WINTER AND HOUSE FIRES: THE RISKS AND HOW YOU CAN PREVENT THEM
Winter brings an idyllic promise of cozy nights with a muted world of snowfall just outside your door but it also brings an increased risk of fire inside of your home.
As a homeowner, the threat of a house fire can cause a great deal of stress and worry. So as we head into the heart of winter, knowing the risks and what you can do to protect your home is not only good home-owning practice but lets be straight, it’s just plain smart and self-preserving.
Half of all home fires occur in the months December, January, and February. Of those fires, an estimated 1 in 7 involves heating equipment. Ensuring proper and safe use of appliances and equipment is one of the first steps to avoiding a fire.
Below we will explore where home fires are most likely to occur, how they are started, and what you can do to stay fire smart.
WHERE FIRES ARE LIKELY TO OCCUR
Unsurprisingly the kitchen is, throughout the year, the #1 place a fire is likely to start with a staggering 50% of home fires beginning there.
Often the heart of a home, the kitchen is where we gather and prepare meals using a variety of gas and electrical appliances. In the flurry of activity you might find that you forget to turn an off an appliance or leave the area unattended. Unfortunately a house fire won’t reason that you had to step away for X,Y, or Z. The best practice to always have someone attending the kitchen while anything is being cooked.
In the winter months with dropping temperatures some homeowners even use their ovens as a heating source for their homes. (Insert screaming emoji).
You guys, ovens were not designed for this purpose. Their intent is to be used for short periods of time. They do not vent out air or fumes like a boiler or a furnace in your home does.
In addition to fire danger, gas ovens pose an even bigger risk because of carbon monoxide which is a byproduct of combustion. Using a gas oven to heat your home can not only start a fire but it can also increase the amount of CO in the house to unhealthy levels.
Lastly, ovens don’t circulate heat so technically they aren’t even efficient for the purpose of heating your home. So if you’re using your oven to heat your house, stop doing it.
Bedrooms are our own personal safe spaces from the world. We close drapes over the windows, light a candle, and drift off to dreamland. At any time during the year, bedrooms are where about 15% of electrical fires begin.
During the winter months, this risk increases due to additional comforts such as electric heating blankets and space heaters. If you didn’t know, space heaters are a leading cause of heating equipment home fires and are responsible for 4 out of 5 home fire deaths (YIKES).
You can establish good fire safety habits in your bedroom by:
- Turning off electric heating blankets when they’re not in use.
- Turning off space heaters before leaving a room or going to bed.
- Extinguishing and covering candles before falling asleep.
- Making sure that there aren’t curtains, bedding, or flammable materials touching heating sources.
In New England, a fireplace is often the aesthetic and functional centerpiece of a living room. It gives us ideas of cozy nights and a place to hang our stockings during the holidays. Fireplaces and wood burning stoves also require more maintenance than just cute décor and the occasional dusting.
With heating equipment being the second leading cause of house fires, chimneys are the most likely type of heat source to cause a fire. Lack of regular cleanings can lead to a creosote (black, tar like substance) build-up which increases the risk of a chimney fire and even exposure to toxic fumes in your home (EEK).
Additionally, leaving a lit fireplace unattended also puts your home at risk of a fire as well as leaving flammable items within its vicinity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
At this point you might be giving that aromatherapy candle on your desk the evil eye or considering retiring your space heater, but rest assured house fires are easily preventable when the right precautions are taken and learning the risks is the first step.
So how can you prevent fires in your home this winter?
We recommend starting to check off your preventative measure boxes prior to the start of the season and throughout the season test your detectors, be diligent about proper heat equipment usage and maintenance, and make sure everyone in your home is knowledgeable of any fire escape plans.
Below we’ve curated a fire inspection checklist along with some additional tips to help keep you and your home safe from fire.
FIRE INSPECTION CHECKLIST:
- Install smoke detectors on every level and in every bedroom in your home.
- Install CO detectors within 15 ft. of bedrooms and on every level of your home.
- Test all detectors once per month and change the batteries every six months.
- Store a fire extinguisher on every level of your home and replace old extinguishers.
- Have your chimneys, fireplaces, and central furnaces professionally inspected and serviced once a year.
- Check that electrical outlets are designed with the correct circuitry for heavy-duty appliances such space heaters.
- Keep anything flammable at least 3 ft. away from heat sources such as fireplaces, space heaters, radiators, ovens, etc.
- Ensure all portable gas and oil heaters have proper ventilation.
- Create a fire escape plan.
- Never use an oven to heat your home.
- Smoke detectors are best placed on ceilings and also acceptable high on a vertical wall.
- Don’t leave lit candles unattended.
- Place a fireplace screen in front of fireplaces to keep embers from escaping.
- Store ashes in a metal container away from your home.
- Always stay in the kitchen if you’re actively cooking.
- Clear lint from your dryer after or before each use.
- If a fire extinguisher is needed, remember P.A.S.S. – Pull the pin with the nozzle facing away from you, Aim low towards the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever, Sweep the nozzle back and forth.
If you are concerned about any areas in your home, contact a professional for advice and service. Additionally, most local fire departments offer fire safety training, tips, and education.