7 Common Home Fire Hazards

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Common Home Fire Hazards


In 2013, there were 487,500 structure fires in the U.S., resulting in $9.5 billion in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association.  The good news is that structure fires are steadily declining, down from over 1 million in 1980, 624,000 in 1990, and 505,000 in 2000.  But when you analyze the data, there are few main culprits of house fires in the U.S., most of which are entirely avoidable.  Watch out for these seven fire hazards in your home.

Structure Fires



1. Wiring


In 2011, an estimated 47,700 home structure fires reported to U.S. fire departments involved some type of electrical failure or malfunction as a factor contributing to ignition. These fires resulted in 418 civilian deaths, 1,570 civilian injuries, and $1.4 billion in direct property damage. In 2007-2011, home electrical fires represented 13% of total home structure fires, 18% of associated civilian deaths, 11% of associated civilian injuries, and 20% of associated direct property damage.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Consider having your home inspected annually by a licensed electrician to make sure everything is up to the current code and there are no faults in the system
  • Replace circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters (AFCI).  These safeguards detect dangerous electrical arcs—abnormal sparks that signal bad insulation or loose connections—and stop them before they start a fire.  Since 2014, U.S. code requires AFCI breakers for most rooms
  • Do not use frayed or chewed electrical chords.  Examine your electrical chords regularly to make sure they are in good working condition and the outer plastic coating has not been compromised
  • Don’t overload outlets or electrical chords
  • Don’t leave Christmas lights, Christmas trees, or halogen lights on overnight or when not at home



2. Kitchen Fires


The number one source of house fires is cooking – usually leaving pots or pans unattended on the stove while you run away to do something for “just a minute.” The NFPA says that 40% of all house fires, or an average of 156,600 per year, start this way, causing approximately $853 million in property damage. Two-thirds of the fires started because the food or other materials caught fire.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Keep at least a 3ft barrier between combustibles (paper towels, pot holders, recipe cards, etc) and burners
  • Never leave cooking unattended
  • Don’t throw water on a grease fire, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire
  • If an oven fire flares up, turn off the oven and leave the door shut until the fire extinguishes itself
  • Having working smoke detectors in the house and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case

Home Cooking


3. Clothes Dryer


Even if you dutifully empty your lint tray every time you dry clothes, the material still builds up inside the dryer cabinet, which holds the heating element and is usually located at the back or bottom of the machine. If enough lint accumulates there, a blaze can start.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Hire a pro to clean the cabinet every two years
  • Always clean out the lint trap before each load
  • Periodically vacuum the lint trap and exhaust areas to keep them free of excess lint
  • For gas and propane dryers, make sure there aren’t any leaks in the lines
  • Vent the dryer to the outside of the house (not under the house) and ensure that nothing blocks the vent pipe
  • Keep the area around the dryer free from combustible materials


3. Outlets


Outlets aren’t usually designed to stand out, so you may not even notice when they start to have a problem.  But as boring as those wall plates may be, you  need to check them regularly to see if they need replacing—or you could be setting yourself up for some very bad news down the road.  Roughly 2,590 home fires every year are started by malfunctioning outlets, resulting in $94 million in property damage.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Replace cracked or undersized cover plates to prevent dust accumulation.  Small openings in and around the electrical plate can turn into dust traps.  Lint, dust, and hair can act as kindling when they accumulate around the outlet behind the plate.  A fire could smolder or spread in your walls, making it hard to put out
  • Replace painted outlets.  Painted outlets and face plates are dangerous because paint chips can get into the slots and come in direct contact with an electrical charge causing it to heat up and possibly catch fire
  • Replace loose outlets.  If your plug is always falling out of the outlet, it needs replacing.  Loose blades can generate intense heat that can lead to fires
  • Beware of hot outlets.  Outlets and their cover plates should always be cool to the touch.  Warm or hot areas around an outlet are a clear sign of a problem


4. Vintage Appliances

vintage fan

Old-fashioned plug-ins like a fan from the 50s or lamp from the 70s may still look great, but they were made according to antiquated safety codes and may include frayed or damaged wires.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Have vintage appliances rewired
  • In general, stick with modern equipment that comes with a UL mark, signifying that Underwriters Laboratories has vouched for the item’s safety in actual use



5. Candles


From 2007-2011, the there were an average of 10,630 fires in the U.S. that were started by candles, causing 115 deaths, 903 injuries and approximately $418 million in property damage. That is an average of 29 candle fires per day.

About one-third of these fires started in bedrooms, causing 39% of the associated deaths and 45% of the associated injuries. More than half of all candle fires start because of candles that were left too close to flammable items.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Never leave a candle unattended
  • Blow out all candles before you go to sleep
  • Keep burning candles at least 12 inches away from anything flammable, including furniture, lamps, curtains, and certain household items
  • Make sure candles fit snuggly in the candle holder
  • Eliminate the flame altogether and get battery-powered flickering candles!  They are safe and reusable

Candle Fires


6. Space Heater

space heater

Space heaters can be a life-saver in the wintertime, but use them with caution.  Space heaters can cause a fire if knocked over of left too close to flammable material.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Make sure your space heater has an automatic kill switch that will shut off in case it gets knocked over
  • Do not place a space heater on or near any combustible material
  • Do not leave a space heater unattended
  • Do not leave a space heater on while you sleep
  • Do not use the space heater if the wires are frayed or damaged


7. Fireplace or Chimney Defects


If your chimney has cracks or is not ventilated properly, sparks from the fire can land on the roof and ignite a fire.  Built up dirt and soot in a chimney or fireplace is also a fire hazard.

How To Protect Yourself

  • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned by a professional at least once a year
  • Regularly clean the fireplace interior, including the floor
  • Use wood that is seasoned and dry.  Avoid using wood from recently cut trees.  They contain high levels of moisture, which can lead to more smoke and deposits inside the chimney
  • Make sure the area surrounding the fireplace is free of flammable objects
  • Install heat-proof glass doors to keep live embers from escaping the fireplace
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