Each year, Americans lose billions of dollars’ worth of property to housefires. It’s a devastating thought: everything you own – including things that can’t be replaced – gone in a few minutes.
That’s to say nothing of the human cost. Thousands of people are killed or are injured each year in housefires. Perhaps the worst part is that so many of these fires could have been prevented with the installation of a fire alarm system, or by taking simple home fire safety measures.
In this blog post, we’ll look at the importance of having a fire alarm system, some of the most common reasons housefires start, along with some steps you can take to fireproof your home.
Why is a fire alarm system important?
Having a fire alarm system might seem extravagant, the type of thing you’d see in a large office complex, not a two story home.
But we’d argue it’s worth the investment. Here’s why:
1. They can save your life
This is perhaps the most important reason to install a fire alarm system at home: it will keep you and your family safe.
With features such as smoke and heat detectors, sirens, bells and flashing lights, these systems can alert you when a fire breaks out and give everyone inside a chance to get outside quickly and safely.
2. Emergency crews can get there faster
While an alarm can’t put out fires, it can alert emergency responders. The faster they get to your home, the faster they can put out the fire and the less damage you’ll have to your property.
3. Codes and insurance
Many insurers offer discounts to homeowners who install a fire alarm system. (This point might be more important for business owners, as many insurance companies require business fire alarm systems before extending coverage).
And if you’re moving into a new house, having a fire alarm system will help you pass inspection and comply with local building codes.
It’s also crucial that you have your fire alarm system inspected on a routine basis. The obvious reason is that you need to know that your system works. In addition, your insurance company can reject your fire damage claim if you aren’t able to show your system was inspected each year.
What are the most common causes of housefires?
Installing a fire alarm system can help protect your family and help keep your property safe. But there are ways you can prevent fires altogether, particularly when you’re aware of the most common causes.
1. Cooking equipment
We put this in the first spot because it’s the number one cause of house fires, usually the result of food left unattended on the stove.
Keep an eye on what you’re cooking – or get someone else to do it. If a fire does break out, be careful. A bulk of cooking fire injuries involve people trying to fight the fire themselves.
The leading cause of fatal housefires, with a majority of the deaths resulting from furniture, bedding or mattresses catching fire. Cigarette butts can remain lit for a long time, so try to make smoking an outdoor-only activity.
3. Heating equipment
Another major contributor to the number of home fires, heating equipment accounts for 20 percent of all fatal fires. These fires can be avoided by paying attention to the manufacturer’s instructions on things like space heaters and wood stoves.
4. Intentional fires
A not-insignificant number of house fires were set intentionally, according to FBI statistics, and many of these fires were caused by people under 18. This underlines the importance of keeping matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
Other common fire hazards include:
- Candles – Just like food on the stove, candles should never be left unattended. Blow them out when you leave the room and keep them away from materials like books or tissue boxes.
- Cookouts – When you fire up your grill, make sure it’s far away from any structures, plants or tablecloths, and make sure you keep it clean and well-maintained.
- Flammable liquids – Keep things like gasoline or kerosene away from heat sources.
Now that we’ve explored some of the common causes of fires, let’s look at some of the fire prevention tools you’ll want to include in your home.
What fire safety equipment does my home need?
According to the American Red Cross, having a smoke alarm in your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire nearly in half. These devices sense abnormal levels of smoke or combustion gases in the air as well as both smoldering and flaming fires.
If you’ve moved into a new home, the National Fire Alarm Code requires hard-wired smoke alarms on each floor, outside each sleeping area and in every bedroom. These alarms should have a battery back up and be wired together so that if one goes off, they all go off.
For existing homes, you’ll need a smoke alarm on each level of the home and outside each sleeping area. When fires happen in bedrooms, dangerous gases can cause you to go into a deeper sleep. The best protection is to install interconnected alarms throughout the house.
Clean dust and cobwebs from your smoke alarms once a month to avoid nuisance alarms. Don’t disable your alarm, even if you’re worried that you’ll set it off accidentally by cooking or showering. Use the alarm’s hush function instead.
Test your alarms once a month using the test button (and not with a “controlled” fire method, such as lighting a match). This way is safer and more reliable.
Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm at least once a year. Some agencies even suggest twice a year with the Daylight Savings time changes. If you have a carbon monoxide detector, replace its batteries when you replace the smoke alarm batteries.
As for the smoke alarm itself, it should be replaced every 10 years, as it loses sensitivity over time. This is something recommended by both the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Finally, install smoke alarms in areas where your pets are or in buildings that house animals, in places where humans will be able to hear.
While a smoke alarm can detect a fire, an automatic sprinkler system can work in tandem with your alarm to help get the fire under control.
A sprinkler can keep a fire from spreading and even put it out before firefighters arrive. Using a sprinkler system can reduce the chance of your family being exposed to deadly gases or smoke.
Finally, a sprinkler system can help when you aren’t at home, responding to fires when you’re away and – if connected to an alarm system – alerting the fire department when you can’t.
When installing a sprinkler system, the Red Cross recommends working with a qualified installer who abides by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes as well as local fire safety regulations.
- Fire extinguishers are a basic, but vital, tool in home fire protection. You may want to consider having more than one around the house. Look for one rated A-B-C and keep in mind that many models are designed to be used just once and cannot be recharged.
- Don’t assume you’ll know how to work your fire extinguisher. Talk to your fire department about getting trained. Different extinguishers operate in different ways and you won’t have time during an emergency to learn. Make sure that only adults handle and use your fire extinguishers.
- Fire extinguishers should be installed near an exit, high on the wall and away from sources of heat. They should be easy for trained adults to access and hard for curious children to touch. Heat sources can make extinguishers less effective or cause them to lose their charge.
- Most portable fire extinguishers empty themselves after eight seconds. If you use an extinguisher and the fire doesn’t immediately die down, drop the extinguisher and get out.
- Make sure your fire extinguisher is properly charged. Use the test button or gauge to check for proper pressure. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for replacing or charging your extinguisher and have it professionally serviced or replaced if the unit is damaged, corroded or low on pressure.
- Before fighting a fire with an extinguisher, first make sure everyone is out of the house and fire department has been called. You’ll want to have your back to an exit and to be sure the room isn’t too smoky, and the fire is small and not spreading.
Finally, remember the word “PASS” when using a fire extinguisher:
- P – Pull the pin
- A – Aim low, at the base of the fire
- S – Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly
- S – Sweep the nozzle from side to side
In our next section, we’ll look at some other home fire safety tips.
8 Ways to Fireproof Your Home
Fireproofing your home doesn’t have to become a weeks-long project. It’s usually the matter of getting into the habit of carrying out these fire prevention measures.
1. Declutter your house
Is there a big stack of old magazines in your garage? A pile of clothing that you no longer wear and are considering giving away? Now is the time to clear them out. The more things you’re storing, the easier time a fire will have spreading.
2. Clean your gutters
A fire breaks out a few blocks away. An ember from that fire floats through the air, makes its way to your property and lands inside the dry leaves inside your rain gutter.
Keep this scenario from happening by cleaning your rain gutters and having your chimney swept and inspected at least annually to prevent soot built-up.
3. Keep an eye on the power lines
If you have power lines running near or above your home, make sure they won’t be knocked down by falling trees or tree branches. Trees need to be trimmed to keep branches from getting tangled in power lines. Most utility companies can provide this service if you ask.
4. Lamps, candles and heaters
Lightbulbs generate enough heat to set flammable materials ablaze. Keep drapes and bed sheets far away from your lamps. Be careful when using candles, which can become a fire hazard if knocked over. If you like the smell scented candles offer but are worried about home fire safety, consider using an oil diffuser instead.
Finally, be careful using space heaters, particularly older models. Keep them away from flammable materials, and never position them in a place where your kids or pets might knock them over.
5. Empty your lint trap
Lint is highly flammable, so be sure to clean out your dryer’s lint trap every time you do laundry. At the very least, the lint trap should be cleared after every 4-6 loads of wash.
6. Electrical issues
If you’re constantly tripping the circuit breaker in your home, you might be overloading an outlet, or have an electrical issue. See if drawing less power fixes the problem. If not, consult an electrician.
7. Have an escape plan
Make sure you and your loved ones have an escape route mapped out (this should be part of any home security plan, not just for fires). Have a place outside where you can all meet in an emergency.
8. Make sure your alarms are working
Even if you don’t install a fire alarm system, you should still have smoke alarms in each bedroom, as well as one on each floor of your home. (Place them high on the wall, where smoke can rise to them.) These alarms should be checked twice each year.
You should keep at least one fire extinguisher at home, ideally in the kitchen, where many housefires start. Make everyone who is old enough to work the extinguisher knows how to use it.
Turn to Holicong Security for home fire safety
If you’re seeking ways to protect your home and family against fires, turn to Holicong Security. Our high-quality fire detection solutions include smoke and fire alarms, sprinkler systems and water flow valves. Contact us today, and we’ll be in touch to help you keep your home secure.