Modern Homes Burn Faster

March 22, 2018

The infrastructure of a home in Wherry Housing crumbles under a fiery onslaught Aug. 14. No one was inside the house, and none of the responders were injured. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Modern Homes Burn Faster

An alarming statistic has revealed that modern homes burn faster than homes built 30 years ago. An Underwriters Laboratory study indicates that occupants in newer homes have less than three minutes to escape a burning building versus 17 minutes from older homes. This is a significant difference. With this new information, the urgency to evacuate the burning building as quickly as possible cannot be overstated. Homeowners need to understand that a three minute window does not allow time to gather precious belongings, look for the cat, or try to fight the fire themselves.

So what is Causing Homes to Burn Faster?

Studies show that the cause of house fires today, versus 100 years ago, has not changed significantly. Human error involving unattended candles, smoking in bed, poorly stored flammable liquids and faulty electrical are still the main causes. What has changed in recent years is the speed at which the fire and smoke spread throughout the structure.

Three causes have been identified as main contributors to this difference:

  1. Furnishings: The things we fill our homes with, such as upholstered furniture, drapery and carpeting, consist mostly of fast burning synthetic materials. Decades ago, slower burning natural materials and fibers were more common.
  2. Design: The popular open floor plan, commonly found in modern homes, actually contributes to the speed at which a fire spreads. This large open space provides lots of available oxygen to fuel a blaze versus the smaller rooms with doors common to older style homes.
  3. Construction: Today’s homes are typically dimensional wood frame construction versus the heavier lumber and beams used in the distant past. In an effort to construct safer homes, builders are encouraged to exceed fire rating standards and use more fire resistant composite lumber products, multi layered fire rated gypsum board, and steel studs in addition to concrete and brick. Any construction measure that slows the rate of fire spread provides the occupants a better chance of escape and reduces the degree of structural damage.

Armed with this information, homeowners should always be making decisions that increase the fire safety of their homes in each of these areas. The most obvious and cost effective safety measure is the installation of the common household smoke detector. An up-to-date, functioning, hard-wired smoke alarm with battery backup, will provide the homeowner with the most reliable early warning of fire, giving occupants the best chance to get out safely. For more information on smoke alarms, please check out the following link.

Smoke Alarms and CO Alarms Save Lives

Building Codes May Soon Change

In an effort to address the concern that modern homes burn faster, building codes may soon be changing. A task force, commissioned by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, has recently approached the National Building Code of Canada with a recommendation that mandatory sprinkler systems should be included in the Building Code for all new construction as early as 2020. Related industries are now in discussion on how this recommendation would impact the cost of new construction.

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