February 25th, 2016 10:58 AM by NE TEXAS REALTY GROUP
Modern Homes, Faster Fires: 10 Ways To Fireproof
Your New Place
By Jill Russell | January 27, 2016
Follow these tips to help
minimize your home's fire risk.
From updating dodgy wiring to fire-resistant siding materials, here’s what
to do to keep your home safe.
Every year, home fires
kill more than 2,500 people and injure another 12,600 (to the tune of an
estimated $7.3 billion in property lost!), according to the Department of Homeland Security. And some recent reports
note that newer homes, and the furniture in
them, ignite faster, due to an abundance of synthetic materials — in
everything from carpet backing to upholstery stuffing. (Open floor plans could play a role in
fires spreading more quickly too.)
The good news? Fires can
be prevented with precautions and fire safety measures, whether you’re looking
at homes for sale in Santa Fe, NM, or shopping around for a
condo in New York, NY. Here’s what to look out for in your new home, plus steps
you can take to minimize fire risk once you move in.
1. Don’t forget the
Let’s start with the
obvious: Fire extinguishers are an essential defense. When you’re moving in and
outfitting your new home, extinguishers may not
be on the top of your list, but they should be. Household extinguishers are
classified as A, B, or C. The rating denotes what type of fire they work best
on — trash/wood/paper (A), flammable liquids (B), or electrical equipment
(C). Many home extinguishers are rated all three, and the main distinction is
size; choose one that is easiest for you to maneuver. Experiment with using a
larger extinguisher so that you’ll be comfortable wielding it in the event of a
To be as safe as
possible, you should have one extinguisher in an easy-to-grab spot on every
floor. At the very least, have one in the kitchen, where fires are most likely
to start, and one in the garage, where flammable materials like oil and gas are
kept. Then make note of the expiration dates on all extinguishers and replace
or refill them regularly.
2. Confirm smoke alarm
In terms of early
warnings of fire, a smoke detector alarm is the most critical tool. Laws vary
by state, but most newly constructed homes (generally built after 1994) must
have hard-wired smoke detectors throughout (battery-operated
detectors are permissible for older homes). If you have questions, double-check
with your builder or city fire marshal.
Both hard-wired and
battery-operated detectors should be tested at least twice a year to make sure
the alarms are functional (and the batteries don’t need to be replaced). One
easy way to remember? Check your detectors every time you change the clocks for
daylight saving time.
3. Check all wiring
According to the National Fire Protection Association
about 48% of home electrical fires involve “electrical distribution or lighting
equipment.” No doubt, wiring is an important consideration before buying a
home. Whether your home is very old, has been recently renovated, or is new
construction, it’s never a bad idea to hire a licensed electrician to check all
wiring and outlets just to make sure there’s no chance of overload or sparking
(preferably before your closing date!). Also check for animal damage outside
and around the house — mice and other rodents often chew on electrical
insulation. Damaged wires are a fire hazard and need to be replaced.
4. Keep your fireplace
clean (and safe)
There’s nothing better
than cozying up to a toasty fire, especially in colder climates, but fireplaces require some know-how. Burning wood
creates creosote, which over time builds on the lining of the chimney and can
become a fire hazard. Once you move in, get in the habit of scheduling an annual
appointment for a chimney cleaning.
Don’t assume you’re safer
with a gas fireplace, though. Gas fireplaces are not free from hazards: Those
glass coverings can heat up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and pose a major burn
risk for toddlers or pets. If you decide to go with gas, make sure to invest in
a screen barrier to go on the outside of the glass. And if it’s not properly
maintained, a gas fireplace can be susceptible to explosions or sudden fires if
there is a gas leak or malfunction — so be sure to get it checked annually,
preferably by a technician whose company sells the brand you have.
5. Take care with space
In those rooms or areas
of the home that just don’t seem to warm up, a space heater can be a cozy
option — but safety precautions are especially important here; the NFPA
attributes one-third of all home heating fires
Get an updated model with fire safety features (like a thermostat auto-shut-off
feature) and keep it out of the path of kids, pets, and flammable materials.
6. Mind the dryer (and
The laundry room should
be part of every fire safety inspection. Check that the dryer has a
functioning, connected exhaust vent that’s in good shape and not crushed or
restricted. And then there’s the lint trap. A clogged one can cause the dryer
to overheat and catch fire, so make sure you clean it out after every load.
7. Use more natural
Homes constructed many
years ago primarily used natural building materials such as wood, plant fiber,
metal, and cotton fabric. New-construction homes incorporate more plastic into
their building materials and furnishings, and unfortunately, plastic burns more
readily and at a higher temperature than natural materials. While it’s not
practical, possible, or even sensible to replace all of the potentially
flammable building materials in your home, you can choose your decor and
furniture — and that can make a big difference in a fire. If possible, try to
limit the amount of plastic and synthetic fibers you bring into your home by
purchasing wood furniture, cotton drapes and shower curtains, and carpets that
meet federal safety guidelines for flammability.
8. Landscape smart
If you’re moving into a newly constructed home, you have a clean slate
for landscaping; keep safety in mind when planting. The area around your home
should be clear of dead grass and leaves (in California, where wildfires are
common, local laws mandate a 100-foot clearance). It’s also good
practice to trim branches that hang too low or too close to the home, and choose “fire-wise” plants.
9. Put a safe roof over
When looking for a new
home or updating an older one, don’t forget the roof. Recommended noncombustible materials for exterior roofing
include slate, concrete tile, metal, and fiberglass. If you’re building,
consider fire safety in your material selection: Roofing materials such as
asphalt shingles and wood shakes are less resistant to fire than the
aforementioned materials. If you live in an area where wildfires occur, it’s
extremely important to have a fire-resistant roof: Burning debris buoyed by
heated air and wind can easily land on your house. Don’t give it the
opportunity to ignite.
10. Inspect windows and
Windows and walls can be
key in protecting your home from fire (again, especially if you live in a
wildfire-prone area). Most experts recommend fire-resistant house siding
material made of brick, plaster, or stucco, and tempered or double-paned glass.
Once you’ve moved in, repair or replace any damaged or loose windows and
And one last tip: Talk to
your insurance agent about any fireproofing you do — it might
lower your premium so you can recoup some of the costs.