Participants of the NFPA Conference & Expo last month learned how quickly modern furniture can burn during the education session “Smoke Alarm Codes, Standards, and Listings: An Update from UL.” The session was sponsored by NFPA’s Building Fire Safety Systems Section and the Education Section. During the presentation, which also covered the topics of smoke alarm placement and types of alarms, Ronald Farr, lead regulatory engineer for Underwriters Laboratories, showed video of a UL experiment involving two side-by-side living room fires: one living room had modern furniture, the other, legacy furniture. The modern room transitioned to flashover in 3 minutes and 30 seconds, but the legacy room didn’t transition until 29 minutes and 30 seconds.
A growing number of people prefer modern home furnishings made from synthetic materials to those made from natural fibers. Synthetic materials tend to cost less and can be easier to clean and maintain. However, studies by UL have found that these materials typically ignite faster, burn more intensely, release their fire-enabling energy faster, and create greater amounts of smoke than natural fibers.
Another important point made during the session was the affect of home design on fire behavior. Open floor plans allow fire to spread more rapidly. The session’s dramatic video and research findings highlighted the importance of having a home escape plan and properly working smoke alarms.