A home fire is not something that any homeowner ever wants to think might happen to them, so all too often they prefer not to think about it at all. Much that kind of head in the sand attitude can’t change the basic fact that a fire can strike any home at any time. Recent research also actually suggests that newer, modern homes may be at greater risk, mainly due to an abundance of synthetic materials — in everything from carpet backing to upholstery stuffing being present in most of them. And the trend towards open plan rooms may help some fires spread more quickly too.
While completely fireproofing a home is simply not possible there are some common sense steps that can – and should – be taken by every homeowner to minimize the risk of fire. Here are some of the most essential fire prevention steps that you can begin implementing today :
Make Sure Fire Extinguishers Are in Place and Working
This one is no-brainer and yet something that many homeowners overlook. Your home needs fire extinguishers and they need to work. To help make your home as safe as possible, you should have one fire extinguisher in an easy-to-grab spot on every floor. At the very least, make sure that you have one in the kitchen, where fires are most likely to start, and one in the garage, where flammable materials like oil and gas are kept. And make sure that they are in good working order and that every member of the household knows how to use it.
Keep Smoke Alarms in Working Order
Many newer homes have (often to comply with local building regulations) smoke alarms hardwired in. But that does not mean that they work. Whether your home has hardwired or battery operated smoke alarms they need to be tested at least twice a year. Here’s an idea; when you change the clocks, test your smoke alarms. It takes five minutes but may save your life some day.
In terms of early warnings of fire, a smoke detector alarm is the most critical tool. Laws vary by state, but most newly constructed homes (generally built after 1994) must have hard-wired smoke detectors throughout (battery-operated detectors are permissible for older homes). If you have questions, double-check with your builder or city fire marshal.
Get Your Wiring Checked
Whether your home is very old, has been recently renovated, or is new construction, it’s never a bad idea to hire a licensed electrician to check all wiring and outlets just to make sure there’s no chance of overload or sparking. That’s not all they should be on the lookout for though. Basic wear and tear and even things like rodent chewed wiring can lead to disaster and so make sure that the inspection you order is an extensive one.
Maintain Your Fireplace Meticulously
Fireplaces are gorgeous, wonderful additions to the home but if they are incorrectly or haphazardly maintained they can be deadly too. In a wood burning fireplace wood creates creosote, which over time builds on the lining of the chimney and can become a fire hazard. Get into the habit of scheduling an annual appointment for a chimney cleaning and in between keep the grates etc. as clean and debris free as possible as well.
Don’t assume you’re safer with a gas fireplace, though. Gas fireplaces are not free from hazards: Those glass coverings can heat up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and pose a major burn risk for toddlers or pets. If you decide to go with gas, make sure to invest in a screen barrier to go on the outside of the glass. It should also be subject to an annual professional inspection as well.
Inspect Your Dryer
A simple clothes dryer can be quite the fire hazard as well. Make sure that the attached vent is clean and connected before every use and that goes for the lint trap too, as it is a clogged lint trap that leads to many of the dryer related fires that damage homes every year.
Go Natural Whenever You Can
Older homes that were constructed decades ago boast many natural materials that newer homes do not; wood, metals, plant fibers and cottons. Modern homes contain a lot more plastic and synthetic materials and these do burn more readily and at a higher temperature than natural materials. While it’s not practical, possible, or even sensible to replace all of the potentially flammable building materials in your home, you can choose your decor and furniture — and that can make a big difference in a fire.
If possible, try to limit the amount of plastic and synthetic fibers you bring into your home by purchasing wood furniture, cotton drapes and shower curtains, and carpets that meet proper flammability guidelines.