Do you know your legal responsibilities on things like fire ratings when it comes to printable wallcovering? Doing so will not only keep you above the law, but help you have better discussions with architects and other potential customers. Suppliers are helping raise the issue - look at what Papergraphics is doing for example.
Earlier this year Papergraphics became a certified RIBA CPD provider, and more recently an approved CPD provider to BIID (British Institute of Interior Design) too - moves it considers key to helping close the loop on misinformation when to comes to using the right wallcovering for the right job - not just from an aesthetic point of view, but a legal one. The £30m turnover company - supplier of the well-known Digimura and Muramour wallcoverings - hopes it can help do the same for PSPs, many of which CEO John Selby believes are failing to understand and deliver what’s required of them. In his words: “Many printed vinyl wallcoverings in UK public spaces are probably illegal.”
We’re all being told that the demand for unique and bespoke interior decor has never been greater - for wallcoverings specially - and that large-format PSPs can reap the benefits. With this opportunity, though, comes responsibility, and Selby for one is concerned by what he sees as a gap in knowledge and/or understanding by PSPs, for where their responsibilities start and finish in terms of regulations relating to wallcoverings.
“Conscientious PSPs will be comfortable with the importance of using quality products that have been specifically designed for specific applications, and for Papergraphics this is a fundamental part of our approach to how we develop our product-range and service offering. But that’s not where our efforts end - we’re becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of awareness and understanding within the large-format industry about what is required to fulfil the basic but essential specification requirements when it comes to producing digitally printed interior décor - specifically wallcoverings.”
Selby expands: “One of the main topics that seems to come up when we talk about interiors to customers, and other suppliers too, is fire safety; it’s an important issue and we have customers who totally get it and embrace it, while others just aren’t aware of their responsibilities within the supply chain. Sadly, some are aware but just bury their heads in the sand, or are completely confused because different suppliers are citing different regulatory requirements. It’s really quite concerning. However, fire is not the only issue to be considered and with a lack of understanding, what many don’t realise is that the whole supply chain - from the designers or specifiers, the media suppliers through to the printer - are all responsible for ensuring every product installed for wallcovering use is compliant with building regulations.
That said, Papergraphics is happy to try and simplify - and clarify - the situation in relation to relevant regulations:
Technical regulations explained
Essentially, all products supplied for hanging onto internal walls, partitions or ceilings, by means of an adhesive, whose primary purpose is decorative, are deemed a permanent fixture, and as such they are classed as construction products.
All construction products are regulated. The British standard for decorative wallcoverings is the BS EN 15102:2007+A1:2011, and they must all carry a CE Declaration of Performance relating to the product’s reaction to fire (RtF); release of formaldehyde, vinyl chloride monomer, and the migration of heavy metals.
The correct fire classification for this application is the EN 13501-1 (Euroclass) standard, when printed and installed.
To achieve EN 13501 there are two tests (EN 13823 and EN 11925) that the wallcovering must undergo, assessing the product’s performance in relation to smoke release, flame spread and flaming droplets produced. The testing process incorporates the wallcovering product itself (which can be tested either printed, or unprinted), and the substrate (wall surface) that the wallcovering is adhered to. It is important, therefore, to check what substrates the fire certificate covers.
In the UK, wallcoverings for reception areas, lift lobbies, stairwells, open-plan offices and restaurants within non-domestic buildings, including hospitals, and anywhere designated as a fire escape route or public areas must achieve a minimum performance standard of European Class C-s3, d2 –(when bonded o an A2-s3, d2 substrate). (Note 5, Table 10: Classification of linings, within the UK Building Regulations).
What has been causing confusion is the difference between the British national and typical other national standards, such as the German DIN.
In terms of the British National fire certifications, people are still commonly looking for a Class 0 fire rating, under BS 476. However, while this is still a relevant classification for other product types, this national class has not applied to wallcoverings since July 2013.
Similarly, the German DIN 4102 regulations are a national standard and, due to the prominence of some German-manufactured products, have become recognised as a relevant fire certification to look for. However, these are not completely equivalent to EN 13501 and do not apply to wallcoverings.
The devil’s in the detail
While many products do have fire certifications, and even CE marks, this may not always mean that they are certified for the application in question, or are totally fit for purpose - even within the correct standards, there are variations that manufacturers or suppliers can put product through the testing with. The key things to look out for when examining the specifications and fire certifications for a wallcovering product are:
- The correct name of the product and description of its intended use i.e. whether it is for wallcovering;
- The field of application - for instance, the surface (substrate) the certificate covers
- And finally, whether the test was carried out on a printed product. Some products on the market are tested unprinted meaning that the fire rating is invalid once the product is printed.
European standards - what about Brexit?
European standards are already part of British law as detailed within the UK Building Regulations. PSPs can have peace of mind that these regulations will not be altered due to Brexit. Plus, with inter-country trading still set to continue after the UK has Brexited, many products printed and produced in the UK will continue to end up in foreign installations, and still need to comply fully with the appropriate regulations.
Digitally printed wallcoverings are a creative and practical solution for many interiors applications. We know the arguments - they can add texture to a poor wall surface or provide a luxurious and tactile finish, they are easily removable without damaging the wall etc. - and there are now wallcovering products suitable for all the different interiors, including domestic and commercial, and for high, medium or low traffic areas. As such, interior designers and architects are becoming increasingly interested in digital printing and the creative possibilities it offers when designing an interior space. For PSPs, understanding the legislation means they can have meaningful conversations with this expanding customer-base about the appropriate products for different applications - not only offering advice on the design and creative aspects, but also advising on the complicated and, as outlined here, often misunderstood specification requirements.
“It is a constant learning journey to keep up to date with the standards but it’s necessary, and as a conscientious supplier we will help,” stresses Selby, pointing out that it ensures that all of the products within its decor ranges meet the correct fire safety regulations and standards for the relevant application use, and that all of the products it offers conform to EN 15102:2007+A1:2011 and have a relevant CE Declaration of Performance, even when printed. But it goes further than that.
“We work with independent test houses to ensure our products meet the stringent standards giving PSPs peace of mind that what they are selling to their customers meets their requirements and the regulations,” adds Selby. “We have a purpose-built application and training facility to educate, train and support PSPs.
“In essence, we want to partner with our customers to ensure best practice and guarantee that the right product is used for the right job. We offer regular FOC knowledge-share events so we can share insights, highlight where we see business opportunities, and understand our customers’ experiences and how else we can provide support as a supplier. PSPs can also learn from each other to see how other companies have had success and take on new ideas and knowledge to help their own businesses. Of course, we’re also educating people about the interior sector and appropriate regulations, helping them to operate in this sector with confidence.”
The RIBA accreditation has been a real milestone. “We’re really proud to have become a certified RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architect) CPD (continuing professional development - hours that architects must undertake every year to maintain their professional status) provider,” says Selby. “It’s a stringent process where our module on the building regulations relating to wallcoverings and fire certification are approved in order to take our education message about the correct specification certifications to look for, to the architect, designers and specifiers. We want to close the loop on misinformation. Our RIBA CPD accreditation is one of the first steps we have taken to promote this, as well as making our product information freely available to architects and designers.
“There are huge opportunities for PSPs to expand their business into the interiors market, but we have a responsibility as an industry to operate in a transparent and conscientious manner, especially when it comes to fire safety. By simplifying, and de-mystifying what to look for, PSPs can be confident in their output, without the worry of liability coming back to bite later down the line.”