NFPA 285 and Code Conforming Design – Reliable or Not?

Originally published by the following source: SBC MagazineSeptember 26, 2018
by Sean Shields and Kirk Grundahl, P.E.


The evidence supporting the effectiveness of NFPA 285 is very strong. Moreover, history bears out this conclusion as found in this report sponsored by DuPont. Since its introduction in 1988, the NFPA 285 test has remained relatively unchanged, and 30 years of use has generated no evidence of any life safety deficiencies.

Here is the history of NFPA 285 per the DuPont report:

It’s only now with high profile international fires (where NFPA 285 does not apply or cladding installations were used that do not comply) that the standard is being questioned.

NFPA 285 testing along with engineering analysis using this test data and additional test data calibrating fire-engineering modeling isn’t the problem; it is the solution! 



NFPA 285 testing (shown above) and engineering analysis along with code compliant sprinkler systems provides a robust environment for the use of innovative building facades that help building designers meet energy code requirements.

In many of the cases where fires took hold, and did major damage to buildings, properly functioning sprinklers would likely have prevented this occurrence. This was certainly the case in the Grenfell fire where there were many complaints about fire safety, including the lack of a working fire alarm system or sprinklers.

The same comment was made about a fire in a General Electric Facility in Louisville, KY where ‘investigators said an upgraded sprinkler system would have helped. "I believe the sprinkler system would've held the fire in check, which would've allowed the firefighters to get in and have been able to extinguish the fire," said Ott.’

In the U.S., the use of sprinklers and NFPA 285 is working, and the available data indicates that if there is any need, it is to ensure compliance with the sections of the IBC which relate to exterior wall assembly fire performance, NFPA 285 and any relevant engineering analysis (also known as “accepted engineering practice”).

The key to safe construction hasn’t changed: know the code requirements, rely on the value of professional engineering and follow all construction details and product installation requirements.

It seems clear from all the information available that if designers, builders and installers perform in a manner that conforms with the requirements of the IBC, the 30 years of demonstrated effective and safe performance when NFPA 285 and IBC Chapter 26 is used, will continue.

For additional information about this topic, please review:

  1. For more in-depth information on fire safety and the use of foam sheathing, read this recent document created by the American Chemistry Council’s Foam Sheathing Committee (FSC).
  2. Understanding Fire Safety and the Use of Foam Sheathing
  3. ICC Provides Perspective on Combustible 'Cladding Systems'
  4. Post Grenfell, Do You Know the Code and Your Cladding Options?
  5. Would Smoke Alarms and Sprinklers Have Saved Grenfell's Installed Cladding?
  6. London's Grenfell Fire: Will Plastics Be Inappropriately Blamed?
  7. What Does the Code Say 'Accepted Engineering Practice' Means?
  8. Building Code & Adopted Law Definitions -- Building Official
  9. What is a Building Official’s Scope of Work?
  10. Building Code Adoption of Innovative & Engineered Products
  11. Building Code Adoption Where Intellectual Property (IP) is Involved
  12. Do You Indemnify & Hold Harmless Your 'ICC Report' Author?
  13. Design Value Concepts by APA’s Dr. Yeh; SBCA Agrees
  14. Does Your Teammate Sign and Seal Their Testing and Engineering Work?
  15. Confidence Through Sealed Engineering, No Seal=No Teammate