No reason to think improper cladding used elsewhere: SCDF

The cladding on T5 next to the Admin Block of Singapore Polytechnic on Aug 24, 2017. Singapore Polytechnic is one of 36 sites suspected to have non-compliant cladding.
The cladding on T5 next to the Admin Block of Singapore Polytechnic on Aug 24, 2017. Singapore Polytechnic is one of 36 sites suspected to have non-compliant cladding.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Some experts urge more checks, but cost would be an issue

Beyond the 36 buildings that had installed potentially problematic cladding panels, there is no reason to believe that other buildings in Singapore contravene fire safety regulations, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF).

In a reply to The Straits Times last night, it said: "At this juncture, there is no reason to suspect that there has been improper usage or inconsistent quality of other cladding brands or models."

This was in response to a question on whether there is a need to check all buildings that use aluminium composite panel (ACP) cladding, to reassure building owners and occupants the materials are safe, in the wake of Thursday's announcements that some buildings' facades do not meet the Fire Code. These buildings had all used Alubon panels, supplied by Chip Soon Aluminium.

Industry players said there are potentially hundreds of buildings that currently use other brands of aluminium composite panels as external cladding beyond Alubon, which had supplied to 41 companies here.

Mr Chong Kee Sen, former president of the Institute of Engineers, Singapore, said the rise in popularity of cladding is a global trend, as cladding helps to enhance insulation of a building, making it more energy-efficient as it is protected from external heat, or cold in the case of temperate countries.

Said Mr Chong: "It is probably a good (time) to carry out a closer review of the requirements for the different types of cladding used."

 

But cost would be an issue, said others. Principal architect of TBL Architects Tan Beng Leong warned that checking every single building with ACP cladding may be a resource drain on both SCDF and building owners, who will have to replace the samples that are destroyed during fire testing.

CHANCES OF MIX-UP LOW

There are two models of ACP, a fireproof and a non-fireproof one. In Singapore, only the fireproof versions are sold, so there is little chance of a mix-up.

SALES EXECUTIVE AMANDA JIANG, whose firm SinMetal International is the sole distributor of Darren ACP.

LET THE AUTHORITIES CHECK

If building developers and architects say they comply with the code, they should come forward and stand by its quality. This shifts the onus back to the people who specified the building material used.

CONSULTING ENGINEER LEE SEONG WEE, who suggested having architects declare the projects that use aluminium composite panel cladding, and allow the authorities to perform these checks.

He suggested incorporating on-site testing of ACP cladding during SCDF's regular audits of buildings, which is currently not included.

Said Mr Tan: "Since SCDF already conducts thousands of these audits yearly, I believe it has the ability to do it."

Sales executive Amanda Jiang, whose firm SinMetal International is the sole distributor of Darren ACP, a Chinese brand, said it competes with around 10 other brands that are sold here. Her firm has supplied panels to three projects here.

She said: "There are two models of ACP, a fireproof and a non-fireproof one. In Singapore, only the fireproof versions are sold so there is little chance of a mix-up."

The checks by the SCDF were triggered by a fire in May at an industrial building in Toh Guan Road, in which a woman was killed.

The authorities launched "comprehensive on-site fire safety assessments" on 40 other buildings that use the same brand of cladding material, Alubond, SCDF said on Thursday.

Of these, 15 failed tests for the required Class 0 standard, which does not allow flames to spread on the surface.

Alubond is a US brand distributed solely by Chip Soon Aluminium, a home-grown firm.

Construction expert Lee Seong Wee, a consulting engineer, said the case of Chip Soon Aluminium shows how a single supplier can undermine the current system of building checks.

Preliminary investigation findings by the SCDF showed the company could have mixed up two Alubond products of different fire standards at its warehouse.

Mr Lee said: "Definitely, more checks should be done. Without a full-scale exercise for all other buildings with cladding, how would the authorities know if other suppliers do not have similar mix-ups?"

He suggested having architects declare the projects that use such aluminium composite cladding, and allow the authorities to perform these checks.

 

Said Mr Lee: "If building developers and architects say they comply with the code, they should come forward and stand by its quality. This shifts the onus back to the people who specified the building material used."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2017, with the headline 'No reason to think improper cladding used elsewhere: SCDF'. Print Edition | Subscribe