Have you given enough thought about fire hazards in your home and how best to protect yourself? Even if you think you’re prepared — kudos if you’ve got a home fire extinguisher handy — it’s still important to be extra careful.
Take the time to know what you need to look out for in your home throughout the year and what maintenance you should be doing regularly. The leading causes of home fires are from cooking, heating, electrical, smoking, and candles, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Please review the rundown of tips below. You can find even more detailed information by visiting the National Fire Protection Association website.
Remember—even one simple step you take could prevent a future fire — protect your home and your loved ones!
Double Check Your Smoke Alarms
Most homeowners know that it’s important to have smoke alarms installed correctly but it’s even more vital to maintain them, test them regularly, and replace them when necessary. Updated technology in alarms have made a difference when it comes to early warnings and getting your family outside promptly.
- Replace your alarms if they are 10 years old or even sooner for more advanced technology. Consider updating sooner since devices are more advanced now and can better detect different smoke conditions and be interconnected so that they all sound off.
- Test all of your home’s alarms once a month. There is a test button on each device to do this manually. Set a remind or alert on your phone or calendar system so you don’t forget.
- Change your batteries on all devices at the same time each year and make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions. Or, pay attention if your alarm starts chirping if it has non-replaceable 10-year batteries — time to replace the device.
- Install your smoke alarms correctly and hire a professional for help, especially if they are hard-wired. Put a smoke alarm in each bedroom, and also outside each sleeping area. You should also have one on each level of your home, including your basement and attic. If you have a large home, you’ll need extra alarms.
Invest In a Few Fire Extinguishers and Learn How To Use Them
Your household should have a few residential-type fire extinguishers readily available to use in case a small fire breaks out in your home. Having these could prevent damage to your home, or prevent a more serious fire from spreading throughout your home.
- Have at least one home fire extinguisher per floor, plus the basement, garage, and attic. Remember to put in common areas like the kitchen and laundry room.
- Get the type of extinguisher class that best matches the potential fire hazard in that room. The different types of fire include ordinary combustibles, flammable liquids (gasoline and oil-based), and electrical.
- Replace your extinguisher within 12 years, or by the stated expiration date if it has one, or if it is damaged or has missing any parts. Most extinguishers will need to be recharged sooner. Contact your local fire department to see if they can recharge them for you or can recommend a place that can. If a fire extinguisher canister, the hose, gauge, pins, nozzles, handle, or any other part is missing or in disrepair, replace it.
- Make sure that everyone in your household knows where the fire extinguishers are located on each floor and how to use them. Doesn’t watching YouTube videos about how to use a fire extinguisher sound like an exciting Friday night or is it just me?
Stay Informed on Product Recalls with Fire Risk
With so many products on the market, especially electronics and electrical equipment, you should be aware of any recalls that pose a fire hazard. You might remember how Hoverboard battery packs at one time were at risk of catching on fire or exploding — lots of social media posts.
- Keep up-to-date on recalls from the Consumer Products Safety Commission [LINK to CPSC.org]. Stay informed!
- Before buying products, do your research and know if a product contains any flammable materials. Or, if it is flame retardant, which means it is resistance to igniting.
- Weigh the pros and cons of purchasing flame retardant products due to health concerns over chemical exposure. Some long-time flame retardant products now provide options without the retardant chemicals.
Create a Fire Escape Plan with Household Members
It’s important that you have an escape plan if your home catches on fire. You’ll need to coordinate with other family or household members to understand what to do and then practice fire drills together.
Sometimes you’ll only have a couple minutes or so to get out of your home — whether you’re in a two-story house or in an apartment condo several floors up. You need to know the fastest way out and any obstacles you may need to get around if flames and smoke are taking over.
- Create and practice an escape plan for each room of your home. Since fire could happen in the daytime or while you’re sleeping at night be prepared to know at least two ways out of each room if possible, such as a window or door. Get a fire ladder for upstairs windows and know how to use it!
- Have a set meeting spot once everyone escapes. Make sure it’s a safe enough distance away from your home but not too far. Call 911 once you’re safely out.
- Provide instructions on how to handle smoke and fire. Everyone should know they need to GET OUT if the smoke alarm goes off. But also to STAY CALM and remember the escape plan. Make sure family members, including kids, understand they should stay low or crawl if there’s smoke, cover mouths and noses with a cloth or towel if possible, close doors, and don’t enter rooms with hot doorknobs.
- Apartment dwellers need to know their building’s evacuation plan. Also, never take the elevator during a fire; use the stairs.
- If any part of your home is more than a story high, invest in a fire safety ladder like this one . It will help you get out of higher floors quickly and safely. Practice using the ladder during your fire drills.
Be Vigilant About Fire Safety
It’s all about prevention — you want to prevent a fire happening in your home. However, people do things every day that could put their home at risk for a fire. Understand the risk factors, and change your habits if necessary to follow safety guidelines better.
Let’s go over certain risks for the top causes of fires:
Cooking — leading cause of home fires
- Don’t be distracted while cooking, keep items that could catch fire away from stovetop (towels, oven mitts, long sleeves, etc), stay in the kitchen so the cooktop isn’t unattended, and set timer for oven cooking and check on regularly.
- If you have a small grease fire you can smother it with a nearby lid or use a fire extinguisher (because you have one now on every floor from reading that paragraph above, right?!).
- Larger cooking fires can be dangerous, get everyone out of the home, close the door behind you, and call 911.
- Unplug small appliances such as toaster ovens, mixers, slow cookers when not in use (and especially when on vacation or not at home for days).
- Keep your outdoor grill clean of grease buildup, don’t leave it unattended while cooking, and place it away from any eaves or hanging trees.
Heating — heating equipment fires happen most often in December, January, and February
- Don’t put anything that can burn near a furnace, portable space heater, wood burning stove, and fireplace. Keep it clear for at least 3 ft of space.
- Make sure you have your HVAC systems cleaned and inspected annually.
- Get your chimney cleaned and inspected each year by a professional. Don’t use it if you haven’t had this done — it can be dangerous
- Don’t fall asleep with a portable space heater still on and don’t ever place it close to bedding, upholstery or anything flammable. Space heaters are a leading cause of home heating fires and death.
Electrical — With so many types of electronics available now, plus smart home technology, it’s important to watch out for electrical hazards
- Always use a professional electrician for any work done on your home.
- Don’t use extension cords or power strips for major appliances (refrigerators, washers and dryers, air conditioners, microwaves, etc.). Unplug smaller appliances and don’t overuse one outlet with two heat-producing appliances at the same time.
- Make sure you use surge protectors for other items (computer equipment, televisions, gaming systems, etc) and have grounded outlets. Replace ungrounded outlets in older homes — hire an electrician to do this.
- Don’t put hot light bulbs near things that could burn, such as drapery, clothing, paper. Use correct wattage for light bulbs.
- Clothes dryer fires can happen if you don’t keep on top of removing lint. It can enter the heating element causing a combustion in your dryer. Make sure you clean out dryer vents to avoid clogging. Also double check that the outdoor vent covering is working properly when the dryer is on.
- Use extension cords and lighting that is safe for outdoor use if that’s where you plan to use them.
- Always turn off your Christmas tree lights, and be extra careful if it’s a live tree, which can start to get dry. Replace lights that look worn and old.
Smoking — always be alert when smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes or other smoking materials
- Always use proper ashtrays, stub out cigarettes and other smoker materials completely or douse with water. Most fires tend to start on the bed or in the trash.
- If you smoke outside, don’t throw butt near any greenery, shrubs, or grass, etc.
- Keep cigarettes and other smoking materials, matches, and lighters away from small children.
Candles — scented candles are more popular than ever but you must use them safely to avoid a home candle fire
- Don’t put burning a candle near anything that could be flammable and place on a stable surface so it won’t tip over or be knocked over. Be careful when lighting, especially if you have long hair or loose clothing.
- Never leave a burning candle alone and blow out when leaving the room. Avoid using them in the bedroom.
- Consider using flameless candles, which come in all sizes and shapes. The quality of these flameless products has improved, and can look more real with a flickering flame.
Be Prepared for Wildfires If Your Home at Risk
- Know if your home is located in a wildfire zone and its specific classification of severity. You can search online for several websites that have fire zone maps, some specific to state or county.
- With climate change and other weather factors, more areas of the country are more at risk of a wildfire. Some state governments such a California require wildfire risk be disclosed during a home sale.
- If you live an area with a higher risk, it’s important to learn the latest tactics to stay safe, protect your family members, and mitigate damage to your home. Take the time to understand this information and create your own emergency plan well before a wildfire occurs.
- For more information on protecting your home from wildfires, visit the NFPA website. [ https://www.nfpa.org/Public-Education/Fire-causes-and-risks/Wildfire]
I hope this article has helped you think more consciously about the steps you could take to prevent fires in your home. Your next step is to set aside time to put these tips into action. Doing so might just save your home and even a life.
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