Home insurance

Common causes for home fires

Thursday, October 12, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

man rescues child from fireDid you know, modern homes burn down faster than before? 

Occupants now have just a few minutes to escape before flames consume it, versus 15 minutes previously.

That was the big "aha!" I learned today as part of fire-prevention week. Snohomish County fire officials encourage families to plan and practice their escape routes, as explained in today's Everett Herald.

Skeptics might wonder, why would houses be any riskier now than before? Construction materials differ. Synthetic materials are common, like plastic, glue, and foam. They're more flammable and burn hotter than wood.

My home is a 30-year-old "stick" house, meaning it's framed and sided with wood, built on-site. So theoretically it will take longer to ignite, giving me more time to escape. But even my home has newer, flammable properties.

close up on spray foam around door frameFor example, I went out to my garage and grabbed a can of Great Stuff big-gap filler. It's cream-colored spray foam that comes in an aerosol can. I've used it liberally outside around joints on my siding and crawl-space vents, to insulate against heat loss and keep bugs out of the house.

Sure enough, the label says my spray foam is made with polyurethane. Although it contains a flame retardant, the cured foam can ignite when exposed to high heat.

I also thought of my go-to glue for all things made of wood, Weldwood contact cement. (I use the original formula in the red can, not the newer less-effective formulas in green or blue cans.) The material safety data sheet for Weldwood says, "Incompatible with open flames, hot surfaces and sources of ignition."

indoor stair way in flamesThe Herald article also reminded me that portable electric heaters are designed to be plugged directly into the wall. Using one with an extension cord can be risky. Have you ever done so and felt how warm the extension cord gets? That's telling you, "look out – fire danger."

I suspect that with this week's nip in the air, and even snow in the Cascades and Blue Mountains, people are breaking out their space heaters. Use them with caution, keeping paper and other flammables at least three feet away.

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