Don't Get Burned When Specifying FR Fabrics

January 17, 2003

by Debbie O. Purcell
Purcell is president of Integra Fabrics Inc.

Flame-resistant fabrics, whether inherent, hybrid, or topically applied, are clearly a necessity in the hospitality industry - as well they should be! The safety and maintenance of inherently polyester fabrics make this option an obvious choice for the majority of hotel rooms in America today. I am addressing this article to the design community in the hospitality contract market to help clarify confusion that has occurred since Trevira® and Avora® became separate and distinct products.

Determining what type of product to use can be confusing. For example, should you use FR polyester or fabrics of other contents in bedding and drapery applications for guest rooms, suites and public spaces?

Most flame-resistant fabrics will ignite but will extinguish themselves, thus you have the means for testing standards. The NFPA 701 Vertical Flame Test, most commonly used for drapery standards in the U.S.A., is conducted by heating the fabric until it is completely moisture-free. Then the test begins. It's placed in a vertical holder and exposed to an open flame for a specified amount of time. When the source of the fire is extinguished, remaining flames in the fabric are noted as well as the char length incurred during the test. The results are measured against various standards. It is important for you, the specifier, to understand what constitutes a ''passing grade'' and the difference between the various numbers. For example, did a particular fabric just barely pass the test, and would it pass again? Or did it pass to the fullest degree possible with no concerns? This is where all specifiers become concerned about their legal liability - in the case of a fire.

Words such as Trevira and Avora that previously meant fabrics with a specific FR quality have been tossed around and misused so much that one should be concerned as to whether they are receiving the fabrics they think they are! One way to combat this confusion and to acquire relevant and accurate pricing and bids is to learn the differences among many options available to you. This knowledge and the manner in which you write your specifications will put you in control of the products you wish to utilize and deliver to your clients with confidence and documentation.

Inherent FR: These fabrics have been woven using 100 percent FR yarns in both the warp and the fill, thus creating a permanent FR fabric that will not wash out. This is only available in constructions using a 100 percent polyester content. Trevira®CS (and Avora), are two brand names of such yarns, however, there are other FR yarn brands available both domestically and internationally.

Hybrid FR: Because fabrics do not require the use of 100 percent inherently FR yarns in the warp and fill to pass these tests, mills have created another option - hybrids. These fabrics are woven with a percentage of ''inherently FR'' yarns that enable them to pass the flame resistant testing (i.e. NFPA 701 Small Scale). They are less costly than the 100 percent FR fabrics. The catch is that not every hybrid construction will consistently pass and perform as well as the inherently FR constructions. It is advisable to learn how well they pass the testing and to get full documentation of the results.

Topical FR: Fabrics that have been submerged or sprayed with a flame resistant chemical formula. This treatment will wash out after a varied number of washings. In this case, each individual application must be tested to insure that the finished product will pass the FR tests (i.e. NFPA 701 Small Scale). Fabrics may react to treatment by becoming stiff in nature or otherwise. Also, there are environmental concerns with the use of chemicals used in topically treated fabrics, which is quickly becoming a concern and acknowledgment for many corporations.

Non FR: All fabrics that do not utilize inherently FR yarns or a FR topical treatment.

TreviraCS: Trevira is the trade name for the polyester yarns that are marketed by the German company, Trevira. TreviraCS is the name of the only flame resistant yarn that they sell. It is not available as a blend or hybrid. Every TreviraCS fabric is tested and certified by the company in Germany in order to use the brand name. TreviraCS fabrics pass the most stringent flame-resistant tests and meet standards required for use by airlines, railways and cruise ships worldwide. Requirements vary among countries and applications so you need to confirm these before specifying particular fabrics.

Historically, TreviraCS fabrics were only available through importing. However, they are quickly becoming more accessible in America as the domestic mills answer the demand for higher performing flame resistant properties in the upper end of the hospitality contract fabric market. These products are available in print cloths as well as jacquard and dobby wovens.

Avora®: Avora is the trade name for the yarns used in KOSA's inherently FR fabrics. These fabrics are available in 100 percent Avora and Avora FR Blend® constructions. They are readily available in the U.S. and pass the NFPA 701 Vertical Flame tests for drapery. The products are available in print cloths as well as jacquard and dobby wovens. Avora products are the most commonly specified flame resistant fabrics in the American hospitality contract market. KOSA is introducing a new Avora FR Plus® yarn that the company claims will meet or exceed some the international flame resistance standards. You must be sure to check the specific flame resistance standards for any project outside of the United States to discover which test requirements are applicable to the geographical region in which you will be providing fabrics for drapery, bedding, and upholstery. Again, testing varies between products.

Writing Specifications
Every consumer wants to receive the specific products they have selected, priced and ordered. To protect the integrity of the fabrics you are ordering your specifications must be mill specific and require that proper documentation of said product be attached to the invoice upon shipping. For example if your specs read that you want 100 percent Trevira you are sure to receive a variety of bids and samples - none of which may be TreviraCS, the only true Trevira products left on the market today.

To insure that your bids are accurate and each party is quoting the same product that you selected include the following in your specifications:

Construction of Cloth: (i.e. 100 percent Avora FR - 9 oz. 52 x 70 1 ply / 2 ply) this information is available from all of your fabric suppliers and should be complete. Mill Name and Style # of the Cloth Specified: (i.e. Copland 4575 or Burlington 7119 - every cloth has a mill source and style number).

State the proper yarn source of the product: TreviraCS or Avora FR Blend - this will insure that you are requesting a specific brand of FR yarn.

When you specify exactly the product you desire the bids will be much more equitable, with little differences between them. F&FI

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