Understanding properties and behavior of fire has been a curiosity for mankind since our ancestors learned how to control fire sometime during the Paleolithic period. The first known fire tests date back to the late 1800’s and were focused on testing the building’s fireproof floor assembly and structural performance. The tests were conducted for the Denver Equitable Building Company in Denver, Colorado and led to the first ever fire test report on March 24, 1894 by what is today Underwriter’s Laboratory, Inc.

Since that time, we’ve come a long way in expanding our understanding of fire. By establishing building codes and standards, our understanding of how to manufacture buildings and building products that are safe, is a field that is expanding and evolving.

 

NTA Texas Campus Progess
ICC NTA, LLC Texas Campus – To view a progression timelapse video click image

With this evolution in mind, ICC NTA, a subsidiary of the International Code Council, has experienced a demand for expanded fire-testing capabilities. After carefully assessing the capabilities required to meet this demand, ICC NTA developed a two-pronged approach to Identifying and prioritizing market needs. First, ICC NTA has expanded its capabilities for small-scale benchtop fire testing in its Midwest testing lab located in Nappanee, Indiana. Second, ICC NTA invested in building a new 27,000 square foot state-of-the-art testing laboratory in Bryan/College Station, TX dedicated to large and intermediate-scale fire testing. In its first year of operation, this Southwest testing campus, located just outside of College Station, Texas, installed its first phase of applicable testing equipment to include the following:

 

Full-Scale Vertical Fire Resistance Furnace: This apparatus has a 14’ x 12’ opening and can be choked down to test 10’ x 10’ samples. The furnace is used to evaluate products such as windows, doors, firestops, seals, walls, and other building materials used in vertical wall assemblies. Testing is done by exposing specimens to the natural gas-fired furnace in a vertical position. Viewing stations are included to allow scientists and engineers to evaluate and collect data. Common standards that utilize this apparatus are: ASTM E119 – Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials, ASTM E814 – Standard Test Method for Fire Tests of Penetration Firestop Systems, UL 10B – Standard for Fire Tests of Door Assemblies, UL 10C – Standard for Positive Pressure Fire Tests of Door Assemblies, UL 263 – Standard for Fire Tests of Building Construction and Materials, UL 1709 – Standard for Rapid Rise Fire Tests of Protection Materials for Structural Steel, UL 1479 – Standard for Fire Tests of Penetration Firestops, UL 2079 – Standard for Tests for Fire Resistance of Building Joint Systems, ISO 3008 – Fire-resistance tests — door and shutter assemblies, and ISO 3009 – Fire-resistance tests — elements of building construction — glazed elements.

 

Hose Stream Test Equipment: Once a specimen has been exposed to fire, additional tests may be required to simulate exposure to a standard hose stream per ASTM E2226 – Standard Practice for Application of Hose Stream. Using the Hose Stream test apparatus, the specimen is tested for cooling properties, erosion, and impact after being exposed to fire for a specified time period. The result derived from this practice is one factor in assessing the integrity of building elements after fire exposure.

 

Multi-Story Flame Propagation: When measuring the performance of curtain walls or perimeter fire barriers, ICC NTA’s Multi-story Flame Propagation apparatus is an important piece for measuring reaction to fire. The apparatus is constructed of steel, concrete, and concrete masonry and can be used to study both vertical and horizontal flame propagation as well as fire resistance of perimeter fire barriers. Some typical standards are ASTM E2307 – Standard Test Method for Determining Fire Resistance of Perimeter Fire Barriers Using Intermediate-Scale, Multi-story Test Apparatus and NFPA 285 – Standard Fire Test Method for Evaluation of Fire Propagation Characteristics of Exterior Wall Assemblies Containing Combustible Components.

 

Testing for Flame Spread Index and Smoke Developed Index: ICC NTA uses a specialized fire testing apparatus, the Steiner Tunnel, to measure both flame-spread and smoke development. Tests of this nature are used to compare surface burning characteristics of building materials on exposed surfaces such as walls and ceilings. According to ASTM E84, the purpose of this test method is to determine the relative burning behavior of the material by observing the flame spread along the specimen and measurements in the exhaust of the apparatus for determining smoke developed. The equipment used by ICC NTA measures and assigns either a Flame Spread Index (FSI), a Smoke Development Index (SDI) or both based on the behavior of a product when exposed to fire. Some standards that require these measurements are ASTM E84 – Standard Test Method for Surface Burning Characteristics of Building Materials, NFPA 262 – Standard Method of Test for Flame Travel and Smoke of Wires and Cables for Use in Air-Handling Spaces, UL 1887 – Standard for Fire Test of Plastic Sprinkler Pipe for Visible Flame and Smoke Characteristics, UL 2024 – Standard for Cable Routing Assemblies and Communications Raceways, CAN/ULC S102 – Standard method of test for surface burning characteristics of building materials and assemblies, and CAN/ULC S102.2 – Standard method of test for surface building characteristics of flooring, floor coverings, and miscellaneous materials and assemblies.

 

Fire Tests for Roof Coverings: Roof coverings and their associated tests are outlined in ASTM E108 – Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings and UL 790 – Standard for Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings. The testing apparatus for these tests are focused on fire that originates outside a commercial or residential building on which the roofing materials are installed. Roofing material can be placed onto a combustible or noncombustible deck and wind conditions are simulated inside the lab. Typical roof coverings must meet Class A – severe exposure, B – moderate exposure, or C – light fire exposure ratings when tested using this equipment.

 

Fire Tests for Interior Finish Materials: In order to meet codes and understand the contribution interior finish materials have to a room fire growth, ICC NTA has installed a full-scale calorimeter to measure the response of these materials when exposed to a fire inside of a standardized room. The early effects of fire growth from these materials and assemblies are measured during a specified time period. This testing apparatus provides data measuring the extent of fire growth, rate of heat release, total heat release, and time to flashover. Typical standards for interior finish materials are, NFPA 286 – Fire Tests for Evaluating Contribution of Wall and Ceiling Interior Finish to Room Fire Growth, NFPA 265 – Fire Tests for Evaluating Room Fire Growth Contribution of Textile or Expanded Vinyl Wall Coverings on Full Height Panels and Walls, ISO 9705 – Reaction to fire tests — Room corner test for wall and ceiling lining products, UL 1715 – Standard for Fire Test of Interior Finish Material.

 

Beyond Fire Testing…

Beyond fire testing, building product manufacturing is a highly regulated industry that requires a multitude of testing in countless categories. As building product manufacturers strive to develop new, innovative or improved products, the quest for safety is paramount. Fire Codes, building codes and other standards are written to assist designers, architects, building officials, and building product manufacturers as a guide to provide safety both during construction and throughout the structure’s life. Third party testing companies such as ICC NTA provide scientific data using testing apparatus that are invaluable when assuring products are code compliant.

Looking forward, ICC NTA has plans to expand its testing capabilities across the US and beyond. Specifically, the Southwest lab’s phase two expansion plan includes the addition of two additional furnaces, a static/air/structural test wall, and a field testing van equipped to perform air/water leakage tests on buildings under construction.

 

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About ICC NTA:

Founded in 1976, ICC NTA continually innovates and expands its capabilities to better serve customers. The International Code Council, a building safety solutions provider, and developer of model building codes and standards acquired NTA in mid-2019, making it possible for the ICC family to offer turnkey testing, inspection, evaluations, and certifications. ICC NTA offers the following accreditations:

Accredited as a product testing laboratory under ISO/IEC 17025 by A2LA, and the Standards Council of Canada (SCC)

Accredited as an inspection body under ISO/IEC 17020 by A2LA, and the Standards Council of Canada (SCC)

Accredited as a product certification body under ISO/IEC 17065 by A2LA, and the Standards Council of Canada (SCC)