Friday, June 25, 2010

We'll All Burn To Death In Our Sleep

Could this burned-out hulk be your home (cue video of smoldering pile of rubble)? Are you living in a death-trap? Is your family safe? Are you and your family at risk of dying in a horrible fire? Do you know what your house is made of?

I keep waiting for one of the local media outlets to pick up on the story of the house fire on Stockbridge Drive on the far east side, and try to scare us to death. If we were in a ratings sweep, I’ll bet somebody would do the story.

The article yesterday morning in the State Journal quoted Fire Lt. Dave Peterson saying homes built in the past 15 years use a lot more lightweight, pre-fabricated pieces, which meet code – but fail a lot faster than old-fashioned lumber in a fire. The paper also had quotes from local home builders talking about the newer materials and construction.

City Fire Marshall Ed Ruckriegel told the paper firefighters want the state building code updated to reflect the changes in construction materials, with a code requirement for sprinkler systems in single-family homes to the tune of a few thousand bucks.

Earlier this week I read a column by Paul Fanlund in the Cap Times talking about how “emotional heat” may be at the core of the future of news, and this house fire story is perfect for some media outlet to try and make us lose sleep about what our house is really made of.

The house Toni and I bought in 1999 is built like a rock. It was a builder’s home. The contractor built it as his “dream home” in 1997, but not too long after he and his wife moved in, the marriage fell apart. I’ve often joked that the coldest place I’ve ever been was Madison on August 18th, 1999. We closed on the house that day at Lawyer’s Title on Applegate Court. You could hang meat in that room, and it wasn’t because of the air conditioning. The two former owners really hated each other. Needless to say, we were able to get a good deal on the price. The wife got the house in the divorce agreement and she wanted cash, now.

The floors are built over real wood joists with real plywood, not OSB (oriented strand board), which a friend of mine calls “glit”, a combination of glue and s*it. Ask somebody whose floors are OSB what it’s like when the OSB gets wet in a kitchen flood or from storm damage.

There’s 5/8 drywall everywhere, not the thin stuff. This house holds heat in the winter and a/c in the summer. The three outside decks total a bit under a thousand square feet, and with all the sealant I’ve put on them in the past decade, they’re probably our biggest fire risk!

I have a bone to pick with the electrical contractor who wired the house, though, and all I’ll say is thank goodness our son’s best friend is a licensed journeyman electrician. We’ve dealt with a few “issues.” And the guy who built the house did his own cable wiring and had no clue what he was doing. Two installers from Charter spent the better part of two full days ripping out his nightmarish arrangement and re-wiring every room in the house. (It helps to have a senior exec at Charter corporate who was an old college drinking pal.)

So if one of the other local media outlets picks up on the State Journal’s east-side house fire story, they’ll be able to scare a lot of homeowners, who probably have no clue how their house was built or what kind of materials were used.

Maybe they’ll save the idea for the fall ratings sweep.


  1. Two installers from Charter spent the better part of two full days ripping out his nightmarish arrangement and re-wiring every room in the house.

    ....which explains why my daughter cannot get any service from Charter when she calls, eh?

  2. You gotta know somebody, Dad. Otherwise the service is horsesh__. My son has Charter and he constantly complains about lack of service. I'm loathe to abuse the privilege with my old drinking buddy....