In its latest report on the New Providence Wharf Fire , The London Fire Brigade has again highlighted the importance of ensuring that balconies are constructed wholly from materials of limited combustibility.
Whilst some buildings may have been assessed and it may have been decided that combustible materials are not to be replaced on balconies. In the wake of New Providence Wharf fire, The Brigade has explicitly stated that whilst the building had ACM flammable cladding; it was in fact the timber balcony decking that was the main contributor to the spread of the fire from levels 8 to 11.
The BRE Article Fire Safety Issues with Balconies by Ciara Holland, Martin Shipp and Dr David Crowder was published in 2016. This article implored Architects and Developers to consider fire safety in the design of balconies even though, at the time, Part B did not specifically state any requirements to do so.
Part B of the Building regulations was updated in November 2018, which required balconies in certain buildings started after that date to be made from materials of limited combustibility (A2,s1-d0 or better).
The MHCLG advice issued in January 2020 states that: “Balconies should not assist fire spread along the external wall. Balconies including combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety and could pose a risk to the health and safety of residents and other building users.”
The London Fire Brigade is asking all building owners and managers to check their balconies for flammable materials.
Likely flammable materials which would assist the fire spread include: timber decking, timber joists, plastic decking, recycled plastic decking, composite decking, plywood panels, plastic joists, plastic pedestals, phenolic insulation boards, artificial grass among others.
Many fires on balconies are caused by the unsafe disposal of smoking materials, often originating from a balcony higher up. So the resident can encounter a fire on their balcony even though they may not have been using it.
During the period of warm weather it is also important to be remember that flammable materials placed on the balcony temporarily also present an ignition source and fire load. Barbecues (even not in use), laundry, rugs etc present a hazard which could contribute to the spread of a fire.