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April 2013: Construction Classifications and Use of Plastic Panels in Europe

Why do we see so much new construction in Europe that includes plastic panels? The sales pitch from the architects to the customers is that higher insulation levels provided by these plastic panels is better for the environment. What is usually not discussed is the fire risk these panels can cause. What effect does a fire and the products of combustion have on the environment? How safe is it that workers should be in a work area with construction materials that are so hazardous and dangerous? A PVC panel will contribute as much heat and hazardous smoke as gasoline.

Noncombustible panels (rock wool insulation) or FM approved panels make much more sense. A property loss prevention engineer’s primary goal during a plan review of new construction, including the roof, is to ensure the products of construction do not contribute to the spread of fire. When purchased, plastic panels should be provided with the flame spread and smoke development index so the buyer is well aware of the hazards.

Here are some key definitions:

Rock wool - inorganic rock fibers bonded together with small amount of combustible binder. Noncombustible. The best in fire. Up to a 4 hr. fire rating.

Foamed glass - a glass with entrained gas. Brittle. Noncombustible

Foamed polystyrene - Expanded (EPS) or extruded (XPS). Thermoplastic, softens, shrinks back, melts, drips and molten pool ignites. Combustible. Recognized as worst of the plastic foams in fire. Has a very high heat release.

Foamed polyurethane (PUR) - thermosetting, self-adheres, chars, gives off noxious fumes (including lethal hydrogen cyanide after 1,500° F), burns giving black smoke. Heat release equal to or greater than EPS.

Combustible Foamed polyisocyanurate (PIR) - thermosetting, a variant of PUR having improved fire properties, chars and burns. FM approved panels available.

Combustible Foamed phenolic (Ph) - thermosetting, chars, gives off noxious fumes, burns giving black smoke. Combustible.

Over ten years ago, "Euroclasses Reaction to Fire" was introduced to facilitate trade between countries and eliminate hundreds of different product fire testing standards in different countries across the continent (See Table 6). Materials are tested and categorized from A to F. This covers only individual construction products however, and not the complete building. For example, at one time France used the M0, M1, M2, M3, M4 systems. M1 / M2 cover a range of partially combustible linings, panels, etc.

Below you will find European countries, local construction classifications and their European Construction classifications.

European Country

Existing National Classification



(see #05)


A1 & A2

Class 1


Class 2


Class 3


Class 4








To be used all classes according EC 2000/147.

No general equivalence for all requirements established between old and new classes




Class I


Class II


Class III


United Kingdom

(England and Wales)


A1 or considered as A1 without further testing

Limited Combustible

A2-s3,d2 or better

Class 0

B-s3,d2 or better

Class 1

C-s3,d2 or better

Class 2

D-s3,d0 or better

Unites Kingdom


Non Combustible

A1 or A2 and A1 without further testing

Class 0


Class 1


Class 3


Insulation Materials/
Main Use Limitations Open Cell Fire Rating Ignition Temperature Fire Impact on Surroundings
Expanded Polystyrene
Cold Stores & Warehouse None 0% Terrible Low Very high
Various Less suitable for freezers 20% Dangerous 300°C Very high
Various suitable for Freezers Less suitable for freezers 20% Better 400°C High
Modified Phenolic Resin
Various Untested 0% Very good Non-flammable Virtually no products of combustion
Mineral wool (Rockwool, glass wool) Various Unsuitable for freezers 100% Excellent Non-combustible Minimal

Construction in Europe tends to be driven by "People Safety" legislation rather than by property loss prevention standards. Construction selection should be closely based on flame spread and smoke development indices. There are several European countries where expanded polystyrene core composite panels can still be used in new construction in factories. New construction should not include EPS or PUR construction materials. Only noncombustible or FM approved PIR panels that are installed properly should be used as a form of construction.

Risk Logic can assist in inspecting and determining the need for the proper construction materials.