CPD 09 2023: Understanding third-party certification processes for insulated panels

This CPD module, sponsored by Kingspan, explores the benefits and processes involved when seeking third-party certification from FM Approvals

We must construct our buildings to stand the test of time and to perform well — both in everyday operations and in case of events such as fire. Insurer-approved third-party certification is a good way of assessing how construction products perform in practice, beyond what is required for regulatory compliance. FM Approvals is a globally recognised body that has developed proprietary standards to rigorously assess different aspects of construction product performance in application.

Learning objectives:

  • The context for FM Approvals and how the standards sit alongside regulatory requirements
  • An overview of the standards, the rigour of the processes involved, and which standards apply to which applications
  • The latest developments in the suite of standards to assess current construction trends.

While the Building Regulations primarily focus on ensuring occupants can safely exit a building in the event of a fire, insurer approval schemes have been designed to determine how well the building fabric will continue to resist fire spread after occupants have been evacuated, to preserve property and contents.

When assessing the performance of a complete construction, insurers recognise the limitations of focusing solely on small-scale individual product tests, such as those generally required for Building Regulation compliance. As such, their fire standards typically include large-scale testing of full systems as part of a product’s assessment.

Case studies collected over the years by independent experts have shown that there is a close correlation between the results of insurance industry large-scale testing and actual building fabric performance in real fires.

Exterior/interior shot of the same wall involved in an arson attack, constructed from FM-certified insulated panels. This business was able to resume operations the day after the fire

What is FM Approvals?

FM Approvals is a global testing and certification service run by FM Global, a worldwide insurance and risk management enterprise that specialises in loss prevention. Led by research and rigorous testing, they ensure that every product meets the highest loss prevention standards of quality, technical integrity and performance. FM Approvals certification is recognised and respected by consumers and accreditation organisations around the world, including the UK Accreditation Service (UKAS).

FM Global considers that the full-scale testing involved in the attainment of FM Approval certification enables the development of robust property loss prevention solutions that minimise the risk of operational downtime and support business resilience.

As FM Approvals is conducted by a loss prevention insurer and accredited by numerous bodies, it can also help to make the process of insuring buildings simpler and quicker, enabling projects and making property more attractive to tenants.

The certification process

There are five steps involved in gaining certification. First, the manufacturer must submit a request for approval for a product or assembly, providing full details of what is to be tested, including sales literature.

FM Approvals will then provide a proposal with the scope of work, estimated cost, schedule, test and sample requirements, along with a contract for signature and requests for any other information that the manufacturer needs to supply. As many of these tests are conducted on a large scale, the investment for manufacturers is significant.

The third step is the review, testing and first audit of the products and the manufacturing sites. Products are compared against their specifications to ensure that what is being tested is what is being placed on the market, the testing is then carried out, and the investigator visits the manufacturing facility to review quality control procedures.

Step four is a report on the testing, which is reviewed for technical accuracy. Samples are either retained and archived, returned to the customer, or disposed of in accordance with instructions. Once the final report is submitted, approval is effective from the date of the report and the product is listed on FM Approvals online platforms.

The final stage of the process is ongoing surveillance audits of the manufacturing facilities to ensure the products sent to market achieve the same standards as those tested.

According to FM Approvals, the continuance of a product’s listing as approved depends not only on these audits but also on satisfactory performance in the field, compliance with the approval agreement, and successful re-examinations of equipment, material and services as appropriate. Any products or practices found to be missing the mark can lose their approved status.

It is important to note that the certification relates only to the specified build-ups tested. Using an alternative product, changing the formula, or using any materials other than those specified would need to be reported to FM Global and potentially re-tested to be considered certified.

Suite of tests

FM Approvals’ standard 4880 for class 1 fire rating of insulated panels, interior finish materials, or coatings and exterior wall systems is designed to assess how a panel could contribute to a fire. It is considered to be the foundation of the FM Approvals approach to determining fire performance and assessing the risk of insulated panel systems.

The standard involves using a mixture of small and larger-scale tests to assess the fire performance of these building panels or interior finish materials. Class 1 systems exhibit limited fire spread and fuel contribution in the event of fire.

FM Approvals’ standard 4880 categorises panels into two grades:

  • Class 1 limited height (products must pass 25 ft corner room test and various other testing)
  • Class 1 no height restrictions (products must pass a 50 ft corner room test or 16 ft parallel panel test, as well as various other tests)
FM Approvals’ corner test set-up

Class 1 systems exhibit limited fire spread and fuel contribution in the event of a fire and may not require special protection such as sprinklers in and of themselves.

FM Approvals’ 50 ft corner test uses a two-winged rig with two 50 ft-high walls and a small ceiling. The walls are lined with the cladding system being examined, and a large fire source (345 kg of dry timber) is positioned in the corner. To achieve approval without any height restriction, there must be no flame spread or fire propagation to the extremities of the panel construction.

For FM Approvals’ 16 ft parallel panel test, the system being tested is installed on two 16 ft walls. The walls face each other and are one and a half feet apart. A 360kW propane stand burner sits at the base between the two walls. To achieve approval without heat restriction, the peak chemical heat release rate must be less than, or equal to, 830kW.


FM Approvals’ standard 4881 was developed by FM Approvals in 1992 following a category 5 Hurricane in North America. It builds on the fire performance requirements of FM Approvals’ standard 4880, seeking to establish how well these class 1-rated panels resist damage when exposed to extreme weather conditions and natural hazards. This can help to determine their suitability for almost any geographic area, including those prone to cyclones.

To achieve FM Approvals’ standard 4881, panels must first meet the criteria for FM Approvals’ standard 4880. They are then tested to establish their wind load rating, windborne debris resistance and hail resistance. These tests have been designed to emulate natural weather hazards, with an initial set of static and cyclic pressure tests and then a simulated hail resistance test. This certification provides a valuable indicator of how well a building will stand up to the increasingly frequent severe weather events we are experiencing.

Kingspan has been testing and gaining FM Approval certification for insulated panel systems since 1995


FM Approvals’ standard 4882 is the only testing regime of its kind in the world. Building on the performance requirements of FM Approvals’ standard 4880, it certifies that the products tested do not allow self-propagation of fire and generate significantly less smoke than traditional wall or ceiling panels. This means that they are appropriate for smoke-sensitive occupancies, such as food or pharmaceutical manufacturing and storage facilities.

In addition to presenting a life safety risk, fires in these types of buildings can cause significant product losses, damage to sensitive equipment, and business downtime while the area is decontaminated of smoke debris. In many situations, the financial losses caused by smoke damage can be higher than those associated with direct flame damage.

There are two levels of performance for this test, each with different requirements:

  • Cleanrooms and similar controlled environments
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturing and storage, food preparation and storage and similar occupancies

The certification process tests this performance through a combination of small, medium and large-scale fire tests designed to mimic real-life applications. One of these is a 16 ft parallel panel test, which comprises two 16 ft-high insulated panel systems installed in parallel, with a large gas burner in the centre and an extraction system at the top measuring the smoke generation.

FM Approvals states: “Low-smoke wall and ceiling panels that receive FM Approval have been evaluated to provide assurance that they will limit fire propagation and generate significantly less smoke than traditional wall or ceiling panels.”


FM Approvals’ 4471 test standard looks at fire, wind, foot traffic and hail damage resistance of panel roofs. This includes all the necessary components for the complete panel roof assembly. Tests include examining the potential for fire spread on the interior and exterior of the roof panel, and its ability to resist simulated wind uplift and maintain adequate strength and durability.

A primary differentiator from other available roof certifications is the full-scale 12 ft x 24 ft wind uplift test, which examines not only panel pull-over from screw heads, but also screw pull-out or fracture, and tests the full roof assembly.

As with all FM Approval certifications, the manufacturing operational requirements are strict and subject to follow-up audits, which may be unannounced, and which are conducted at least annually. FM-approved roof assemblies are listed on FM Approvals’ online tool, RoofNav.

Fire resistance and 4540

Published in November 2022, FM Approvals’ 4540 test standard is relatively new and assesses fire resistance rather than reaction to fire. The scope of the certification covers both load-bearing and non-load-bearing elements of a structure. Fire resistance is defined within the certification as “the ability of a material, product, or assembly to withstand fire or give protection for a period of time”.

It uses the testing and certification requirements for ASTM E119, ASTM E1529, BS EN 1364 and BS EN 1365 rated assemblies, depending on which is most appropriate for the product or assembly that is being tested, within the framework of FM Approvals’ examination of the manufacturing facilities, audit of quality control and ongoing surveillance of the same. The basis for certification is therefore not solely dependent on the satisfactory outcome of the test itself, but also on the satisfactory evaluation of the manufacturer.

Kingspan FM-certified QuadCore LEC panels are suitable for testing PV modules to FM Approvals’ standard 4476

Future-proofing with PV and 4476/78

As part of the drive to cut carbon emissions and to make buildings more tenable over the long term, photovoltaics (PV) are increasingly important – and often necessary – additions to the roof. Although this technology is not new, it is not yet regulated as a construction product in the UK.

An increase in the number of rooftop fires in recent years involving PV has led to the development of FM Approvals’ standards 4476 and 4478 to assess the performance of integrated and bolt-on PV systems on class 1 certified roof assemblies.

By recognising the need to assess the performance of the PV systems in combination with a certified roof, FM Approvals is supporting the construction industry in finding innovative and safe solutions to the climate crisis and filling a major gap in the regulatory system.

Both standards look at performance in relation to seven different requirements:

  1. Combustibility from above the roof deck
  2. Wind uplift resistance
  3. Hail damage resistance
  4. Electrical safety
  5. Electrical performance
  6. Seismic resistance
  7. Windborne debris resistance

Building regulations play an important role in ensuring the safety and overall performance of buildings. However, FM Approvals takes the level of testing and auditing beyond those fundamental requirements, ensuring a high degree of quality control, risk management and asset protection that in turn can help to support business continuity as well as even greater levels of life safety in the event of a fire or major weather incident.

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