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The image of the Grenfell Tower engulfed in flames is seared in the minds of those of us who design, construct, operate, maintain or renovate buildings. While a thorough investigation of the accident is still ongoing, the fire was reported to be the cause of death of at least 80 people. According to initial investigations, the fire was started in a flat on one of the building’s lower floors. The fire spread more quickly than is typical for high-rise fires today, consuming the building in less than an hour. It took only 15 minutes for the fire to spread to the top floors via the building’s exterior, and the intense fire burned for 60 hours before the fire fighters could completely extinguish it. …


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The terms “air barrier” and “vapour retarder” (or “vapor barrier”) are perhaps some of the most poorly understood concepts in our industry. Most people know that they are needed, but they often struggle to locate them correctly within wall assemblies. Also, the consequences of installing these materials improperly can result in failures. This general lack of understanding of the functions of these materials has resulted in simplistic rules-of-thumb that are prone to misapplication (e.g. the vapour barrier is always on the inside, the air barrier is always on the outside, and so forth). …

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