Not all insulation is the same

Author: Roy Weghorst, Head of Regulatory Affairs – Fire, Kingspan Group

I’ve just returned from delivering a seminar at the Firex conference at London’s Excel, discussing the impact of insulation technology on building fire resilience.

I opened the session by addressing common misconceptions about the fire performance of different insulation types, and the way different materials are categorised and compared. Not all insulation is the same, and there’s a world of difference between a standard thermoplastic foam insulation and a thermoset one.

For example, there is often confusion about the relationship between reaction to fire and fire resistance. The former relates to general combustibility, while the latter is a more specific measure of performance in construction when used in buildings. A material can score highly under reaction to fire, but poorly under fire resistance, making it possibly an inappropriate insulation choice (for example, materials that are incombustible but melt at relatively low temperatures).

We went on to review a number of detailed fire case studies, illustrating the difference in performance between insulation types through real-world scenarios. This included a recent fire in an army surplus store in the Netherlands that occurred in April of this year.

The store was a fully enclosed compartment, separated from the other sections of the building by fire walls. Although the fire devastated the store, it was prevented from spreading to the rest of the building by the fire wall in combination with the insulated panels crossing the fire wall that made up the exterior wall of the building. We reviewed photos of the interior of one of the affected panels, showing the charring on one side and the integrity of the insulation on the other, as the panel did not propagate the fire.

Kingspan takes an open and collaborative approach to fire safety. We share knowledge with key stakeholders, work with well-respected third-parties like FM Global and the BRE, and conduct intensive ‘in-situ’ testing far beyond regulatory standards. Sharing our findings at events like Firex is an important part of our commitment to raising standards and driving product development across the insulation technology industry.

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