Fire safety is a hot-button topic (pun intended) — and rightly so. During a recent five-year study by theNational Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to 1,000 home firesevery day, on average. That’s 42 every hour, causing roughly $228 in damage each second.
“The majority of home fires can be prevented by taking some very simple steps,” says Lorraine Carli of the NFPA. Start today by considering all of the little things you do that can put you at big risk.
1. Crowding appliances together
“When you don’t leave space around electrical appliances, you’re not allowing the heat they generate to dissipate,” says Rachel Rothman, Technical Director at the Good Housekeeping Institute. All major appliances should be plugged directly into a wall outlet — rather than using extension cords or power strips to clump them in the same area — according to Carli. “More than one heat-producing appliance in an outlet at a time risks overloading the wiring, putting you at risk for an electrical fire.
Another safety tip: “Sign up to get recall notices on your major appliances at Recalls.gov, ” advises Rothman. “Every now and again products are recalled that have been found to be potentially dangerous due to overheating.”
2. Walking away from food cooking in the kitchen
Cooking (chiefly, unattended cooking) is by far the leading cause of home fires. “It only takes a few seconds for abandoned cooking to catch fire,” says Carli. Frying is the riskiest, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. You may want to avoid the technique on Thanksgiving: it’s the top day for home cooking fires.
3. Daisy-chaining extension cords
“Connecting cords overloads them, which can cause a short circuit that can result in a fire,” says Carli, noting that extension cords are only meant to be a temporary solution. “If you need more outlets, seek a qualified electrician to install some.”
And never assume that your power strip has built-in surge protection. “In general, power strips are not designed to regulate power flow or block surges,” says Rothman. Plugs that do not have a UL, CSA-US or ETL-US mark should be avoided.
4. Making do with damaged or worn out cords
Using compromised cords can cause electric shock as well as increase your fire risk if heat from the wires comes in contact with anything that can burn, says Carli, who recommends replacing any cords doubt. As Bruce Springsteen sings, “you can’t start a fire without a spark.” And in less than 30 seconds, the USFA reveals, “a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire.”
5. Leaving home with an electrical appliance running
“You should never have an appliance on that is not properly tended to, especially if leaving the house,” says Rothman. The exception? Crockpots. “They’re OK,” says Carli, noting that “the food does not get hot enough or boil to cause a big fire concern.”
6. Ignoring the lint that needs to be cleaned out from the dryer
According to the USFA, 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year and cause $35 million in property loss. Thirty-four percent of those blazes were caused because the homeowner didn’t clean the dryer. “Lint that collects on the filter, around the drum, and in the vents, can catch fire from the heat of the dryer,” says Carli. “Without cleaning, the lint builds up and then the heat can’t escape.” Clean your lint filter regularly, but also check your dryer hose for list clogs at least once a year.
7. Leaving a lit candle unattended
It sounds simple but bears repeating considering how much damage even a single votive can do. “Candles can be blown over or knocked over by pets,” says Carli. “Use sturdy holders and extinguish them when you leave the room.”
8. Putting off cleaning the chimney
“Creosote, the oily substance that builds up when you burn things in your fireplace, is a leading cause of chimney fires,” says Carli. “Have chimneys inspected on a yearly basis and cleaned as needed.” But never toss fireplace ashes in the trash before they’re 100 percent cool (and that could take a few days). Rothman advises, “Put water on the ashes to make sure they are really out.”