Fire Safety for Homeowners and Renters

Fire safety for homeowners and renters alike begins with reliable smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers, and home escape plans. But even the best prevention methods may not protect you from the destruction of their property. Always have insurance that covers the loss of your home and valuables in the event of a fire. If you rent, you may want to consider renters insurance to cover the contents of the house that belong to you. Enter your ZIP code below to find affordable coverage today.

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Natasha McLachlan is a writer who currently lives in Southern California. She is an alumna of California College of the Arts, where she obtained her B.A. in Writing and Literature. Her current work revolves around insurance guides and informational articles. She truly enjoys helping others learn more about everyday, practical matters through her work.

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Former Licensed Agent

UPDATED: May 2, 2021

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Every year, housefires claim lives and cause billions of dollars in damages. Whether you own your home or are renting, fire safety is an important factor to consider. It is imperative to practice fire safety, have a fire extinguisher available and ready to use if needed, and have a plan that includes safe escape routes that can be used to evacuate the home if a fire erupts.

Fire Safety

There is a lot of preparation that can be done to prevent fires as well as equip people living in the home with ways to control or escape from any fires that do start.

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are one of the primary ways to alert people to a fire. Approximately two-thirds of all deaths from housefires happen in homes that either do not have a smoke alarm or do not have one that is functioning. This is why it is vital, not only to have a fire alarm but also to test it regularly and change the batteries before they have a chance to stop working. 

There are two primary types of fire alarms to choose from:

  • Ionization alarms are the more affordable ones and are better at detecting flames.
  • Photoelectric fire alarms are better at detecting smoldering fires but come with a higher price tag.
  • When it comes to safety, it makes sense to get a dual sensor alarm that incorporates both.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Carbon monoxide detectors are also important to have installed in a home. While they do not always detect fire directly, they do signal if there is a carbon monoxide build up in the air. These types of buildups can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. They can also lead to potential fires if not detected.

CO in the air is often a sign of a malfunctioning chimney, water heater, or space heater. It can also indicate an excess of car exhaust and even open flames.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are vital for situations in which it is still possible to get small contained fires under control before they spread and become big ones. It is advisable to have a fire extinguisher on each level of your home, including rooms where fires are more likely to occur, such as the garage and kitchen.

It is important to learn how to use the fire extinguisher ahead of time so that you do not spend time learning while a fire grows.  The basics of using a fire extinguisher include:

  1. Pull the pin.
  2. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  3. Squeeze the trigger.
  4. Sweep from side to side until the fire is extinguished.

Fire extinguishers will generally only work for ten to twenty seconds before they empty. Do not try to use a fire extinguisher for large or spreading fires. If a room starts to fill with smoke, exit immediately.

Cooking Safety

Cooking is the number one cause of housefires. These are most often caused by unattended cooking.

To reduce the risk of fires, remember the following:

  • Do not leave the kitchen while using a microwave, oven, fryer, or any other cooking appliance.
  • Make sure the stove and oven are completely turned off when you are done using them.
  • Keep flammable items, including paper towels and dish towels, away from hot surfaces.

Electrical and Appliance Safety

Electrical items and appliances can also pose a fire risk.

Here are some things you can do to lower that risk:

  • Keep space heaters away from flammable objects or where they can be knocked over.
  • Do not overburden power strips or electrical sockets.
  • Check for frayed wires.
  • Keep cords out reach of children and pets.
  • Have appliances maintained regularly.
  • Remove lint from your dryer’s lint trap and vent.

Candle Safety

While not the number one cause of fires in the home, candles are still a concern.

Here is what you can do to significantly lower the risk of a fire starting from a candle:

  • Do not leave candles unattended.
  • Keep candles on a stable and non-flammable surface.
  • Keep candles away from flammable items – including blankets, furniture, and loose clothing.

Fireplaces and Fire Pits

Fireplaces and fire pits also have the potential to cause a fire.

Here are some things you can do to lower that risk:

  • Keep a flame retardant, fire extinguisher, or water nearby.
  • Have chimneys cleaned and checked annually.
  • Use fire screens and fireplace doors to prevent embers from landing on flammable surfaces.

Safety for Smokers

Smoking accidents are the number one cause of deaths from home fires.

If you smoke, here are some ways to reduce the risk:

  • Make sure that embers are completely extinguished in the ashtray.
  • Get a deep ashtray that is not easy to tip over.
  • Do not smoke in bed or the bedroom.
  • Do not smoke near an oxygen tank.
  • Only smoke outdoors.

Resources:

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Common Causes of Housefires

While a fire can be caused by a variety of accidental means, the most common cause of home fires and injuries is cooking. Smoking is the most common cause of death from home fires, followed by fires caused by heating equipment.

The chance of a fire starting from cooking or candles significantly increases during the holidays.

Resources:

Home Escape Plans

You will only have a very short time to escape a fire in many cases, so it is important that everyone in the house knows how to get out safely and quickly.

This can be done by creating an escape plan and then practicing it regularly:

  • Make sure that your plan includes how to escape each room.
  • Look for at least two ways to exit from each room.
  • Install and include emergency ladders in your plans if they may be necessary.
  • Have a designated meeting spot for everyone outside of the home.

Resources:

Insurance Protection for Home Fires

Always make sure to have insurance that covers the loss of your home and valuables in the event of a fire. If you rent, you may want to consider insurance to cover the contents of the home that belong to you.

Be prepared:

  • Have insurance.
  • Take photographs of the property and your items ahead of time.
  • Keep insurance documents and photographs somewhere safe from fire.

Resources:

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Resources for Kids

It is important to teach children what they can do to prevent fires. It is also vital that they know what to do in case of a fire or other emergency.

The following resources are for children:

Additional Resources

Are you still interested in learning more about housefires, how to prevent them, and what to do in case one occurs? Print out a home checklist from the Loyola University Health System. You may also want to visit the Red Cross for more advice on preventing home fires.

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