While there is no federal flame-retardant standard, the textiles industry relies on one of two certifications to demonstrate their products’ flame resistance to consumers. One is granted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); the other, by the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI.) Though neither certification is “official” in that it carries legal weight, both are important means of determining whether your canopy material is adequately tested to resist burning or catching fire.
The National Fire Protection Association is a non-profit trade organization that provides copyrighted fire resistance and flame retardation standards and codes to various governmental bodies. The NFPA grants its NFPA 701: Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films certification to fabrics, draperies, and textiles that have passed a series of rigorous tests.
In NFPA Small Scale Testing, samples of fabrics are held against an open flame for twelve seconds. The ignition resistance, or flame resistance, is recorded and scored along three separate criteria. Passing scores are given to fabrics that:
- - Have an after-flame of no more than two seconds.
- - Have a char length of no more than 6.5 seconds.
- - Do not continue to flame after reaching the test chamber floor.
Because NFPA-701 regulations allow for weathering of the fabric before testing, the certification presents a convenient and accurate means of determining fire resistance in fabrics intended for outdoor use.
The NFPA updates its standards every few years, with the most recent revisions published in 2010. As standards change, the canopy manufacturer may choose to include the updates into their fire-resistance treatments for their products. Manufacturers may choose which year’s certifications by which to abide when making their fabrics fire-resistant.
Despite its technically non-legal status, NFPA 701 certification’s influence remains broad and powerful. Many state and city governments nationwide have adopted NFPA 701 standards as their official legal threshold for textiles and fabrics used in public spaces. Their fire codes specify that fabrics and other textiles must meet NFPA 701 specifications.
The CPAI-84 specification is awarded by the Industrial Fabrics Association International. It is a voluntary, industry-wide designation used primarily regarding the flame resistance of camping tents. However, the IFAI’s definition of camping tent extends to include recreational vehicle awnings, canopies, play tents, screen houses, and even ice fishing tents.
CPAI-84 testing measures char length, mass loss, and after-flame. It does not measure flame spread, a criteria more widely used for fabrics intended for indoor use. It also does not certify that the material in question will be fire retardant. IFAI officials (CPAI stands for Canvas Products Association International, the IFAI’s original name) are quick to stress that the 84 certification is both voluntary and non-committal.
Screen houses and other structures that use mesh fabric heavier than 50 grams per square meter (g/m2) are eligible for CPAI-84 certification.
Other Important Facts About Flammability and Fire Resistance
Obviously, the best defense against fire is avoidance. Don’t set up your canopy next to open flame sources, including bonfires, campfires, or open-flame stoves. Strong winds and gusts can blow burning embers atop the canopy top, where they can become trapped by the canopy’s shape.
Never burn fires beneath the canopy covering, including fires contained within barbecue pits and grills. Escaping smoke can lift burning embers and ash towards the canopy material. Burning fires underneath the canopy cover also drastically increases the dangers of smoke inhalation.
Local fire departments, as well as state fire codes and ordinances, may restrict where you can set your canopy up within closed spaces and even outside. Contact your local fire department to check these legally binding regulations.