Home Improvement

The Top Ten Fire Hazards in Your House and How to Fix Them

There are a million ways to die, but did you know that two of the top ten ways are from home washing machines and dryers? Between 2010 through 2014, US municipal fire departments responded to an estimated 15,970 home fires involving clothes dryers or washing machines. There were 13 civilian deaths, 440 civilian injuries, and $238 million in direct property damage from those fires.

The leading factor contributing to the ignition of home fires (one-third of all fires) involving clothes dryers was the homeowner’s failure to clean lint from the vents or machine. The other top hazards on our list:

Fire Hazard: Cooking

The top home fire hazard in America and much of the world actually, is the kitchen. Leaving food to simmer or cook while you’re out of the room, fat spatters, and a variety of normal cooking events, including cooking while intoxicated, can result in a fire.

Solution: Don’t leave any food unattended while cooking, even if the stove is only on warm. You can find a full fact sheet of other cooking and fire tips to watch for as well.

Fire Hazard: Candles

Candles are a two billion dollar item in America. We all have them – and 7 out of 10 of us use them. Whether we use them for birthday cakes, mood setters, light, or warmth, they are in our homes. As warm and inviting as they are, according to the National Fire and Protection Association, they’re also the cause of 2% of home fires. During the five-year period between 2011 and 2015:

  • Candles caused 2% of reported home fires, 3% of home fire deaths, 7% of home fire injuries, and 4% of the direct property damage in home fires.
  • Roughly one-third (37%) of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 36% of the associated deaths and 51% of the associated injuries.
  • Falling asleep was a factor in 11% percent of the home candle fires and 21% of the associated deaths.
  • On average, 24 home candle fires were reported per day.
  • More than half (59%) of home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was left or came too close to the candle.
  • December is the peak time of year for home candle fires. In December, 12% of home candle fires began with decorations compared to 4% the rest of the year.

Solution: Never leave candles unattended, especially if you have pets. Dogs and cats are curious and often get close enough to candles that their tails or fur catches on fire. They then run throughout the home, spreading the fire. Use flashlights, not candles for power outages. Extinguish taper and pillar candles when they get within two inches of the holder or decorative material. Votives and container candles should be extinguished before the last one-half of an inch of wax starts to melt.

Fire Hazard: Portable Heaters

Heating equipment, whether portable heaters or furnaces are the cause of half of all home fires.

Solution: Keep anything flammable, that includes your kids and pets, at least three feet away from any heating equipment whether it’s a cookstove or oven, a fireplace, furnace, wood stove, portable heater or a kerosene heater.

Fire Hazard: Smoking in your bedroom

Hollywood has made lighting up after a shared romp with your lover seem romantic, but take the smoking outside. That cigarette butt may not go out for hours and linger long enough as a smoldering ember to start your bedroom on fire – and not in the way you’d like. Did you know that fires started in the bedroom make up 73% of all house fire fatalities?

In 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 90,000 smoking-materials fires in the U.S. These fires resulted in an estimated 540 civilian deaths, 1,640 injuries and $621 million dollars in direct property damage.

Solution: Don’t smoke in the bedroom. Don’t smoke when you’re in bed, intoxicated, or sick. Store all cigarettes in a metal can for 24 hours before disposing of them.

Fire Hazard: Electrical Circuit Overload

Homes built in the 50s and 60s weren’t meant to carry the electrical loads of the 21 century. Rather than beef up our electrical system to handle all the electrical devices of modern living, most of us just plug in another extension cord. This usually trips a circuit somewhere, our first flag something is wrong. But an electrical outlet that is overloaded with extension cords, or adapter plugs can cause a fire from an overuse of electricity. Even the right extension cord can be a fire hazard if not used appropriately.

Solution: Stop using extension cords and adapters. Use only the electrical outlets you have. If you find yourself needing extension cords and adapters to keep up with the power demands, call an electrician and have additional outlets installed. Learn what loads your larger appliances and devices need so you don’t overwhelm your outlets. The general rule of thumb is, “If it has a motor, it needs its own electrical circuit.” You can read more information on circuit breakers and how they work at The Spruce.

Fire Hazard: Curious Children

Kids are fire magnets. Well, they don’t actually attract fires, they are attracted to fires. As a result, they start fires – often. Children playing with a fire set more than 20,000 fires every year. That’s an average of almost 400 fires each week. Fires started by children playing cause an average of 150 deaths and nearly 1,000 injuries every year.

  • More than half of fires set by children are started by preschoolers and kindergartners.
  • Boys are more likely to start fires than girls.
  • The majority of the victims are younger than 6 years, though parents and caretakers are often among the victims as well.
  • Most fires started by children occur when they are left at home alone or unsupervised.

Solution: Educate children about fire. Take them to your local firehouse for a tour. Talk to them about the dangers of fire, and develop a fire escape plan and practice it. Install smoke detectors in all rooms where children may be alone, and keep matches, lighters, and fire starters out of reach and locked up.

Fire Hazard: Faulty Wiring

Homes age. Wiring gets brittle with age. And wiring that was great when installed, fails. Signs you have faulty wiring:

    1. Lights dim if you use another appliance;
    2. You notice that for one appliance, like the microwave or hairdryer, or toaster etc. to work, you have to disconnect something else;
    3. Your fuses blow or using some appliances trips your circuit breaker;

These are all red flags that you have a fire waiting to happen.

Solution: Tell your landlord about what’s happening and ask him to check the circuits and wiring, or hire a licensed electrician to come out and test your wiring.

Fire Hazard: Barbeques

Summer is coming. That means backyard barbecues, and that delicious smell of roasted meat each time that yummy fat drops on the coals or flames. All the things that make grills fun, also make them a fire hazard. A grill loaded with meat, or veggies are just inviting people to come closer to see or savor. That means an increased potential to bump into the grill or get too close to flammable clothing, siding, or decorations.

Solution:Always use barbecues — charcoal or gas — away from your home and groups of people, kids who can bump into the grill, knocking it over, or even just sustaining a bad burn. Yes, apartment dwellers with balconies. Keep your grills at least 10 feet away from your apartment. This means you, even if it is inconvenient. Keep the barbecue regularly maintained and cleaned with soapy water, and clean any removable parts. Use a spray bottle of soapy water to check the gas bottle for any leaks before you use it each time, and hand snug all connections each time, especially if you move the grill.

Fire Hazard: Flammable Liquids

We all have them – flammable liquids, like gas for the lawn mower, mineral spirits or acetone for that painting project we did. They’re usually in small cans, tucked away in the basement or garage where we forget about them. The thing about flammable liquids is they burn very fast, very hot and are extremely dangerous fires.

Solution: Keep all flammables in a metal cabinet in a cool, heat free area of your home. Check the label for warnings about how not to store the liquid. If you know you’re not going to be using it for a long time, take it to a recycling center, fire station or other such facilities for safe disposal. When you do use these liquids make sure you’re not around a flame source – like the pilot lights on gas stoves or the hot water heater in your basement. It doesn’t take much to ignite the fumes. Use only in well-ventilated areas – preferably outdoors and away from your home.

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Becky Blanton is a full-time ghostwriter and writing coach for Fortune 500 companies, CEOs, and business speakers. In 2009 she spoke at TED Global at Oxford University, her first ever public speaking gig. When she's not writing, she's kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Her dream home is to live aboard a sailing or houseboat.