- Inspect your home. You may need to recruit, or even hire, someone experienced in home electrical wiring, plumbing (gas), heating, and air conditioning.
- Stay in the kitchen when using the range for cooking. If you are leaving for just a minute, turn off all the burners on the range. Going to the basement for a can of tomatoes, or running out to check the mail, going to the bathroom, answering the phone in another part of the house? Simply turn off all the burners. After all, you are just leaving for a minute. You can immediately turn the pot or frying pan back on when you return. Taking this simple step will prevent one of the most common situations that cause house fires: unattended cooking. When cooking with oil, keep a lid or flat cookie sheet close by. If flames appear, simply suffocate the fire with the lid and immediately turn off the stove or fryer to let it cool down. Do not try to move the pan. Do not use water. The super-heated water will explode into steam, and can cause severe burns, and oil can splash and spread the fire.
- Don’t cook when drinking alcohol, using drugs, or very tired. Eat something prepared, make a cold sandwich, and go to sleep. Cook your meal later, when you are fully conscious.
- Don’t sit or lie down when smoking. Standing up will usually prevent you from falling asleep while smoking. Getting too tired? Put out the cigarette thoroughly in an ash tray or water-damp sink and go to bed. Cleaning out the ash tray? Place the ashes in the sink and dampen them, then scoop them up and place them in the trash can away from the house.
- Check the condition of your electrical system.
- Look for improperly grounded receptacles. Many modern appliances require a “three pronged” (grounded) receptacle, but people will sometimes use an adapter to bypass this safety feature, or even break a ground prong off an appliance cord. Changing existing circuits to provide grounding is usually a job left to a professional electrician.
Look in the attic and crawl spaces for wiring which has been damaged by pests or insects. Some old wiring is insulated with a material which insects eat or chew on, and squirrels or other rodents will often chew the thermoplastic insulation off of modern nonmetallic cable (Romex).
Look for overloaded circuit breakers, panel boxes, or fuse boxes. Check for breakers or fuses which may have circuits “piggy-backed” on them. These are rated for single circuit protection, but sometimes in outdated or undersized panel boxes, people will put two or even more wires in the terminal of a single breaker or fuse.
- Notice flickering lights, or intermittent power surges. These conditions may be caused by outside influences, but if they occur often, they may indicate a bad connection or short in the circuit.
- Note breakers which “trip”, or fuses that “blow” frequently. This is almost always a sign of an overloaded circuit or other wiring problem, usually of a most serious nature.
- Look at the individual breaker connections, especially in outdoor panel boxes, for corrosion, signs of thermal damage (smut or smokey residue near terminals) splices which are poorly taped or wire nutted, or abraded or damaged wire insulation.
- Check the ground cable. A failure in the building grounding system and bonding can be dangerous in regard to electrical shock, as well as fire. Look for loose split bolts, clamps, or other connecting devices, and corrosion.
- Be especially careful to notice any connections in wiring other than copper. Installed correctly, and with tight connections, aluminum wire is not excessively dangerous, but when connections are made to copper wires, an electrolytic reaction may occur, causing increased resistance in the connection which will generate excessive heat. If you are able to apply an antioxidant compound to aluminum connections, it will help decrease the risk of oxidation causing a short circuit at these locations.
- Look into the possibility of installing a lightning protection system in your home if you live in an area where lightning is a frequent problem. The savings from reduced damages to appliances may offset the cost of this upgrade.
- Consider having a home sprinkler system installed, to extinguish fires both when you are away AND at home.
Check the natural gas/LP gas system in your home. You will want to look for loose fittings, leaking valves, faulty pilot lights, and debris or improperly stored flammable materials in areas near these appliances.
Check the vent stacks on gas water heaters, furnaces, and clothes dryers.
- Check the automatic ignition systems or pilot lights on these fixtures, as well, particularly for any guards which are not properly installed, and for lint or dust buildup in the immediate area around them.
- Have the gas plumbing (pipes), valves, and regulators inspected by a professional any time you smell gas or suspect a leak.
Check the air conditioning and heating unit in your home. These systems operate with electric motors and air moving equipment which requires periodic maintenance.
- Clean, or have your interior AC coils cleaned, and replace your return air filters regularly. This will prevent the fan motor from being overworked, and also save money on your energy bill. For window AC’s, NEVER use extension cords!
- Lubricate belt drive pulleys (where applicable), boss bearings on drive motors, and other equipment as needed.
- Have the resistance coils or furnace burners cleaned and serviced at the beginning of the heating season, since debris may accumulate there while the system is off during the summer.
- Listen to the system when it is operating. Squealing sounds, rumbling noises, or banging and tapping sounds may indicate loose parts or bearings which are seizing up.
- If you have access to a snap-on amp meter, you may check the amperage draw on the high amperage circuit to your heating coils to make sure they are in the normal operating range. Higher than normal amperage draw on a circuit indicates unusual resistance, and in an electrical circuit, resistance is what causes heat, and ultimately, fires.
- Check your appliances.
Keep the range and hood clean. Grease fires are no fun.
Keep your stove and oven clean, especially watching for grease accumulation.
- Check stove vent hoods, clean the filter regularly, and make sure that if it is equipped with an exterior vent, insects or birds do not build nests or otherwise impede the air flow through it.
- Check the power cords for your appliances. Look for missing grounding prongs on the plugs and damaged insulation, and replace or repair them if defects are found.
- Keep the lint trap and outside vent clean in your clothes dryer. Some dryers have internal ductwork which may become clogged and require servicing, so if the dryer is operating poorly, have it checked. Lint or other material collecting near the heat coils in clothes dryers is extremely dangerous. Stay nearby while using the dryer. Have a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher nearby. If you must leave the area for a minute, turn off the dryer. After all, you are not going to be away long, and you can immediately turn the dryer on when you return.
- Be very careful with space heaters.
- Keep flammable materials (curtains, the couch) a safe distance (usually 3 feet) from portable heaters.
- Set heaters where they are not in the traffic flow of the room.
- As a rule, extension cords are not recommended with space heaters. Small, low wattage heaters may be an exception, but check the manufacturer’s recommendations prior to using an extension cord with one. Be SAFE, just don’t use extension cords.
- Use space heaters only on solid, firm surfaces. They should never be placed on tables, chairs or other places where they may tip over. Replace old space heaters with ones that will automatically turn off if tipped over.
Maintain your fireplace correctly.
Fire box cut away.
Inspect the fire box (hearth) for cracks, damaged sheet metal (for inserts) and other hazards.
- Use glass fire doors or a wire mesh spark screen to prevent embers from popping out of the fireplace.
- Burn dry, seasoned wood to prevent creosote buildup in the chimney. Note that some woods, like cedar, pop excessively 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 fire box. Place ash in a metal (NOT plastic bucket) and place outside away from any buildings.
Have your chimney inspected and cleaned at least once a year.
- Never store flammable liquids near ignition sources.
- Keep gasoline, paint thinners, and other highly flammable liquids or materials in UL approved containers and out of the house.
- Do not store any flammable liquid in a garage or utility room with that has a pilot light equipped appliance in use in it. Be safe, keep these items outdoors, or in a separate outbuilding.
- Never use extension cords for air conditioners. An overheated cord is like an out-of-control electric heater.
Be careful with candles, oil lamps, and other open flame illumination or decorations. Cover the flame with a wire cage to prevent something from falling or blowing onto the flame, and to prevent children and pets from coming in contact with the flame. Extinguish the fire when leaving the room, if even for a minute. After all, you’ll be right back, and you can immediately relight the candle.
Use caution with holiday decorations, particularly Christmas trees. Natural Christmas trees are highly combustible when they become dry, and old, damaged, or low quality tree lights cause many fires when combined with an under watered or otherwise dry tree. Watch a video of a Christmas tree fire. It is amazing how fast it can destroy a room, and a home.
- Be very careful in any situation where you use an extension cord for extended periods of time. Often, foot traffic, moving furniture, and other hazards damage these cords, causing a potential for a fire. Holiday decorations are often lit for weeks with these cords, and if you are using them, use a high quality cord with a sufficient rating for the intended purpose.
Teach your children not to play with lighters or matches. Children are often the cause and victims of fires, and should not be allowed access to matches or cigarette lighters. Consider getting a lockable box, and keeping matches and lighters locked up.
- Do not pile up lawn clippings near a building. Fermenting lawn clippings can create heat, and catch on fire. Barn fires start this way from bales of hay with no electricity; house fires have been started from a pile of lawn clippings.
- Be careful using a grill on a deck. Decks are flammable. Place non-flammable pads under your grill. Have a fire extinguisher readily available. Stay with your grill while cooking. Turn off propane if leaving, if even for a minute. After all, you’ll be right back and can turn on the propane again.
- Crate train dogs and use the crates when you are not home and awake, to prevent new dogs or puppies from chewing on electrical cords, or pets from urinating on electrical objects and starting a fire.
- Confine new cats to a safe room, a small room with no places for the cat to crawl into to hide (such as into the refrigerator motor), and no electrical cords. Use the safe room until the cat is calm and no longer hiding. Provide cats with edible oat or wheat grass, to prevent them from chewing on electrical cords. Confine rabbits, chinchillas, and other pets when not supervising them, to prevent them from chewing on electrical cords, causing burns or electrical fires.
- After Using Matches quickly place in or run under water to extinguish any invisible flame or heat source that could cause a fire in the trash can.
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