10 easy and cheap things to make your home safer from fire

An ounce of prevention.

We know it’s about more than the basics of using fire vents in your home, defensible space and changing out your smoke (and CO) detector batteries regularly as needed. Home defense from fires takes vigilance. This spring, as the temperatures rise again, and the risk of fire becomes greater, we’ve put together a list of the five easiest things you can do to help make your house more fire safe. Outside of our advice and products you may not be able to defend your home personally against a wildfire, but you can help protect it from within.

1: Own at least one fire extinguisher and keep it in the kitchen.

Just as important is knowing how to use it. If your house is on fire, chances are you’ll also be at least partially panicked, which is why you should know where your fire extinguisher is and how to use it ‘inside and out’. Learn how to unlock it and practice test fire at the very least, and read the directions carefully, making everyone in the house do so as well. 

By a huge margin the number one cause of household fires is cooking equipment (source: NFPA), so keep your extinguisher as close to where you cook as possible, never forget it’s there and replace it when the label says to! Lastly, if you have any doubts about your success in dealing with your newly acquired fire, just exit, call 911, and let the pros deal with it (it’s what they’re paid for, right?).

On a more serious note, although most home fires are caused by cooking appliances, the most household fire-caused deaths (66%) are caused by smoking. We’re just putting that out there.

2: Clean out the dryer lint. This one is easy, simple, and could save the country 2900 fires per year. They should be emptied after every use as a habit.

3Unattended (woops forgot, now everything is hot) cooking is also a major cause of kitchen fires. So maybe don’t fry as often, or if you do, don’t leave it. More than half of home fire injuries are from fighting the fire personally as things tend to ‘get away’ from you in raging infernos. Ordinary humans lack the fire protection of say, a rhino or a fireman equipped with suit and oxygen mask, and fire hose with a high psi output, etc. So… let’s not let it get to that point. Frying poses the largest fire hazard for cooking (source: PDF, NFPA).

4: Remember your ABCs: Always be careful when it comes to fire.

It’s easy to say, “always be careful” and another thing to remember it! That’s why it’s useful to minimize your fire risk by getting rid of things that can combine into a fire hazard. Old cloth curtains and candles are not necessarily fire hazards by themselves, but a few second lapse in a attention can cause catastrophe, so consider nixing them all together. Old furniture made with flammable fibers should be changed out. Old power strips that have been working overtime since 1996. Don’t ‘daisy chain’ power strips together anywhere near oily rags (see #2 in case that’s not perfectly clear), especially for high wattage devices. Not an electrician? Don’t work with electricity; never try to ‘fix’ a broken appliance if you are not 100% knowledgeable in the general area of electrons, conductivity, and polarity. Got ammo? Lock those bullets in something nice, thick and metal, go big if you need to, you don’t want to forget them if evacuating and they’re not locked up somewhere safeYou don’t want your house going the way the H.M.S. Hood went.

5: Oily rags can and do spontaneously combust. Fire fuel needs to go outside.

Take them outside, throw them out, or clean them asap. An average of 1,600 home fires per year are caused by instances of spontaneous combustion or chemical reaction. Spontaneous combustion may sound like a freak occurrence, but it’s real and destroys property. Things happen where a spark may come out of an outlet as an invisible cloud of flammable vapor drifts off something. Oily substances can unleash an incredible amount of exothermic (read: hot) energy on your poor house in an awfully fast amount of time, so why even keep it around?

We’d go one further and advise this: keep all the reactive chemicals in the garage, in the shed, or just dispose of them properly if you have no intention of using them anytime soon.

As a rule of thumb, keep excess paper, cardboard boxes and generally flammable things from piling up..

6: Go 21st century: use a webcam with smoke detector sound sensing to alert you when you are away from home if a detector sounds. You can then tune in through your app and decide if you need to call 911.  A good security cam that does this is around $50.

7: Cooking: Don’t go to water for oil fires. Smother it with a lid or use your extinguisher (which you have already practiced with, right?), but remember don’t risk injury. Call 911 and leave if there is ANY doubt as to whether you can extinguish the fire.

8: Clear dead brush and grass from around your home. Have some defensible space around your home especially if you live in the wilderness-urban interface.

9: Keep items that can catch on fire at least three feet away from anything that gets hot, such as space heaters.

10: Beware of this combination: take extra care not to forget to extinguish fire sources before sleep. 

By far the single greatest contributing ‘human factor’ to house fire fatalities was sleep (source). Sleep and heat (candles, fireplace, cigarettes) don’t mix! Even if the candle is upright when you go to sleep, the cat could knock it over. It’s worth remembering that of the things you have control over what may happen, might happen, so it doesn’t hurt to try and maintain vigilance. Possible impairment by alcohol also played a key role in fatalities.

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