(CBS4) — There’s a reason firefighters plead for you to know your escape plan right now should a fire erupt in your home.
“Today about two to three minutes is all you have time to get out of the house to safety,” Steve Jones, Indiana State Fire Marshal, said.
Underwriters Laboratories Fire Safety Research Institute reports homes these days are roughly 50% bigger than they were 50 years ago. This means more air is available to grow fires.
Additionally, the synthetic materials used to build the home – like plastics and textiles – are more flammable than materials used in the past.
“The synthetic materials do create an environment that’s a lot more toxic, that’s why you need to get out because you can lose consciousness from those materials much faster than you would have from natural materials,” Chief Michael Beard, Fire Marshal for the City of Indianapolis, said.
Modern building materials are more lightweight and do not hold up as well during a fire. Taller ceilings and open layouts can also exacerbate a fire.
“With open concepts, it can run through the entire area that’s opened,” Beard explained. “There’s no way of sectioning that off, closing doors, and isolating that fire.”
The materials inside a home have changed too. Homes today contain synthetic materials like polyurethane, which is plastic material, laminate and polyester. These all burn faster than natural home contents used in homes built prior to 1980, FSRI said. Natural materials include hardwood, solid wood and cotton, which burns slower.
“With the synthetic materials and the engineered materials, they burn hotter, they burn faster so the flashover point happens much faster,” Beard explained.
The video below, produced by Underwriters Laboratories, shows the difference in flashover times in homes filled with natural materials vs. modern. Fire experts say flashover means that anything in the room that can burn will burn.
In the video, the living room on the left contains natural materials like solid wood and cotton and the one to the right holds synthetic materials like plastics and laminate. FSRI ran four tests to understand the flashover times.
About 30 minutes passed before flashover in the room with natural material versus less than five minutes in the room containing synthetics. FSRI conducted four of these experiments, below are the findings:
FSRI emphasizes it is not practical for families to buy a new home with furnishings made with all-natural materials. That’s why fire experts’ main message is urging people to plan ahead for the worst.
“We’re not against technology,” Beard said. “What we want to make sure the homeowners do is make sure they have smoke alarms that are active and monitored and they’re linked so that if one’s going off they all go off.”
Firefighters also encourage Hoosiers to consider installing sprinkler systems in their houses. This simulation gives you a glimpse at a sprinkler system’s effectiveness.
Fire crews said these systems give families more time to escape their homes and for the firefighters to arrive. The National Fire Sprinkler Association said the average cost to install sprinkler systems is about $1.35 per square foot.
That’s about $3,400 for a 2,500-square-foot house.
“I think if most families could see the difference of this is what a house fire looks like with sprinklers vs. without and then picture putting your kids, which house would you put your children in,” Jones said.
Several other obvious ways firefighters say you can protect yourself include installing smoke alarms, closing bedroom doors while you and your family sleep and making an escape plan with the people living in your house. That plan should include an outside location where everyone will meet.