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The external use of combustible materials on Care Homes with floors under 18m – just because it’s legal, does that make it moral?

The building regulations that came into force on 21st December 2018 ban the use of combustible materials on the external walls of residential developments over 18m above ground level. This means that as long as a building has less than approximately 6 storeys, combustible materials are still permitted to be used.

Even for an able-bodied individual, 6 flights of stairs would be quite daunting to have to descend in the event of a fire, so how would this affect a person residing in an Assisted Living development or Care Home? Though it would be perfectly legal for a developer or specifier to use combustible materials on the external walls of a Care Home under 18m, would it be considered morally right?

In residential developments catered towards the older generation, it would be expected that many of the inhabitants would be less able-bodied or even wheelchair-bound. This means that in the event of a fire, both lift and stair access would not be available to a large number of residents and they would, essentially, be trapped on whichever storey they reside on.

Using non-combustible materials on the external walls of an Assisted Living development or Care Home with floors under 18m, though not necessary by law, certainly has its benefits. If external building features, such as balconies, are manufactured from non-combustible materials they could, in the event of a fire, not only help to prevent the spread of flames, but provide a safer place for residents to await rescue.

As well as this, A1 (Euroclass system) fire rated materials, like aluminium, that are used in the production of balconies, are able to structurally withstand the fire for a longer period of time when compared to its traditional, combustible counterparts such as timber and composite. Additionally, aluminium does not burn, it melts and even then, its melting-point is between 600 and 660 degrees Celsius. This high melting-point should provide enough time for firefighters to rescue any residents that may be waiting.

Castleoak create Care, Assisted and Retirement Living developments and are setting a precedent for ethical building as they continuously specify non-combustible products, such as ours, on the external walls of their buildings, regardless of the building height.

Specifiers of Care Home, Assisted and Retirement developments are in a very important position as decisions surrounding the inclusion of combustible materials could have extremely serious repercussions for perspective residents. This leaves us with the question of, although using combustible materials externally on residential developments is, in some cases legal, is it moral?