Home fires can be a catastrophic event for any household. A lifetime of memories can be lost before your eyes in an instant. Or worse: 74% of all fire-related deaths occur in the home. Older Americans (age 65+) face even higher risk. Despite only making up 15% of the population, they account for 35% of all fire-related deaths. But the good news is that a little advance planning can greatly reduce your fire risk. Here are some easy safety tips to have a fire-safe home.
1. Make an Escape Plan and Practice It
Schools and office buildings hold regular fire drills for a key reason: They work. Why wouldn’t you put in at least as much effort where you and your family sleep? Plot out both main and backup escape routes that take into account the physical abilities of every family member. Then get everyone in your household to practice to make sure the routes work as planned. Play a loud alarm sound on your phone to prepare everyone for the type of trigger they would hear in a real emergency.
2. Create Fire-Safe Spaces
Most fires, whether caused by cooking, heating equipment, smoking or other sources, are a result of a flame or spark coming in contact with nearby flammable materials. At each area of your home where there is potential for fire danger — stove, fireplace, furnace, space heaters — take the time to clear a three-foot radius of any materials that could catch fire, especially paper, wood or fabric.
3. Don’t Skip Out on Prep Time
Many of us are in a hurry, especially when cooking, but with many house fires starting in the kitchen, rushing to get a meal on the table can prove to be a real fire danger. Take the time to concentrate on the task at hand and avoid distractions. Consider your recipe and prepare all ingredients and supplies before you start cooking. Make sure your phone is already nearby, so there’s no reason for you to leave the room while cooking. If you do have to step away, be sure to turn off the stove first. Don’t cook while overtired or when under the influence of alcohol or medications that can slow reflexes or make you drowsy.
4. Get Alarmed
The early warning given by smoke alarms is critical. Almost 60% of all house fire fatalities occur in homes without functioning smoke detectors. Make sure you have smoke alarms installed on each level of your home and in rooms where people sleep. Replace the batteries twice a year when you have to reset your clocks for Daylight Saving (set a calendar reminder if you need to).
5. Have the Right Firefighting Tools
Having a fire extinguisher on hand is a great idea, but it helps to have the right kind for the type of fire you’ll likely face:
- Class A is great for ordinary combustibles like wood, paper and plastic.
- Class B is for liquids like gasoline, oils or solvents.
- Class C works for electrical fires.
- Class D is best for combustible and reactive metals.
At home you’ll likely face one of the first three categories, so a combination ABC extinguisher will work well. For grease fires on the stove, your best tool is a large pot lid you can put on top to cut off the oxygen and starve the fire. Never use water for a grease fire as it’s likely to spread the flames.
6. …And Keep Them Handy
Even the best fire extinguisher will do no good if you can’t grab it quickly in a crisis. Keep a few small fire extinguishers in out-of-the-way but easy-to-reach spots near common fire sources around the house in places like:
- Under the kitchen sink near the stove
- In the basement near the furnace
- Just inside a cupboard or closet near the fireplace or a space heater
- In the garage or workshop
7. Butt Out
Cooking now causes more home fires than smoking, but fires started by smoking materials are still responsible for more deaths than any other cause. This is often due to someone falling asleep while smoking or being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If you or anyone in your household does smoke, make it a rule to always smoke outside. And be sure any cigarette butts are thoroughly out by soaking them in a glass of water before they go in the garbage.
8. Keep Fuel Far From Home
Always store any heating fuel, such as propane, kerosene or gasoline, outside of the house in a secure container. Before bringing gas-powered garden equipment, such as lawn mowers or leaf blowers, inside the house for the winter, be sure to drain out and properly dispose of any remaining fuel.
9. Go Down to the Wires
If your home was built before 1974, you should have a licensed electrician inspect your wiring to protect against electrical fires. This is especially true if you have common warning signs of electrical issues such as:
- Dimming or flickering lights
- Switches or outlets that are warm to the touch or discolored
- Circuits or fuses that repeatedly trip or blow
Many electrical fires are caused by improper use by the homeowner, so check to make sure you don’t overload outlets or extension cords. Also replace any fraying cables to devices or lighting, especially if they touch flammable materials.
10. Upgrade Your Bulbs
LED bulbs are not only more energy efficient and long-lasting, they also burn much cooler than incandescent or halogen bulbs. This greatly reduces the fire risk from lighting coming in contact with flammable materials such as lamp shades or curtains. Upgrading holiday decorations to LED bulbs is also a good idea to ensure a fire-safe home.
By taking these important steps, you can help protect your home and those you care most about from the dangers of fire. What tips do you take to maintain a fire-safe home? Share with others in the comments.
For more home fire safety information, download our free comprehensive guide Fire Sense: A Smart Way to Prevent, Detect and Escape Home Fires.
A variety of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) statistical and research reports about home or residential property fires during the period 2008 to 2020 were referenced in the writing of this article.