By: Edward L. Blais, JD, CIC, CPIA

smoke alarm in kitchenWhen it comes to catastrophes that can affect your home, fires are pretty much at the top of the list. In addition to the flames themselves and the heat, smoke can ruin clothes and furniture and stain walls in those areas not reached by the fire itself. On top of that, there is the potential for water damage and minor flooding in the effort to put out the fire.  

Needless to say, you, as a homeowner, want to do everything you can to prevent this from happening. Here’s a blueprint for all the things you should be doing to keep your family safe. 

An emergency escape plan

First, you should have an emergency escape plan, which really can save lives. Here are the basic steps: 

  1. Identity two exit paths out of every room. 
  2. Decide where to meet outside of the house. 
  3. Have a list of numbers to call, such as your insurance professionals. 
  4. Practice your plan twice a year. 
  5. Make sure everyone who is in your house is involved, including children, seniors, and pets. 

A fire safety checklist

Here’s a checklist of all the things you need to be on top of to prevent a fire in your house: 

  1. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. You should have both smoke and carbon monoxide alarms on each floor, including the basement. Fire safety professionals recommend testing smoke alarms monthly and replacing them every 10 years. Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every seven years. 
  2. Fire extinguishers. You should also, ideally, have a fire extinguisher on each floor, as well as the attic, basement, and garage. It should have an ABC rating. (More about what means here.)
  3. Cooking equipment. Next, turn your attention to your kitchen. Clear the space around your stove and cooking equipment of any flammable objects like dish towels or wood utensils. When you are cooking avoid leaving the room. Remember, cooking equipment is the cause of nearly half of all home fires. 
  4. Space heaters. Again, these are a major fire hazard, resulting in 52,000 home fires a year. If you use a space heater, make sure you have read all the accompanying user guidelines. Make sure they are not near curtains, furniture, clothing, or anything else that is flammable. Do not run space heaters overnight. 
  5. Electrical cords. Every year, faulty wiring leads to $1.3 billion in property damage. Cords should be in good condition. Make sure they haven’t become tangled up in furniture or buried under a rug. Unplug extension cords after using them and don’t ever use two extension cords together. Checking the wiring you can’t see in your walls is a bit trickier. Here’s a handy guide for signs that the wiring in your house has gone bad. 
  6. Outlets. Another potential fire hazard are your outlets. Check for any missing or broken wall plates. Sparks, popping sounds, and burning smells are all clear warning signs that something’s wrong. Stop using the outlet and make sure everything that was connected to it is unplugged. Also, switch off power to that outlet from your circuit breakers. Then call your electrician. For more information on how to check outlets, click here. For more information on how to deal with outset issues see here
  7. The clothes dryer. It can be easy to overlook, but your clothes dryer is a real fire hazard as well. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are 2,900 clothes dryer-related fires each year, leading to five deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss. Failing to clean the dryer was the issue in a third of those fires, so make sure you remove the lint after every use. Also, make sure that the outdoor vent cover opens when you’re using the dryer. 
  8. Matches and lighters. Lock away these items and another devices that start fires to ensure they cannot be accessed by curious children or pets. 
  9. Candles. Candles can be a great way of setting the mood and relaxing. Unfortunately, they are also the culprit behind 21 home fires a day. Follow these steps when using them to stay safe. Secure your candle in a tip-proof holder. Keep curtain, blankets, clothes, and furniture at least a foot away from the candle. And blow it when you leave the room. 
  10. The fireplace. Make sure you only burn dry wood or manufactured logs. (For more on the problems caused by burning other materials, see here.) Always make sure that you or another adult is in the room when the fire is burning. Between uses, clean out the firebox and have the chimney cleaned annually. For other fireplace safety tips, see here. For wood stoves, see here
  11. The attic. According to the U.S. Fire Administration there are 10,000 residential attic fires annually, which responsible for 30 deaths, 125 injuries, and $477 million in damage. Remove lint, dust, and other debris from vents. Don’t store any items that can easily catch fire in the attic. 
  12. The basement. Make sure you are able to easily get to your fuse box or circuit breaker, according to the U.S. Fire Safety Administration. The burner access doors on the gas and gas water heater furnaces should remain closed and anything flammable should be kept three feet away from the furnaces. Don’t store trash in the basement. 
  13. The garage. Garages are the source of 6,600 fires a year. Reduce your risk by storing oil and other flammable fluids in a shed away from your house, instead of the garage, according to the National Fallen Firefighters Association. Charge one appliance at a time in an outlet and don’t use extension cords. Instead of a smoke alarm install a heat alarm. For other garage safety tips see here
  14. Outside grills. Make sure the grill is located away from the house and any desk railings. It shouldn’t be under any eaves or overhanging branches either. Keep children, pets, and anything flammable at least three feet away. Don’t step away from the grill. If you have a gas grill, open it before turning it on. For more tips, see here.

Click here to view the above information as an infographic. 

Source: Adapted from guidance from The Andover Companies. Sources included the National Fire Protection Association, the American Red Cross, and the Electrical Safety Foundation International.