Insulation fire hazards | Living the Country Life

Insulation fire hazards

Your barn insulation might be a disaster waiting to happen

If certain types of insulation are installed and left exposed in the barn, it can be a serious fire hazard.

Dennis Murphy is an extension safety specialist at Penn State University. He says the most hazardous type is cellular plastic insulation. It's fine if it's covered up. But if left uncovered, a fire could become serious in a hurry.
"As it burns, it gives off gasses, and the gasses then ignite, and then you get a flashover," says Murphy. "And so you not only get a flashover so the entire building and all of its contents catch on fire very quickly, but it also gives off a lot of toxic smoke."

Murphy says building codes typically require that cellular plastic insulation be protected with fire resistant barriers. Unfortunately, building codes aren't always enforced in farm buildings. A fire barrier is designed to keep heat away from the insulation so it doesn't ignite and flashover. It also gives you time to extinguish the fire or evacuate animals and equipment.

Murphy says the insulation can be covered with almost any kind of non-flammable material.

"You could use cement board, gypsum wall board is probably the most common, or you can have fire retardant exterior plywood, that would do it. Even good solid lumber would provide certainly some protection," says Murphy. "It would always prevent the flashover. You'll never get the breakdown of those gasses as it burns."

Flame spread is the measure of determining the suitability of materials. The higher the rating number, the faster a fire will spread. For example, dry wall has a flame spread rating of 15, but untreated exterior plywood can reach 200.

Learn more ways to protect your barn from fire.

Radio interview source: Dennis Murphy, Extension Safety Specialist, Purdue University

Listen here to the radio mp3


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