Volume 6, Issue 5 (May 2009)
Heat Release Testing of Consumer Products
Many consumer products exhibit very poor fire performance (based on general principles of fire hazard), particularly when fire safety requirements for such products do not exist. They include television sets, upholstered furniture, mattresses, personal automobiles, garbage cans, and playground structures for children. This work indicates that the best way to ensure a consumer product exhibits fire performance associated with appropriately low fire hazard is to conduct full-scale heat release tests where all the interactions between the various components can be brought out. The most critical property to be measured is the heat release in those tests. However, full-scale heat release tests are unlikely to be regulatory in nature for most products. In that case, small heat release tests, such as the cone calorimeter, can be used to provide the proper predictability. The aircraft industry has long been using data from another small-scale heat release test (the Ohio State University calorimeter) for regulation, with great success. In this article, several series of full scale heat release tests will be presented. Such tests were conducted on: (a) mattresses (both residential and institutional), (b) residential upholstered furniture, (c) wall coverings, (d) typical plastic garbage cans, (e) Christmas trees, and (e) a children’s playground structure. In the article there will also be a discussion of some small-scale heat release tests. All the full-scale heat release fire tests on mattresses, upholstered furniture, wall coverings, and playground structure were conducted indoors, usually in standard rooms (such as the ASTM room), and heat release (by oxygen consumption calorimetry) as well as smoke release was measured, while also making various other measurements and visual observations. The garbage can test was conducted in the same standard room, but only heat release was measured. The small-scale tests were conducted using standard fire test equipment such as the cone calorimeter. Tests conducted by NIST on mattresses, a passenger minivan and a garbage can were conducted indoors under a hood. The other full scale tests on passenger road vehicles were conducted outdoors. The results indicate that regulations permit the use of some consumer products in present use even though they are unsafe and that improved fire safety alternatives exist. Recommendations are presented. Reference is also made to predictive work.