It may sound like a cliche to trot out fire safety tips before the holiday season, but if there's one statistic that bears repeating, it's this: Even with adequate smoke alarms, a house fire today can become uncontrollable in less than three minutes.
That's down from an average 17 minutes in 1975 -- a whopping 82 percent difference.
"It's not how old the home is, it's the furnishings," Jack Watts, Director of the Fire Safety Institute, told AOL Real Estate.
A spokesperson for the National Association of State Fire Marshals told AOL Real Estate that the worst culprit in home fires is upholstered furniture, because it often contains highly flammable polyurethane foam. These all-too-common materials provide the fuel for what fire experts call the flashover -- the point at which everything in the room simultaneously bursts into flames. It doesn't help that many of today's homes are built with more open floor plans and modern building materials like wallboard that can lead to faster fires, according to the Wichita Eagle.
The numbers show an alarming trend. In 1977, the first year when data was available, there were 750,000 residential fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2010, there were roughly half that many, thanks in large part to widespread use of smoke detectors. But the incredible speed with which home fires can spread in today's homes represents a major step backward in fire safety.
The Hot Topic of Sprinklers
The next step in home fire safety, a spokesperson for the NASFM said, is to require fire sprinklers in new residential properties. Homebuilders bristle at the idea due to the high cost of installation. The national average cost to install sprinklers is $1.60 per square foot, according to the Wichita Eagle. In a 2,000-square-foot home, that comes out to about $3,200.
Another barrier is public opinion. As we reported last year, when given the choice between granite countertops and fire sprinklers, respondents overwhelmingly chose the countertops, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Worse still, there are only voluntary flammability regulations for upholstered furniture. Implementing a nationwide standard would go a long way in protecting consumers from purchasing dangerously flammable furnishings, the NASFM spokesperson said.
Regardless of what state legislators decide, though, it all comes down to vigilance, says Fire Safety Institute Director Watts.
If you'll be using a live Christmas tree this holiday season, make sure to water it regularly and keep an eye on any decorative lighting and candles. And, as always, make sure your house is equipped with working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. For a terrifying glimpse at a Christmas tree "flashover," watch the video above.
Aspiring chefs, gourmets and gourmands -- feast your eyes on these delectable kitchens, plucked from some of the finest homes on the market today. If the kitchen truly is the heart of the home, get ready to fall in love with some of the best-kept, cutting-edge and well-equipped tickers this side of Lyon. Bon appétit!
This home is outfitted for large-scale entertaining and has the amenities to show for it: There's a paneled library, butler's pantry, office, pool, guest suite, massage room, spa, home theater -- phew! -- golf room, gymnasium, gift-wrapping room and living room.
And what would a grown-up party house be without an over-the-top kitchen? Crammed with state-of-the-art appliances, this expansive culinary laboratory has two kitchen islands and encompasses a breakfast area with a fireplace.
Location: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Price: $40 million
Sq. Ft.: 13,885
They don't get much more expensive than this giant (though, believe it or not, there do happen to be quite a few houses that dwarf it). This gated mansion offers a swimming pool, tennis courts and, clearly -- at this price -- a whole lot more.
Location: Los Angeles, Calif.
Price: $34.95 million
Sq. Ft.: 15,000 Sq Ft
You can’t buy happiness, but this stunning architectural home is about as close to a Zen investment as you’re likely to find this side of Nirvana. With six bedrooms and 10 baths, you could start your own religious commune in this sprawling contemporary home. And speaking of food for the soul …
Oh, would that we were real Disney princesses! Well, there’s also the princely sum this property costs, but we can dream, can’t we? This palatial estate -- in the Lone Star State, no less -- has everything an aspiring royal could ever want, including a grandiose gourmet kitchen.
This Tuscan-style palace is just what fairy tales are made of -- rustic stone walls, golden chandeliers, and a kitchen island to die for. We may be highlighting killer kitchens this week, but the rest of this modern palace has to be seen to be believed. Swoon!
Location: Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
Sq Ft: 4,141 Sq Ft
Sitting on a small fortune but aren’t much into mowing the lawn? Then try this tropical fantasy condo on for size. With cerulean blue around every corner of this luxurious beachside home, sit back and enjoy a Mai Tai in your spacious and airy dining room.