Interior furnishings are consumer products found in various occupancies. They include furniture, bedding, curtains and drapes, surface finishes (wall, ceiling and floor coverings), and cabinetry. Among the features they have in common is the fact that they are rarely a single material, but that they generally involve various layers. This characteristic is important because it explains why testing of their individual components usually does not give adequate answers.
A survey of the development of such fire tests, and of the present status, is presented here. Special focus will be placed on upholstered furniture tests.
The flammability of upholstered furniture has been under a microscope since it was first discovered to be an important issue, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, relatively few tests have been developed and standardized, either in the United States or in other countries. The initial focus was on cigarette ignition and on component testing, resulting in tests such as the NBS mockups and the UFAC test (ASTM E 1352 or NFPA 261 and ASTM E 1353 or NFPA 262, respectively). This was followed by testing of entire chairs with cigarettes (CA TB 116). Eventually, composite component testing with small flames started, pioneered by British standard BS 5852. Parallel to this, material testing continued, using a variety of mostly small-scale tests (the most frequently used tests being CS 191-53 and CA TB 117). In the mid 1980s, tests started to appear for the flaming behavior of complete upholstered furniture items, CA TB 133 being among the most notable ones. The fire community has now understood that the most important fire property is the heat release rate, and this has been incorporated into contents and furnishings tests, as in ASTM E 1537. The next step is the attempt to predict the results of such tests with bench-scale heat release tests and fire models. This work is still in progress.
Fire tests for other interior furnishings have also undergone a complex history, which is reviewed. Tests for the different products are in various stages of development. It would appear that the fire testing of furnishings and contents in the future will entail mostly finished products and heat release equipment.
A flurry of activity is characterizing the present emphasis on furnishings. Moreover, the majority of the new tests being developed generate results that can be used as input for models to carry out fire hazard or fire risk assessments.