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How to Properly Assess the Fire Hazards Around Your Home

Smoke rising under a smoke detector

Let’s face it…no one likes to think about the possibility of a fire occurring in their home. But house fires happen more often than people think. In fact, it’s the third most common insurance claim behind severe weather and water damage claims. The good news is there are many things you can do to prevent fires in your home. In fact, just checking your home for the most common fire hazards can greatly reduce the odds of a house fire.

Top Fire Starters

The most frequent causes of house fires can often be prevented by a little common sense and vigilance.

  • Don’t leave heat sources unattended.
    Whether it’s something small like a candle or larger like a hot appliance, leaving it unattended is a recipe for fire. If you must leave the room, extinguish candles or turn off the stove until you get back.

  • Check electrical hazards.
    In our device-heavy lives it’s common, especially in older homes, to use extension cords and power strips to increase the number of available electrical outlets. To avoid fire dangers, periodically check to make sure the cords aren’t worn and power strips aren’t overloaded.

  • Give the kitchen special attention.
    The kitchen is the most fire-prone room in your home. Make sure you’re using safe cooking practices, keeping your appliances in good working order, and keeping flammable materials away from your stove’s burners. Also, never leave an open flame or burner on your kitchen stove unattended.

  • Fireplace or Wood-Burning Stove
    Before using your fireplace or wood stove, make sure the chimney is clean and unobstructed. Any time you clean out the ashes, make sure the fire is completely out and the ashes are cool. Even a tiny piece of burning material can start a fire in your trash can.

  • Take precautions when smoking.
    Smoking isn’t just damaging to your health. Leaving cigarettes unattended or smoking in a bed or upholstered chair are both common causes of house fires. In addition, make sure your matches or lighters aren’t lying around where children can get to them.

Now that you’ve reviewed the most common causes of fires in the home, let’s examine a few in a little more detail.

Electrical Fires

Almost half of house fires are caused by some kind of electrical device, from wires and outlets to lamps and lightbulbs. Frayed wiring can increase fire danger, but so can old wires that weren’t designed to handle the electrical load of modern life. If your home is more than 10 years old, it’s a good idea to have a licensed electrician look for damage and test your system’s electrical load. Also, check your electrical devices for damaged wires or plugs and make sure you aren’t plugging too many devices into a single outlet. If you’re using outlet extenders, be sure you use ones with surge protectors—they’ll decrease the chance of fire, in addition to protecting your devices. However, if you’re consistently using outlet extenders, talk to your electrician about adding more outlets.

Related Topic: One Electrical Spark Can Trigger Disaster

Your Hearth

It’s wonderful to sit in front of a roaring fire on a cold night, but wood-burning fireplaces can be hazardous unless they’re properly used and maintained. When making a fire, be sure to start small and never use paper products as kindling. Smaller piles of logs are less likely to roll off the grate and paper can cause embers that can fly out of the fireplace and onto your furniture or carpet. Even without paper, fires can cause flying embers, so be sure to use a fire screen. Keep the area around your fireplace free of combustible materials and never leave your house with a fire burning in the fireplace. After the fire is completely out, clean out the ashes and charcoal after every fire. Have your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year to prevent the soot accumulation that can cause chimney fires.

Lesser-Known Fire Hazards

While most homeowners know about common sources of fire danger, there are other hazards that may not be as well known. These hazards may include:

  • Microwave Ovens—Overcooking, using the wrong plates or utensils, and even food particles in the cooking chamber can cause fires in microwaves.

  • Batteries—If stored incorrectly, even batteries with a weak charge can short out and cause sparks.

  • Light Bulbs—Using high wattage bulbs with low wattage lamps can cause overheating and fire. Also, CFL bulbs (compact fluorescents) can overheat if used improperly.

  • Dust and Lint—Although you might be aware of the fire dangers associated with dryer lint, even “dust bunnies” can cause fires if they’re too close to electrical outlets.

  • Household Waste—Old newspapers, scrap wood, even half-full bags of barbeque charcoal can give a small fire enough fuel to turn into a big fire. In fact, damp charcoal can spontaneously combust and cause its own fire!

  • Electronics—Old electronic devices and appliances can have frayed wires or worn insulation that can cause fires when used. Even when used normally, devices like laptops can get very hot if their cooling vents are blocked and create a fire hazard.

Complete a Fire Safety Checklist

One of the easiest ways to make sure there aren’t fire hazards in your home is to get a Home Fire Safety Checklist and complete it. Make sure you have enough smoke detectors and fire extinguishers to cover your entire house, but especially in rooms with high fire risk like your kitchen. Use the information in the list to educate your kids about how to respond to a fire alarm and to create an escape plan for your family. Double check how you cook, use electrical appliances, and light heaters and candles to make sure you’re being safe. However, if a fire does occur in your home, you can depend on Rainbow International to begin the remediation and restoration process immediately and help you get back to normal.