Flammable Interior Wall Paneling

Hardwood-Plywood Wall Paneling

Thin hardwood plywood ("HP") paneling is often used as an interior wall finish in residential construction. Typically ¼" thick and made of three or more plies of plywood pressed together with an adhesive, it is usually nailed directly to wall studs allowing air space on both sides of the panel. When exposed to an ignition source the size of an average wastebasket fire, it will drive the fire to flashover conditions in a matter of minutes, as flames race upward and outward over the large, continuous combustible surface being fed by combustion air on both sides of the wall panel. Here is how flammable HP can be with an ignition source approximating a burning wastebasket:

Paneling 1


Paneling 4


Paneling 8


paneling 12


paneling 16


paneling 20


Paneling 9


The plywood paneling shown above, rated at Class C, complies with building codes in most jurisdictions. Foster Law Firm believes the standard to be woefully insufficient to provide the level of fire performance expected by the ordinary consumer. Fire retardants are available which will increase performance dramatically. Performance can also be improved by installing over gypsum board, thereby removing combustion air on one side and also by limiting the size of the continuance surface over which it is applied, such as using it as an accent wall or as a wains coating below a chair rail.

Here's how HP paneling drives a fire in a real world setting with upholstered furniture and drapery in the room of origin. The ignition source is a burning wastebasket:

red chair 1

Time = 8 sec. Post ignition, burning in wastebasket.

Red Chair 2

Time = 6 minutes, 50 sec. Flame impingement on ceiling.

Red Chair 4

Time = 7 min, 25 sec. Gases burning in hot ceiling layer; ceiling burning.

Red Chair 3

Time = 8 min, 7 sec. Radiant ignition of combustibles.

Robert P. Foster has litigated the flammability of HP against a manufacturer, Georgia Pacific (settled out of court - see, Sizemore v. GP case summary - click here), and the hardwood plywood manufacturer's trade association, Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association (HPVA) (Sizemore v. HPVA, 1997 U.S. App. Lexis 13061 No. 96-1587 (4th Cir. June 4, 1997); 114 F.3d 1177, 1997 U.S. App. Lexis 20547 - click here to view. While the result in the HPVA case was unsuccessful, Mr. Foster did uncover and present to the court evidence of conspiracy carried out by the Association to attempt to influence building code officials to refrain from passing a more stringent flammability standard.

Robert P. Foster welcomes questions, comments, associations, and referrals about issues and cases relating to fires in which injury, death, or property damage has been caused or aggravated by excessively flammable hardwood plywood paneling.

Feel free to contact Robin P. Foster, Foster Law Firm, L.L.C., with any questions or comments relating to issues of flammability.