Making a choice for fire safetyHomebuilding is a business of balance. Introduction of vinyl siding and synthetic insulation in the 1960s as a substitute for brick and wood meant cost reductions for homebuilders. A third of all new homes sold today are wrapped in vinyl. There can be deadly consequences for homeowners and firefighters if these homes catch fire.
The following NBC affiliate news story demonstrates the combustibility of vinyl siding.
Underwriters Laboratories recently released a report from the UL Firefighter Research Institute division. It showed the speed which it takes a fire to spread throughout a home. The quicker an exterior fire spreads through a house and into an attic, the less likely firefighters can extinguish it.
The report analyzed the speed which flames spread over various building materials, including vinyl, wood, aluminum and several synthetics. It is impossible to ignite brick and stone, so they were not included. Combustible materials such as vinyl, polypropylene shingle, and wood lap had the shortest ignition times. Aluminum siding delayed ignition significantly until it melted away after almost five minutes of exposure.
“This indicates that regardless of the siding material, once the polystyrene became involved, rapid flame spread occurred,” the report said.
Fire test showing rapid spreading from ground into eaves
The vinyl industry disagrees with these assertions. Vinyl Siding Institute President Kate Offringa told the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC that vinyl is a safe product and does not contribute to the rapid spread of fires. She pointed out that the Vinyl Siding Institute is part of a “working group” of firefighters and that less than four percent of fires start outside the home.
Still, an article published by Fire Engineering magazine based on a National Institute of Standards and Technology study into the combustibility of three siding materials: aluminum siding, plywood and vinyl siding, was similar in a lot of ways to what Underwriter’s Laboratories found.
Aluminum siding melted after 10 minutes of flame contact with a small smoldering fire, but no vertical flame spread occurred. The plywood allowed burning and flame spread 200 seconds after ignition and it took an average of 80 seconds to burn to the soffit level. Vinyl was the worst: less than 90 seconds after ignition, the flames began to spread upward and within another 50 seconds, the flames were in the attic space.’
Another concern is the smoke. Siding Magazine says, “Vinyl siding is made primarily of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a durable and cheap plastic often used in construction.” PVC releases formaldehyde, hydrogen chloride and dioxin into the air when it burns. Each of these gases are known carcinogens that can cause illness. The gases can kill the occupants of a home before the fire reaches them. This is why firefighters allow some homes to burn rather than risk toxic exposure from burning vinyl siding.
If you are building a new home, consider price. Consider safety, increased resale value, and virtually no maintenance costs with brick and you will see, brick makes a lot sense. For more information on the true cost of brick, Download the RS Means Installed Cost of Residential Siding.