true then the architect should be questioned as to why flammable materials were used in a situation like a block of flats. Absolutely crazy if true.

    • HotScot permalink
      June 15, 2017 10:23 am

      Sorry to be a pedant, but ‘Inflammable’ is the same as ‘flammable’.

      The materials required should be non-flammable.

      However, it seems it wasn’t the material itself that was the problem as, ultimately, almost any material is flammable. It was the air gap between the cladding and the building which acted like a chimney drawing the flames upwards.

      • DAVID ROWE permalink
        June 16, 2017 8:03 am

        The cladding material used was culpable, we all watched the plastic panels burning on TV, architects who are hardly ever mentioned in such cases are guilty of specifying suspect materials, it is their job to set out specifications on building works, not politicians. I have been in the building industry all my life, & in my experience architects love the glory, but when the shit hits the fan, they keep a low profile, or blame the contractors etc. I have managed a small block of flats in Birkenhead for over 30yrs, A few years ago there was a chip fire in one of the flats, the fire brigade report said the fire doors had to be upgraded, along with the fire alarms. We not only carried out these tasks but installed false ceilings to enhance fire protection so each flat had a minimum of 30 mins. fire protection, so in an emergency there was half an hour to evacuate the building. Plain common sense to me.

      • Bloke in Japan permalink
        June 16, 2017 12:19 pm

        HotScot. Sorry to be a pedant, but you are wrong. Inflammable (with the prefix “in” meaning “non”) was in use until about 30 years ago. The switch from “in” to “non-” was made to avoid the confusion you are suffering from. You are young, my child.

      • HotScot permalink
        June 16, 2017 9:11 pm

        “Surprisingly, both flammable and inflammable coexisted peacefully in English for hundreds of years before anyone decided to do something about it. Inflammable is the older of the two, with recorded use as far back as 1574. Flammable begins to appear in 1655, when Margaret Cavendish described oil as being “hot burning and flamable” in her Philosophical and Physical Opinions. One of the reasons there was little confusion about these words is that flammable was used much less often than inflammable.”

        http://blog.dictionary.com/inflammable/

  2. June 15, 2017 9:52 am

    “…So reckons Dave Beach, a researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, who has come up with a plan to transform the way we fuel our engines. Chunks of metal such as iron, aluminium or boron are the thing, he believes. Turn them into powder with grains just nanometres across and the stuff becomes highly reactive. Ignite it, and it releases copious quantities of energy…”

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18825221-100-powdered-metal-the-fuel-of-the-future/

  3. Ian Magness permalink
    June 15, 2017 9:57 am

    If the implication that green policies were enacted without any thought to fire safety is true, this is beyond astonishing. The article implies much fault lay with some kind of chimney effect allowing the fire to spread upwards through gaps. I can’t see, however, that this would cause a crucial issue across the whole structure unless the insulation itself caught fire (which the photos seem to indicate that it may have). Using non-fire retardant filling materials in buildings and furnishings was, I thought, an issue for much earlier generations. It’s seems not, however.
    Oh my god what a mess. Many heads will have to roll (although you rather suspect that the green twats-in-chief responsible at governmental level (step forward Cameron, Davey, Clegg and similar) will escape blame as ever.

    • June 15, 2017 10:58 am

      No doubt the BBC (Harrabin) will tell us if this was the result of green policies.

      • Ian Magness permalink
        June 15, 2017 12:30 pm

        Dream on….

    • RogerJC permalink
      June 15, 2017 11:39 am

      The insulating panels used here are designed to be “fire retardant”, not fire resistant. Having worked in the industrial refurbishment industry for a number of years it was obvious that many owners were more interested in cost than safety and always wanted to spend the least amount necessary to meet the regulations. The cladding panels used here could have been specified with a mineral filling, but at extra cost, which would have had similar thermal performance and better fire performance. There is also the question of fire barriers in the void between the cladding and the original structure, was good practice skipped to save money?

  4. June 15, 2017 10:10 am

    Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    “It could be that this is the quest for sustainability trumping other concerns”

    The law of unintended consequences strikes again?

  5. June 15, 2017 10:13 am

    I expect that lessons will be learned.

  6. martinbrumby permalink
    June 15, 2017 10:22 am

    The panels appear to have been Aluminium Composite Panels. Aluminium starts to melt at around 660ºC, which I guess would be easily reached in a ‘chimney’ fire. The core may have been low density polyethylene or maybe polyurathane, both of which support ignition to some extent (and give off copious amounts of toxic gas).

    Unprecedented?
    http://gizmodo.com/when-will-dubai-fix-its-burning-skyscraper-problem-1751398645

    It is also interesting to speculate what is the “carbon footprint” of the manufacture of these materials (the foam core and the coatings also being ‘fossil fuel’ based) and the construction work. How long would the energy savings take to pay for the cost or to exceed the equivalent alleged emissions reduction?

    • June 15, 2017 5:41 pm

      The Falklands war: remember the Brit warships made of aluminum burning? Not the explosion of the Exocet missiles, but the burning fuel of the ones that DIDN’T explode.

      And one stairwell? Wow. And about the sprinkle system to contain a kitchen fire …..

      • duker permalink
        June 17, 2017 12:33 am

        British ships made with some structural aluminium – not thin sheet cladding- werent burning in Falklands. Cracking was more of an issue. Ships like the Sheffield were burning after being hit – which contrary to the belief at the time its now know the warhead did explode- because fuel tanks were high in structure. Its wasnt an Al ship either. having things like bean bags on a warship werent good practice either- this was the 80s remember.

      • ROM permalink
        June 17, 2017 11:30 am

        One of the thermobaric constituents of the American and probably the Russian MOAB’s [ Mother Of All Bombs ] airblast bombs is extremely fine aluminium dust particles which when blasted out by the initial explosion of the bomb then burn at collosal rates given the huge combustible surface areas created by the micron sized aluminium dust particles.
        Which in turn creates immense amounts of extreme heat with consequent massive blast effects over a very large radius.

        Aluminium is often described as a form of congealed electricity.
        The energy needed to refine aluminium from the bauxite ore is one of the factors that leads to aluminium burning with extreme intensity and relasing very large amounts of heat.
        Which it does quite readily under the right conditions as we have seen in the London fire as well as another similiar tower fire in the 21 floor Lacrosse Apartment block here in Melbourne, Victoria, Aust in 2014.

        [ https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jun/17/former-fire-chief-says-melbournes-lacrosse-tower-still-poses-risk ]

        The Lacrosse fire took just 11 minutes to climb the full 21 floor height of the aluminium composite clad apartment block.

        Probably the cladding on the Melbourne Lacrosse building was aand still is very similar in composition to that on London’s Grenfell Tower.

        The cladding on the Lacrosse tower turned out to be produced by the Chinese [ price ??? ] and was never checked as being fire retardant or fire resistant although I believe it was claimed to be such by the Chinese manufacturer.

        A fully functional fire prevention sprinkler system which apparently worked when needed saved the inhabitants of the apartment complex and enabled them to escape, just!

  7. June 15, 2017 10:46 am

    Call me nuts but I think this would be a pretty easy thing to test – eg. Rig up a 20ft tower of cladding over a brick wall, start a fire at the base, see how long it takes to spread. I’m guessing they didn’t care about this because it was more important to the authorities to save a few molecules of CO2.

    • June 15, 2017 10:49 am

      It seemed to emit a lot of pollution as well as all those pesky CO2 molecules.

    • Robert Jones permalink
      June 15, 2017 11:30 am

      I thought that this was the sort of novel construction technique that would have been tested in the Building Research Establishment before being cleared for widespread use? Surely there must be some sort of ‘Kitemark’?

    • HotScot permalink
      June 18, 2017 7:43 pm

      Robert Jones

      We could always use computer models………ahem.

  8. June 15, 2017 10:47 am

    “Green and sustainable” trump any safety concerns (to save the planet from climate change). I mean the planet is so fragile – it has barely survived 4.5billion years.

  9. HotScot permalink
    June 15, 2017 10:57 am

    Lets all spare a thought for the deceased and the survivors, many who will have lost family members.

    Thanks should also be given to the emergency services, nurses, doctors, paramedics etc. and, especially the heroic firemen who went into the building, to save as many as possible and control the fire.

    The finger of blame must rest with someone here. What ‘expert’ deemed cladding a safe material to insulate a building of this type with. Who didn’t examine the possibility of it becoming a chimney in the event of a fire?

    Whilst I’m all for progress and energy efficiency, this just appears to be a ‘lash up’ solution to a problem that’s almost impossible to remedy without rebuilding the entire structure to modern, safe standards.

    Cladding is invariably a useless method of insulating a building as, much like cavity wall insulation and double glazing, it stifles a buildings ability to breathe which leads to dampness due to a build up of condensation inside.

    I examined 3 Victorian student houses yesterday, all with double glazing and central heating, and all with the unmistakable stench of dampness when I walked in the door. But of course students will tolerate any conditions predatory landlords care to impose, no matter how revolting.

    If we want energy efficiency we must accept that these old wrecks must be pulled down and modern buildings constructed, rather than shooting from the hip with cheap solutions encouraged by a succession of incompetent governments.

    And I’ll wager that many of the conditions that diesel fumes are blamed for exacerbating, are caused by damp, unhealthy living conditions, caused by inappropriate insulation methods with no internal mechanical ventilation, rather than anything to do with outdoor air quality.

    These green maniacs who point at everything and tell us they have the solution to those everything’s, need to be made aware of the consequences of their irresponsible meddling in subjects they don’t understand. Which extends to everything!

    And at this point I’ll extend my gratitude to Paul Homewood, as I did to Anthony Watts at WUWT for their ceaseless campaigning. I started looking into climate change a couple of years ago and visited some well known alarmist sites. I was met with a barrage of hysterical insults if I dared to ask a question that even remotely challenged the concencus.

    I was expecting much the same from sceptics here, and on WUWT but instead was met with patient people, keen to explain the science and the politics behind the phenomenon.

    I have learned a huge amount about climate change and the underbelly of the greens and politicians across the globe thanks to everyone contributing to both sites. Even the occasional alarmist who sticks their head in and usually get little more than a gentle ribbing.

    Thank you all.

    • AngryScot permalink
      June 15, 2017 11:32 am

      Well said – and mirrors my own ‘journey’. I was always sceptical of the ‘settled science’ and was derided by my fellow pilots for my views, initially; I am glad to say most of my hydrocarbon converters are now on my side!

      The Telegraph also has an interesting comment on the regs behind the building conversions: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/14/regulations-followed-grenfell-tower-inferno-should-have-impossible/.

      I was astounded when Corbin was interviewed on Classic FM yesterday whilst the fire was still being tackled and tried to make political capital by blaming the present government for removing funding from local councils. Time will tell. I hope he is taken to task.

    • rwoollaston permalink
      June 15, 2017 12:18 pm

      I read your comment with appreciation. However let’s not rush into a demolition programme for all our old builfdings – they can be insulated and ventilated adequately, it’s just not as easy. In fact looking at some of the new supposedly eco buildings I think we should definitely hold off.

      Mass occupation buildings like Grenfell Tower may be another matter entirely. Assembling the right combination of experts to recommend a way forward may be difficult however as everyone seems to have their own axe to grind.

      For now my thoughts are with those who have suffered.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        June 15, 2017 12:33 pm

        Chicken and egg. What is the cost of replacing all the old buildings that don’t meet a recently invented scale of efficiency that exists to combat the invented global warming problem and the higher energy costs that are considered necessary to stop that invented problem.

      • roger permalink
        June 15, 2017 3:42 pm

        The coverup is well underway with the preferred promulgated narrative being that the cladding was to cover the eyesore as perceived by the rich neighbours and improve the sky high values of surrounding properties.
        The initial movies of flames cascading down have been replaced by still pictures and any experts who imply that the cladding was in fact insulation to protect the low income occupants from ever increasing intolerable energy price increases, entirely necessitated through green levies and practices, are swiftly shut down.
        By the time a Public Enguiry has been convened, the official story will be in place and any who dares to voice the actuality will be silenced as is usual by legal protocol and other subterfuges that have been tried and tested over the years to prevent any truths emerging.
        Cynical? Oh yes! Born out of half a century of experience.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 17, 2017 1:12 am

      I think you’ll find the insulation is imposed when a landlord refurbishes the house under building regs Part L.

      There’s an introduction to the EU law that underpins how the UK’s operates here:

      http://ec.europa.eu/environment/gpp/pdf/thermal_insulation_GPP_%20background_report.pdf

      • HotScot permalink
        June 18, 2017 7:29 pm

        It doesn’t add up…

        Thanks for that report. Very interesting as it bangs on about insulation materials, thermal efficiency, life expectancy etc etc.

        I managed to get half way through it before I gave up because there was not one mention of ventilation.

        Judging by this report, a council official would read it and think “great, lets just wrap every building we have in insulation and we save the planet”. At the expense of the buildings health, and more importantly, it’s occupants health.

        Which is precisely my point. Retro fitting insulation to buildings is rarely effective unless an equal amount is spent on ventilation, invariably mechanical.

        The UK exists in a perpetual state of ‘conservation’, maintaining crumbling old buildings for nothing more than petty voyeuristic pleasure.

        Domestic energy waste is so high in this country because no one can knock down a Victorian slum because “It’s part of our cultural heritage”. So we leave old mining tenements standing to self flagellate ourselves with the crimes of our colonial past.

        We then upgrade these places with ‘energy efficient’ modern alterations inducing dampness and fungal intrusion, then blame diesel engines for exacerbating problems they didn’t cause in the first place.

        Sorry, I’m repeating myself, but I live in one of these horrendous places, a class 2 listed, Alms cottage in Kent, and it’s a nightmare.

        I can hardly wait the 4 years we have until retirement when we can bugger off back to Scotland and build our own, modern, energy efficient house complete with an almost airtight, insulated shell, mechanical, filtered ventilation, with heat recovery, and gas central heating. Sod ground source or air source heat pumps. For the £30K installation cost, I can buy an awful lot of gas to heat a properly insulated, and ventilated house for many years. A quality gas boiler will cost £5K to install, maximum.

  10. Rowland H permalink
    June 15, 2017 11:21 am

    Strange isn’t it that the Grenfell Tower block has remained standing after being almost completely engulfed by a raging inferno whereas the Twin Towers which were built with robust steel structures collapsed into heaps of rubble when only the top floors suffered in admittedly a rather different manner. One might have expected those floors to collapse, but the whole buildings – and conveniently straight down? The suspicion that they were brought down through controlled demolition can surely no longer be ruled out and this has been ruthlessly covered up. There seems to have been plenty of evidence that this was the case.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      June 15, 2017 12:36 pm

      Conspiracy theory drivel. I suggest you try watching a few programmes on demolition and take careful note of how long it takes them to prep a building to be demolished with explosives. And also the amount of explosive used. And think as to how nobody might just have spotted something slightly suspicious.

      • Rowland H permalink
        June 15, 2017 3:45 pm

        Well, I guess I have read up or seen more programmes about it than you have whether it”s conspiracy theories or otherwise. Very interesting stuff in Truth is a Lonely Warrior by James Perloff.

    • Keitho permalink
      June 15, 2017 3:58 pm

      I would simply point out that the temperature of a fire doused in JET A1 is significantly higher than that of the materials encountered in this tower block.

      The high temperature fire at the WTC caused the steel to lose its tensile strength causing a sudden drop of the overlying load. Such a drop causes impact loading which is many times larger than the static loads normally experienced in buildings and is seldom designed for.

      The collapse of WTC was entirely to be expected given the nature of the fire while the collapse of Grenfell was absolutely never on the cards.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      June 17, 2017 1:08 am

      Do you think that gravity operates sideways?

      • HotScot permalink
        June 18, 2017 7:54 pm

        OK, I’ll bite.

        Explain please.

  11. The Old Bloke permalink
    June 15, 2017 12:16 pm

    Rowland, the tower block in London was made of concrete and steel and did not have a Boeing 777 fully laden with fuel traveling at 400 knots trying to chop it in half.

    • Nigel S permalink
      June 15, 2017 6:43 pm

      Correct!

      Nigel S MA, MICE (Chartered Engineer)

      • mothcatcher permalink
        June 15, 2017 10:00 pm

        Not correct. 767.

    • HotScot permalink
      June 18, 2017 8:00 pm

      mothcatcher

      Is it productive to be that pedantic?

  12. Gerry, England permalink
    June 15, 2017 12:37 pm

    They always claimed that global warming would kill people but they didn’t expect it would be like this.

  13. June 15, 2017 1:57 pm

    It looks like the Grenfell Tower fire was just a rerun of several similar ones around the world in recent years, driven by a desire or an obligation for heat insulation, all achieved using the same cladding panels:

    https://www.riskfrontiers.com/Briefing_Notes/Briefing%20Note%20315.pdf

  14. Athelstan permalink
    June 15, 2017 2:13 pm

    Government solutions?

    These flats,high rise building was a great part to government policy, cheap housing to replace “slum” houses – which of course those ‘slum houses’ allowed to survive these days suitably refurbished can be named as “des resis”.
    Living in one, was a living nightmare, in a box 24 stories up and surrounded by people most of whom, you didn’t want to know, ‘community’ my ar88.

    Government solutions, cheap electricity is the way to build society, rationing it provides job creation for the apparatchik and they breed on misery, neglect and caused mainly by – yeah ‘government solutions’.

    The green agenda, rain screen cladding is the answer not cheap electricity…………..notwithstanding all the same old same old; shit housing, mass immigration, ripping the taxpayer a new one, back handers and corrupt councillors, bent firms, dodgy workmanship, cost cutting, subcontracting how many more people will government solutions kill?

    Grenfell towers, a PFI initiative.

    We mark with solemn respect the untimely departure of all the victims but we also observe, so many people, too many people and please no more, for we cannot cope now, our infrastructure is inadequate and creaking, in tarting it up, already damaged property, a disaster on top of a social dystopia.

  15. Keitho permalink
    June 15, 2017 3:46 pm

    A bit like diesel cars then. Trust the scientists because they are really, really clever about everything.

    • Jack Broughton permalink
      June 15, 2017 6:29 pm

      It seems that in politics as in law, all experts / scientists referred to are those supporting your belief. Expertise and science are not absolute, but give politicians a great escape route from their errors.

  16. Dung permalink
    June 15, 2017 7:48 pm

    Science in general can not be trusted right now to act in the interest of anyone other than the scientist. There is a step change in society because of this but nobody is responding to it. For now society should place its trust in proven technology and stuff the rest where the sun does not shine.

  17. Ian permalink
    June 16, 2017 8:12 am

    Forget climate change policy as a cause of this tragedy. The BBC offered the Fire Brigade Union the opportunity and they took it with both hands, gratefully – it’s all the fault of This Tory Government’s Savage Cuts. Same in the hospitals, doing a tremendous job in coping with the disaster, despite …

  18. Harry Passfield permalink
    June 16, 2017 8:29 am

    Seeing as how these towers house a large proportion of people from overseas, perhaps the DfID could be prevailed upon to release some funds from the overseas aid budget.

  19. June 16, 2017 9:35 am

    If reports are to be believed, the bottom line is that cladding was added primarily to improve insulation, thereby reducing ‘carbon emissions’, so beloved of Mr. Harrabin. Ergo, politicians, both local and central, and other professionals were responding to junk science promoted by The Royal Society, the BBC and other luminaries of the same ilk. Each and every one of them, therefore, must shoulder a share of blame for a scandalous tragedy.

    It is abundantly clear that the correct lessons will not be learnt – or even contemplated.

  20. John Peter permalink
    June 16, 2017 1:35 pm

    Edward Samuel Miliband should be asked to make a comment on the involvement of The Climate Change Act 2008 in this disaster.

  21. It doesn't add up... permalink
    June 17, 2017 1:03 am

    It seems to be clear that the driving force was green vanity, not cost. Indeed, had cost really been a consideration (or rather, proper economics) they would never have installed the cladding at all. First let’s peek at the planning application for the work

    https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-952368.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=952368&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1

    It reveals that the existing concrete walls have a U value of 1.5W/m^2K, and proposes their solution will reduce overall heat loss to just 0.15W/m^2K, or half the current Building Regs level of 0.3W/m^2K. The building has a little under 2,500sq m of concrete external wall that was clad, so the heat loss was 3.75kW/K. If we take the year round average temperature in London as 12C, and a desired internal temperature of 20C, the 8C difference amounts to some 30kW on average for the whole building, or some 262.8MWh over the year, worth around £10,500 in the form of wholesale power at £40/MWh or perhaps 4 times as much at retail power prices or . So if all the heat loss could be prevented, that is the maximum annual saving. The cost of the cladding installation has been widely quoted in the press at £2.6m. So that’s a payback period of around 250 years at wholesale prices, by which time the building would certainly have long been condemned and pulled down. That is the economics of the madhouse.

    So what of the actual choice of cladding? The press have latched onto the fact that the sadly highly flammable PE cladding was £2/sq m cheaper than the safer PR grade that supposedly might not have combusted or created a chimney for the flames to leap up the floors. The narrative goes that lives were lost for the sake of £5,000 saving on the panels. Let’s look at the manufacturer’s data sheets:

    https://www.arconic.com/aap/north_america/catalog/pdf/specifications/ReynobondEngProperties.pdf

    RB240PE-6mm has a thermal resistance of 1.5×10-2 m2K/w
    RB240FR-6mm has a thermal resistance of 7.0×10-3 m2K/w, or about half as much

    So this was really all about an extra energy saving that meant the insulation was twice as effective as required by building regs, for a saving of about £1,000 a year for the energy bill for the whole building. Or as the planning application puts it in its Overview:

    The poor insulation levels and air tightness of both the walls and the windows at Grenfell Tower result in excessive heat loss during the winter months. Addressing this issue is the primary driver behind the refurbishment.

    Yes, it really was about green vanity.

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