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  • Feature Story

UL tests furniture in the name of quality and longevity

July 20, 2016

Whether rock tables found in ancient caves or jeweled thrones built for Kings, furniture occupies a unique and enduring place in human life. For modern-day people, the sectional couch encourages family interactions while an ergonomic chair helps office workers stay comfortable for hours at a time.

The demand for furniture testing with UL’s lab in Holland, Michigan, has doubled from 2014 to 2015 and is on a similar pace for 2016.  The reason is that furniture manufacturers are realizing the importance of UL testing and certification when it comes to consumer confidence.

“We’re seeing strong demand in our furniture testing labs and have for some time,” said Joseph LaGrow, a sales manager with UL’s Furniture and Furnishings business. “Over 70 different countries produce furniture for the global marketplace, and we’re testing hundreds of different products each year, across a broad spectrum of commercial and residential environments.”

Why testing is necessary

While furniture has a long life cycle, it is important to stay vigilant and build reliable pieces because even though materials change and new products are developed, quality standards remain in place and are updated as needed.

UL’s tests furniture across several categories: office furniture, residential furniture, bedding, retail displays, and institutional furniture such as schools and hospitals. These tests typically focus on furniture performance and durability, safety, flammability and chemical emissions testing. To evaluate mechanical durability, UL tests products using existing ANSI and/or UL standards, which check for functionality during their lifecycle.

“Finished products, for example, should receive UL certification because use of components only may create an added risk. Adding power cords, motors or overhead lighting can cause overheating if the system is not designed properly,” LaGrow said. Additionally many municipalities are beginning to require UL certification for office furniture to help ensure their employees are safe.

UL’s certification provides a safeguard for manufacturers and consumers alike. There is a push from local electrical inspectors who are red tagging furniture that has available power. These inspectors want the full product tested because some companies will use UL listed/recognized components instead.  This, however, is a risk because the components may not have the correct conditions of acceptability and may not match the product, creating unexpected and potential hazards.

Global Testing

UL serves the furniture industry with testing and certification laboratories in China, Italy, and four locations in the United States: Holland, Mich., where the company’s North American Furniture Center of Excellence offers a full suite of testing services; Northbrook, Ill., which provides flammability testing; Jasper, Ind., where UL conducts performance and durability testing; and Marietta, Ga., which provides chemical emissions testing and GREENGUARD certifications.

Last month, UL’s lab in Cabiate, Italy, was the first lab in Italy accredited to perform testing to the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturer Association’s (BIFMA) standards for office chairs and lounge seating. The standard predicts furniture is durable enough to be used every day over its lifetime, which is typically over a 10 year period.

UL also launched a certification program for BIFMA standards, which provide thorough testing and follow-up services. UL’s ability to offer this mark means increased opportunity for all manufacturers to demonstrate the quality of their products that go above and beyond basic testing.

While larger companies typically have more access and resources to test their products to BIFMA standards, it has been a challenge for smaller organizations because of the cost involved. Many times the quality of smaller companies is just as good, however, competition has been made more challenging without the BIFMA mark.

UL’s ability to offer a certification mark for BIFMA compliance provides more accessibility and availability for smaller organizations to get their furniture tested against the same standards. This suite of testing places all furniture on the same playing field and reinforces safety.