While today's homebuilding materials are more economically and environmentally friendly, a lesser-known fact is that they can react rather dramatically under fire.
The new homes in your community are likely constructed with engineered lumber, a structural member made of wood fibers and materials bonded with adhesive that is used as a composite joist or beam. A member of the "lightweight construction" family of products, this material can be a stellar alternative to traditional wood materials found in older homes. Yet, lightweight construction materials tend to burn hotter and faster than its older counterparts.
How much faster? Underwriters Laboratories (UL) conducted a study in 2008 comparing lightweight construction with traditional wood materials. The study concluded that "legacy material" assemblies collapsed in 18-and-a-half minutes. The lightweight construction assemblies collapsed in only 6 minutes, giving today's residents extremely limited time to seek safety and for firefighters to effectively extinguish a home fire.
A solution exists that can mitigate the fire dangers of today's homebuilding materials. Research has also confirmed that home fire sprinklers can keep fire conditions tenable and can help prevent structural failure and collapse. Home fire sprinklers are also designed to give residents ample time to safely escape a fire.
Since the majority of today's fire deaths are still happening at home, building new homes with home fire sprinklers can help reduce and potentially eliminate this statistic. NFPA's Fire Sprinkler Initiative is an advocacy campaign that aims to increase the use of new homes with home fire sprinklers via the adoption of sprinkler requirements. (Home fire sprinklers are a code requirement found in all model building codes used in the U.S.) Use the initiative's research and advocacy tools to make a convincing case for home fire sprinklers and to learn more about the dangers of lightweight construction.
We would like your input!
Have you had any experience with lightweight construction? Are you a member of the fire service who has responded to homes built with this material? We'd like to hear your story. Please let us know by responding in the comments section.