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Understanding the differences between NFPA and CSFM

Resources | June 1, 2008 | By:

What is NFPA 701? What test and specs must be met to earn the NFPA 701 Registered Flame Retardant Seal from the State of California Fire Marshal? Our sales team struggles when this question is asked.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the California State Fire Marshal (CSFM) are two separate entities. While both promulgate flammability specifications, you can’t get one certificate that covers both of them.

NFPA 701 is a voluntary industry specification, and the NFPA does not keep the detailed records on which fabrics pass. NFPA 701 is, however, the flammability specification quoted in the International Building Code for products such as canopies. It is perhaps the most widely quoted flammability specification for specialty fabric products in the United States.

There are different sections of the test method itself, intended for different categories of products. NFPA 701 Test Method 1 is intended more for interior products such as curtains and draperies; NFPA 701 Test Method 2 is designed for outdoor materials such as awnings, tents and tarps. When getting a quote from a vendor, it’s important to know which certification was obtained for the fabric you’re purchasing.

NFPA does not do testing and certification of fabric, so you’ll need to have your material tested if you want a certificate. An independent testing lab can help you, but be sure to check with your fabric vendor to see if they’ve already had it done.

The CSFM regulates product flammability in California, but since they are considered a front-runner on these issues, their specification is often accepted by other states. Of course, the opposite is also true: When presented with a flame certificate from the CSFM, some local code officials refuse to accept it, claiming that what applies in California doesn’t apply in their territory. In other words, if your product is being used outside of California, you may find that you need more than a CSFM certificate.

The CSFM has a number of flammability regulations; the one that pertains to specialty fabrics is Title 19. Although, like NFPA 701, Title 19 also has two versions, the small-scale and large-scale tests, there are differences between the two specifications as well, such as sample size and exposure to the flame source. In addition, the CSFM specification differs from NFPA 701 in one other important aspect—documentation. In order to qualify for CSFM certification, a fabric manufacturer must have their materials tested not only by an independent lab approved by the CSFM, but must also send the material to the CSFM office to be tested there.

For more information, contact:

SOURCE National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)

SOURCE Office of the California State Fire Marshal

Juli Case is IFAI’s information and technical services manager.

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