House fires are responsible for thousands of injuries and deaths every year, and they take away their precious possessions and memories from many more people. Here are some steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your home becoming part of this statistic.
Step 1. Inspect your home
You may need to hire a professional who is experienced in electrical, plumbing, heating, and air conditioning.
Step 2. Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking
If you are absent for even a minute, turn off all the stoves. If you have to go to the cellar to get a bottle of wine, or you have to go out to check your mail, go to the bathroom or answer the phone in another room in the house, simply turn off all the stoves. You can turn them back on immediately when you return. Following this simple advice will prevent one of the situations that most commonly cause house fires: cooking not followed. When cooking with oil, keep a lid on the pan. If you see any flames, simply smother the fire with the lid on and immediately turn off the stove or deep fryer to cool it down. Don't try to move the pan. Do not use water. Super heated water will explode into steam, and can cause many burns, and the oil can splash and spread the fire.
Step 3. Do not cook when you drink alcohol, when using drugs or when you are very tired
Eat something ready, make a cold sandwich and go to sleep. Cook your meals later when you are fully alert.
Step 4. Don't sit and lie down when you smoke
Staying standing will prevent you from falling asleep while smoking. Do you feel too tired? Put out your cigarette carefully in a wet ashtray or sink and go to sleep. Do you need to clean the ashtray? Put the ashes in the sink and wet them, then collect them and put them in a bin away from home.
Step 5. Check the condition of your electrical system
- Look for improperly grounded outlets. Many modern appliances require a three-hole (grounded) outlet, but people in some cases use adapters to avoid this safety measure, or even remove the ground plug from the power supply. Changing existing circuits to provide grounding is a task that must be performed by a professional electrician.
Look in the attic and gaps for wires that have been damaged by rodents and insects. Some old cables are insulated with a material that can be eaten or chewed by insects, and squirrels or other rodents will often chew on the thermoplastic insulation of modern non-metallic cables.
Look for overloaded breakers, panels, or fuses. Look for breakers or fuses that have multiple circuits to protect. Those devices are meant to protect only one circuit, but in some cases in old or undersized electrical panels, people insert two or more wires into the terminals of a single switch or fuse.
- Notice flickering lights or voltage dips. These conditions can be caused by external influences, but if they happen often, they can indicate poor quality connections or shorts.
- Note circuit breakers that trip or fuses that blow frequently. It is almost always a sign of an overloaded circuit or other connection problem, usually of a more serious nature.
- Check individual switch connections, especially in external electrical panels, for corrosion, signs of thermal damage (burnt residue near terminals), connectors that are incorrectly connected, or eroded or damaged insulation.
- Check the ground connection. A fault in your home's ground system can pose an electric shock and fire hazard. Look for loose screws, pliers, or other connecting devices, and check for corrosion.
- Be especially careful to notice other connections in non-copper cables. When installed correctly and with tight connections, aluminum cables are not overly dangerous, but when connections are made with copper cables, an electrolytic reaction can occur, causing greater resistance in the connection, which will create too much heat. If you can apply an antioxidant compound to the aluminum connections, it will help decrease the risk of oxidation that could cause a short circuit there.
- Consider installing a lighting protection system if you live in an area where lighting is a frequent problem. The savings you would make from reduced damage to appliances can offset the expense of upgrading the system.
Step 6. Consider installing a fire suppression system, to put out fires when you are away from home AND when you are around
Step 7. Check the gas supply system
You will need to look for loose connections, leaking valves, faulty pilot lights, and debris or flammable materials improperly stored near these appliances.
Check the vents on gas water boilers, ovens and dryers.
- Check the automatic ignition system or pilot lights on these devices, particularly for improperly installed guards, and for buildup of dust or dirt in the immediate vicinity.
- Have your gas pipes, valves, and regulators inspected by a professional whenever you smell gas or suspect a leak.
Step 8. Check your home's heating and air conditioning system
These systems operate with electric motors and air handling devices that require periodic maintenance.
- Clean or have the internal coils of your air conditioning cleaned and replace your return air filters regularly. This will prevent the fan motor from overloading, and will save you money on your bill. For window air conditioners, NEVER use an extension cable!
- Lubricate belt drives, hub bearings on motors and other devices as needed.
- Have resistance coils or boiler burners cleaned and checked at the beginning of the heating season, as debris can build up when you are not using the system in the summer.
- Listen to the system when it operates. Screeching, scrap-metal, or knocking sounds may indicate that there are loose parts about to break.
- If you have access to an ammeter, you may want to check the current draw of the high amperage circuit of your heating coils to make sure they are operating in the normal operating range. A higher than normal current draw indicates unusual resistance, and in an electrical circuit the resistance is what causes overheating, and eventually fires.
Step 9. Check your appliances
Keep the hood and stove clean. Grease fires are no fun. Keep your oven and stove clean, paying particular attention to grease build-up.
- Check the cooker hood, clean the filters regularly and make sure, if there is an outside hood, that insects and birds do not build nests or hives that could impede the flow of air.
- Check the sockets of your appliances. Look for missing ground plugs on damaged sockets and insulation, and replace or repair any defects you find.
- Keep the dust filter and external fan of your dryer clean. Some dryers have internal hoses that can become clogged and require maintenance, so if you notice that your dryer is not working well, have it checked. Dust or other materials that accumulate near the heating coils in the dryer are extremely dangerous. Stay around when using the dryer. Install a smoke detector and fire extinguisher nearby. If you have to go away for a minute, turn off the dryer. You can turn it back on immediately when you return.
Step 10. Pay close attention to stoves
- Keep flammable materials (curtains, sofas) at a safe distance (1 meter) from portable heaters.
- Place the stoves in a place that people cannot pass through.
- As a general rule, extension cords are not recommended with stoves. Low-power stoves may be an exception, but check the manufacturer's recommendations before using an extension cord. For added SAFETY, do not use extension cords.
Use stoves only on hard, solid surfaces. You should never place them on tables, chairs or other places where they could fall. Replace old stoves with more modern versions that turn off automatically if overturned.
Step 11. Take care of your fireplace
Section of a hearth. Inspect the firebox for cracks, damaged parts or other hazards.
Use glass or mesh to prevent embers from jumping out of the fireplace.
- It burns dry, old wood to prevent creosote from building up in the fireplace. Note that some woods, such as cedar, produce a lot of sparks when burned and should not be used in an open fireplace.
- Remove ash and unburned wood only when there are no embers or sparks in the fireplace. Put the ash in a metal container and throw it away from buildings.
Have your fireplace inspected and cleaned at least once a year.
Step 12. Never store flammable liquids near fire sources
- Keep gasoline, solvents, and other highly flammable liquids in suitable containers away from home.
- Do not store flammable liquids in a garage or tool shed that has a boiler with pilot flame inside. For maximum safety, keep these items outdoors, or in a separate shed.
Step 13. Never use air conditioner extension cords
An overheated extension cord is like an out-of-control electric stove.
Step 14. Watch out for candles, oil lamps and other exposed flames for lighting and decorations
Cover the flame with a net to prevent anything from falling or blowing on the flame, and to prevent children and animals from coming into contact with it. Put out the flame if you leave the room, even for just a minute. After all, you will be back right away, and you can immediately re-light the candle.
Step 15. Be careful with Christmas decorations, especially Christmas trees
Real Christmas trees are highly flammable when they become dry, and old, damaged, or poor quality Christmas lights can cause many fires when combined with a dry or lightly watered tree. Look for videos about Christmas tree fires. It is amazing how quickly it can destroy a room and a house.
Step 16. Pay close attention to all situations in which you will be using an extension cable for a long time
Often, the movement of people, the movement of furniture and other hazards damaging these extensions, increasing the risk of fire. Christmas decorations are often lit for weeks with these extension cords, and if you are using them, choose a good quality extension cord that can withstand the power it will be subjected to.
Step 17. Teach your children not to play with lighters and matches
Children are often the cause and victim of fires, and they shouldn't be allowed to handle matches and lighters. Consider buying a lockable box, and keeping lighters and matches under lock and key.
Step 18. Don't pile up your grass clippings near your home
Fermenting cuttings can produce heat and catch fire. Fires in barns thus start from bales of hay without electricity; there is evidence of house fires caused by a pile of cuttings.
Step 19. Be careful when using a grid on a platform
The wooden platforms are on fire. Put a fire retardant coating under your grill. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Never leave the grill when cooking. Turn off the gas if you walk away, even for just a minute.
Step 20. Train pets not to chew electrical cords and not to urinate on electrical devices
Step 21. Relegate the new cats to a safe room, where there are no cramped spaces where they can hide and electrical cables
Keep the cat in this room until it calms down and stops hiding. Give your cat edible oats or grain to prevent them from chewing on electrical wires. Cage rabbits, chinchillas and other animals when you are not around to prevent them from chewing on electrical wires.
- Never throw a match in the basket before putting it out with water.
- Do not block doors or windows that can be used when escaping from a fire.
- If you suspect or notice electrical system failures or strange smells, don't hesitate to have them checked by a professional.
- Never store greasy rags, especially those saturated with mineral alcohols, solvents, or linseed oil. In some circumstances, these materials can spontaneously ignite.
- Teach your children a fire evacuation plan. Do fire drills, where the family will need to be at an outdoor gathering point. This way you can check that everyone is safe outdoors. Never go back into a house that is on fire.
- In the event of a fire, get out of the house as quickly as possible, making sure all other tenants do the same.
- Never burn debris and never let it accumulate near your home.