Understanding American Flammability Tests and Your Tensioned Fabric Facade

By March 1, 2018 No Comments
Fabric Facade_ASTM E84

ASTM E84: Standard Test for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials


While fire regulations can be a source of frustration for architects and contractors, they do play an important role in ensuring the public’s safety.  Fabrics used in public spaces are required by many cities and states to be certified as flame retardant, including the membranes used for a tensioned fabric facade.  Each city may have its own specific flammability standards, and some may be more stringent than others.  In some cities, the Fire Marshal will simply hold a sample of the fabric with a match under it.  Other cities or permitting authorities may require the material to pass one of the major American Flammability Tests.

Depending on the occupancy, application, location, and specifications of a tensioned membrane roofing system or fabric facade project, some of these certifications may be required.

NFPA 701

The National Fire Protection Association developed the NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. The purpose of the test is to assess the propagation of the flame beyond the area exposed to the ignition source for both a vertical curtain and flat application.  To pass the test, the fabric must self-extinguish within two seconds of removing the source flame (including falling flaming debris), have a vertical char length of less than 41.3”, and have flat char length of less than 17.1”.


ASTM International developed the ASTM E84: Standard Test for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials.  The purpose of this method is to determine the flame spread and smoke developed when the material in question is exposed to fire.  Therefore, it measures both the flame spread index (or the relative rate a flame will spread in comparison to an asbestos-cement board rated at 0 and red oak rated at 100) and the smoke developed index (or the ratio of smoke compared to red oak).

OSFM Title 19

The Office of the California State Fire Marshall developed the OSFM Title 19: California Code of Regulations – Flame Retardant Regulations.  This test uses 10 specimens and measures the afterflame and char length.  Among other projects, this certification is required for all California Public Schools (all District State Architect “DSA” jobs), and the certification label most often must be visibly printed or sewn into the fabric structure.


ASTM International developed the ASTM E136: Incombustibility of Substrate – Behavior of Materials in a Vertical Tube Furnace at 750 ̊ C.  This test is used to identify whether the material will aid combustion or add appreciable heat to an ambient fire by measuring the loss in weight of the material when a stack is placed in a furnace for a minimum of 24-hours.


ASTM International developed the ASTM E108: Burning Brand – Behavior of Roof Coverings under Fire Scenarios.  The purpose of this test is to measure the performance of the outside of a roof covering in a simulated fire exposure scenario and to determine whether the fire performance characteristics are reduced by prolonged exposure to rain.

When considering a tensioned membrane roofing system or a fabric facade, it’s important to understand how your location’s fire regulations will impact the type of membrane you choose.  Partnering with fabric facade experts ensures every detail will be fully considered from design through installation.

Is a Tensioned Fabric Facade Right for Your Project?

In the Tension Structures Division of Eide Industries, we specialize in design, engineering, manufacturing, and installation of structurally complex and creatively challenging commercial, government, and prototype design projects.  Our expertise with tensile facade systems and tension structures supports architects, designers, general contractors, and building owners in their efforts to bring custom tensile membrane projects to life.

Explore the options for your next project by calling 800-422-6827.