Skip to main content

Experimental Study of Combustible and Non-combustible Construction in a Natural Fire


With the adoption of performance-based fire design and the development of new engineered wood products, wood-based mid-rise and high-rise buildings are beginning to be constructed all around the globe. This trend has accelerated efforts to gain more understanding of the risks associated with combustible construction. To compare the differences between combustible and non-combustible construction, a series of full scale fire tests was conducted at Carleton University, the results of which are presented in this paper. These tests represented real bedroom fires with different room construction types: cross laminated timber (CLT) construction, light timber frame construction and light steel frame construction. Results showed that gypsum boards provided a better protection to CLT panels than to light frame walls. Compared with fires in the protected rooms, fire in the unprotected CLT room during the fully developed phase showed accelerated fire development and resulted in over 80% higher total heat release rate (THRR) but slightly lower room temperatures, and external burning contributed to about 64% of the THRR. It was also found that the light timber frame walls and light steel frame walls behaved very differently in the real fire. Furthermore, higher charring rates in both the unprotected CLT panels (1.0 mm/min) and wood studs (1.2 mm/min) were obtained in the real fire than those in the standard fire.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8
Figure 9
Figure 10


  1. Park J, Lee J (2004) Fire resistance of light-framed wood floors exposed to real and standard fire. J Fire Sci 6:449–471. doi:10.1177/0734904104042548

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. prEN1991-1-2 (2002) Eurocode 1: actions on structures, part 1–2: actions on structures exposed to fire. CEN, Brussels

  3. Manzello SL, Gann RG, Kukuck SR, Lenhert DB (2007) Influence of gypsum board type (X or C) on real fire performance of partition assemblies. Fire Mater 7:425–442. doi:10.1002/fam.940

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Manzello SL, Gann RG, Kukuck SR, Prasad K, Jones WW (2007) Performance of a non-load-bearing steel stud gypsum board wall assembly: experiments and modelling. Fire Mater 5:297–310. doi:10.1002/fam.939

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Manzello SL, Gann RG, Kukuck SR, Prasad K, Jones WW (2005) Real fire performance of partition assemblies. Fire Mater 6:351–366. doi:10.1002/fam.892

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Sultan M (1996) A model for predicting heat transfer through noninsulated unloaded steel-stud gypsum board wall assemblies exposed to fire. Fire Technol 3:239–259. doi:10.1007/BF01040217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Lennon T, Moore D (2003) The natural fire safety concept—full-scale tests at Cardington. Fire Saf J 7:623–643. doi:10.1016/S0379-7112(03)00028-6

  8. International Organization for Standardisation (1975) ISO 834, fire resistance tests—elements of building construction. ISO, Switzerland

  9. British Standard (1987) BS 476: parts 20–24, fire tests on building materials and structures. British Standard, UK

  10. Trelles J, Mawhinney JR (2010) CFD investigation of large scale pallet stack fires in tunnels protected by water mist systems. J Fire Prot Eng 3:149–198. doi:10.1177/1042391510367359

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Hopkin DJ, Lennon T, El-Rimawi J, Silberschmidt V (2011) Full-scale natural fire tests on gypsum lined structural insulated panel (SIP) and engineered floor joist assemblies. Fire Saf J 8:528–542. doi:10.1016/j.firesaf.2011.07.009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Jones B (2001) Performance of gypsum plasterboard assemblies exposed to real building fires. Dissertation/Thesis, University of Canterbury

  13. Nyman JF (2002) Equivalent fire resistance ratings of construction elements exposed to realistic fires. Dissertation/Thesis, University of Canterbury

  14. Nyman JF, Gerlich HJT, Wade C, Buchanan AH (2008) Predicting fire resistance performance of drywall construction exposed to parametric design fires—a review. J Fire Prot Eng 2:117–139. doi:10.1177/1042391507080811

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Barnett CR (2007) A new T-equivalent method for fire rated wall constructions using cumulative radiation energy. J Fire Prot Eng 2:113–127. doi:10.1177/1042391506066098

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Frangi A, Fontana M (2005) Fire performance of timber structures under natural fire conditions. Fire Saf Sci 8:279–290. doi:10.3801/IAFSS.FSS.8-279

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hakkarainen T (2002) Post-flashover fires in light and heavy timber construction compartments. J Fire Sci 2:133–175. doi:10.1177/0734904102020002074

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Gagnon S, Pirvu C (2011) CLT handbook: cross-laminated timber. Forintek Canada Corporation, Canada

  19. Kuilen JWGVD, Ceccotti A, Xia Z, He M (2011) Very tall wooden buildings with cross laminated timber. Proc Eng 14:1621–1628. doi:10.1016/j.proeng.2011.07.204

  20. Frangi A, Fontana M, Hugi E, Jübstl R (2009) Experimental analysis of cross-laminated timber panels in fire. Fire Saf J 8:1078–1087. doi:10.1016/j.firesaf.2009.07.007

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Frangi A, Fontana M, Knobloch M, Bochicchio G (2008) Fire behaviour of cross-laminated solid timber panels. Fire Saf Sci 9:1279–1290. doi:10.3801/IAFSS.FSS.9-1279

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Osborne L, Dagenais C (2012) Preliminary CLT fire resistance testing report. Point-Claire, Canada

  23. Frangi A, Bochicchio G, Ceccotti A, Lauriola MP (2008) Natural full-scale fire test on a 3 storey XLam timber building. In: Proceedings of 10th world conference on Timber Engineering (WCTE), Miyazaki, Japan

  24. McGregor C (2013) Contribution of cross laminated timber panels to room fires. Dissertation/Thesis, Carleton University

  25. Karlsson B, Quintiere JG (2000) Enclosure fire dynamics. CRC Press, Boca Raton

  26. Bwalya A, Lougheed G, Kashef A, Saber H (2011) Survey results of combustible contents and floor areas in canadian multi-family dwellings. Fire Technol 4:1121–1140. doi:10.1007/s10694-009-0130-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Ko Y, Michels R, Hadjisophocleous G (2011) Instrumentation design for HRR measurements in a large-scale fire facility. Fire Technol 4:1047–1061. doi:10.1007/s10694-009-0115-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Feng M, Wang YC, Davies JM (2003) Structural behaviour of cold-formed thin-walled short steel channel columns at elevated temperatures. Part 1: experiments. Thin-Walled Struct 6:543–570. doi:10.1016/S0263-8231(03)00002-8

  29. EN 1995-1-2 (2004) Eurocode 5: design of timber structures, part 1–2: general—structural fire design. CEN, Brussels

  30. Misra MK, Ragland KW, Baker AJ (1993) Wood ash composition as a function of furnace temperature. Biomass Bioenergy 2:103–116. doi:10.1016/0961-9534(93)90032-Y

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Ragland KW, Aerts DJ, Baker AJ (1991) Properties of wood for combustion analysis. Bioresour Technol 2:161–168. doi:10.1016/0960-8524(91)90205-X

  32. Nordic Engineered Wood (2013) Nordic X-lam technical data (T-S22_e).

  33. Janssens M, Tran HC (1992) Data reduction of room tests for zone model validation. J Fire Sci 6:528. doi:10.1177/073490419201000604

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Bryner NP, Johnsson EL, Pitts WM (1994) Carbon monoxide production in compartment fires: Reduced-scale enclosure test facility. NISTIR-5568, National Institute of Standard and Technology, US

  35. Dembsey NA, Pagni PJ, Williamson RB (1995) Compartment fire near-field entrainment measurements. Fire Saf J 4:383

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. McKay C (2002) Carbon monoxide generation in a compartment with a doorway during a fire. Dissertation/Thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  37. Emmons HW (2002) Vent flows. In: DiNenno PJ (ed) SFPE Handbook of fire protection engineering, Third edn. National Fire Protection Association, Massachusetts, 2-32, 2-41

  38. Gottuk DT, Lattimer BY (2002) Effect of combustion conditions on species production. In: DiNenno PJ (ed) SFPE handbook of fire protection engineering, Third edn. National Fire Protection Association, Massachusetts, 2-54, 2-82

  39. Gottuk DT, Roby RJ, Peatross MJ, Beyler CL (1992) Carbon monoxide production in compartment fires. J Fire Prot Eng 4:133–150. doi:10.1177/104239159200400402

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), FPInnovations and all other sponsors of NEWBuildS (NSERC strategic research Network for Engineered Wood-based Building Systems) network for their funding support of this work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xiao Li.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Li, X., Zhang, X., Hadjisophocleous, G. et al. Experimental Study of Combustible and Non-combustible Construction in a Natural Fire. Fire Technol 51, 1447–1474 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Fire resistance
  • Cross laminated timber
  • Charring
  • Gypsum board
  • Heat release rate
  • Temperature
  • Light frame construction
  • Natural fire