There was a time when most homes consistent of almost 100 percent natural products made of wood, fabric, paper, and plant fiber. The house walls, the furniture, wall insulation, the couch, the chairs and even the drapes were naturally fabricated. So when it came to fire, these products burned, but the typical house fire would take something like 30 minutes to 45 minutes to get established. No surprise, drywall and doors were then rated to deal with an internal fire heat for at least an hour of protection.
Today, however, the modern house is a complex mixture of efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Master-planned and produced in a cookie-cutter fashion, everything about the modern house is thought out, pre-determined, costed out, and built in mass numbers for scales of economy. And one of the ways that home builders save money is by utilizing products that cost far less to manufacture, mainly plastic and plastic foam.
The problem with plastic is that it is a petroleum-based end product. Petroleum is also flammable, but when it is ignited, plastic burns more readily and at a hotter temperature with far more toxic off-gassing. Despite the fact that fire retardants in furniture do work for immediate flame impingement (flame touching), the modern home is far more flammable in its whole than a home was 30 or 40 years ago with natural-made products. This fact has been proven again and again in both Steiner tunnel testing (intentional flame exposure in a tunnel designed for high temperature) as well as fire test chambers. See these tests in this video.
The most dramatic evidence is the time it takes for a natural home versus a modern home to reach flashover.
Flashover is the point where a fire gets so hot in a room during its growth stage that everything in the room self-ignites. This may sound like a crazy concept, but ignition is predominantly a matter of rising temperature. Under general fire behavior principles, everything has an ignition point, a temperature when the object or liquid starts to change to a gas. That ignition point usually occurs when all of the moisture is gone from a product and pyrolysis begins, whether it be a cup of water or a sofa. When a room reaches flashover, the combination of fire, radiant heat, hot gases, and carbon monoxide create an explosive condition that everything in the room suddenly catches fire.
In the comparison tests the natural home would reach flashover in about 40 to 45 minutes. The modern home reaches that point, due to all of its petroleum-based products, in something near 5 minutes. That’s doesn’t leave much time to get out. And with fire departments’ planning a response time within 5 minutes, many fires can involve a significant portion of a house before a response arrives. This is one of the reasons why residential sprinklers are now being required in many jurisdictions.
All of these new construction issues are reasons why homeowners should be aware of home fire safety, have smoke detectors and sprinklers, and in the Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin can rely on LDR for fire safety education. LDR has trained experts who can point out how homeowners can improve their fire safety tremendously with a few small changes.