Everything seems to be getting faster. Technology and attitudes both provide and demand ways of getting from point A to point B quicker, be it in communications, medical diagnoses, security checkpoints, or delivery of Internet-based store products. While changes to our world’s speed of doing business have generally improved our quality of life, some changes have made it more dangerous. One place in particular where an increase in speed has been bad is the time it takes for a fire to burn your home. Consider the following information as you work to improve your plan to be safe.
From 30 to 3 or Less
Recently an Underwriter Laboratories test found that an average-sized room furnished with modern products could become fully engulfed in flames in only three minutes. Comparative tests demonstrated that the same sized room constructed and furnished with similar items using materials common 50 years ago took 30 minutes to reach the same level of intensity.
The same test reported that during the 1950s and 1960s most homes were constructed with natural wood (not composite board, etc) and were furnished with furniture made from real wood and natural fabrics. In contrast, a modern home tends to be constructed with materials that are more flammable, have a more open-space design, and contain furnishings that are crafted from synthetic materials. Even as little as 30 years ago, a person would have an average of eight minutes to get everyone out of the house from the time their smoke detector went off. What should concern everyone is that today most people only have less than two minutes to do the same.
Glues, Plastics, and Polyurethane Foam
In general, the worst enemy in a house fire is the upholstered furniture. These items usually contain highly flammable polyurethane foam. This type of common material provides the fuel needed to allow everything in the room to spontaneously burst into flames under certain conditions. This is called a flash over by Firefighters. Additionally, these modern products generate not only more heat, but also produce more smoke and very poisonous gases like carbon monoxide (CO) and cyanide. Besides burning faster, modern home fires produce upwards of 200% more smoke than 50 years ago.
More Stuff Produces More Fire
Think back to your childhood and remember the amount of toys you had. Children today tend to have many more toys than their parents probably had. Likewise, the toys are usually plastic and will burn quickly and produce toxic smoke. Consumers today tend to have a lot more stuff in general than people did 40 or 50 years ago. Considering that many more consumer goods are constructed from plastic than metal, that’s a lot of fuel to help spread a house fire. It’s no wonder that the modern home will burn faster than they used to. Besides all of the personal products in a home, consider the common essentials. Older homes had hardwood floors and wool rugs. Curtains may have been wool or cotton. Today it’s synthetic carpet and synthetic padding; drapes are synthetic, the couch, the chairs, the mattresses, the pillows, all are synthetic. Synthetic materials burn hotter and faster than natural materials so it’s only logical that the fires would spread so fast.
Mitigating the Speed Fire Spreads
Many say that the next step in home fire safety is to require fire sprinklers in new residential properties. However, consumers and construction companies will push back on this simply because of the additional costs involved. Some reports estimate that a sprinkler system could increase construction costs of an average home by up to several dollars a square foot. For a 3000-sf home that could raise the total cost by $9000 to over $15000. It may be even more expensive to retrofit a sprinkler system for an older home.
The most realistic way to improve your odds is to make sure that you have smoke and CO detectors placed throughout your home in accordance with all safety regulations and recommendations.
Remember, you and your family’s best chance of surviving a house fire is to safely get out as fast as you can. Children, adults, and if possible, pets. Everything else needs to be disregarded in the event your smoke alarms warn you of a fire in progress. Jewelry, photos, insurance policies, heirlooms, none of these things are worth a life. These types of items should all be secured in a fire proof safe.
During a fire, act correctly and act quickly. This may make the difference between life and death. Stay safe