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.

Making houses safer

Now that firefighters understand how newer-home fires burn, fire services are working with building officials to strengthen building and fire codes and to introduce enhancements that will help people get out of their homes quickly during a fire and help keep fires from spreading.

Struble says that in the short-term protecting i-joists with rated sheetrock and having states require a hardwired fire alarm system -- where working smoke detectors don't depend on someone changing the battery -- is key, since getting people out of the house early is crucial. When the fire department knows people are out, it becomes a property loss problem and not a life loss problem.

The ultimate solution is the installation of residential sprinklers in new homes. Currently, California and Maryland are the only states that require fire sprinklers in new home construction, despite the International Residential Code requiring it in 2009 and in 2012; and it will appear again in the 2015 code.

The cost of installing a residential sprinkler system in new construction is $1.61 per square foot nationally.

"While many states have rejected the International Code Council's requirement for all new one- and two-family homes to include fire sprinklers, the fact remains that fire sprinkler systems would offset the danger created by lightweight construction methods and today's synthetic furnishings, providing greater protection to building occupants and emergency first-responders," says Fleming.

The first step is to get sprinkler systems into today's new homes, which are tomorrow's older homes.

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