Welcome to the Take Charge of Your Home series from Direct Energy! Hiring a professional to perform household maintenance may offer convenience and peace of mind, but you can do many of these jobs yourself with no experience or special tools. And in the process, you’ll save money, learn about how your home works and gain a sense of accomplishment from a DIY task done well!
Accidental house fires can start in all sorts of ways, and when they do, they can spread quickly. Surviving a fire and minimizing damage to your home is a matter of preparation and practice. If you don’t know exactly what you’d do in the event of a house fire, or if you’re unsure about the state of your home’s fire safety, the time to prepare is now. Once a fire starts, you have only seconds to act.
Smoke Alarms: Your First Line of Defense
Building codes require smoke alarms for good reason: they save lives. Maximizing the amount of time your family has to escape a burning home is at the foundation of home fire safety.
Ideally, there should be at least one smoke alarm on every floor of your home and one in each occupied bedroom. It doesn’t matter whether they’re battery operated or hardwired with a battery backup as long as you properly maintain every smoke alarm in your home. Test them monthly to ensure they’re operable, replace the batteries every six months, and replace the smoke alarm itself every ten years. You should find an expiration date stamped on the back.
Types of Smoke Alarms
There is one important distinction among smoke alarm types, however: the sensor. Alarms with ionization sensors are best at detecting fast, flaming fires, while alarms with photoelectric sensors are better at detecting slow, smoldering fires. There are also dual-sensor alarms that use both technologies. While dual-sensor alarms are a little more expensive, for safety’s sake, they’re worth it. Otherwise, be sure to use a combination of ionization and photoelectric alarms on each floor.
Fire Extinguishers: Stopping Fires Before They Spread
If you can catch a fire at its earliest stage, having a fire extinguisher on hand can make the difference between cleaning up a small mess and losing your entire home. At minimum, you should have one in your kitchen and one on every occupied floor.
Fire extinguishers are available in a variety of classes that are designed to extinguish different types of fires. For home use, look for fire extinguishers with an “ABC” classification; the A class is effective against flammable solids, the B class is for flammable liquids and the C class is for electrical fires. There are disposable, single-use fire extinguishers that are cheap to buy but that expire after a number of years. You’ll pay a little more for reusable extinguishers, but you’ll also need to pay to have them recharged after each use.
Everyone in your home should know the location of every fire extinguisher and should familiarize themselves with the operating instructions. While most fire extinguishers are straightforward to operate, reading the instruction label can take precious seconds while a fire is spreading, so it’s best to study now.
Keep in mind that fire extinguishers are for small fires only. If a fire is bigger than you are, your priority should be getting everyone out of the home. You should also consider that the chemicals in fire extinguishers can damage appliances like your oven and stove, so if you can safely use an alternative like smothering a fire in baking soda or with a large pot lid, opt for one of those methods first.
Fire Escape Plan: Practice Makes Perfect
You’re not quite done equipping your home for fire safety yet. You’ll need an escape plan for every room in your home, and that may require the purchase of one or more fire escape ladders if you have a second story.
You should come up with two ways out of every room, which will most likely be a door and a window. If you have pets, young children, older relatives or people with mobility issues in your home, your plan should accommodate their abilities. Every member of the household should know what they’re responsible for, and should know where to gather outside the home once they’ve reached safety.
Once you have a detailed plan, practice it. Conduct drills with a goal of evacuating everyone from the home within two minutes. When you find a plan that works, practice it a couple of times per year to make sure everyone is prepared in the event of an emergency.
Your plan should include basic fire safety knowledge, including:
- Touch any door before you open it. If the door is hot, keep it closed and find another way out.
- The hottest air and densest smoke will be closer to the ceiling, so stay as low as you can as you escape.
- Keep your phone charged and accessible at all times. Get yourself and your family to safety first, then call 911 to report the fire.
- If you’re counting on a window as an escape route, make sure it opens easily. Rarely opened windows can stick shut over the years.
- Close doors on your way out of the home if you can do so safely. This can slow the spread of the fire and help mitigate damage to your home.
Safety Tips to Prevent Fires
Now that you’re armed with a plan and layers of fire defense, it’s time to survey your home for fire risks and take action to reduce them. Here are some basic fire safety tips to help you make your home safer:
- Identify every heat-producing appliance in your home. Make sure they’re clear of combustible materials and have plenty of clearance to vent hot air.
- If you notice sparking outlets or switches, burning odors when using electrical devices, flickering or surging lights or other odd electrical behavior, call a licensed electrician for a thorough inspection. These could be early warning signs of electrical problems that can produce fire.
- Observe all manufacturer’s safety warnings when operating space heaters, and never leave them running unattended.
- Avoid smoking indoors if at all possible, and never smoke in bed.
- Use care with all open flames, including candles, incense and cooking appliances.
- Have your chimney and fireplace cleaned and inspected annually. If you build a fire, use a fireplace screen.
- Don’t overload outlets or power strips.
- Clean your dryer’s lint trap after every load, and deep clean the entire dryer and surrounding area twice per year.
- Extension cords are for temporary use only. When a cord becomes frayed or damaged, throw it away.
- If you have a real Christmas tree, keep it well watered. Choose LED string lights, which produce less heat than incandescents.
Read more tips on how to Take Charge of Your Home!