While there are approximately 50% fewer house fires today than there were 40 years ago, the cost of damage caused per fire has doubled in that same amount of time. In 2020, there was a reported $8.4 billion in property damage with the average claim for insurance around $78,838. A few more random facts, 20% of fires occur between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm, and in today’s houses where there is a significant number of plastics in materials that are in the home, it takes less than 3.5 minutes for the fire to reach over 1,100 degrees. That is really hot, real fast.
Heating equipment and electrical fires are the number 2 and 3 leading causes of fires (cooking is number 1) which means these fires can occur at any time, including during the nighttime when occupants are typically sleeping. And while technology, building construction, and fire codes have contributed to ensuring fewer fires over the past 40 years, there were still 264,500 house fires in 2019 and 2,580 deaths in 2020.
So, it is no secret why fire safety is an important part of both building construction and home inspections. Combine that with the science of fire flow path, which is how a fire reacts during a house fire, and the decade of research done by the UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI) and we have a campaign that calls for closing bedroom doors, especially while sleeping.
When fires occur inside the home, the fire quickly grows due to the abundance of “fuel” inside of homes. And with less than 3.5 minutes to the “flashover” state, there isn’t much time to get out safely. Combine this with the fact that fire seeks oxygen to grow and will follow the air path, or “flow path”, to get more oxygen. This means that if you sleep with your windows open or open the window to look for help while your bedroom door is open, the fire will travel to that opening to get that oxygen. And it can happen fast!
So, what does closing the door really accomplish? After all, the fire reaches temperatures of over 1,100 degrees within minutes. The research conducted by FSRI discovered that in rooms with the doors (and windows) closed on both the first and second floors, the temperatures inside the rooms were less than 100 degrees on average while the open-door rooms were 1000+ degrees! That creates what is called a “livable” space in a fire and firefighters all over the country have focused their training on reaching those “livable” spaces when arriving on the scene for rescue.
In addition, the gas concentrations also had vast differences. It is important to remember that the majority of all fire-related deaths are due to smoke (gas) inhalation. Open-door rooms measured over 10,000 parts per million of Carbon Monoxide while the closed rooms had approximately 100 PPM of CO (actionable levels of CO begin at 10 ppm).
What does this have to do with real estate and inspections? It is important to understand why inspectors write up what we write up. And while interior door issues often fall in the “maintenance” category vs. defect (not latching, binds in jam), we want people to know that simple items like having enough smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, properly operating doors and windows, while often appear minor in nature and are “punch” list items, can save lives in the event of a fire.
As with a lot of issues noted during inspections, taking care of the little things can go a long way in keeping the house and its owners safe! Make sure you check out the resources below for more information.
Home | Close Your Door
Close Before You Doze | UL’s FSRI – Fire Safety Research Institute