The material behind the cladding on The Cube student halls block, which was hit by a devastating fire last week, was most likely a combustible membrane with no fire rating, Inside Housing can reveal.
Images of the burned building show that behind the cladding appears to be a product made by building products manufacturer DuPont, which is called Tyvek Housewrap.
DuPont currently manufactures two types of HouseWrap products – Tyvek FireCurb Housewrap, which is fire retardant and has fire rating of B or D depending on what material lies beneath it, and Tyvek Housewrap, which has no fire rating.
Photos of The Cube compared to images in DuPont’s brochure for Tyvek products appear to show that the version used is the non-fire-rated product. Dupont confirmed to Inside Housing that this was the product. There is no evidence that this product contributed to the spread of fire.
The fire that hit the Bolton block last Friday saw around 200 firefighters sent to tackle the blaze, with two residents treated by paramedics.
On Sunday, Inside Housing reported that planning documents for the block had listed the cladding used as Trespa Meteon, a high-pressure laminate (HPL) product.
In November last year, the government announced a ban of all combustible materials on external wall systems of buildings taller than 18m. However, because The Cube is 17.84m in height, under current rules there would be no regulation stopping combustible materials being placed on the building.
There are an increasing number of voices and sector groups calling for that threshold to be lowered. Earlier this week, the Fire Protection Association called for a complete ban of combustible materials on all buildings – not just high rises.
Current Approved Document B regulations mention only external surfaces and insulation with regard to combustibility, and do not put requirements on battens or membranes. Tyvek is not an insulation product.
In July, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that there should be no high-rise buildings in the country with HPL and combustible insulation, and that it is down to the building owner to remove this combination.
In the British Board of Agrément’s description of the product in relation to fire, it says that Tyvek Housewrap will tend to “burn and shrink away from the heat source” and that it is “unclassifiable” in terms of building regulations which should be considered when assessing overall fire risk.
A spokesperson for the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said: “Until the investigation of the building has been carried out we are unable to provide any more information about the building than has already been released.”
A DuPont spokesperson said: “DuPont takes safety and its product stewardship responsibilities very seriously.
"All DuPont products are rigorously tested to ensure they are fit for purpose. We understand that DuPont building membranes were used in The Cube in Bolton. The product complied with regulations at the time of construction, and would still comply with those regulations today. We are willing to cooperate with local authorities as their investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing,.”
A statement from Urban Student Life, which manages The Cube, said: “A full investigation is under way by the fire services. The building owner, Idealsite, together with Urban Student Life as estate manager, are co-operating fully.
“[Urban Student Life] management provides the building owners it serves with a staff and student ambassador group which are on site in the building and oversee the fire alarm on a daily basis as well as any maintenance issues raised by students for the property. A full evacuation practice was recently carried out with The Cube’s residents.
“Although The Cube does not have a sprinkler system, it has a fire alarm system in the building that complies with the fire regulations and is regularly serviced and maintained by an accredited fire safety company, Total Fire Solutions. The fire alarm in The Cube is tested regularly and serviced by Total Fire Solutions in line with the statutory requirements.
“As part of that ongoing maintenance Total Fire Solutions conducted onsite training with The Cube’s site-level staff last week and also undertook service work on the alarm this past Friday.”