A fire is not only emotionally devastating and life threatening, it can be financially devastating, as well. Even with great insurance you may find yourself having to pay out of pocket for things you didn’t have covered or for unexpected expenses. If you don’t have insurance, or not enough enough insurance, you could be out hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, in the worst case, if a fire you cause injures someone else or damages their property you could be liable for millions of dollars. The best way to prevent these losses is with simple fire prevention. Most actions that prevent a fire are either free or very low cost. Here are some ideas for avoiding a fire.
Keep fire extinguishers readily available and up to date: Keep an extinguisher in the kitchen, garage/workshop, and near your patio/barbecue area if you have one. These are the most common areas where fires start. Make sure the extinguishers are up to date and test them regularly. Replace as needed. Make sure you know how to use them. A fire is not the time to read the instructions.
Don’t burn near the house or other flammable objects: Outdoor burning is illegal in many areas but if it’s legal where you are, take steps to ensure you aren’t burning near your home (or someone else’s), in dry brush, or on windy days. Avoid burning when red flag or no burn ordinances are in effect.
Have your chimney, wood stove, or furnace professionally checked: Before you light a fire in the winter or crank up the heat, have the chimney sweep or furnace repair tech come out and check your chimney or furnace for build up that might catch fire, animal nests, cracks in the chimney wall, or faulty wiring. Have the unit or chimney cleaned and repaired, if necessary.
Don’t leave the kitchen or grill unattended: When you’re cooking, don’t leave the stove unattended. Grease fires are some of the most common types of fires. Be on the alert for a malfunctioning oven element or a grill flame that gets too high, as well. Don’t put stuff in the oven, on the range top, or on the grill and walk away or get distracted with a lengthy phone call. Also keep flammable towels and papers away from the cooking surface to prevent accidental ignition.
Be careful with candles, space heaters and cigarettes: All of these things must be handled with care. Do not leave them unattended and don’t place them near or on flammable objects such as drapes, bedding, plants, or furniture.
During the holidays, water your Christmas tree: Keep your tree moist and check your light strings for fraying that could cause a spark. Do the same for any lights you plan to hang on the outside of your house, as well.
Keep matches and lighters away from kids: Lock up all sources of flame. Enough said.
Keep gasoline cans outside: Gasoline vapors can ignite with just a small spark, particularly in enclosed areas. Keep them outside, well away from the house, in a cupboard or shed.
Know how to put out fires: In addition to knowing how to use a fire extinguisher, know how to handle certain types of fires. For example, you never use water on an electrical or grease fire. Learn what to do in advance.
Don’t overload electrical outlets: Overloaded outlets are a fire hazard, as are misused extension cords. Know the signs of electrical problems before they cause problems. Look for fuses that blow repeatedly, lights that flicker for no apparent reason, hot or sparking outlets, and frayed cords. Get things fixed immediately.
Be careful with outdoor landscaping: Materials like pine straw, hay straw, and dried leaves are highly flammable, particularly during very dry conditions. A discarded cigarette, lightning strike, malfunctioning landscape light, or any other spark can cause a major fire. Keep flammable materials away from your house.
Get a lightning rod: If you live in an area that sees a lot of lightning, consider a lightning rod. It will absorb the lightning strike and direct the energy to the ground rather than through your house.
Consider a sprinkler system: It’s not cheap, but you will get a good discount on your homeowner’s insurance. The system will go off when it detects a fire, just like a commercial system.
Unplug items when not in use: If you go on vacation, unplug and turn off everything you can, including the water heater and furnace/AC. Switch off the breakers in your fuse box for added protection. Even when you’re home, unplug and turn off anything not in use. You’ll reduce your risk of fire and save money on your electric bill.
Clean your dryer: Clean the filter after every load and clean out the exhaust pipe and vent every six months or so. Lint that accumulates in a dryer can easily cause a fire.
Keep flammable materials to a minimum: Get rid of stacks of paper or other clutter that will help spread a fire. Get rid of old paint cans, solvents, oily rags, and other flammable liquids, or keep them outside in a shed and well away from the house.
Have all electrical work done by a professional and inspected: It’s tempting to cuts costs by doing electrical work yourself, but this is not an area to tackle unless you really know what you are doing. Let the pros handle it and make sure you get it inspected (by a municipal inspector if required) or get a second opinion to make certain it was done correctly.
Check electric blankets and heating pads: Make sure they are in good working order and that no cords are frayed. Don’t subject them to abuse or misuse. Unplug them when not in use.
Give your appliances and cords plenty of space: Make sure there’s enough room around TV’s, microwaves, game systems, computers, and other high heat appliances for heat to escape. Never trap cords against walls or under carpeting or staple them to anything. If you must run a cord across the floor or up a wall, use only approved “channeling” equipment. Don’t crimp cords or set heavy furniture on them, either.
Trust your instincts: If anything smells funny, seems unusually hot, is making funny noises, or is performing poorly/strangely and you can’t figure out why, have it checked professionally. This goes for appliances, cars, lights, and anything else that could cause a fire. Don’t assume it will go away. If it can potentially cause a fire, get it checked out.
While it won’t prevent a fire, a smoke detector can save your life. Make sure you have working smoke detectors in your house. Ideally you’ll have at least one near the kitchen and another near the bedrooms. A smoke detector may alert you to a fire before it does too much damage, giving you a chance to put it out or call 911. A fire, like many other problems, is easier and cheaper to prevent against than to deal with once it has happened.