New or old homes? Which is better when it comes to fire safety - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

New or old homes? Which is better when it comes to fire safety

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PROSSER, WA - Newer, more energy-efficient homes can save you money on your utility bills, but there's a hidden danger that you may not know about.

Newer homes can bring added fire risks.

Reporter Mackenzie Allen learned that it's a combination of things; both how the home is built, and the stuff we put in our homes. She got the chance to get an up-close look at the difference between how traditional and modern homes burn thanks to the West Benton Fire Department.

The dollhouse on the left is designed to mimic the conditions of a new style home - sealed tight to prevent air coming in or out, and lots of plastic.

The house on the right is a traditional home. Some air cracks here and there, and mostly wood construction. 

West Benton Fire Chief Todd Dormaier says these things make a major difference.

"You have basically liquid gasoline everywhere," Chief Dormaier said. "Everything nowadays is made out of plastics. So if you look at your couch of modern day versus traditional, traditional was cotton and wood, modern day is polyethaline."

The new house burned a lot faster, and gave off a lot more black smoke. It's also a lot more likely to suddenly flash over, creating a potentially fatal environment.

"We strongly recommend if you have the ability to have a home sprinkler system, the industry is moving toward that way, it's obviously not required right now but fire sprinklers do save lives and they do put out fires," Chief Dormaier explained.

But it's not all bad news for new homes. Tighter, more insulated homes can sometimes help contain a blaze, just so long as firefighters know what they're dealing with.

"If firefighters are doing their research and staying up on their training, which they all do, they can really use it to their benefit or the benefit of the citizens."

Nor is it just the home that's to blame.

"We're just loading the home up with unneeded stuff, and that unneeded stuff is more than likely plastic, and the plastic is what's causing the problem."

And of course, once the house is fully engulfed, the materials tend to not make a huge difference.

Mackenzie reached out to the local home builders' association, but they cautioned against thinking new always means bad. With newer homes also comes updated building codes designed to make homes much safer than they used to be.

And regardless of the age of the home, the furniture and other stuff we put inside a house can play a large role in its fire safety as well.