Construction Industry Fire Test Protocols
Fire Technology Services

image: SwRI offers a complete range of fire, structural, and physical performance evaluation testing for the Exterior Insulation Finish Systems (EIFS) industry.

SwRI offers a complete range of fire, structural, and physical performance evaluation testing for the Exterior Insulation Finish Systems (EIFS) industry.

image: SBI Test

SBI Test

image: IMO/LIFT Test


image: Cone Calorimeter

Cone Calorimeter

Complete fire performance testing services are offered at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL):

Fire Resistance

Furnace testing helps to determine:

  • Fire resistance of wall, floor, and ceiling assemblies
  • Protection of door and window openings
  • Through-penetrations of cables and pipes
  • Fire resistance of structural elements

A large horizontal furnace (maximum exposed area 13.5 × 17.5 ft) is used to test floor, ceiling, and roof assemblies. The horizontal furnace is also used to evaluate beams and any other package requiring complete immersion in a prescribed fire environment.

A large vertical furnace (maximum exposed opening 12 × 12 ft) is used to determine the fire resistance of wall assemblies. Systems to protect openings in vertical walls, such as doors and windows, are also tested in the wall furnace. A 4 × 4 ft horizontal pilot furnace is available to measure heat transmission through panels and fire barriers and to conduct other fire resistance tests for research and product development purposes.

SwRI has the capability to perform fire resistance tests according to a wide range of domestic and international test standards. Loadbearing elements (walls, floors, ceilings, beams, etc.) are tested under load. Tests on pipes, hoses, and equipment can be performed under pressure and flow conditions.

Exterior Finish Materials

We offer a complete range of fire, structural, and physical performance evaluation testing for the Exterior Insulation Finish Systems (EIFS) industry. The fire resistance of EIFS is determined according to ASTM E 119 or NFPA 251. Fire propagation over exterior walls is evaluated with the Intermediate Scale Multistory Apparatus (ISMA) according to UBC standard 26-9 or NFPA 285.

The external fire resistance classifications for roofing assemblies are determined according to ASTM E 108 (also designated as UL 790, NFPA 256, and UBC 15-2). The classifications are ranked from best (Class A), to moderate (Class B), to least fire resistant (Class C) through a series of surface flame spread and penetration resistance fire test exposures.

Impact resistance classification of roof coverings is determined according to UL 2218. The classifications are rank ordered from least impact resistant (Class I) to best impact resistant (Class IV) through a series of drop tests using specified diameter steel balls dropped from heights of 12 feet up to 20 feet.

Other tests are performed to determine the ignition propensity of exterior wall claddings (NFPA 268) and thermal barrier exemption of foam plastics in crawl spaces (SwRI 99-02).

Interior Finish Materials

SwRI operates a state-of-the-art Steiner tunnel to determine the flame spread and smoke developed indices of interior finish materials according to ASTM E 84, NFPA 255, UBC 8-1, and UL 723 standards. The flame spread index (FSI) obtained during the 10-minute test is used to classify materials from best (Class A or I with FSI of 0 to 25), to moderate (Class B or II with FSI of 26 to 75), to least (Class C or III with FSI of 76 to 200) as specified by building code authorities. The tunnel test apparatus is also used in modified form to evaluate fire retardant treated wood (extended 30-min. test per UBC 8-1).

Textile wall coverings must pass a room-corner test (NFPA 265 or UBC 8-2) using a gas burner. Foam plastic systems are also evaluated using the room-corner test (UBC 26-3), but the ignition source is a wood crib instead of a gas burner. SwRI has the capability of performing room-corner tests according to ISO 9705 and is the only commercial fire testing laboratory outside Europe that can run the Single Burning Item (SBI) test. The SBI test is an intermediate-scale corner test that is used for classification of construction products in Euroclasses C or D.

Minimum performance requirements for textile floor coverings are based on ASTM D2859, often referred to as the pill test. More stringent requirements for floor coverings are based on the critical heat flux measured in the radiant flooring panel test (ASTM E 648 or NFPA 253). A very similar test is used to qualify attic insulation materials (ASTM E 970). SwRI also performs tests to determine the surface flammability of materials using a radiant heat energy source (ASTM E 162).

A Lateral Ignition and Flamespread Test (LIFT) apparatus is used to determine ignition and flame spread properties for computer fire modeling (ASTM E 1321). This apparatus is also used to evaluate the surface flammability of marine finish materials according to the specifications of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Release rates of heat and visible smoke can be determined under a wide range of exposure conditions in the cone calorimeter (ASTM E 1354, NFPA 271, and ISO 5660). A detailed protocol to evaluate wall coverings in the cone calorimeter is described in ASTM E 1740.

In addition to the dynamic smoke production measurements discussed in the previous paragraphs, SwRI also has several static methods for measuring smoke density. The most common static test procedure is the NBS smoke chamber method, standardized in the United States as ASTM E 662 and NFPA 258. This and other fire tests are often supplemented with toxic and corrosive gas sampling and analysis. SwRI uses different techniques to analyze gas samples (ASTM E 800). The techniques range from calorimetric absorption tubes and wet chemistry techniques to state-of the-art Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. A modified version of the NBS smoke chamber (ASTM E 1995 and ISO 5659-2) is used to qualify marine finish materials for use on SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) complying ships to assess smoke density measurements and toxic gas concentrations.

SwRI also performs the University of Pittsburgh's Test Protocol for Measurement of Acute Lethality of Thermal Decomposition Products of Specimens. SwRI is accepted by the City of New York's Department of Buildings as a certified test laboratory for Materials and Equipment Acceptance (MEA).

Combustibility & Calorimetry

The combustibility of a material is usually determined in a small tubular furnace test. The ASTM E 136 test standard is used in the United States, while international regulations (such as those of the International Maritime Organization) are based on ISO 1182. The ASTM E 136 furnace is also used to determine the ignition temperature of plastics (ASTM D 1929).

The maximum amount of heat that a combustible material can release under highly idealized conditions is determined in an oxygen bomb calorimeter. SwRI can determine the gross heat of combustion according to ASTM D 2015 (adiabatic method), ASTM D 3286 (isothermal method), or ISO 1716 (which allows for either adiabatic or isothermal method). NFPA 259 is used to determine the potential heat of a material, which is defined as the difference between the gross heat of combustion of a material and its residue after a 2-hour exposure at 750 °C.

Heat release rate and other fire properties of materials and products can be determined on small samples with the cone calorimeter. The cone calorimeter is standardized in the United States using ASTM E 1354 and NFPA 271, and internationally as ISO 5660. A cone-shaped heater is used to expose a 100 × 100-mm square sample of material to a radiant heat flux of 10 to 100 kW/m2. Derived material properties include time to ignition, heat release rate, total heat released, effective heat of combustion, mass loss, smoke production, specific extinction area, and critical flux for ignition.

Because of the number of properties that can be obtained and the low cost, the cone calorimeter has been effectively used as an important research and development tool in the comparison of material performance and reducing the fire hazard of materials. Material properties derived from cone calorimeter tests can also be used as inputs to fire models, as critical elements of fire hazard assessments, and as part of a material quality control inspection system. The cone calorimeter has also recently become a required test method for several regulatory bodies, including the Japanese Building Codes and the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

Contents & Furnishings

A wide range of standard small-scale fire test procedures are available to determine the ignition resistance of upholstered furniture and mattresses or their components exposed to a small flame or a lighted cigarette: ASTM E 1352, ASTM E 1353, CA TB 106, CA TB 116, CA TB 117, and CA TB 121. The heat release rate of furniture upholstery materials can be measured in the cone calorimeter according to ASTM E 1474 or NFPA 272. The heat release, smoke production, and mass loss rate of upholstered furniture, mattresses, and stacked chairs are measured (ASTM E 1537, ASTM E 1590, and ASTM E 1822, respectively). In the State of California, mattresses and seating furniture are qualified for fire performance use in public occupancies (CA TB 129 and CA TB 133, respectively). Flame-resistant textiles and films are evaluated according to NFPA 701.

Structures/Structural Elements

SwRI conducts studies on the response of structures to static and dynamic loads. Typical structures include:

  • Buildings
  • Support structures used in processing plants and offshore platforms
  • Aircraft
  • Watercraft
  • Automobile frames
  • Military systems

These studies investigate the residual strength and response of these structures to fire and blast effects. A full range of static and dynamic loading fixtures and associated advanced instrumentation to measure deflections and loads is available to support the demanding requirements for examining the effects of fires on structures.

Structural and environmental performance tests for building products complies with the International Code Council Evaluation Services, Inc. (ICC-ES) AC-11 and AC-24. SwRI is one of the few facilities in the world that offers all tests recognized by the ICC-ES Acceptance Criteria in one location. Additional tests are also offered that are not required by the ICC-ES but may be necessary to meet other building code requirements.

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Related Terminology

code compliance  •  combustibility  •  fire endurance  •  fire resistance  •  fire test methods  •  flame spread  •  heat release rate  •  material flammability  •  smoke generation rate  •  steiner tunnel test  •  toxicity

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Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®), headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, is a multidisciplinary, independent, nonprofit, applied engineering and physical sciences research and development organization with 10 technical divisions.