Are FR Ratings Necessary?
Our expert, Randall Whitehead, IALD, gives readers the real deal on FR-rated custom lighting.
We get varied requests from hospitality and contract designers for materials in custom fabrications to be FR (fire retardant) rated. We comply and find materials that meet FR criteria, but it is usually more costly. I have never gotten a clear answer from anyone as to why they need it. The fixtures meet UL requirements (which don’t require FR rating on the shade diffuser materials) and as far as I know the National Building Code defers to UL for construction of decorative lighting fixtures. I don’t think the NFPA covers decorative fixtures either, specifically. I don’t think decorative lighting fixtures are covered the same way draperies or furniture are in this area. I understand a designer’s inclination to cover all bases and request it, but I have yet to have anyone be able to point to a specific code requirement calling for any kind of rating. Plus, there are different rating systems for different purposes. There is NFPA 701 for fabric and UL 94 for plastics. They test for different things, too: flame spread, smoke spread, self-extinguishing. Do you have any thoughts on this? We can build them that way, but sometimes it is unnecessarily costly for our clients.
Okay, you win the award for the lengthiest query in the history of this column. I needed a meal break halfway through the questions. It seems to me that if UL passes a fixture, the chance of fire is not an issue. This is what they test for, among other things. I have tried to research your concern and have come up empty as far as a specific code. Here’s what I recommend: State that your fixtures meet all UL requirements, including flammability. My guess is that the designers are covering all of their bases and are used to specifying FR fabrics for wallcoverings, floorcoverings and upholstery. Does anyone else out there have a more definitive answer?
Randall Whitehead, IALD

Randall Whitehead, IALD, is a professional lighting designer and author. His books include "Residential Lighting, A Practical Guide." Whitehead has worked on projects worldwide, appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV and CNN, and he is regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Visit his website for more information on books, upcoming seminars and the latest lighting trends.

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