Don’t let the non-combustible cladding discussion get out of sand

The second phase of the Grenfell inquiry is set to have an impact on the construction industry and the way it does things. The Government is also asking for feedback on the impact of their decision to change Building Regulations in December 2018 towards greater use of non-combustible materials. While ongoing discussions on the way in which combustible and non-combustible solutions are assessed for safety is vital, Paul Richards, Managing Director of Aquarian Cladding Systems, believes that the bigger picture including climate change must also be considered.

The tragedy of Grenfell has had a huge impact on the cladding sector – not just here in the UK but across the world.

There is of course a much greater sense of responsibility and caution when specifying and using materials on buildings of any scale. And rightly so.

With combustible cladding banned on residential buildings, hospitals and schools in England and Wales above 18m, only A1 and A2 class materials such as clay, metal, stone, or glass are currently approved for external walls. Post-Grenfell, the view that all non-combustible materials are good, and all combustible materials are bad is not only unhealthy for the industry but also for the environment.

Of course, we should build safely but we will not meet affordable housing targets with expensive solutions, nor meet climate change targets by predominantly using solutions that are particularly dependent on materials such as sand, especially when there is a global shortage of it.

A sand storm

When we think of global shortages to be worried about, the first one that comes to mind is water.

Something that we wouldn’t associate with a global shortage is sand. It’s easy to see why. After all, when we picture sand spread across beaches and deserts, we think of it as an infinite resource.

But that is not the case, with high demand and unregulated mining to meet it causing problems.

We use sand for constructing almost everything. It is an essential ingredient for concrete, asphalt and glass and with cities and urban areas expanding at a rapid rate, demand is rising constantly.

Coastal development, along with climate change, only increases the amount of sand needed to replenish coasts and the replenishment rates are not high enough to meet this growing demand.

Only a fraction of sand deposits all over the world is suitable for use in construction but this sand, spread over rivers and coasts, is dwindling because of the amount that is currently being extracted.

Damaging the environment and endangering communities

Extracting sand from rivers, beaches and seafloors has some hugely detrimental effects on the environment, with research showing that sand mining operations affect numerous animal species and damage ecosystems and their ability to function.

Extracting sand can also have serious consequences for people’s livelihoods. Beaches and wetlands provide the perfect buffer for coastal communities against surging seas but increased erosion resulting from extensive mining makes these communities more vulnerable to floods and storms.

The perfect solution?

We should therefore question if insisting that everything should be A1 or A2 is a sensible response due to limited solutions from a select range of large suppliers using a finite resource of materials.

Due to the high content of sand in many of the solutions, including mineral wool insulation and concrete, should we really go completely non-combustible on all materials? Is it really such a perfect solution?

Thankfully, we are starting to witness a change in tone within the industry and, whereas perhaps a year to 18 months ago insurance brokers, funders and clients were not interested in using any material considered to be combustible, they are now at least open to considering the options, provided it can be supported with evidence.

It won’t be easy, and it will take time and patience, but I firmly believe the industry understands the error of its ways and with strong leadership, the lessons learned will be applied to ensure safer buildings using sustainable techniques are built in future and a solution is found.

It is not too late to change our ways, neither is it too late for us to seize the opportunity to tell Government what we think by visiting

Any global shortage of building materials must be managed for a sustainable environment. It is in our hands not to follow the herd, to speak out and act responsibly.

Working with architects, contractors, developers and installation specialists, Aquarian’s cladding systems have been used on many award-winning buildings across a wide range of sectors. For more information call 0808 223 9080, email info(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign) or visit