"Certainly we don't have as much time in the building now; that's going to impact anyone still left in the home and our ability to get to them, and certainly it's going to cause more damage to the home," says Struble.Home insurance covers fire damage up to the limits of your policy. See these home insurance basics.
Open areasAside from the building materials used in today's homes, other factors contribute to quicker burn rates including larger square footage. "Back in the 1960s the average single family home was about 1,200 square feet. It's not unusual to have a home that's now 3,000 to 4,000 square feet," says Struble. What's more, with open floor plans, all the rage in new home builds, a blaze spreads more quickly. Couple that with lightweight building materials and large square footage and firefighters see early collapses, rapid fire spread and more intense fires than they've seen in the past 30 years, explains Struble.
What's burning?Contributing to today's home-fire crisis is the contents of our homes. "We know that today's contents burn hotter with more BTUs," says Struble. Many items have a plastic or hydrocarbon base so they burn more intensely and create more energy. "Newer plastic fillings in sofas, chairs, and mattresses burn much faster than older fillings like cotton, reducing the time it takes for a room to heat to 1,100 degrees and reach flashover -- the temperature point at which the heat in an area is high enough to ignite all flammable materials," says Fleming. One reenactment by Underwriters Laboratories built two homes and set a room full of legacy furniture from the '50s to '70s on fire along with a room with modern furniture. The legacy furniture reached flashover in 29.25 minutes; the room with modern furnishings took 3.25 minutes.
One of the reasons furniture is cheaper today and in greater quantity than 30 years ago is because manufacturing techniques have improved. Furniture also contains materials that are economical and durable that are typically made of plastics and synthetics, which give off a tremendous amount of heat when they burn.