Without much fanfare, Victoria recently announced that, from 1 February 2021, it will put in place much stricter prohibitions on certain combustible materials used in wall systems. These will be among the strictest requirements in Australia, and may set a precedent for other states to follow.
Previously, the requirements were set by Ministerial Guideline MG-14 dated March 2018. MG-14 stated that aluminium composite panels containing 30% or more polyethylene, or expanded polystyrene, could be used in Type A or B Construction, so long as approval was obtained from the Building Appeals Board.
From 1 February, MG-14 is revoked, and replaced by the Prohibition of High-Risk Cladding Products Declaration (“the PHCP Declaration”). The PHCP Declaration states that the following external wall cladding products are prohibited from use on buildings requiring Type A or Type B construction in Victoria:
- aluminium composite panels (ACPs) with a core of less than 93 per cent inert mineral filler (inert content) by mass in external cladding as part of a wall system; and
- expanded polystyrene products used in an external insulation and finish (rendered) wall system.
Note that this is an absolute ban and cannot be circumvented by performance solutions or Building Appeals Board approvals. It rules out many of the ACPs marketed in Australia as fire resistant, as even the best performing of these tend to contain 10% – 30% polyethylene. It applies to buildings requiring Type A and Type B Construction, which includes the vast majority of buildings of 2 storeys or more, apart from single dwelling houses.
In short, aluminium composite panels should not be used in the walls of buildings requiring Type A or B construction unless clear certification is obtained from the manufacturer stating that it has a core of at least 93 per cent inert mineral filler (inert content) by mass. In addition, written approval needs to be sought from the relevant building surveyor and fire engineer confirming that the product meets all National Construction Code requirements with respect to combustibility. Expanded polystyrene should not be used in an external insulation and finish (rendered) wall system in any quantity at all.
Given that the majority of professional indemnity insurance policies exclude cover for non-compliant external wall cladding, and many specifically exclude cover for aluminium composite panels containing polyethylene, the safest course is not to use panels containing any polyethylene at all.
Because of the lack of insurance cover, it is prudent to avoid aluminium composite panels with any amount of polyethylene even for projects outside Victoria.
This article is only general advice in respect of risk management. It is not tailored to your individual needs or those of your business, nor is it intended to be relied upon as legal or insurance advice. For such assistance you should approach your legal and/or insurance advisors.