Example of Comparison of Natural and Synthetic Home Furnishings

New Comparison of Natural and Synthetic Home Furnishings

Updated demonstration highlights the impact of furnishing materials on flashover times.
  • Overview
  • Findings
  • Updates
  • Resources


FSRI captures a new side-by-side burn comparison of natural and synthetic home furnishing. Since the original comparison video was released in 2009, FSRI has repeated the same experiment several times with similar results in terms of flashover times between the natural and synthetic furnished rooms. The flashover data from those experiments are incorporated into this new video that displays with much crisper detail than its predecessor thanks to vast video technology enhancements.

Download the New Comparison Video to Integrate into your Department Training. 

Download Video 

Synthetic room contents:

The room containing synthetic materials is lined with a layer of 1/2 inch painted gypsum board and the floor is covered with polyolefin carpet and rebound polyurethane padding. The furnishings include a polyester fabric covered polyurethane foam filled sofa and loveseat, engineered wood coffee table, end table and television stand. The sofa has a polyester throw placed on its right side. The end tables each have a ceramic and metal lamp with a linen shade on top of a wire frame. The left end table also holds a picture frame made of vinyl laminate over a medium density fiberboard (MDF) frame with glass and cardboard. The right end table also holds a glass vase. The television stand holds a 35.5-inch flat screen TV. The coffee table holds a plastic basket filled with plastic fruit and a plastic TV remote control. To the left of the loveseat is a wicker basket at floor level made of woven seagrass with two polyester stuffed animals filled with polyester fill and beads. The rear wall has polyester curtains hanging from a metal rod and canvas wall art over a wooden frame.

Natural room contents:

The room containing natural materials is lined with 1/2 inch painted cement board and the floor is covered with hardwood flooring. The furnishings include a cotton covered, cotton padding sofa with a wood frame, a cotton covered, blended material filled loveseat, solid wood coffee table and two end tables, and a wooden TV cabinet. The large cotton sofa has a cotton blanket placed on its right side. Both end tables have a lamp with a linen fabric over a wire frame shade. A wicker basket is located on the floor in front of the right side of the sofa at floor level. The coffee table holds two magazines, a plastic TV remote and a ceramic bowl filled with pinecones. The TV cabinet holds a CRT glass tube TV with a plastic casing. The rear wall has cotton curtains hanging from a metal rod and two pieces of wall art made of cardboard, glass and wooden frames.


When a fire burns in a house, it consumes oxygen and generates toxic products of combustion (smoke). Oxygen levels decrease as the toxic smoke spreads through the house. Smoke may incapacitate a building occupant near or remote from the fire room before flashover occurs. Flashover is the transition phase in the development of a room fire in which fuel surfaces, exposed to thermal radiation from fire gases in excess of 600 degrees C (approximately 1100 degrees F), reach ignition almost simultaneously and fire spreads rapidly through the space.

The original inspiration:

In 2009, UL conducted an experiment to evaluate the impact that different household furnishing materials have on time to flashover in a residential fire. For years, the video capturing this experiment provided a tangible, visual proof point of how synthetic furnishings burn faster than natural. Similar to the new video, the original involved two identically sized living rooms containing similar furnishings with the variable of one containing natural materials while the other contained mainly synthetic materials.

Click here to download the original report.

Since the release of the original video, it has been a tangible example and foundation for discussion on the dangers of today’s fire environment not only for firefighters, but also for the public. Knowing the importance of sharing this research and dramatic visuals, FSRI decided to reconstruct the experiment and release a higher definition video to help spread the word.

If currently utilizing the 2009 version, consider replacing it with the newer version.


FSRI conducted these experiments several times utilizing similar furnishings. This table shows the respective consistency of time to flashover between the natural and synthetic furnished rooms.

Natural vs. Synthetic Times to Flashover (min:sec)

Experiment Room with Natural Furnishings Room with Synthetic Furnishings
1 29:30 3:40
2 > 30 4:45
3 > 30 3:20
4 > 30 4:50


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Published: September 30, 2020