Fire Safety Requirements for Upholstered Furniture and Furnishings

This policy outlines the University's guidelines for endeavoring to follow applicable fire codes when furnishing spaces.

Reasons for the Policy

Changes in the New York City Fire Code (promulgated March 30, 2014) specify exemptions to requirements for the use of fire rated upholstered furniture and fabrics in rooms or spaces protected by approved automatic sprinkler systems. This policy clarifies the fire rating requirements for newly introduced upholstered furniture and furnishings. In addition, the University follows the mattress testing standards of the New York City Fire Code.

Responsible University Office & Officer

The Office for Fire Safety is responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of this policy as it relates to fire and life safety. Morningside Facilities Operations and CUMC Facilities Management are the Responsible Offices for Fire and Life Safety. 

Revision History

This policy was last revised on July 22, 2019.

Who Is Governed By This Policy

All faculty, staff and affiliates of the University who are responsible for the purchase of furniture or furnishings.

Who Should Know This Policy

All faculty, staff, affiliates and students of Columbia University are governed by this policy.

Exclusions & Special Situations


Furniture purchased or re-used in offices may only be purchased or reconditioned through University Purchasing approved vendors who provide products meeting University standards.  The University Policy on Furniture  requires that all furniture must be purchased through an approved Purchase Order processed through the Purchasing Office or other Purchasing approved mechanisms that can be viewed on the Purchasing website and preferably through a University-wide Preferred Agreement (UwPA) supplier (see Procurement Mechanisms).

This policy details the fire rating requirements for newly introduced upholstered furniture and furnishings in rooms or spaces by type of approved fire protection system. The CU Facilities Director for Fire Safety and the CUIMC Fire Safety officer are responsible for Fire Safety of all University space. Questions on the types of fire protection system installed in any location should be directed to the appropriate Fire Safety office. The levels of fire rating requirements by protection system and location of use are outlined below:

Offices, Public Areas and Places of Public Assembly, including Classrooms.

This policy is based on New York City’s March 30, 2014 modifications to the International Building Code and the International Fire Code. Under these codes, college and university facilities are classified as Class B business establishments.

The University self-subscribes to the use of California Bulletin 117 (CAL 117) for all newly introduced upholstered furniture and fabrics. In addition, laboratories in these buildings shall comply with the requirements of the New York City Fire Code as detailed below.

Laboratories Curtains and Laser Curtains

Black-Out Curtains and Laser Curtains installed in a laboratory unit shall comply with the flame resistant requirements of Chapter 8 of the NYC Fire Code 2008. These curtains must be inherently flame resistant.

In order to accomplish this:

  1. Purchase curtains from a manufacture that provides an affidavit stating that the curtains are capable of passing Test 1 or 2, as described in NFPA 701, or such materials shall be non-combustible.
  2. Have a New York City Certificate of Fitness holder verify that the curtains are in compliance by providing a certificate of compliance and made available to the department representatives in accordance with the rules.

For further information about laboratory curtains, please contact Environmental Health and Safety.

Dormitory and Hospital Occupancies

This policy requires that upholstered furniture, curtains, drapes and carpets furnished by the University for use within Hospitals and Dormitories must meet the University’s compliance with California Technical Bulletin 117 (CAL 117).

Mattresses used in these locations shall comply with the resistance to ignition by cigarettes and maximum heat release rate requirements of the New York City Fire Code and the testing standards as required by Chapter 8, Section 803 of the New York City Fire Code.

Mattresses shall show to resist ignition by cigarettes as determined by test conducted in accordance with 16 CFR Part 1632 and shall have a char length to exceeding 2 inches (51 mm).

Mattresses shall have limited rates of heat release when tested in accordance with ASTM E1590 or California Technical Bulletin 129, as follows:

The peak rate of heat release for the single mattress shall not exceed 100 kW, except mattresses in rooms or spaces protected throughout by a sprinkler system.  The total energy released by the mattress during the first 10 minutes of the test shall not exceed 25 MJ, except mattresses in rooms or spaces protected throughout by a sprinkler system.

Mattresses shall be listed and labeled in compliance with the requirements of the New York City Fire Code, Chapter 8, Sections 803.2.1 and 803.2.2.


Except as otherwise specifically provided for in the NY Fire Code, in Group A, E, I, M occupancies, and Group R-1 college and university dormitories, common areas in Group B, R-1 and R-2 occupancies, and any building or structure used as a place for public gathering, curtains, draperies, hangings and decorations shall be flame resistant in accordance with NY Fire Code Section 805.1.3 and NFPA 701. In Groups I-1 and I-2 occupancies, decorations shall be flame resistant unless the decorations are so limited in number or size that the hazard of fire or fire spread is not present. This section of the NY Fire Code does not apply to decorations being displayed solely for sale in any building or as a work of art in any museum or art gallery.

For further information on fire safety requirements for upholstered furniture or furnishings, contact the appropriate Director of Fire Safety.


Decorations - Any item that is used for acoustical, aesthetic or artistic enhancement of an interior space, including artwork, banners, curtains, draperies, decorative greens, fabrics, hangings, and streamers, but not including acoustical materials regulated by the Building Code as an interior finish.

Fire-Resistance Rating - The time in hours or fractions thereof that materials or their assemblies will withstand fire exposure as determined by a fire test made in conformity with a specified standard.

Flame-Resistant Material - Material that meets the criteria for flame- resistance as set forth in NFPA 701, either because it is inherently flame-resistant or because it has been subjected to a flame-retardant treatment.

Flame-Retardant Treatment - An approved chemical that, when applied to a material in an approved manner, imparts flame resistance to a material.

Flame Spread - The propagation of flame over a surface.

Furnishing - Furniture or items other than structural elements, building service equipment or interior finishes that are installed or placed in a building for the human comfort or other use of the occupants.

Interior Finish - Construction materials that form the exposed interior surfaces of a building and that are part of or affixed to walls, fixed or folding partitions, ceilings, and other construction elements.

NFPA - National Fire Protection Association.

Place of Assembly** - An enclosed room or space in which seventy-five or more persons gather for religious, recreational, educational, political or social purposes, or for the consumption of food or drink, or for similar group activities or which is designed for use by seventy-five or more persons gathered for any of the above reasons, but excluding such spaces in dwelling units; or an outdoor space in which two hundred or more persons gather for any of the above reasons or which is designed for use by two hundred or more persons gathered for any of the above reasons.

**Local Law 23-1990.

Public Areas - Area(s) within a building usually open to or used by the general public, such as lobbies, corridors, waiting rooms, reception rooms, rest rooms, etc.

American Society for Testing and Materials

ASTM E 1537 – Standard Test Method for Fire Testing of Upholstered Furniture

ASTM E 1590 – Standard Test Method for Fire Testing Mattresses


California Technical Bulletin

CAL 117 – Flammability Standard Requirements for Upholstered Furniture

CAL 129 – Flammability Test Procedure for Mattresses for Use in Public Buildings


Code of Federal Regulations

16 CFR 1632 – Standard for the Flammability of Mattresses and Mattress Pads


National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)

NFPA 260 – Standard Methods of Tests and Classification System for Cigarette Ignition

Resistance of Components of Upholstered Furniture

NFPA 701 – Standard Methods of Fire Tests for Flame Propagation of Textiles and Films


New York City Fire Code 2014

Chapter 8 – Interior Furnishings, Decorations and Scenery

Section 803 – Upholstered Furniture and Mattresses (Sec 803.1 - 803.2.3)


Underwriters Laboratories

UL 1975 – Standard for Fire Test for Foamed Plastics Used for Decorative Purposes


Finance Website