Woman inspecting her fire alarm on her ceiling.

How To Prevent House Fires: 19 Fire Safety Tips

9-Minute Read
Published on April 14, 2022
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Sometimes, a fire is out of our control, like when there’s a wildfire or a lightning strike. But, unfortunately, fires are more often caused by uninformed or mistakenly negligent behavior. And since our homes are vulnerable to this danger, we need to stay vigilant for potential causes.

From limiting candle burning to monitoring your stovetop dinner, you can adopt a wide range of habits to reduce your risk of fire. Here’s how to prevent house fires and protect your home and family.

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What Are The Common Causes Of House Fires? 

House fires don’t have just one source. They can start from various parts of your home. Here are the top causes to be aware of.

Cooking

Cooking accidents are the leading cause of most home fires. Most of these incidents start at the stove or oven when homeowners leave cooking food unattended. But that’s not the only scenario where a fire can start in the kitchen.

Another common source of house fires is grease, which is highly flammable. If it becomes overheated in the oven or on the stove, it can start smoking. With enough heat, it combusts into a grease fire.

Grease fires are particularly tricky because you can’t put them out with water.

Heating Equipment And Appliances

Heating equipment and appliances, such as space heaters, are another leading cause of most home fires. This can occur if homeowners are negligent with caring for their equipment.

If your heating equipment requires fuel, you can’t leave it unattended. It may ignite and start a house fire. In addition, if the appliance is too close to combustible materials, it may explode. So, it’s vital that homeowners cautiously place their heating equipment where there’s enough space.

Electrical Systems

Up there with cooking and heating as a fire hazard are electrical systems. Faulty wiring is a major contributor to deadly house fires. Faults can include issues such as short circuits, improper grounding, or loose connections. Any of these flaws can ignite overloaded circuits or building materials, resulting in overheating wires.

You’re more likely to find issues with older wiring systems. It’s wise to have your wiring checked by a professional electrician if you live in an older home.

Smoking 

According to the most recent data from the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association), the number of U.S. adult smokers has declined by over 50% since 1980 (as of 2016). However, smoking was still a major contributing factor to home fire deaths from 2012 – 2016.  

Candles

Everyone loves candles. We use them to light up our homes during the holidays and to celebrate birthdays. But just because these flames are small doesn’t mean they can’t grow into a full-fledged fire.

The NFPA claims that three out of every five candle fires begin with candles too close to flammable objects. As a result, it’s recommended to blow out all candles before leaving a room or going to sleep.

Chemicals And Gases

Another culprit of home fires is chemicals, propane gas and natural gas. It only takes one stray spark to ignite a leak and create a fire. Combustion can also occur if you mix household chemicals. So, you should never combine chemicals in your home, such as cleaning solutions.  

Grills And Fire Pits

Summertime should be fun. But carelessness at the barbecue grill can result in a sudden, uncontrolled flame. One way is to leave the grill near combustible materials, like dry gas. Alternatively, a gas leak can also turn into a fire source.

Holiday Decor

The NFPA claims that U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 160 home fires per year between 2015 and 2019 that began with Christmas trees. Almost half of these fires involved lightning equipment or electrical distribution.

The Basics Of House Fire Prevention: How To Reduce The Risk Of Fires

The key to protecting your home from a house fire is prevention. Use these tips to help you protect your home from hazards.

Identify Fire Hazards

Safety and prevention starts with awareness. Homeowners should always try to identify fire hazards before they have the chance to spark. That includes faulty wiring, water leaks and misplaced flames.   

Install Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms and smoke detectors should always have a place in your home. These systems are hardwired into your home to monitor smoke and carbon monoxide levels. If they detect either, they can send an alert to your devices.

Installation shouldn’t be a challenge. Smoke alarms are inexpensive and available at various retailers, like home improvement stores. The same goes for carbon monoxide detectors. Just make sure you install both devices on every level of your home, including your basement. Test them on a monthly basis to ensure they’re functional.

It’s recommended to replace your CO detector every 5 – 7 years and your smoke detector every 10 years.

Check Heating Equipment And Electrical Systems

Your heating equipment and electrical systems won’t run perfectly forever. Check on their functionality to reduce the risk of a home fire. Regular checks can help you preempt future damage. Thus, giving you a chance to address it early on.

Check these features when you first move into a home. Then, have your electrical system checked every 10 years. You may need to increase the frequency with an older home. Your heating equipment should receive a check annually, though.

Register Electrical Appliances

Fire safety experts urge homeowners to register their electrical equipment. That includes new and old appliances, and doing so can reduce your house fire risk. If you don’t, you may be missing out on proper product safety warnings. It also means you’ll know if a product gets recalled.

How To Prevent Fire Hazards At Home: 19 Additional Safety Measures To Take

House fires can create lasting damage. You can drastically reduce the chances of it by taking the proper precautions. Here are some starting points.

1. Test Smoke Alarms

Test your smoke alarms on a monthly basis. They don’t typically need a lot of maintenance, but you want to ensure they work. They’re an important line of defense for you and your family in case of a fire.

2. Unplug Unused Cords And Store Them Safely

Excess electricity can become a fire hazard. So, it’s vital that you unplug cords and appliances when not using them. The item likely comes with manufacturer’s instructions that can guide how frequently you use the product.

Use your senses as well. If a plug smells strange, feels hot, shorts out or sparks, immediately shut off the appliance. Have the appliance repaired before using it again or replaced.

3. Use Surge Protectors

When power surges overload an outlet, they can be highly dangerous. Not only can it harm your plugged-in appliance, but the surge can cause the outlet to spark. Thus, triggering an electrical fire. With a surge protector, you prevent that extra electricity and reduce your risk of a fire.

4. Make Enough Space For Alternate Heaters 

Never crowd your portable heating unit. Instead, give it plenty of space – at least 3 feet from anything flammable.

If you don’t use portable heaters, investigate your other heating sources. For example, check your chimney at least once a year for any buildup. And if you find yourself using your fireplace frequently, make sure to use a fire screen. This will help keep the fire contained.

5. Buy Fire Safety Sprinklers

According to NFPA research, sprinklers reduce fire damage. Compared to properties without sprinklers, locations with sprinklers had a 27% lower injury rate and an 89% lower death rate per fire.

But they don’t only increase the chance of survival in a fire. They also limit damage to your home. In addition, the same NFPA research shows that fire sprinklers are highly effective at containing and controlling fires. So, they have a smaller chance of spreading.

6. Position Appliances Carefully

Be mindful of where you place your appliances. Keep items like your TV away from windows with curtains. If a power surge or problem with the wiring causes a spark, it can easily travel to the curtains hanging down. From there, the fire has a chance to spread even faster.

Keeping appliances away from windows is also vital due to potential water damage. Rain coming in from the outside can also lead to wiring issues and become a hazard.

7. Remove Lint And Change Filters Often 

One common danger in residential areas is dryer fires. Because of this, you should clean the lint filter after every drying cycle. Checking it before you start a load can also minimize the risk of fire.

You should direct some attention to the exhaust duct as well. Make sure the tubing is made of metal, not foil or plastic. You can clean the duct with a well-made dryer vent brush to check for any built-up lint and remove it. This needs to be done twice a year at a minimum.

8. Pay Attention When Cooking And Never Leave Food Unattended

No matter the circumstance, you never want to leave a flame unattended. That includes when you’re cooking. Avoid walking away from the stove for prolonged periods, especially if you’re using oil. If you have to step away for a second, make sure that you turn down the heat first.

9. Keep Oils And Gases Away From The Heat And Flames

Most homeowners keep cooking oil in their kitchen. But if you have it anywhere near a gas stove or combustible materials, it can cause a fire. The same risk applies to gas you store near your car or lawnmower.

Remove the potential for fire by storing these items in proper containers and away from items that could spark.

10. Turn Off Heated Appliances When Done 

You know your space heater and heated blanket generate heat. But other appliances like dishwashers and dryers also get decently hot. Regardless of the appliance, never leave it running when you’re not home. It only takes one spark or piece of faulty equipment to start a blaze.

Likewise, you shouldn’t leave these items running if you’re asleep and unaware.

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11. Clean Oven And Stove

Cooking isn’t the only way to start a fire in the kitchen. Leftover food can build up at the bottom of the oven and the burner. Those particles build up more and more over time. So, homeowners should clean up any food or residue left behind after cooking.

You can wipe down your cooktop or gas stove after each use. You can wait a little longer between oven cleanings, though. Modern ovens are equipped with a self-cleaning feature that you can use every few months.

12. Store Combustible And Flammable Materials 

Be aware of where you store your flammable items and flammable liquids. Putting them anywhere near heat can be a hazard. In addition, you should inspect the containers of these liquids. Gasoline, paint and thinners can all combust from a simple spark or a lit match.

Note: if you do store gasoline, never store it in your home. You may be able to leave it in a garage but only in a proper container.

13. Avoid Smoking In The House

The CDC reports that 12.5% of U.S. adults smoke cigarettes as of 2020. If you fall into that category, you should always keep the habit to well-ventilated areas outside the house. You also need to carefully dispose of them. Cigarettes contain materials that can keep burning even after you put them out. Because of this, they can ignite where they drop, like outside or in a trash can.

14. Practice Candle Safety

Candle safety requires a couple of steps. Make sure you trim the wick before burning it. This will prevent the flame from growing too big. After that, properly dispose of the match and keep the candle in your sight. You can read more on candle safety here.

15. Watch The Fireplace And Dispose Of Ashes Properly 

Your gas fireplace is probably perfect during winter but you shouldn’t leave it unattended. Stay in the room as much as possible when you have it lit.

Alternatively, if your fireplace is real, you need to dispose of the ashes correctly. You can do so by putting them in a specially designated metal container.

16. Keep The Grill Away From Wood And Combustible Materials

Like your portable heating units, you need to be cautious with your grill’s placement. Keep your gas and charcoal grills away from things that can ignite, like wood and other combustible materials. That includes your wooden deck.  

17. Buy A Fire Extinguisher 

According to a survey conducted by ValuePenguin in 2021, 1 in 4 Americans doesn’t have a fire extinguisher at home. But they’re an incredibly useful piece of equipment to have.

While an extinguisher can’t put out a house fire, it’s invaluable for small fires. It can either help put it out or keep it contained until the fire department arrives. The U.S. Fire Administration outlines not only the different types of extinguishers but how to use them, too. You can check out their guide here.

18. Conduct Regular Inspections

Make a habit out of checking your heating and electrical equipment. It’s best to do this on a monthly schedule. That way, you minimize your potential risk for a fire and catch issues early on. Thus, saving you time overall. 

19. Create An Escape Plan

Every homeowner and renter should establish an escape plan in case of fire. Discuss your plan with everyone in the home and designate exits in each room. Once you have your strategy, make sure you practice it from different points in the home.

During your practice, maintain good fire safety habits. For example, check for hot doors with the back of your hand before touching doorknobs and stay low to the ground. Since smoke rises, this will protect your lungs.

The Bottom Line

Fire safety isn’t just a one-day lesson. It’s a habit of vigilance and precaution we should build into our daily life. It may seem overreactive to care about every candle or bent wire. But the results of a fire can be disastrous.

And flames aren’t the only dangerous part of a house fire. You should also learn about the impact of smoke. While it’s easier to clean smoke damage from your home, it’s a health hazard you should be aware of.

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Ashley Kilroy

Ashley Kilroy is an experienced financial writer. In addition to being a contributing writer at Rocket Homes, she writes for solo entrepreneurs as well as for Fortune 500 companies. Ashley is a finance graduate of the University of Cincinnati. When she isn’t helping people understand their finances, you may find Ashley cage diving with great whites or on safari in South Africa.