It would seem that modern advances in homebuilding would make us safer from fires, but studies done by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) showed mixed results. However with just a few added safety measures, your home can be safe.
While the number of home fires occurring in the U.S. each year has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1977, the ratio of people who die in home fires has remained virtually unchanged, based on data from the NFPA. In 1977, deaths occurred in .8 percent of home fires, and in 2013, that rate was .7 percent. One possible explanation for this discrepancy: home fires now burn hotter and faster than they did 40 years ago, meaning victims have less time to escape a burning house.
The UL study cites several factors as driving the changes in home residential fires, including:
* Modern home design is toward larger homes with more open floor plans, an arrangement that facilitates the spread of fire. Older homes were smaller overall and featured smaller room plans.
* Construction materials currently in use contribute to a faster burn time.
* Today's home furnishings are made from many synthetic materials that combust easily, meaning fires have more fuel.
* In UL testing, modern windows of all types failed faster than windows made from older - or "legacy" materials. In some cases, the time difference was significant. For example, legacy windows made of wood with a metal frame and nine single-glazed panes failed in about 12 to 16 minutes, while modern premium wooden frame windows with two panes of double-glazed glass failed in about four to six minutes. When windows fail, they admit more oxygen into a burning building to feed the fire.
Working smoke alarms in a home are proven to reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities. Virtually every construction code in the U.S. requires smoke alarms in new construction. Functioning smoke alarms reduce the risk of home fire fatalities by 50 percent, according to the NFPA. A residential sprinkler system slashes the risks even further - by 80 percent. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends that all homes should be equipped with both smoke alarms and sprinklers. And the International Residential Code also requires fire sprinklers for new-home construction.
A typical system represents about 1 to 1.5 percent of the total cost of new-home construction. For example, a $200,000 new home would require an investment of about $2,000 to install sprinklers - far less than the cost of other, less safety-oriented upgrades, such as premium appliances or flooring.
For more information about fire safety and building construction, visit www.nfpa.org or www.iccsafe.org.