New construction materials and furnishings more prone to large scale fires

'Our Colorado' looks at fire danger in development
Posted at 2:39 PM, May 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-23 19:12:43-04

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PARKER, Colo. -- As we watch our Colorado expand, the need for housing is growing as well. But with the new construction boom going on in Denver, some of the materials being used to build all of those new homes are making structures more prone to large scale fires.

A common material used in modern construction is oriented strand board (OSB).

“Its lighter weight material and its usually more cost effective for the builders to not only make but then to put the structure together,” said Eric Hurst, South Metro Fire Rescue Public Information Officer. “What home builders have said over the years is really houses are built to keep people safe enough to evacuate their house and get out. They are not built to be hosting a fire and for firefighters to go in and work a fire.”

When OSB is covered with drywall it can help slow the fire spread, but many homes have areas that are considered unfinished and that don’t have drywall protection. Hurst said the most common areas without drywall include basements, attics and garages.

“What we see in residential homes is a lot of times people have unfinished basements and then they pack the basements with fire load; different types of furniture or boxes. Then the trusses on the ceiling of those basements are just open, they’re unprotected and there is no drywall. If a fire burns in the basement and it can start to burn that structural member of the house that fast it can cause really big problems for firefighters when they arrive, whether that’s a sagging floor or a floor that has already collapsed,” said Hurst.

Modern furnishings are another concern for modern home builds.

“With the synthetics we are using, the smoke that comes off of that is this nasty black toxic smoke that gets super heated very easily,” said Hurst. "It can become disorienting because you can’t see, it will immediately bring people to their knees because it is so awful to breathe in.”

Sprinkler systems in homes are a costly addition, but can be effective in slowing the progress of a fire and protecting a home from being completely consumed by a fire.

“There is no doubt that it is definitely an extra cost that is put on the builder and the homeowner but then it comes down to, 'can you put a price on your life if your house is on fire and you have seconds or minutes to escape,'” said Hurst.

The cheapest and easiest options to protect your home are having working smoke alarms, an escape plan in mind to get out of your home quickly and closing your doors at night. The idea behind closing doors is if a fire starts, the smoke and fire will be enclosed to one area rather than being exposed to more rooms in the house.