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NIST Conducts Full-Scale Experiments to Demonstrate Flammability Risk of Residential Upholstered Furniture (RUF) and Potential Mitigation Strategies

The NIST Flammability Reduction Group (FRG) is conducting a series of full-scale fire experiments in collaboration with the National Fire Research Laboratory (NFRL) to demonstrate the potential fire risk of residential upholstered furniture (RUF) – specifically, the ability of RUF fires to induce flashover in a fully-furnished living room and the ability of an engineering solution (which does not rely upon chemically-active flame retardants) to reduce this risk. These experiments represent the culmination of a multi-year effort to quantify and to develop tools, test methods, and strategies to mitigate the flammability risk of RUF.

For this series of experiments, NIST staff constructed a room with dimensions 3.7 m (12 ft) by 3.7 m (12 ft), with a 2.4 m (8 ft) ceiling height; the room had a single opening at its front, which measured 2.4 m (8 ft) wide by 2.1 m (7 ft) tall. The walls and ceiling of the room were lined with non-combustible gypsum board and painted white, and the floor was covered with a carpet. As seen in Figure 1 (left), for each experiment, rooms were identically furnished with items found in a typical living room including: a commercially-available upholstered sofa with two throw pillows, an upholstered chair, a coffee table, bookshelf, side table, and table lamp, framed pictures, and additional small items (e.g., magazines, books, synthetic plants, candles, and vases).

Three tests will be conducted in this room configuration in which identical sofas, each constructed with one of three fabric combinations, are ignited: a worst-case scenario with a highly flammable polyester cover fabric (compliant with TB-117-2013); a sofa with a less-flammable cotton-polyester cover fabric (compliant with TB-117-2013), used to show the effect of the cover fabric on fire hazard; and a best-case scenario, the same sofa with a cotton-polyester cover fabric that is modified by adding a fire barrier. Previous work has demonstrated that the presence of a barrier fabric can significantly delay the growth rate of RUF fires.

For each experiment, the room was rebuilt and setup identically. Rooms were carefully instrumented multiple measurement devices including: four plate thermometers at multiple locations in the room, five video cameras (including two air-cooled and two water-cooled cameras, one that recorded 360° video from inside the compartment), and to allow for heat release rate and gas species (CO, CO2, HCN, and PFAS) measurements.

Sofa Fire Spread
Representative fire development during room fire experiments showing initial room setup, ignition of the first sofa cushion, flame spread across the sofa, and flashover.

These experiments support multiple projects in the Fire Research Division including the Flammability Reduction Technologies Project and the Reduced Flammability of Residential Upholstered Furniture Project.

Released March 12, 2020, Updated January 6, 2021