“The most common known causes of fires in residential homes as determined by investigations are cooking, heating and incendiary or suspicious fires,” says Georgia Fire Marshal Dwayne Garriss. Whether you are a property owner or a renter, Garriss recommends checking for these common hazards to prevent a fire in your home.
Heaters and fireplaces
Supplemental heating, like space heaters and fireplaces, can cause a lot of damage without proper care. “You need to keep chimneys cleaned out, dispose of ashes properly in covered metal containers and keep doors or screens on fireplaces. They should be at least three feet from the nearest flammable object,” Garriss says, stressing that the same space guidelines should be followed for electric heaters, too.
Baltimore City Deputy Fire Chief Raymond O'Brocki III agrees with Garriss on the recommendations for distance around space heaters, and suggests clearing the same distance around all large appliances.
“Make sure you have three feet of clearance around hot water heaters, oil tanks and furnaces,” O’Brocki says. “If they are in a closet, don’t store other things in there, too.”
O’Brocki and Garriss both pointed out that supplemental electricity is a big risk, too. Check on all your plugged-in devices. Eliminate worn and exposed wires, cords under carpets, overloaded outlets and power strips that are not surge protectors. These items have a short shelf life and must be replaced often and O'Brocki says fires caused from cheap surge protectors in particular are on the rise.
“The inexpensive versions don’t actually prevent power surges or sparks,” says O'Brocki. “Safety features are what you are paying for and a good one should cost around $55.”
Old cords and clutter
Replacing unsafe cords and eliminating clutter around outlets still may not be enough if your house isn’t wired for enough amps to meet your electronic needs. That’s especially true if you live in an older home, O'Brocki notes.
“A lot of older houses have one or two outlets per room,” he says. “They were designed to support a television and a lamp or two.”
If, like most people, your TV is surrounded by a number of peripherals that need electricity, you should look into renovating your electrical system to ensure you can safely meet your power needs.
O'Brocki also recommends adding a sprinkler system. Retrofitting can be expensive but it may be worth it, he says.
“There are no cases of recorded deaths from fire in a home where a sprinkler system is installed and working properly,” he says. If you are building or buying a new house, the 1 to 2 percent of the purchase price a sprinkler system costs is money well spent, he notes.
Even if you are not doing any other repairs, O'Brocki recommends upgrading smoke alarms because early notification can save your home — and your family. Put connected alarms into every room in your home, so that when one goes off all the others do, too. If they are hardwired into the electric and phone systems, they can immediately alert the fire department. At a minimum, you need one smoke alarm per floor, and you should check them often, changing the batteries when they are weak. If they go off, get out right away and call 911, even if it just seems like a little smoke.
Putting early warning systems in place and clearing fire hazards from your home still won’t protect you if you don’t practice good safety habits. Only you can prevent cooking fires and those caused by cigarettes, lighters or candles.
“Don’t leave a fire burning unattended, in the kitchen or anywhere else,” O'Brocki recommends. “To prevent a fire in your home, this is the most important thing you can do.”
Got other tips for how to prevent a fire? Leave us a note in the comments below.