New Tests for Smoke Alarms and Detectors

New Tests for Smoke Alarms and Detectors

This piece was originally published in the October 2018 issue of electroindustry.

Richard Roberts, Vice President, Industry Relations, Honeywell

In order to improve the detection of fires from synthetic materials and to reduce unwanted alarms, new tests have been developed for all smoke alarms and smoke detectors. Beginning May 29, 2020, all smoke alarms and detectors seeking to be listed as complying with ANSI/UL 217 and ANSI/UL 268 product Standards will have to pass new flaming and smoldering polyurethane (PU) foam tests as well as a new cooking nuisance resistance test.

The PU fire tests address changes in materials used for interior furnishings and building materials. Forty years ago, furnishings found in homes, hotels, and offices were primarily made of natural materials like cotton, wood, or silk. Most furniture available in the last 20 years, however, utilizes polyurethane foam for padding, and polyester or nylon for coverings, carpet, and drapes. During the mid-1980s, construction methods changed from using solid wood for studs, trusses, and joists to widespread use of engineered lumber made from wood and synthetic epoxies.

Fires from synthetic materials burn hotter and faster than those from natural materials. The 2008 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report Performance of Home Smoke Alarms: Analysis of the Response of Several Available Technologies in Residential Fire Settings concluded that people today have three minutes of available safe escape time in “flaming” fires compared to 17 minutes in the late 1970s.

The cooking nuisance resistance test was necessary to meet a new requirement in the 2013 edition of NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code® that requires all smoke alarms and smoke detectors installed between six feet and 20 feet from a stationary or fixed cooking appliance to be listed for resistance to normal cooking activities, which are the leading cause of unwanted alarms.

The effective date for this requirement was originally January 1, 2016, but it was subsequently changed to January 1, 2022, to allow additional time to gather technical data, develop performance tests, obtain approval from the UL Standards Technical Panel (STP), and allow time for manufacturers to design, test, and list their products.

The new PU foam tests and nuisance resistance test were added to ANSI/UL 217 for smoke alarms and ANSI/UL 268 for smoke detectors. In August 2016, UL announced its certification laboratory will not require smoke alarms or smoke detectors to comply with the new tests until 2020.

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