Why New Homes Burn Faster

By Kim Smiley

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 11.50.42 AMResearch has shown that new homes burn up to eight times faster than older homes.  What this means is that people have less time to get out of a house when a fire starts – a lot less time.  People living in older homes with traditional furnishings were estimated to have about 17 minutes to safely evacuate a home, but the time decreases to about three minutes in a home built with modern materials and furnished with newer, synthetic furniture.

Modern manufactured wood building materials have a lot of advantages. They are lighter, stronger and cheaper than using traditional wood materials, but these characteristics also mean they burn a lot faster.  Additionally, modern homes typically contain more potential fuel for fires. Many modern furnishings are manufactured using synthetics that contain hydrocarbons, which are a flammable petroleum product.  Furnishings manufactured with synthetic products will burn faster and hotter than traditional furnishings built using wood, cotton and down.  Most modern homes also just simply have more stuff in them that is potential fuel.

Other factors can also make modern homes more dangerous when a fire occurs. Many modern homes are open concept designs as opposed to more compartmentalized traditional designs.  Open spaces in a home can provide more oxygen for a fire to quickly grow.  Additionally, modern energy-efficient windows can help trap heat in a home when a fire starts and can lead to a fire spreading more rapidly. Changes in the way we live and build homes and furnishings have all contributed to modern homes building significantly faster, a potential danger that people need to be aware of so that they can work to keep themselves and their children safe.

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to prevent a fire from occurring in the first place.  Never leave candles burning unattended. Keep all potentially flammable items away from fireplaces and heaters. Don’t leave things on the stove unattended. During the holidays, make sure to keep Christmas trees well watered and away from heat sources and ensure candles are a safe distance from any potentially flammable objects.   These and other basic common sense steps really do prevent fires from occurring.

Of course there is no way to guarantee that a fire will never occur so every house needs working smoke detectors.  It is recommended that they are checked monthly to verify they are functional and that the batteries are changed regularly.  Most fatalities associated with home fires are in homes without working smoke detectors so it really is worth the time and effort to ensure they are kept in good working order.

To view a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis of this issue, click on “Download PDF” above.