Putting fire resistant paint to the test

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Firefighters will tell you that flames have an insatiable appetite. Fire will burn until there is nothing left to fuel it. It will continue to heat surfaces and burn them up until it is either driven out or it consumes everything it can.

"Many homes aren't built like they used to be. Everything has gotten cheaper and lighter and thinner," said Rob Kinniburgh, Deputy Chief and Fire Marshall with the Charlotte Fire Department.

In many commercial structures, places where large crowds gather, fire resistant paint is used to slow the progress of the fire. Could that same paint make a difference in your home?

We put it to an eye opening test.

"Until now this type of paint was lumpy and expensive, toxic, foul smelling and hard to apply," said Tony Scott. He is one of the men behind Contego International which makes a variety of fire resistant paint.

Scott showed us, on a piece of treated wood, how the paint works.

"As the fire hits it, the paint reflects away the thermal energy and creates a black, hard char-coat so the fire can't get to the fuel it needs," Scott said.

Untreated wood burned in a matter of seconds.

To put it to a real test, with more heat and more flames, we asked for help.

A crew of contractors built us two identical structures. One was painted with regular paint and the other with the Contego fire resistant paint.

Then the Charlotte Fire Department set both on fire at the same time.

"It is impressive how quickly the fire moves," Kinniburgh said.

Watch the video on this page, either the time lapse, or the full story that aired on WBTV to see how quickly the fire moved. Within only a couple of minutes the structure painted with regular paint was fully engulfed and the structure painted with the fire resistant paint was only slowly burning. In all the test took 12 minutes.

"The fire resistant paint lived up to its claim. It isn't going to save your life because you see there was still plenty of smoke and it's smoke that causes many of the deaths we see. However, it will buy you some time," Kinniburgh said.

The paint only comes in white, but it can be covered with any color of regular paint and will still work the same. Shop around at your local paint stores because several manufacturers make it and they charge a variety of prices. Finally unlike a home sprinkler system, which organizations like the South Carolina Fire and Life Safety Education Association recommend, this paint will not get you a discount on your insurance.