CROSS Safety Report
Classification of wall linings
A reporter states that they have been looking into the Reaction to Fire Class for different products and noticed some discrepancies in the market literature.
Key Learning Outcomes
For manufacturers and suppliers of wallpapers and other wall coverings:
- Products should be tested for the intended end use
- Product labels should make it clear if the classification attained was only achieved on a specific substrate
For product specifiers:
- Ensure that the documentation of all products used is accessible
- If possible, attend the site when contracted to do so and check for inappropriate product substitution
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A reporter states that they have been looking into the Reaction to Fire Class for different products; in particular, different wallpapers. One thing that they noticed is that a certain wallcovering and furnishings website shows, through the available classification reports, that some wallpapers are tested with a Calcium Silicate (CaSi) board as a substrate and others with gypsum plasterboard. However, the reporter also noted that when wallpapers are bought from a local Do-It-Yourself (DIY) store, then the classification label only lists the final Reaction to Fire Class, without any more information on how this was derived.
The reporter thinks that this is of concern because BS EN 13238:2010 – Reaction to fire tests for building products — Conditioning procedures and general rules for selection of substrates, states in clause 22.214.171.124 the following:
“The standard gypsum plasterboard substrate is representative of end-use gypsum plasterboard substrates and also any end-use substrate of classes A1 and A2-s1,d0. The standard calcium silicate board substrate is not representative of a gypsum plasterboard end-use substrate”.
Additionally, the reporter found that a well-known fire test organisation carried out a study on wallpapers and found that wallpapers with CaSi as substrate in the Single Burning Item test (SBI, according to BS EN 13823) obtain a better classification than wallpapers with gypsum plasterboard as an SBI test substrate. This was mainly attributed to the top layer on the plasterboard being paper, which is combustible. According to the study, this finding “clearly highlights the importance of manufacturers defining the field of application of test results and regulators such as building control professionals understanding the field of application”.
The reporter raised the following main points:
- In their opinion, any SBI test for wallpapers should not be done on a CaSI substrate as, at least as far as they are aware, the end-use condition will not be on a CaSi board.
- From the test certificates available in the market literature that they reviewed, it appears to them that one particular fire testing organisation does not seem to test on CaSi boards and any reports using a CaSi substrate are performed by other testing agencies.
- One of the websites they used to access product test reports only lists the final Reaction to Fire Class at the frontpages but not the substrate used. Given that the substrate has a big impact on the outcome of the SBI test they consider this a misleading practice.
- The reporter visited a DIY store and bought wallpapers. Following that, they tried to contact the manufacturer to ascertain the substrate used in the SBI test. The manufacturer referred the reporter to another company, and then this company referred them to a further company. The substrate used is still unknown. This is either because nobody knows, or they don't want to share the information.
The suspected motivation for this practice according to the reporter is that manufacturers want to get a better classification by choosing a testing facility that uses a substrate beneficial to the product classification, without thinking about the possible consequences this may have once out in the market. The reporter finds it essential that more information should be shared in the market literature on how the SBI test was conducted; a suggestion would be that the CE-marking could show the substrate and type of fixing used.
Finally, the reporter is of the mind that since wallpapers can be bought by laypeople, the CE marking for wallpapers tested on CaSi should clearly have a disclaimer that the Reaction to Fire Class is not applicable for other uses, such as plasterboard.
Expert Panel Comments
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The panel is of the mind that the reporter's concerns appear to be justified and supported by previous comments that CROSS has made around the clarity and openness of product testing, certification, and dissemination of information.
If a manufacturer of a particular product is making claims about their fire performance, they ought to be clear about the type of substrate that the test result was obtained on. If they are not, and the tests were carried out using a substrate that performs better than what typical materials used in construction do, that could be a cause for concern. CaSi boards can be used as sheathing in construction, but when it comes to internal use then plasterboard will almost always be the chosen solution. Since wallpaper is an internal lining, it is highly probable that its end-use will be application to plasterboard, and thus the Reaction to Fire Class considered should be the one that used plasterboard as a substrate.
if tests were carried out using a substrate that performs better than typical materials used in construction, that could be a cause for concern
It could be argued that what the reporter has identified can at best be ambiguous and, at worst, intentionally misleading.
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