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Grenfell insulation selected without ‘basic’ fire checks to meet ‘aspirational’ thermal efficiency target

The insulation used on Grenfell Tower was originally suggested to meet an “aspirational” thermal efficiency target, without even any “basic checks” regarding its fire performance, the inquiry heard today.

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Andrew McQuatt gives evidence (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Andrew McQuatt gives evidence (picture: Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
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Grenfell insulation selected without ‘basic’ fire checks to meet ‘aspirational’ thermal efficiency target #UKHousing #GrenfellTower

The insulation used on Grenfell Tower was originally suggested without even any “basic checks” regarding its fire performance to meet an “aspirational” thermal efficiency target, the inquiry heard today #UKHousing #GrenfellTower

Andrew McQuatt, project engineer for the refurbishment at consultancy Max Fordham, explained that a target appropriate for new buildings had been set for the insulation of Grenfell Tower – double the standard set in guidance for refurbishments.

In an email sent in August 2012 to the lead architect, Bruce Sounes, he wrote that Celotex FR5000 “is the only type of product that will give us the required performance”.

The material is combustible and releases a combination of toxic gases when burnt, including cyanide. It does not meet the standard of ‘limited combustibility’ required for insulation on buildings above 18m.


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“Did you have fire performance in mind when you made that suggestion?” asked counsel to the inquiry Kate Grange QC.

“I had the Lamba values [insulation performance] in mind,” replied Mr McQuatt. “There was nothing that sparked any concern that it wasn’t okay.”

“Did you make any consideration of its fire performance in any way at all,” asked Ms Grange.

“No,” he replied.

“Can you help us with why you wouldn’t have been carrying out even basic checks to its fire performance before suggesting it?”

“Can you help us with why you wouldn’t have been carrying out even basic checks to its fire performance before suggesting it?” Ms Grange asked.

Mr McQuatt explained that he believed that as the project was already considering using a plastic insulation, Kingspan, he did not believe this would be different.

“I wasn’t aware that I was suggesting anything new into the project,” he said. “I thought it was already there and established in the use of Kingspan.”

Mr McQuatt earlier explained that he did not believe the high target for insulation would be a problem as the work being carried out to Grenfell was similar to a new build.

“If you were to build a new concrete building, you would apply insulation and apply rainscreen [cladding panels]… it was very similar to how you would construct a new build so it didn’t seem crazy or difficult to achieve,” he said.

The target was variously described in emails and documents as “a bit aspirational” and “over the top”. In planning documents, Mr McQuatt called insulation the “top priority” for the refurbishment and said he intended to “far exceed” the requirements of building regulations.

Non-combustible Rockwool insulation was discounted after the team decided that to meet the standard, it would become too thick for the cladding system they were planning.

Mr McQuatt was shown calculations from the inquiry’s expert, Paul Hyett, which disputed this, showing Rockwool could have come close to the required level within the specified thickness.

He said he did not disagree with Mr Hyett’s conclusion and that – as his calculations took into account the impact of thermal brackets – they may have been “more accurate”.

After discounting Rockwool, Mr McQuatt then researched thinner alternatives available from plastic insulation manufacturers.

“It just never occurred to me in any way that something I could just go on to the website and buy could be so unsafe”

He arrived at Celotex FR5000, having been unable to log into rival manufacturer Kingspan’s website. He said that if he had been able to log in, he would likely have suggested Kingspan.

Mr McQuatt was shown testimony from Mr Sounes that said he took the recommendation as evidence that the product was suitable for high-rises – an inference he said he had not realised Mr Sounes would make.

Asked if he was aware Celotex was combustible, he said: “It sounds so silly to say this now, but it just never occurred to me in any way that something I could just go on to the website and buy could be so unsafe.”

He said he had seen Celotex used on jobs “again and again and again”, although he accepted that he had not previously worked on a high-rise project.

In summer 2014, Celotex would pass a large-scale test clearing its RS5000 product for use on high-rise buildings in a specific combination using cement-fibre cladding.

It would market the product as “acceptable for use” on high-rise buildings. However, RS5000 had not passed this test when Mr McQuatt suggested it for Grenfell.

In the afternoon session, the inquiry heard from Jon White (pictured), the clerk of works from John Rowan Partners who inspected the building work.

He said he made at least 10 trips up the building to inspect the cladding.

“We would go top to bottom to the third floor and then go across to the next climber and then all the way to the top of the building and down again,” he said. “I would be recording with my iPad all the snags and then I would issue that report to [lead contractor] Rydon who would issue it to the cladding contractor.”

He said he did not know what materials were being used in the system and his role – which he claimed was a ‘site inspector’ rather than a full clerk of works – did not require him to.

However, he was shown a description of the role for the job, which specifically said he should be “familiar with legal requirements and checking that the work complies with them”.

“If a job looks neat and tidy, it’s a good way of knowing it’s being done properly”

He said he did this by checking that building control inspectors at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea had signed off the work – but accepted that he made no individual assessment himself.

Shown images of horizontal cavity barriers installed vertically and back to front, he said he had not seen work of that kind when he inspected the building.

“It doesn’t look right and [if I had seen it] I would have taken a photo and put it in my report,” he said. “[But] I was only there one day a week and I didn’t go up… every time.”

He said that his impression of the cladding works overall was that it “looked very neat”.

“If a job looks neat and tidy, it’s a good way of knowing it’s being done properly,” he said.

Concluding his evidence, he said: “When I started in this industry, all the responsibilities were clear. The architects was the lead designer… and you had a builder to build. Now it’s all mixed up… I wish we could go back to the way it was when I started.”

The inquiry continues on Monday with evidence from another member of the clerk of works team.

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two: weekly diaries

Module one

Week one: A vivid picture of a broken industry

After a week of damning revelations at the opening of phase two of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, Peter Apps recaps the key points

Click here to read the full story

Week two: What is the significance of the immunity application?

Sir Martin Moore-Bick has written to the attorney general requesting protection for those set to give evidence at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. Peter Apps explains what the move means

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Week three: Architects of misfortune

This week saw the lead architects for the Grenfell Tower refurbishment give evidence to the inquiry. Peter Apps runs through the key points

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Week four: ‘I didn’t have any perception that it was the monster it’s become’

The architects continued to give evidence this week, outlining a lack of understanding of the fire risk posed by the cladding materials and its design. Nathaniel Barker reports

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Week five: ‘No adverse effect in relation to external fire spread’

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry returns from its long absence, Peter Apps recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the fire consultants to the refurbishment

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Week six: ‘I can’t recall any instance where I discussed the materials with building control’

Nathaniel Barker summarises what we learned from fire engineers Exova, architects Studio E and the early evidence from contractor Rydon

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Week seven: ‘I do not think I have ever worked with a contractor operating with this level of nonchalance’

Two key witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Peter Apps recaps some of the key points from a revealing week of evidence

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Week eight: ‘It haunts me that it wasn't challenged’

Four witnesses from contractor Rydon gave evidence this week. Lucie Heath recaps what we learned on the last week of evidence before the inquiry breaks for five weeks

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Week nine: ‘All I can say is you will be taken out for a very nice meal very soon’

This week the inquiry heard evidence from witnesses at Harley Facades, the sub-contractor responsible for Grenfell Tower’s cladding. Peter Apps recaps the key points

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Week 10: ‘As we all know, ACM will be gone rather quickly in a fire!’

As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry entered its 10th week, Jack Simpson recaps the key points from a week of important evidence from the refurbishment’s cladding contractor

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Week 11: ‘Did you get the impression Grenfell Tower was a guinea pig for this insulation?’

With witnesses from the cladding subcontractor, the firm which cut the deadly panels to shape and the clerk of works which inspected the job giving evidence this was week full of revelations. Peter Apps recaps the key points

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Week 12: ‘Would you accept that was a serious failing on your part?’

With the surveyor who inspected Grenfell Tower for compliance giving evidence, this was a crucial week from the inquiry. Dominic Brady and Peter Apps report

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Week 13: ‘Value for money is to be regarded as the key driver for this project’

With consultants to Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) giving evidence, attention at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry turned for this first time to the actions of the TMO and the council. Peter Apps reports

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Week 14: ‘Did it not occur to you at this point that your budget was simply too low?’

This week, for the first time in phase two, the inquiry heard from Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, the landlord that oversaw the fatal refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 15: ‘Have you ever informed the police that you destroyed documents relevant to their investigation?’

Witnesses from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) gave evidence for a second week, which began with a shocking revelation about withheld and destroyed evidence. Peter Apps recaps

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Week 16: ‘I conclude this was very serious evidence of professional negligence’

This week saw members of Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation finish giving evidence, before the inquiry’s expert witnesses took the stand to make some highly critical assessments of the work they had seen before and during the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower. Jack Simpson recaps

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Grenfell Tower: a timeline of the refurbishment

Following the conclusion of module one of the Grenfell Inquiry’s second phase, Peter Apps presents a timeline of the key moments during the fatal refurbishment of the west London tower block

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Module two

Week 17: ‘It’s hard to make a note about this because we are not clean’

The start of the second module of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry phase two came with some huge revelations about the companies that sold the products used in the cladding system. Peter Apps reports

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Week 18: ‘It was just reckless optimism wasn't it?’

As the inquiry began cross-examining witnesses for the second module of its phase two work, the picture surrounding just how Grenfell Tower ended up wrapped in such dangerous materials became a little clearer. Nathaniel Barker was keeping an eye on proceedings

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Week 19: ‘And that was intentional, deliberate, dishonest?’

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry this week heard the shocking story of how the insulation manufacturer “manipulated” official testing and marketed its product “dishonestly”. Peter Apps tells the story

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Week 20: ‘We were outed by a consultant who we then had to fabricate a story to’

This week the inquiry investigated the actions of Kingspan – the manufacturer of one of the insulation products used in the tower’s cladding system. Dominic Brady reports

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Week 21: ‘It’s there in black and white isn't it? We see a complete absence of any consideration of life safety’

The story of insulation giant Kingspan’s testing and marketing of its combustible insulation for high rises was unpacked in minute detail this week. Peter Apps reports

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Week 22: ‘All we do is lie in here’

In the third week of evidence from insulation giant Kingspan, the inquiry continued to uncover shocking details about the firm’s behaviour both before and after the Grenfell Tower fire. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 23: ‘That would have come as an earthquake to you at the time, would it not?’

This week the inquiry took its deepest dive yet into the inner workings of the cladding manufacturer whose product has been blamed for the terrible spread of fire up Grenfell Tower. Nathaniel Barker reports

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Week 24: ‘Do you accept that Test 5B was Arconic's deadly secret’

The president of the firm that made and sold the cladding panels installed on Grenfell Tower was asked to account for the apparent concealment of “disastrous” fire tests on the product this week. Peter Apps reports

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Week 25: ‘This is quite an incredible list of omissions and missed instances, isn’t it?’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry heard its first witnesses from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) - the testing house which carried out key fire tests on the Kingspan and Celotex insulation products which were later used on Grenfell Tower. Peter Apps reports.

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Week 26: 'You were taking an enormous risk, weren't you?'

Week 26 at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was a key moment in understanding how dangerous products used on the tower came to be accepted by industry professionals. Dominic Brady reports

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Week 27: ‘What will happen if one building made out [of] PE core is in fire and will kill 60 to 70 persons?’

The most explosive evidence this week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry came from those who did not attend, as the evidence which would have been presented to Arconic witnesses was displayed in their absence. Peter Apps reports

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Week 28: ‘This is a serious safety matter’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry zeroed in on the British Board of Agrément, the body that produced “misleading” certificates which inspired trust in both the cladding and insulation used on the tower. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 29: ‘Is it true that Kingspan’s position… was to do its best to ensure that science was secretly perverted for financial gain?’

The final week in this section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry primarily examined the attempts by insulation manufacturer Kingspan to lobby government after the fire. Peter Apps reports

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How the products used in Grenfell Tower's cladding system were tested and sold

As the section of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry examining how the products used in the cladding system were tested, marketed and sold comes to a close, Peter Apps summarises what we have learned about each of the products included in the system

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Module Three

Week 30: ‘There is certainly a high probability that in the event of a fire the whole building can become an inferno’

The focus of the inquiry shifted this week to the actions of the social housing providers responsible for maintaining Grenfell Tower. Pete Apps recaps what we learned

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Week 31: ‘If we cannot get out people will die’

This week saw the former residents of Grenfell Tower enter the witness box to tell of their experiences attempting to raise complaints with the council and its managing agent. Pete Apps reports

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Week 32: ‘Let's hope our luck holds and there isn't a fire’

This week saw the return of the landlord of Grenfell Tower, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), as senior staff members attempted to explain how vital fire safety protections at the block were allowed to fall into disrepair. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 33: ‘Isn't that a serious gap in the scope of a policy meant to safeguard vulnerable people?’

A slightly disjointed week at the Grenfell Tower inquiry saw further evidence from staff at building manager Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) interspersed with the views of a cladding expert. Peter Apps reports

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Week 34: ‘Some members of the community are doing their best to spread false information’

Jack Simpson covers all the major revelations from the past week of evidence at the Grenfell Inquiry, including evidence from Laura Johnson, director of housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

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Week 35: ‘I really didn’t like the champagne’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw council witnesses, including former deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen and leader Nicholas Paget-Brown, questioned about their role in the story for the first time. Peter Apps reports

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Week 36: ‘Is that not a very incurious approach for a fire risk assessor?’

This week the Grenfell Tower Inquiry scrutinised the work of Carl Stokes, the man hired to carry out fire risk assessments for the block. Nathaniel Barker reports

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Week 37: ‘In giving that advice, weren’t you acting beyond your knowledge and expertise?’

A curtailed week at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry saw fire risk assessor Carl Stokes grilled over advice he gave regarding the tower’s cladding. Peter Apps reports

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Week 38: ‘Well it’s a bit more than that, isn’t it. He’s suggesting that you tell the LFB a lie’

The inquiry heard the mammoth cross-examination of KCTMO’s health and safety manager Janice Wray this week. Peter Apps reports

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Week 39: ‘What you said there was a grotesque understatement’

This week the inquiry continued to hear from former employees of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, as well as two employees from the London Fire Brigade. Lucie Heath reports

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Week 40: ‘An exercise in concealment and half-truth’

Former KCTMO chief executive Robert Black gave his evidence to the inquiry this week and was asked to account for the various failures described over the previous six weeks. Peter Apps and Nathaniel Barker report.

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Week 41: ‘We should do nothing. This is not the sort of website we should be responding to’

This week saw the return of Robert Black, chief executive of Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), before the inquiry turned its attention to the defective smoke control system in the tower. Dominic Brady reports

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Week 42:‘They would leak as much as they leaked. They were what they were’

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry continued its in-depth investigation of the tower’s non-compliant smoke control system this week, with evidence from the various contractors involved in delivering it. Pete Apps reports.

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Week 43:‘Contractors at the time were not generally aware of the importance of leaving holes unsealed’

This week the inquiry focused on two of the more overlooked areas of the Grenfell Tower fire, with evidence focusing on the gas pipelines and lifts within the west London block. It was a packed week, with five witnesses giving evidence. Jack Simpson reports

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Week 44:‘I've never seen a fully compliant firefighting lift in any local authority building, to this day actually’

This week the inquiry turn the focus onto the building’s defective lifts, with evidence from an expert, contractors who worked on them and a former engineer at KCTMO. Pete Apps reports.

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