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How Grenfell Changed the Multifamily Landscape

Just before one a.m. in London, on June 14, 2007, a fire broke out in the kitchen of a fourth-floor apartment in the Grenfell Tower complex. The result is well-known and has altered the industry’s approach to multifamily projects and multifamily building exteriors. The tragedy brought fresh attention to fire-resistance, and manufacturers, policymakers and architects are still responding and improving materials more than a decade later. 

The building materials industry has made huge strides since the Grenfell tragedy, and Nichiha has taken multiple steps to ensure that all of our products contribute to fire safety.

Where the Industry Stands

There are many factors that the building materials industry has had to consider even more closely: construction type(s), fire separation distances, sheathings, air and water barriers, interior finishes, exterior finishes, required hourly ratings, and the curveballs that local and regional energy codes have thrown.

Building product manufacturers have had to get ahead of the game and make things easier for both themselves and the consumer by fully vetting product offerings and being transparent about performance data on product testing.

Clients and homeowners are increasingly partaking in “home hardening,” or taking steps to protect their structures in the event of a fire. One such step is using fire-resistant materials on roofs, eaves, soffit and exterior siding. With modern fire disasters taking the lives of hundreds and wildfires ravaging the globe, fire resilience is more important than ever, and some building suppliers are having to scramble to increase the fire-resiliency of their products — but some have been prepared for years.

home hardening

Nichiha’s Fire Safety Standards

For over 20 years, Nichiha has created innovative fiber cement products, including a wide range of products that are at the top of the industry for fire resistance. 

As more and more people choose to live in multifamily complexes, fire safety — always important to consider during product creation — has become essential. We at Nichiha already had a good portfolio of performance testing to demonstrate Nichiha’s Architectural Wall Panels (AWP) do not post a risk themselves with respect to vertical and lateral flame propagation. 

For instance, Nichiha passed the NFPA 285 test that simulates a fire breaking out inside a building and checks to see what happens to the exterior wall assembly. Does the fire escape the room via a window and then travel up and out via the cladding or other exterior wall components? 

Nichiha’s testing of AWP on a basic exterior wall — no matter if it covers metal framing or gypsum sheathing or wood framing with fire resistance treated plywood sheathing — shows the panels do not allow the fire to travel up or outwards.

The latest testing also added four inches of polyisocyanurate (polyiso) exterior continuous insulation to a metal stud and gypsum sheathing assembly. The spectrum of foam plastic insulations feature varying degrees of flammability, and while polyiso is less flammable than other types of insulation like XPS (extruded polystyrene), they’re all combustible materials derived from oil.

Assembly components matter in NFPA 285 (and Canada’s version: CAN/ULC S-134) as it is an assembly test. You can’t swap out the type of insulation or cladding and assume the same results. The details matter, particularly window head flashing and location of joints in the cladding/exterior finishes. 

While test results can receive an engineering evaluation to expand the number of component options to more than strictly what was in the test, generally, the rule is any substituted item has to generally be equal to or better performers than the tested materials. 

To get a first-hand account of the strenuous and detailed testing process, take a look at Part One and Part Two of our ultimate fire test.

Nichiha’s Architectural Wall Panels pass the ASTM E 84 test that measures both flame spread and smoke development. Nichiha’s fiber cement panels have a Class A rating, meaning it has a flame spread index between zero and 25 and a smoke developed index ranging from 0 to 450. 

For a real-life example of the fire resistance of Nichiha’s wall panels, take a look at the Lake Complex Fire that happened in California in October 2017. This fast-moving fire incinerated every structure in the Mendocino neighborhood except for one. The exterior on the last standing building? Nichiha’s fire-resistant Architectural Wall Panels. 

Nichiha’s Fire Safety Standards
Thanks to the wide range of textures and finishes available in fire-resistant panels, Nichiha USA is a top choice among architects working in the wildfire-prone Western United States — and for multifamily architects looking to provide the safest solution possible for residents. 

To see and feel the Nichiha difference for yourself, click here to request a sample or contact your local rep to learn more.

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