Fire safety in the home is essential throughout the year, though extra attention is encouraged during colder seasons as we fire up our heating systems and turn to candles to create warm atmospheres. There are simple, yet preventative, steps you can take to reduce the risk of fires in your home to keep you, your loved ones and your belongings safe.
This article will assess some of the key hazards in our homes we tend to overlook as well as the major, life-saving effect of working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
Fire hazards in your home you may not realize
Some fire hazards are easily identifiable, including unattended cigarettes or fire-burning candles, but there are some less obvious dangers we often overlook. Be sure to add these areas to your fire mitigation plan, too.
When it comes to fires caused by home appliances, dryers are at the top of the list. Make sure you’re regularly clearing lint from the trap, vent, and exhaust pipe. The lint trap should be cleaned after every cycle, while your vent and exhaust pipes should be at least once a year or when you notice clothes are taking longer to dry.
Forgetting pots and pans on your stove
The Canadian Red Cross lists unattended stoves as one of the leading causes of home fires in Canada. Turn off your stove if you aren’t there to attend to it, and if you’re leaving something to simmer or stew all day, don’t leave the house with the stove on. Be sure to clean flammable grease and grime off your stove as they can catch fire and ignite nearby combustibles like kitchen cloths and towels, as well as cabinets and curtains.
REMEMBER: Never use water to put out a grease fire. Turn off the heat source, use a metal lid to cover the fire, and use a fire extinguisher. If the fire feels unmanageable, evacuate and call 9-1-1.
Overcrowding electrical outlets
Electrical fires can be caused by overloaded outlets. When outlets carry too much electricity, they generate an increased level of internal heat that could ignite a fire. Ideally, appliances should have their own outlet, and never plug more than one heating appliance into a single outlet.
Dust building up around electrical outlets
Dust bunnies appear well before a spring clean, which is why it’s so important to dust your home regularly. Dust is highly combustible, and when it’s collected near electrical outlets or space heaters, it’s susceptible to igniting and spreading.
Flammable items on or near heat sources
Clothes, furniture, stuffed animals, towels, or other flammable materials could start a fire when placed on or too close to radiators, lamps, stovetops, lights, or space heaters. Double check there is adequate space between flammable belongings and heat sources.
Leaving styling devices connected
Straighteners, curling irons, and flat irons all have the potential to start a fire if they are left plugged in and unattended. Adopt the habit of unplugging them immediately after use, and look for styling tools that have automatic shut-offs after a certain period of time.
Both artificial and real trees present fire hazards. Real trees should be watered daily to avoid becoming dry and highly flammable, especially with lights strung along the branches. Trees should also be kept far away from open fires or space heaters and electrical sockets should not be overloaded with Christmas lights. As noted above, overloading outlets is hazardous and could spread through a flammable Christmas tree quickly.
How often should you test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors?
We expect our smoke alarms to be ready at any time to alert us of a fire, which is why it’s crucial to check them regularly. Smoke alarms come with manufacturer’s instructions on testing and maintaining your alarm, but First Alert recommends smoke detectors be tested on a monthly basis.
If your alarm is powered by a nine-volt battery, it’s recommended the batteries be changed every six months. Similarly, hardwired smoke detectors should have their backup batteries replaced every six months and be replaced entirely every 10 years, though it’s best to refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Carbon monoxide detectors are mandatory for your home in most provinces, and strongly recommended even where it’s not law, as they catch dangerous levels that come from gas or wood-burning fireplaces, gas stoves and ovens, furnaces, boilers, and water heaters. They should ideally be replaced every five to seven years, and checked monthly to ensure they’re working properly.
The placement of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is again regulated by the province or municipality. In Ontario, for example, detectors must be located adjacent to all sleeping areas of the home if you have a fuel-burning appliance, fireplace, or an attached garage. If you’re unsure of your local or provincial laws surrounding carbon monoxide detectors, check with your local fire department.
Tips for fire safety as a homeowner
It’s important to be aware of all possible escape routes from your home, which is why a personalized home emergency evacuation plan is strongly advised by First Alert, among other fire safety organizations. Though ideally you’ll never have to use it, the plan should be in place and practiced at least twice a year to avoid heightening the panic or confusion in the event of an emergency.
When making your escape route, consider the following:
- identify multiple exits in the event your main exit is blocked during an emergency—First Alert recommends two exit routes from every room in your home;
- consider keeping escape ladders in rooms on the second floor for additional exit options;
- assign a meeting spot for the family in the even you’re evacuating separately; and
- assign one person to assist pets, children, or anyone else who may need help evacuating.
It’s also important for everyone in your home to know how to properly use a fire extinguisher. Think of the acronym PASS. Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle, Squeeze the handle, Sweep the area. First Alert recommends checking your fire extinguishers on a monthly basis to ensure the pressure indicator is pointed in the green zone of the dial. If it’s not, your extinguisher needs to be serviced immediately. They also remind people most fire extinguishers only last five to six years before they need to be refilled, so keeping track of those dates in something like a homeowner’s journal is key.
Here’s a handy checklist of preventative measures and tips, in addition to your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, on how to proceed in the event of a fire:
- map out an escape route, making note of anyone who will need assistance and establish a safe place to meet outside of the home where everyone can be accounted for;
- make sure to completely stub out fire burning candles and any other lit items before leaving them unattended;
- keep flammable liquids or items like curtains, paper, and clothing at least three feet away from appliances like space heaters or radiators;
- if there’s a power outage, consider using a flashlight instead of candles; and
- as well as keeping matches, lighters, and flammable liquids out of reach of children, have regular conversations with them about the dangers of fire and ensure they’re aware of the “stop, drop, and roll” technique should their clothing catch fire.
While you may not be able to prevent fires completely, being prepared in the event of an emergency is key when it comes to keeping you and your family safe. If you’re ever curious about how you can make your home more fire safe, contact your local fire department for details.