Welcome to Firewall Barriers

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Over the past fifty years, we have become increasingly aware of the dangers associated with the flammability of textiles and upholstered furniture. Tragic fires, resulting in the loss of life and property, have led safety officials and legislators to implement both voluntary standards and involuntary laws in attempts to make upholstered furniture safer.

In 1988 alone, furniture was determined to cause 1200 deaths in fire fatalities in the US. Upholstered furniture was the first to ignite in 25% of all fatal fires.

The first attempts to attack the problem of the flammability of upholstered furniture focused on reducing the flammability of upholstery fabric. Laws were passed and requirements were implemented in many states defining acceptable standards for fabric flammability in public seating areas. In homes, voluntary standards were developed focusing primarily on cigarettes as a potential ignition source.

Not until 1984, when California developed California Technical Bulletin TB 133, was a real composite test for upholstered furniture developed. CAL TB 133 was issued in 1991 in California as a requirement for public seating, and has since been adopted by many states including:

  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • New York - New Jersey Port Authority
  • Ohio

Other cities across the country also require compliance as regulated by the local fire marshals. (See our How Barriers Work section for specifics on CAL TB 133.)

Similarly, much of Europe recognized the need for a composite test and adopted the British Standard BS 5852 in 1990. This standard defines all levels of acceptable flammability performance in various areas where upholstered furniture is used. Using the same "mock up" of a piece of upholstered furniture, different ignition sources are used to vary the difficulty of the test for private or public buildings. (See our How Barriers Work section for specifics on BS 5852.)

Meeting the challenge of making upholstered furniture less flammable is not an easy task. Almost every component used to build upholstered furniture has historically been very flammable. The combined efforts of furniture manufacturers, polyurethane foam manufacturers, upholstery fabric manufacturers, as well as specialty suppliers to the furniture industry have made it possible to make less flammable furniture to comply with both CAL TB 133 and BS 5852.

The most useful tool to meet these stringent requirements is flame barrier interliners. These products are installed between the outer upholstery fabric and the polyurethane foam. Flame barrier fabrics can be divided into two distinct categories:

  1. Passive Barriers - These products simply prevent the ignition source from passing through the flame barrier and igniting the polyurethane foam. They are useful to meet CAL 133 requirements in some instances where the combination of the ignition source and the caloric contribution of the burning outer upholstery fabric is not too great to prevent failure of the flame barrier. They do not attempt to prevent the outer upholstery fabric from burning completely away. Passive barriers often do not work when the outer upholstery fabrics are highly flammable and thus good additional fuel sources. Most flame barrier fabrics on the market today are “passive” or mildly “active” and are not useful to meet the requirements of CAL TB 133 on heavy upholstery fabrics that are significant fuel sources. They are not useful at all in meeting BS 5852 Crib 5 or higher requirements.
  2. Active Barriers - These products are the most effective products on the market to meet the requirements of CAL TB 133 and BS 5852 on a wide range of upholstery and furniture constructions. They may use any or all of the following mechanisms:
    • Ignition source insulation from the polyurethane foam
    • Heat reflection of the burning composite away from polyurethane foam
    • Flame retardant activity to extinguish the outer upholstery fabric

Highly effective “active” flame barrier fabrics can be useful tools to build safer furniture for both residential and commercial furniture. They can work with almost every construction of upholstery fabric. Used properly, they not only prevent the ignition of the polyurethane foam, they can extinguish the flames from the ignition source and prevent the outer upholstery from burning. This lowers the temperatures generated in a fire and reduces the generation of harmful smoke and gases.

Firewall® flame barriers are the most effective “active” flame barriers on the market for a wide range of furniture and fabric constructions. Firewall® barriers are the ultimate tools to meet the requirements of CAL TB 133 and BS 5852.