A common question often asked by homeowners with excess drywall in their inventories is can you burn drywall? But, of course, not everything you can do is necessarily a good idea in terms of what you should do. Keeping this in mind, we’ll discuss the implications of attempting to burn drywall, things you should avoid, and things to keep in mind if you decide to go ahead.
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Can you burn drywall?
Yes, you can burn drywall, but it’s a highly fire-resistant material that will not burn easily. Thankfully, this means it requires incredibly high flame temperatures to burn.
At a homeowner level, burning drywall will likely only affect the outside paper covering of the drywall sheets. Still, you will be unable to ignite the gypsum core as it is highly flame resistant.
What is drywall?
Drywall is a composition of gypsum and water content wrapped inside sheets of paper that is highly fire-resistant and inflammable (1). For this reason, modern construction commonly uses drywall as the core material for house ceilings and walls.
It is a highly prevalent material. You will find it in all kinds of establishments, from houses to shops and buildings, primarily due to its cost-efficient nature compared to bricks and concrete.
To better understand drywall, we should take a closer look at its gypsum center, as this is where drywall gets all of its properties that make it suitable for construction. Essentially, gypsum is a type of mineral that has a clay-like substance.
Similarly, it has a very high-temperature tolerance that practically makes it completely fireproof, except under extreme and unlikely conditions. That being said, it’s no surprise that drywall has become a popular material in the modern day for building interior walls and ceilings, offering excellent fire rating scores and impressively low prices.
Indeed, the core of drywall is gypsum, and this highly fire-resistant component makes it such a popular building material. However, it’s not all gypsum, as you will find that drywall sheets also come with paper covering that makes for a more pleasant wall and ceiling exterior for dwellers of the home.
Unlike the gypsum core, these paper coverings are flammable and can thus catch fire. So in this aspect, you can burn drywall, but if you are using a standard fire pit, then the gypsum center will remain intact.
The fact remains, however, that most of the drywall’s properties come from gypsum more than any other materials involved in its composition. Thus, it is important to know that gypsum is a rather toxic material, and burning it can result in the evaporation of the water content and produce toxic fumes in the air.
Another unique property of drywall is that they are lightweight and flexible in its construction capabilities. However, this aspect of drywall also makes it more fragile than materials like concrete and brick.
Drywall is highly regarded for its insulation properties which not only keep extreme temperatures outside but also do a great job of keeping noise out.
To better understand the enormous fire resistance of drywall, consider that most drywall sheets can meet the standards required to be a firebreak. This means regular drywall scraps can block out flames and stop the spread of dangerous fire hazards such as bushfires or household and commercial building fires.
Of course, this also makes highly fire-rated drywall a top choice for buildings and homes. Also, you may be surprised to learn that drywall is the most common indoor building material in the United States and Canada.
Dangers of burning drywall
As mentioned, drywall is a highly toxic material, and burning drywall can produce harmful toxic fumes into the air. Once inhaled, it can lead to dangerous health hazards. Although drywall will take a very long time to start burning at the gypsum center, this is not true for the exterior paper cover.
As such, the harmful chemicals of the gypsum will become associated with the burning of the paper, inevitably leading it to release toxic fumes into the air.
Another danger of burning drywall is that it’s so hard to burn. That is, it will take dangerous temperature levels to burn drywall to the point where the core is also burning. As such, you will need to expose the drywall to impossible heat levels, which can be very dangerous to handle.
In fact, even before the gypsum starts to burn, you are already at risk of exposure to harmful toxins as the gypsum’s water content begins to evaporate and release toxic fumes into the air (2).
Alternative uses of drywall
One of the best ways to use drywall is to place drywall scraps around fireplaces or industrial furnaces. The highly heat-resistant material of gypsum and water will stand strong in the face of the flame’s heat. However, putting drywall in a fire can cause some separation and dictate the flame’s direction.
As such, placing leftover drywall scraps around open flames can help to contain the open flame in the same way bricks or stone could. This makes them a handy material to take with you on camping trips or open flame barbecues.
The drywall scraps that surround a fireplace are typically called “surround,” also referring to the framework that makes up the outskirts of the fireplace. However, due to the close proximity of drywall in a fireplace, they no longer adhere to fire codes at this point and should not be treated as such.
This is because at close proximities to open flames that are less than six inches in distance. Drywall is no longer considered fire-proof, but it is still very much resistant to fire even at such distances.
Final thoughts on burning drywall
There’s no doubt, drywall is one of the most fire-resistant materials known to man, and the inner gypsum core is the key to these incredible properties. As a result, drywall is one of the most popular material choices for interior housing, including walls and ceilings. It can resist the harsh elements of the weather as well as provide insulation from sounds from the outside world.
Hence, drywall is ideal for creating fire blocks and guiding fires away from vulnerable people and places. Drywall manufacturers advise against taking in the harmful chemicals and toxic fumes that can be released into the air.
While drywall is extremely difficult to burn in the first place. It requires prolonged exposure to temperatures of 450 degrees F and above. Thus, even burning the top layer of drywall, that is, the paper component, can cause harmful toxins to be released in the air. In addition, the water content of the gypsum will inevitably begin evaporating immediately.
This reason alone is enough to advise against the burning of drywall. However, it can be a great material for fire-related tasks. For example, containing an open flame or providing emergency protection against fire hazards in households and commercial buildings.
Can you burn drywall FAQ
Can drywall catch fire?
At extremely high temperatures, drywall can catch fire after exposure to such high heat. The water content becomes completely evaporated, and the gypsum can finally burn. Generally speaking, drywall is so incredibly inflammable and fire-resistant that you seldom need to worry about it catching fire.
That’s why it is a popular material for building walls in modern-day homes and commercial buildings.
Can you burn drywall sheets?
Typically, you cannot burn drywall sheets because the core material is gypsum and water. These are fire-resistant until the water has evaporated in the air. It only ignites at extremely high temperatures and prolonged exposure to such heat. Even then, the drywall does not precisely catch fire but begins to flake and chip away.
What temperature will drywall burn?
While drywall doesn’t “burn” in the traditional sense, that is, it doesn’t catch fire and melt in the same way other materials do, it does start to break away and turn into a powder form at a certain point during exposure to extreme heat.
The point at which drywall burns is around the 450-degree Fahrenheit mark, or 232 degrees Celsius, and this “burn” only lasts momentarily before it subsides and extinguishes itself.
How long does it take to burn through drywall?
It takes significant time to burn through drywall; times can vary based on the type of drywall in question. For example, most type x drywall layers will burn after one hour of exposure to temperatures of 450 degrees Fahrenheit and above. Still, it may take longer if fiberglass is added to its composition.
Does drywall dust stay in your lungs?
Breathing in the powder form of drywall or “drywall dust” once it’s been exposed to extreme heat can result in taking in harmful toxic fumes. The simple answer here is yes, drywall dust will stay in your lungs for some time if inhaled, and you can experience terrible side effects such as persistent throat and airway irritation, coughing, and breathing difficulties.
How does drywall react in a fire?
Drywall reacts to fire first by extinguishing the water content within through evaporation, resisting the flame’s touch until all the water has been completely exhausted. At this point, the drywall may temporarily catch fire but will then subside and, rather than melt like other materials. After that, it will simply chip away and start breaking down while exhausting the flame.