Ronald Simmons, P.E., C.F.E.I.,
Eric Benstock, P.E., MIFireE, C.F.E.I
Nestor Camara, B. Sc., C.F.I.
MCDOWELL OWENS ENGINEERING, INC.
In recent decades much of the world (and especially the U.S.) has become very conscious
of energy consumption. As a result, many energy saving initiatives and products have
been introduced. One of the most successful lines of products has been the reflective
radiant barrier materials which are installed in the attic spaces of homes. Available
evidence strongly suggests that these products can in fact provide significant reductions
in home energy consumption (U.S. Department of Energy, the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory, et al.). Unfortunately, the use of these products also provides some insidious
and unintended side effects. The physical and electrical properties of these materials are
such that they introduce new and very serious dangers of ignition and fire.
In an earlier report published in Fire Findings (2009) we discussed results from testing
performed on certain reflective radiant barrier laminated sheet material, which is
purchased in rolls. This is the material commonly installed on attic floors (above the
insulation) to provide an effective thermally reflective barrier above the ceiling of a
building. That testing demonstrated conclusively that, if electrically energized by
incidental contact with a powered conductor in a standard branch circuit, this material
would “arc and spark” rather violently and would frequently catch fire and sustain flame
(Simmons, et al.). Clearly, this could ignite other nearby more flammable materials, and
thus initiate a major structure fire.
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