3 Minutes to Escape: Why New Construction Burns Faster Than Ever

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Imagine moving into a newly constructed office or workspace. All the fixtures, furniture, and supplies are brand new. Everyone is ready to get to work and be as productive as possible. Morale and energy are both high, with your whole staff fresh and ready for work.

Imagine, then, having to drop everything and get to the safety of the street in only three minutes.

Lightweight Construction - NFPA

Image courtesy of NFPA.org

This is exactly the feeling many new homeowners have to deal with, especially when a fire breaks out in a newly constructed home. According to two recent studies by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), homes constructed in the last few years, particularly those built out of lightweight materials, are likely to burn much faster—in three minutes, compared to 17 minutes in previous years— than homes made with dimensional lumber and other stronger materials.

The Dangers of Lightweight Construction

Lightweight construction refers to the use of “engineered lumber,” a type of structural wood made with bonded fibers and other materials. Engineered lumber provides exceptional structural support in roof and floor assemblies. They allow workers to build open rooms and long spans that are widely found in modern homes.

Engineered lumber is more efficient and environmentally friendly since they can be fabricated out of smaller logs and in almost any shape or design to fit the application. These composite beams are more cost-effective than traditional lumber and wood.

Dangers of Lightweight Construction

In and of itself, lightweight construction is no real threat, and is actually quite sturdy. It is only when this type of construction comes into contact with fire that it becomes a problem. Lightweight materials are highly flammable, due to the synthetic nature of the components and construction.

According to fire tests performed by the UL, a floor system constructed from traditional materials withstood burning for 18 minutes. Systems made with lightweight materials, on the other hand, burned in about six minutes. This means that lightweight construction gives you only three minutes to escape a fire.

Synthetic Furniture

Another important factor adding to the speed at which newly constructed homes burn is furniture. Almost all office and household items like draperies, chairs, and desks are made of synthetic materials including hydrocarbons that are highly flammable. In addition, offices and homes increasingly have open floor plans, which allow fire to spread much faster.

Taken together, the synthetic material in furniture, lightweight construction, and open floor plans have reduced the time needed to escape from about 17 minutes to 3 minutes.

Everyday Fire Fighting Methods

Sprinkler HeadThere are a number of methods to make sure you are protected if a fire does break out in a newly built office or home. One of the best tools is a sprinkler system. According to ABC News, some new homeowners are paying an additional two percent on new construction to ensure new sprinklers are installed. These help in greatly reducing the spread of fire.

Other methods of protecting yourself are those with which you’re probably already familiar. Make sure smoke detectors have fresh batteries and are working at peak efficiency. Be sure to check wiring, appliances, and furnaces for any faults. And visit Fox Valley Fire & Safety for all the products you need to keep your office safe.

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