Fire safety and wall cladding

The Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) has developed a comprehensive package of measures designed to address fire safety in high rise buildings, including fire safety related to the combustibility of external walls.

Amongst these measures are the amendments to Volume One of the NCC which took effect from 12 March 2018 - Amendment 1.

The changes introduced a new verification method for testing external wall assemblies for fire spread, which references AS 5113. The Deemed to Satisfy provision for bonded laminated materials was also changed to require any core to be non-combustible.  In addition, changes proposed to NCC 2019 will remove the Deemed to Satisfy provision for bonded laminated materials altogether.

The effect of the changes is that external wall systems will need to be verified using a fully assembled prototype wall test in accordance with AS 5113. This will affect the construction of units, health care and aged care buildings two storeys or more in height (classes 2, 3 or 9) and office, retail or commercial buildings three storeys or more in height (classes 5, 6, 7 or 8).

Specifically, Amendment 1 includes the following:

  1. The introduction of a new Verification Method (CV3) for testing of external wall assemblies for fire propagation. CV3 references a new testing standard, AS 5113-2016 Fire propagation testing and classification of external walls of buildings, and in most circumstances requires additional measures (e.g. enhanced sprinkler protection) to mitigate the hazard presented by a combustible fa├žade.
  2. Clarification of provisions, including provisions relating to external wall claddings and attachments, provisions that provide exemption to the non-combustibility requirements, and provisions that control the fire hazard properties of building elements.
  3. Increased stringency for the sprinkler protection of balconies of residential high rise buildings through referencing an updated sprinkler standard, AS 2118.1-2017 Automatic fire sprinkler systems – General systems.

The Amendment also revised the NCC’s evidence of suitability provisions in Volume One Part A2.2. This included:

  • clarification of the application and language
  • strengthened wording of the current options, and
  • a new requirement to consider the ‘appropriateness’ of the evidence being presented to support the use of the material, product, design or form of construction.

The Evidence of Suitability Handbook 2018 accompanies the Amendment and provides guidance for applying the provisions of Part A2.2.

Advisory Note 2016-3 ‘Fire Performance of External Walls and Cladding’ has also been revised in line with the Amendment. Editions of this advisory note dated to prior 2018 are not applicable to NCC 2016 Volume One Amendment 1.

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