When should you replace drywall after a fire?

October 3, 2017

When there is a fire, it’s critical to consider smoke, water and fire damage in regards to drywall. Even though contractors use it every day, questions still remain about drywall, especially when it comes to drywall and fires. Common questions are:

  • After a fire event, does the drywall need to be replaced in rooms where a fire occurred?
  • What about rooms without fire exposure?

For the answers, we turn to Michael Schmeida, technical director of the Gypsum Association.

Direct and indirect fire exposure

This is a very complex question. First, let’s look at just the fire and heat exposure aspect. For fire-rated assemblies, The GA-600, Fire Resistance and Sound Control Design Manual states: “It is the intent that classifications shall register performance during the period of exposure and shall not be construed as having determined suitability for use after fire exposure.”

Therefore, any assembly directly exposed to the fire should be rebuilt. For non-fire rated assemblies exposed directly to the fire, replacement is also suggested as the exposed gypsum wall board would have experienced adequate heat to begin calcination. The board may be brittle, the paper face burned off, etc.

For rated assemblies not exposed directly to the fire (such as in another room), it is always best to have a certified/licensed fire protection engineer or inspector inspect them and determine if they are still capable of performing as designed should another fire occur. Again, for gypsum wall board in non-exposed rooms, a judgement call needs made and a specialist consulted who should be able to determine the extent, if any, of replacement required.

Smoke and water

However, fires also bring with them two additional elements—smoke and water. Water is the easiest to assess. First, it is critical to determine if the studs and other materials in the wall cavity are dry and undamaged. To do this, it is likely that the at least some of the gypsum wall board will be removed to inspect the cavity and its contents, thus requiring some replacement.

If it can be verified that the contents of the wall cavity are dry and undamaged without removal of existing gypsum wall board, a thorough examination of the wall board is required. It must be dry and free of mold with the paper facing completely intact. If any of these are in doubt, it is best to play it safe and replace the board.

Smoke is more difficult to assess as it is very subjective. Some individuals claim to smell the smoke in sealed and repainted rooms years after a fire. Some people never catch a hint of the smell. Restoration services exist that are licensed and bonded, and these should be consulted by the property owner/resident as to whether a restoration without replacement is possible.

For more information about the role gypsum wallboard plays in passive fire resistance, visit


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