Limits of Coverage
What the codes say about bulletin boards and decorations in schools
NFPA Journal®, September/October 2012
Paragraph 10.2.5.3 of NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, limits bulletin boards, posters, and paper attached directly to the walls to not more than 20 percent of the wall area. There is an exception in the educational and day-care chapters that permits up to 50 percent of the wall area to be covered if the building is protected with automatic sprinklers. The increase up to 50 percent of the wall area for sprinklers only applies to educational and day-care occupancies.
In addition, the aggregate area referenced in the code is applied per wall. Adding all four walls together and placing paper, posters, or bulletin boards equal to 20 percent of that combined area on one wall is not permissible. The requirements are the same in Paragraph 188.8.131.52 of NFPA 1, Fire Code.
The Life Safety Code also requires that furnishings and decorations not be highly flammable or explosive in character. Subsection 10.3.1 states that where the occupancy chapters require it, draperies, curtains, and similar loose-hanging furnishings and decorations are to meet NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films. Such requirements are described in the __ .7 sections of each of the occupancy chapters. NFPA 701 describes a simple pass/fail test for the flammability of fabrics and films. The manufacturer will provide a certificate with the drapery, curtain, or fabric, documenting that it meets the requirements of NFPA 701.
The Life Safety Code also makes it clear that movable walls and partitions, paneling, wall pads, and crash pads applied structurally or for decoration, acoustical correction, surface insulation, or other purposes are to be considered interior finish and not decorations. These items have to meet the requirements of the interior finish flame-spread index and the smoke-developed index specified in each occupancy chapter.
NFPA 1 goes into more detail on combustible vegetation that is used for decoration. Subsection 10.14.3 addresses combustible vegetation and states, “Artificial vegetation and artificial Christmas trees shall be labeled or otherwise identified or certified by the manufacturer as being fire retardant.” An annex note to this subsection provides examples of acceptable fire retardance. These include a maximum heat-release rate of 100 kilowatts when tested in accordance with UL 1975, Fire Tests for Foamed Plastics Used for Decorative Purposes, and NFPA 289, Standard Method of Fire Test for Individual Fuel Packages, using a 20-kilowatt ignition source. NFPA 1 also includes provisions in Subsection 10.14.9 for natural-cut trees and provides a table as to what occupancies are permited to have live-cut trees.
The requirements in the education, day-care, and assembly occupancy chapters of NFPA 101 include several specific requirements for controlling the combustibility of decorations. For example, Paragraphs 12/184.108.40.206 state, “The AHJ [authority having jurisdiction] shall impose controls on the quantity and arrangement of combustible contents in assembly occupancies to provide an adequate level of safety to life from fire.” Controlling combustible decorations is an important part of fire safety. The fall is a time of many celebrations, as well as the beginning of the school year, and enforcing the code requirements is necessary to keep everyone safe.
Chip Carson, P.E., is president of Carson Associates, Inc., a fire engineering and code consultancy.