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.
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.
“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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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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