Is Engineered Lumber (manufactured lumber) a significant fire and life safety threat?

The use of  Engineered Lumber ( light weight building materials also called manufactured lumber or Engineered Wood Products) such as manufactured joists have been around for some time.  However they have been identified as being a greater risk during fire events and you should be aware of this.

Example manufactured joist and dimensional lumber joist

Example of manufactured and dimensional lumber joists.

Engineered lumber been around for quite some time and used in conjunction with standard dimensional lumber.  For example in the picture here this home has been built using a combination of manufactured I-Joists (engineered lumber) and full, dimensional lumber joists.  Engineered lumber is made from leftover mill pieces from other operations, adhesives to hold it together, and smaller dimensional lumber pieces.  Engineered lumber, also called “Engineered Wood Products” (EWP) have gone through rigorous testing to ensure that they can provide the same level of structural ability, and in many cases even better ability, than their dimensional lumber counterparts.  The use of engineered lumber is the result of many different reasons to include utilizing the leftovers from milling and creation of other wood products to help partly with the environment (Green Building) but mostly to lower production and labor costs of the material and of structures.

Engineered lumber has been a great boon to the building industry and consumers but not without unforeseen consequences.  Over the years of their use many studies have been performed with a great deal of data gathered from actual fire events.  Engineered lumber has been identified as burning faster and losing its structural integrity (ability to support) faster than dimensional lumber.  This has obviously increased the safety risk not only for the occupants of the structure but the Firefighters who fight these fires.  A very good article summarizing the issues and solutions has been published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and can be found HERE.

Does that mean you should be concerned about the use of engineered lumber in your home?  The answer is a two sided one and simply put yes and no.  No because the truth of the matter is although engineered lumber can burn faster when a fire occurs all lumber is going to burn and you simply do not want to be around it when it does!  On the yes side of this is that engineered lumber can reduce the time you have to react if a fire occurs in your home.  That time reduction may only be minutes but even minutes can count when trying to save your family’s lives!

Reducing your response time to a fire is of utmost importance to your safety!!  This includes taking actions such as regular testing of fire/smoke alarms, creating and practicing emergency egress (departure) procedures for your family, ensuring emergency egress pathways are not blocked, and of course teaching your children how not to start a fire in a home.  A very good place to start all of these activities is at the National Fire Protection Association WEB site safety page which can be found HERE.  You should also speak with your local Fire Protection officials (Fire Department, Building Safety, etc.) as they also may have very good information for your use.

So no matter whatever scary information you might here about manufactured lumber keep in mind that no matter if you have it or dimensional lumber in your home you must always be safe!  It would serve you no purpose to worry about something you can’t control (the use of the manufactured lumber) when you should only be concerned about your safety plans in the event of a fire.  From there just enjoy your home!

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