Entire House Framed with Engineered Wood

If you have been a firefighter for very long, you are probably aware of firefighter’s concerns with engineered wood and how it performs under fire conditions. The use of engineered wood products has grown significantly in recent decades. According to APA–The Engineered Wood Products Association, engineered wood components saw their first commercialization in the 1960s but didn’t enjoy widespread use until the 1980s. (1) Since then, production has increased more than ten-fold, with the U.S. and Canada combining for 1.28 billion linear feet of engineered components in 2004, at the peak of the housing boom.

So What is Engineered Wood? (2)

Engineered wood, also called composite wood, man-made wood, or manufactured board, includes a range of derivative wood products which are manufactured by binding or fixing the strands, particles, fibers, or veneers or boards of wood, together with adhesives, or other methods of fixation to form composite materials. These products are engineered to precise design specifications which are tested to meet national or international standards. Engineered wood products are used in a variety of applications, from home construction to commercial buildings to industrial products. The products can be used for joists and beams that replace steel in many building projects.

Typically, engineered wood products are made from the same hardwoods and softwoods used to manufacture lumber. Sawmill scraps and other wood waste can be used for engineered wood composed of wood particles or fibers, but whole logs are usually used for veneers, such as plywood, or particle board.

As I said earlier engineered wood has been on the the fire service radar for awhile now, so you are probably asking yourself what is the purpose of this article?

Thanks to my good friend Eric Rissman who sent a very interesting Facebook link (3) from Sherwood Lumber.  What caught my attention in this post was the way engineered wood products are being used in wall systems for the entire structural frame.

So I did a little digging to hopefully shed some light on how engineered wood products can be used in place of traditional wood framing.

Structural Composite Lumber Basics:

Structural composite lumber (SCL), which includes laminated veneer lumber (LVL), parallel strand lumber (PSL), laminated strand lumber (LSL) and oriented strand lumber (OSL), is a family of engineered wood products created by layering dried and graded wood veneers, strands or flakes with moisture resistant adhesive, into blocks of material known as billets, which are subsequently resawn into specified sizes. (4)

How Is It Made: LP® SolidStart® LSL video

In this article I have focused on engineered wood being used in structural walls, because, I am not aware of any full scale fire service testing that has been done on engineered wood being used vertically or used as a wall. Thanks to the great work  from Under Writers Laboratory (UL) (4) and NIOSH (5), we will take a look at some of the highlights from  the UL  floor and roof testing,that could also pertain to these products and this application.

While most of the 100-plus page UL report on the testing of lightweight building components focused on engineering calculations, several key points emerged to clarify the fire performance of engineered wood components, including:

  • Deflection Times:
    Although a computer model predicted that the test floor assembly using engineered I-joists would retain its strength longer during a fire than the traditional wood platform, the opposite was the case. Furthermore, the engineered wood supports began to fail and deflect almost from the start of the test and proceeded to degrade in stages, leading to floor vibration, noise, collapse, and burn-through.
  • Charring:
    The rate at which engineered wood and traditional wood chars is similar. However, because of the very thin cross section of the I-beams, the report found that this charring rate poses immediate dangers to the mechanical integrity of the structure.
  • Heat Sensitivity:
    Oriented strand board beam sections exhibited initial charring at a much lower temperature than traditional wood, making it impossible to further test some properties of the material.
  • Heat Conduction:
    Due to compressed plies and binding material, the engineered samples conducted heat faster than other wood samples.
  • Brittleness:
    Engineered wood product samples exhibited increased brittleness and loss of mechanical strength compared with traditional wood components when heated in an oven, even without being exposed to fire. Researchers suggested this was due to separation of the constituent compressed fibers under mechanical and heat stress

This is just one of many ways our built-in environment is constantly changing and we need to be a student of our profession, more than ever before. It simply is not enough to “Put the Wet Stuff on the Red Stuff”. We must know that the buildings of today are not going to be built fire safe, and as fire service professionals, we must push for home fire sprinklers to save the lives of those we swore to protect.

Please share this with all your brothers and sisters in the fire service in order to continue raising the awareness of engineered lumber products that we will face in future fire fights.

Stay safe,

John Shafer



  • Gray Young says:

    Thanks for the update.

  • William Ketel says:

    This is certainly information worth knowing. Faster failure is a trap waiting for the unexpecting person. My personal experience with OSB, (Oriented Strand Board) is limited to discovering that it is seriously not weather resistant, and that the weathered stuff burns very well in a campfire.
    So THANKS for the information that I need to know.

  • Ed Galazka says:

    Thank You, good stuff! As a 19+ year volley from Long Island, I will pass on this info to my department membership.

  • Ed Galazka says:

    Thank You, good stuff! As a 19+ year volley of Long Island NY , I will pass on this info to our membership.

  • Roy Poteete says:

    This is not only vital information for the firefighter but for the home Inspector too. As a retired firefighter/emit I also do home inspections. Yes, over the years I have seen the gental switch from standard lumber for floor trusses to wood I beams and open web floor trusses. This also is a need to know of the home owner/potential home owner. As the glue used in the OSB to secure the wood fiber chips to make OSB is about 47 mph.

    I feel that these do play a life safety risk of the firefighter and on homes built with these material they need to be fought as a defensive mode rather a traditional mode of attack (offensive). With these materials being used they also posses the rapidly failure due to the static loading of the building, the materials with fire on the OSB it will begin to fail its structural strength….causing the building to fail and fall in.

    Be safe firefighters, its is your responsibility to know how the homes in your area are built. Stop by and ask questions of the builders, look at the new homes and multi story hotels are being built with these materials. The more informed you are about the buildings the better you will be as a firefighter to be able to understand the homes in your areas are being built and the potential danger they poses.

    Be Informed Be Educated and Be Safe!

  • Rick Ennis says:

    Thank you for going down the Home Fire Sprinkler road. It is beyond time for the entire fire service to embrace fire sprinklers as a fire suppression and firefighter safety topic, not a fire prevention and code enforcement issue. We will be fighting fires in non-sprinklered homes for decades, but every home built today without are homes future generations of firefighters will have to deal with.

  • Ed Laugesen says:

    This is a very good article, well writen and informative. I am a retired Firefighter with 34 years experience and a past history of construction. It would be equally as improtent to look at the use of fingerjointed wood for dimensional lumber and the effects of heat on the glue used to form the joints.

  • Rich Sauer says:

    Thank you for the update. I will include this in my morning briefs.

  • Renard Atchison says:

    Very informational

  • rick says:

    Sorry , but a little knowledge is a bad thing. There are tests being performed engineered lumber and have been done. And glue lams or micro lams perform better than expected. As a matter of fact there is testing being performed on cross laminated timber walls for tall wood structures. Which if approved in the next International Building Code cycle which starts next year for the 2021 Codes, would allow buildings to be built up to 24 stories is sprinklered. Yes, a truss or TJI(wood I joist) perform poorly when exposed to fire and compared to dimensional lumber. But all engineered lumber should not be compared or regarded like those that perform bad.

  • Good to know. The updates

  • Lashawna Bussey says:

    Article was informative.

  • Chris says:

    good stuff

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