Materials cause new homes to burn faster - WSMV News 4

Materials cause new homes to burn faster, leaving little time to escape

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The News4 I-Team found that residents only have three minutes to escape from a newly constructed home in case of a fire as opposed to 20-30 minutes from a home built 20 years ago. (WSMV) The News4 I-Team found that residents only have three minutes to escape from a newly constructed home in case of a fire as opposed to 20-30 minutes from a home built 20 years ago. (WSMV)

If your home catches fire, do you know how long you have to get out? A News4 I-Team investigation found a startling difference in how quickly a home can burn, depending on how old it is.

It was a night Renee Scales wishes she could forget.

“It's like the fire was chasing us. When I first came out I was like the fire is under me, I can’t get to the front door, I can't get out this back door.”

She suffered second and third-degree burns on her hands and face. When the flames were finally out, nothing was left.

"Out of everything terrible that has happened, something good is coming from it."

That something good is a new home. But the News4 I-Team has uncovered information Scales and every new homeowner should know.

Twenty years ago, you had 20 to 30 minutes to get out of a burning home safely. Now, you have less than three minutes before fire officials say you're unable to escape.

‘I'm not saying new homes aren't safe. They just don't stand up to fire conditions like an old house does,” said Murfreesboro Fire Marshal Carl Peas.

According to Baylie Scott with the Tennessee State Fire Marshal's Office, the materials builders use these days are different than what was used decades ago. For example, they're cheaper. She also says it also allows builders to get homes up faster.

“They’re easier to put up, they’re faster to put up and it is more affordable both for the contractor and consumer," said Scott.

The wood panels used now are more lightweight than what was used 30 years ago. Builders also use metal plates that can expand and come loose during a fire causing the wood to collapse. And these are two examples fire officials say cause homes to burn faster.

“The difference is lightweight construction is not as durable under a fire condition as the old legacy construction,” said Peas. “The structure could collapse a lot faster."

The News4 I-Team put it to the test.

With the help of the Murfreesboro Fire Department, we burned wood used to build homes decades ago and wood used now to build new homes.

We watched as both started to burn. It took less than a minute to see flames on the newer construction. Nine minutes later that wood collapsed.

We flipped both pieces over to find the legacy wood charred, but still intact.

News4 Investigative Reporter Lindsay Bramson asked, "Would you say that this would give a person a pretty good indication of just how quickly their home could burn?” “Yes,” replied Peas.

 “Their homes are safe. I’m not trying to say their homes are not safe. However, under fire conditions you don't have as much time in a newer home to evacuate than you do in an older home,” said Peas.

Scales is excited about her new home. It will have new electrical wiring and more smoke detectors.

"Now it’s not just the kitchen, one downstairs, one upstairs and hallways in-between the bedrooms. Now smoke detectors will be in each bedroom which is code compliant,” she said.

It's important to note these new materials being used are all code compliant.  As of now, only three states in the country require homes to have sprinklers inside them. Tennessee is not one of them.

However, the News4 I-Team did get a list of what new homes do have to have in order to be code compliant.

According to Metro Codes:

Fire-related Building Codes

The Building Code can be fairly complex with exceptions, but here are some generally applicable requirements.

For single-family homes, smoke detectors required:

  • On the ceiling or wall outside of each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of bedrooms.
  • In each room used for sleeping purposes.

Building materials are required to meet fire and smoke protection features.

  • Example: For duplexes, the connecting wall between dwelling units must be rated as a firewall with a fire-resistance rating of 2 hours or more for must residential construction.
  • If homes are constructed within a certain short distance of another home, more fire-resistant materials are required for exterior walls and openings to prevent fires from spreading. 

Fire Life Safety Review

  • For single-family homes, the Fire Marshall’s office reviews site plans to ensure adequate access to fire hydrants. If not, they may be required to install sprinklers. [The Fire Marshall may be able to provide more specific information about the criteria.]

Electrical Permits

  • Many of the requirements throughout the electrical inspection process are designed to reduce or eliminate the risk of electrical fires.

Again, new homes are safe.

If you live in one, have a safety plan and practice it.

Fire officials suggest having an escape ladder.

Check to make sure windows aren't stuck. If you have window screens, make sure you can take them off quickly.

Test the batteries in your smoke alarms once a month to make sure they work.

In Tennessee, 64 people have died so far this year from house fires. That’s compared to 85 total fire-related deaths in 2017.

Copyright 2018 WSMV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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