‘Just enough’ is no longer enough

The Grenfell Tower tragedy is once again making headlines. The latest news from the enquiry makes for uncomfortable – if not chilling – reading for most in the building industry. Architects, specifiers and contractors who opt for more cost-effective solutions but don’t fully understand the rules or implications, manufacturers who ‘manipulate’ official testing and market products that aren’t fit for purpose. It’s construction as it is rather than as it should be. We saw it in the Lakanal House fire in 2009 and we’re seeing it again now.    

It is now apparent the wrong cladding was put on the building for thermal and appearance improvements. It was also fitted incorrectly, which resulted in accelerating the fire.

But it’s not just the cladding at fault – an endless list of errors has been uncovered. There was only one staircase (and so one escape route) rather than two, which would have allowed fire fighters unimpeded access to do their job while tenants got out. There was no complete sprinkler system. Annual inspections weren’t carried out to check the integrity of the building. The main gas supply wasn’t turned off until hours after the fire started.  It was a particularly hot day and many indows (and perhaps doors too) were open, encouraging the spread of fire rather than compartmentalising it. 

The debate about value engineering versus ‘over-engineering’

In an ideal world – where everything performs as we’d like it to – we can rely on 30 minutes to get in and out of a burning building safely. We can rely on ‘value engineering’ products and systems so ‘just’ meet requirements and work together effectively. But in the real world, small product variations and the myriad of variations in how a building is built or maintained add up and eat into our safe time. The sum of small individual product (and human) variations can turn a safe outcome with a comfortable margin into a near-miss or catastrophe.

We need to seriously rethink our attitudes to value-engineering and over-engineering. We need to know that the buildings we live in, visit and use every day have a comfortable fire safety factor built in.

At Enfield, for example, we deliberately ‘over engineer’ our Fire Doors so they have extra safety time built-in to every door. In tests sponsored by MHCLG, Enfield’s doors passed with a reassuringly large margin: ‘opening in’ exceeded the time by 19% and ‘opening out’ by an exceptional 70% (51 minutes). Watch the fire doors being tested at www.enfielddoors.co.uk.

Of course, fire isn’t all you need to consider when specifying doors. Our PAS 24 enhanced security door sets, for example, are available with 30 and 60 minute fire resistance, 33dB acoustic reduction and a choice of quality ironmongery and finishes that all meet or exceed requirements.

For the architects, specifiers and contractors we deal with, and the clients they work for – and the users of their buildings – noise is also important, for leisure centres, offices and flats in particular. Anti-bacterial finishes (hygiene coatings or high-pressure laminates incorporating silver ions) were already increasingly being specified on doors in high traffic areas, to help prevent the spread of disease, even before the Covid-19 pandemic. Eco-credentials and sustainability are higher priorities. And security remains a crucial consideration for internal and entrance doors.

The same principle stands: whether a product has one or multiple standards or requirements to meet, it should do so with a comfortable margin. ‘Just enough’ just isn’t enough.

If events over the past few years initiates a lasting change in our thinking as a nation, we’d all sleep a lot safer.

For more information on fire, acoustic, or security doors, email sales(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)enfielddoors.co.uk, call 020 8805 6662 or visit www.enfielddoors.co.uk.