ASTM/NFPA Fire Standards: For Toilet Partitions

Toilet partitions will always serve a primary functional purpose in public locations, given that it is a requirement in international building code to have them exist. Some owners spend a reasonable amount of time selecting a toilet partition that best fits the color and/or design scheme of their bathrooms. More meticulous consumers, contractors, and even architects take the time to examine their toilet partitions for benefits that are not immediately visible to the naked eye, like the recyclability or environmental benefits (a common objective for those pursuing that gratifying LEED certification). Even further than that, project specifications may require a material to carry a certain resistance to fire in attempts to preemptively prevent disastrous outcomes.

ASTM Compliance

The first organization, the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) International, is a largely reputable organization that is responsible for the creation of worldwide standards in engineering, design, and safety.

Within their estimated 12,000 documented standards, lies the very important ASTM E84 standard. E84 tests the “surface burning characteristics of building materials” – in layman’s terms, E84 assesses not just the way a material burns, but the emissions caused after extended exposure to flame. The characteristic/response of how the material burns is graded and given a qualitative “class” ranking, which grades the material from class A, to class C, with A denoting the best fire resistance and least flame spread. A good majority of bathroom partition materials rank class B or higher, and some of them also offer upgrades that improve the fire resistance from their typical manufacturing. Marketing documentation and brochures for toilet partitions that colloquially refer to class A/B/C ratings are implicitly referring to these E84 standards.

NFPA Compliance

The second organization boasts a more direct involvement with the concept of fire resistance the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), who not only cites themselves as the authority of fire, electrical, and building safety, but also states that their objective is to “reduce the worldwide burden of fire and other hazards on the quality of life by providing and advocating consensus codes and standards, research, training, and education.”

The NFPA, in combination with the IBC (International Building Code) recently made a modification to their fire code that requires partitions with high-density polyetyhlene [HDPE] (Resistall Plastic and Solid Plastic) to be tested under a different standard, dubbed NFPA 286. Unlike the previously mentioned ASTM E84 standard, NFPA 286 does not qualitatively measure materials, and is instead a simple pass/fail examination. As such, there is little ambiguity regarding the process. Materials are exposed to various staged flame intensities, and are prohibited from having flames come in contact with structural locations (ceiling and walls). Additionally, the energy of the flame and amount of smoke released must stay within a certain threshold. Material temperatures need to be assessed for the potential of flashover, a process where temperatures reach exceptional levels such that they cause flammable gases to release and immediately combust.

How This Affects Toilet Partitions

When in the market for toilet partitions, it is necessary to analyze your material for the corresponding standard. A good majority of materials used in toilet partitions are cited as fitting ASTM fire-resistance standards. However, those looking for high-density polyethylene or polypropylene need to be especially vigilant in ensuring that their materials conform to NFPA 286 standards, as ASTM and NFPA are not synonymous.

Explicit details regarding the acceptance criteria for NFPA 286 can be found in the International Code Council’s International Building Code.