Newly built homes burn much faster than older homes

Posted at 6:50 AM, Dec 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 23:38:41-05

How much time does your family have to escape a fire? The I-Team found out the clock is not on your side if you live in a newly constructed home.

The building material in modern homes burns a lot faster.

“On average, with new construction, they are failing about 35 to 60 percent faster than conventional stick lumber that was used in the past,” said Lt. Michael Ball of the Milwaukee Fire Department.

Ball showed us beams for floor joists used in new homes are often particle board or other less expensive material. In new homes, the plates holding together roof trusses can’t hold up in a fire, Ball said.

“When those plates are subjected to any type of heat or fire, they fail very quickly,” Ball said.

“We have much less time.”

Instead, older homes are built with brick, concrete and natural wood.

Underwriters Laboratories, a fire safety testing company, showed the drastic difference in acceleration after a fire is set in a modern room versus an older one.

The same company reports, 30 years ago, you had about 17 minutes to escape a house fire. Today, you have about three or four minutes.

That means the men and women battling these flames are fighting the clock, too.

“It’s a big danger to firefighters certainly in terms of floor collapse and roof trusses giving away and things like that,” Ball said.

Years ago, a Milwaukee firefighter fell through the floor of a new home but ended up being OK, Ball said.

“We have to be even more cautious, more vigilant when we are fighting fires in a home built with modern construction materials," he said. 

The I-Team discovered so far this year in the city of Milwaukee, there were 312 permits requested for new construction homes and home additions.

Besides moving, people can't change the fact that they live in a modern home, so what can they do?

Ball said there are a lot of ways you can be proactive.

“Number one, most important and I’ll be honest, I don't know why anyone wouldn't put this in, is a sprinkler system,” Ball said.

Having smoke detectors on every floor and a family escape plan are more safety steps you can take.

TODAY’S TMJ4 reached out to the Wisconsin Builders Association for comment and we’re waiting for a response.