You might be wondering why a home insurance provider is providing a guide on home fire safety. The reason is simple: We care about protecting you and your home.
While OpenHouse Home Insurance helps recover what you lose in a fire, wouldn’t it be better if you never had a fire at all?
Or, if there is a fire, that you save everyone involved and as much of your home as possible?
While the chances of experiencing a house fire are low, they are even lower when you practice the right habits and precautions.
So, we’ve collected information and guidance you should know about protecting your home in one place.
In this guide, you will learn:
- Good Habits for Home Fire Prevention
- How to Detect a House Fire
- How to Extinguish a House Fire
- How to Escape a House Fire
Why Prepare for a Home Fire?
Home fire safety has always been important, but over the years, homes have actually become more flammable. This is because of the materials they are built with and the amount of combustible materials we fill them with.
Now, the chances of experiencing a fire are still low, but when there is one:
- A person has only 2 to 3 minutes to escape.
- And the average cost to repair a home ranges between $2,867 and $32,270.
Learning how to prevent house fires and preparing your home for one could save your life, or at the very least, a lot of money.
Good Habits for Home Fire Prevention
Luckily, preventing fires can be simple if you know what to do.
Some areas of your home, certain events and even some family members are more likely to cause a fire than others. A great place to start with fire safety at home is to understand these more common hazards and how to protect your home from them.
Below, we have grouped fire prevention tips under common household risks. If you practice these tips and make them habits, you will significantly reduce your chance of experiencing a house fire.
For Heating Elements and Appliances
- Leave 3+ feet of space around anything that’s hot or heats up.
- Keep space heaters, stoves and fireplaces away from clothing, bedding, drapes, fabric and paper.
- Keep grills away from siding, deck railings and overhanging branches.
- Turn hot items off when you’re not using them.
- Don’t leave portable heaters unattended. (Bundle yourself up and turn them off before bed.)
- Place heaters on non-flammable surfaces like tile and never on rugs or carpets.
- Consider using portable heaters that turn off automatically if they fall over.
- Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.
- Never use a stove range or oven to heat your home.
- Make sure fireplaces have a glass or metal screen to keep fire and burning debris inside.
- Clean dryer lint after every use.
- Never put synthetic material such as rubber, plastic, foam or pieces of cloth used to sponge up flammable liquids (previously washed or not) in the dryer.
- Don’t leave lit candles unattended.
- Don’t light candles before bed in case you fall asleep.
- Use flashlights when the power is out instead of multiple candles.
Smoking materials cause 5% of home fires but 21% of home fire deaths. If you’re not ready to quit, be sure to protect yourself with the following tips.
- Only smoke outside.
- If you smoke inside, never smoke in bed.
- Use a deep ashtray on a sturdy surface, far away from anything flammable.
- Douse cigarette butts and ashes with water before throwing them away.
For Electronics and Electrical Wiring
- Fix or replace frayed extension cords, exposed wires and loose plugs.
- Make sure electrical outlets have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
- Avoid overloading outlets or extension cords.
- Never cover wires with a rug.
- Unplug small appliances when you’re not using them, like toasters, toaster ovens and slow cookers.
- Leave space between televisions and computers that can overheat and anything flammable.
- Never use portable generators indoors, and only refuel them outdoors in ventilated areas.
For Other Flammable Items
- Keep household cleaners and everyday cosmetic items like hairspray away from sources of heat.
- Keep gasoline and any other flammable liquids tightly sealed in metal containers and stored where they won’t overheat.
- Avoid leaving outdoor debris or junk near a furnace or heater.
Cooking accidents are the leading cause of home fires, but you can’t stop making food! Fortunately, you can use the following fire safety tips to help prevent a cooking-related incident at home.
- Stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food.
- Stay in the house when simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food. (Use timers to remind you of the food cooking when you leave the kitchen.)
- Keep pot and pan handles turned inward on the stove, so no one accidentally bumps them.
- Keep flammable items like potholders, hand towels and plastic away from the stove.
- Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.
- We love your pets, but make sure they stay off cooking surfaces and countertops so they don’t accidentally knock anything onto burners.
- Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease buildup.
- Check that oven and stove burners are off before going to bed or heading out.
- If a fire starts in a pan, place a lid over it and turn off the stove. Keep the lid in place until the fire is gone and everything is cool.
- Never pour water on grease fires. This will spread the fire.
During the Holidays
Winter holidays are a bright and cheery time of year and one of the easiest times to start a fire. Decorative lights, candles and Christmas trees are all flammable. In fact, candle fires are four times more likely during the holidays.
Keep celebrations joyful with the following holiday fire prevention tips.
- Keep candles, trees and decor 3+ feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators and candles.
- Consider using an artificial tree as they are less likely to catch on fire. (If you use a real tree, keep it well-watered and discard it once the needles lose their freshness and start breaking easily.)
- Buy a sturdy tree stand and keep pets and children from playing where they could knock it over.
- Never use broken holiday lights.
- Unplug all lights before leaving home or going to bed.
Fire Prevention and Safety for Kids
Young children under 5 are more at risk in a fire, and curious children are often fire starters themselves. Here’s how to keep your kids safe:
- Keep matches, lighters and other fire-starting objects out of reach. Teach children from a young age not to play with fire.
- Don’t let kids play around candles and space heaters.
- Invest in child-proof stove and oven knob covers to prevent curious kids from turning them on.
- Teach children what smoke alarms sound like and what to do when they go off.
- Teach them how to call 9-1-1.
- Teach them not to be scared of firefighters. (This could make saving their lives easier.)
Fire Prevention and Safety for Pets
Pets cause around 700 house fires a year, with some estimates as high as 1,000 a year. Pets are also obviously unable to learn home fire safety. Still, they are family too. Here’s how to keep their precious, furry lives safe:
- Keep pets away from space heaters and other hot, flammable items.
- Consider flameless candles with little bulbs. (Pets can accidentally knock candles over, and cats are notorious for doing so intentionally).
- Make sure your pets don’t chew on electrical cords.
- Use crates or baby gates to confine young, untrained pets while you’re away.
- When leaving pets home alone, keep them near the house entrance where firefighters can easily find them.
- Use a pet alert window cling on your front window with information about the number of pets in your home to alert firefighters.
- Use child-proof stove and oven knob covers to protect pets from accidentally turning them on.
- Include your pets in your fire escape plan. Add them to your exit route, and train them to come when you call.
How to Detect a House Fire
Now, it might be hard to remember all those fire prevention tips at first, and sometimes accidents happen.
The first step to staying safe if a fire does start is detecting it as soon as it starts. If there’s a kitchen fire when you leave the room or a pet accidentally knocks over a forgotten candle while you sleep, you want to know as soon as possible.
The good news is that there are two types of home fire safety equipment made just for this purpose: smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.
Using Smoke Alarms
Smoke alarms are a vital type of home fire safety equipment and the biggest must-have. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the risk of dying in a house fire is 55% lower if you own working smoke alarms.
Also called smoke detectors, they detect when there is smoke from a nearby fire and make a loud beeping noise to alert everyone in the home.
What Kind of Smoke Alarm Should You Get?
When purchasing smoke alarms, there are 3 sensor types to consider: ionization, photoelectric and dual-sensor (a combination of the other two). We recommend getting dual-sensor alarms if you can. Research shows that ionization sensors are slightly better at sensing flaming fires, while photoelectric sensors are slightly better at sensing smoldering fires.
If you live in a newer home, you may also have the option to use smoke alarms that hardwire into your home’s circuitry. While these don’t rely on batteries for power, we still recommend using the battery backup in case the power goes out.
We also recommend using interconnected smoke alarms, whether they are wired or wireless. When one alarm goes off, all of them will—increasing your chances of hearing the alarms early on.
If you or someone in your family is hearing or vision impaired, there are also smoke alarms available to increase their safety.
For people with poor eyesight, get a smoke alarm that pauses for a small amount of time between beeping cycles. This pause allows them to listen for the instructions or voices of others.
For people with poor hearing, you can get smoke alarms that use vibrating pads or flashing lights to alert them of a fire.
How to Use a Smoke Alarm
- Install smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside and outside bedrooms. (If a fire occurs inside a bedroom, dangerous gases can result in heavier sleep.)
- Connect your interconnected smoke alarms so that when one sounds, they all do.
- When your smoke alarms go off due to a fire, exit the building immediately.
Occasionally, you may come across nuisance alarms that go off often without a fire. Steam from the shower or smoke from cooking can trigger them. You must never disable your smoke alarms, even if they are super annoying. Instead, use the hush button to quiet the alarm or get a different one.
Smoke Alarm Maintenance
- Keep smoke alarms clean of cobwebs and dust.
- Test smoke alarms monthly by pushing the test button. If they don’t beep, change the batteries.
- Replace batteries once a year or as soon as your smoke alarm starts chirping to let you know the batteries are dead. (Never disable a chirping alarm).
- Replace any smoke alarm over 10 years old.
Using Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Fires can also release carbon monoxide (CO). CO is an invisible, odorless and colorless gas that can cause various symptoms, including death. Carbon monoxide alarms detect excessive amounts of CO in a given area and alert you similarly to smoke alarms.
It’s a nice benefit that they also detect CO from other sources.
What Kind of Carbon Monoxide Alarm Should You Get?
You can buy CO alarms that are battery operated or that plug into a wall. Again, we recommend using the battery backup in case your power goes out.
How to Use a Carbon Monoxide Alarm
- Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home, including outside of bedrooms.
- If the alarm ever goes off, move outside to fresh air immediately.
CO Alarm Maintenance
- Test carbon monoxide alarms monthly by pushing the test button. If they don’t beep, change the batteries.
- Replace any carbon monoxide alarm that is over 7 years old.
How to Extinguish a House Fire
We have mainly discussed exiting the house if there is a fire because this is typically the safest route. Sometimes, though, you can put the fire out before it spreads.
Home fire safety equipment including fire extinguishers, fire blankets and fire sprinklers all help extinguish fires.
Extinguishing the fire can be a great option to minimize damage to your home and reduce the stress associated with experiencing a fire.
Still, you should only attempt to put the fire out if it is small, and you can quickly access one of the mentioned pieces of fire safety equipment before it spreads.
Using Fire Extinguishers
You’re likely familiar with the idea of putting fires out with a fire extinguisher.
Before we get into the types of extinguishers and using them, please note that you should only use a fire extinguisher if all of the below are true:
- You have had training in how to use an extinguisher.
- The fire is confined in a small space and isn’t growing.
- The room is not full of smoke.
- Everyone else has exited the building.
- Someone has called the fire department.
Extinguishing a fire yourself before heading to safety can be a serious matter, especially if you have never used one before. You can receive training on how to use a fire extinguisher properly from your local fire department.
What Kind of Fire Extinguisher Should You Get?
Fire extinguishers are rated A, B, C or D.
You can get multi-rated extinguishers, and we recommend buying one rated A-B-C. This is because A, B and C ratings together will extinguish most household fires, including those caused by common household items, flammable liquids and electrical equipment, respectively.
D-rated extinguishers fight fires caused by combustible metals like aluminum or titanium and should only be used by professionals.
How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
- In case of a small fire, follow the acronym PASS:
- Pull the pin with the nozzle facing the fire
- Aim low towards the base of the fire
- Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side
- If the fire does not immediately go out, drop the extinguisher and evacuate.
When deciding where to keep your fire extinguisher, make sure to keep it away from heat sources and, if you can, mount it in a visible area. If you only own one extinguisher, the kitchen is a good place to keep it. If you own more, keep the others near exit points.
Fire Extinguisher Maintenance
Replace fire extinguishers that are over 12 years old. Check your fire extinguisher gauge monthly to ensure it’s still pressurized and in the green zone. You will also want to check the canister for any cracks or dents.
Using Fire Blankets
Fire blankets help smother small fires quickly. You see, fire needs oxygen to burn, and fire blankets block access to the air.
You may use a fire blanket for a sudden kitchen fire or if someone’s clothes catch fire.
How to Use a Fire Blanket
- Hold it in a shield position, and wrap it around your hands for protection if possible.
- Place it completely over the fire to smother it out.
- Once the fire is out, leave the blanket until it cools and you’re sure the fire won’t reignite.
Using Home Fire Sprinkler Systems
Fire sprinkler systems are not mandatory like the equipment discussed so far, but they are a great way to increase fire safety in the home and potentially extinguish a fire before it gets out of hand.
Sprinkler systems are made up of small sprinklers placed along the ceiling throughout your home. High temperatures from a fire will break the casing on sprinklers, triggering them to release water.
What Kind of Fire Sprinkler System Should You Get?
If you’re interested in using a fire sprinkler system in your home, look for a qualified installer that adheres to the National Fire Protection Association’s codes and standards.
You may also ask the installer if they can connect the sprinkler system to your alarm system, so it can notify the fire department of a fire if you’re not home.
Fire Sprinkler Maintenance
When you have a home fire sprinkler system installed, ask the installer to show you how to do the following:
- Inspect valves (monthly)
- Inspect tanks (monthly)
- Inspect sprinklers (monthly)
- Test pumps (monthly)
- Test water flow (every 6 months)
If you buy a home that already has fire sprinklers, you can hire a professional to inspect the system to ensure it works and is on.
How to Escape a House Fire
If a fire does begin to escalate, leaving your house and calling the fire department is the safest option. Any fire can cause a panic, so it’s important that everyone in your home knows the fastest way out.
This is easy to accomplish with the help of a fire escape plan.
Creating a Fire Escape Plan
To make a fire escape plan, simply draw your home’s floor plan on a piece of paper. Then, establish at least two exit points for every room (in case one exit is blocked).
If your home has an elevator, don’t plan to use it as it could shut down.
You can include windows in your evacuation plan, but you will want to invest in fire escape ladders if your home is more than one story tall. (We discuss these a little further down.)
If you live with someone who needs extra assistance, like a young child, the elderly or someone with a disability, plan for someone to stop by their rooms on their exit route.
Overall, an excellent fire escape plan:
- Provides everyone with 2 exits.
- Accounts for anyone who needs assistance.
- Gets everyone out within 2 minutes.
- Includes an outside meeting spot for everyone to meet up once they escape.
- Includes a communication plan if someone can’t make it to the meeting spot for any reason.
Once you create your plan, follow these fire safety tips to ensure your plan works and to make escaping easier:
- Don’t use windowless rooms as bedrooms.
- Ensure no windows are stuck and that everyone can quickly remove screens and open any security bars.
- Keep bedroom doors closed at night while you sleep to help prevent the spread of fire and smoke.
- Cut down on clutter, so there are fewer items to feed a fire.
- Ensure your house number is readable from the street at night, so the fire department can easily find your house.
Sample Fire Escape Plan
The image below shows just how simple a fire escape plan can be.
But once everyone knows where to go, it’s a good idea to review what to do in a fire step-by-step, including fire safety procedures like checking for hot door handles and crawling.
Here’s an example of a step-by-step escape plan that you can use for your own home.
- Yell fire as loud as you can to help alert everyone else in the house.
- Cover your nose with your shirt to avoid inhaling smoke.
- Follow your escape plan, using one of your two exits. (Never grab valuables on your way out; your life is more important.)
As you escape:
- Don’t open doors that feel warm to the back of your hand. Warm handles mean there could be fire on the other side. Instead, use your secondary exit.
- When you open doors, open them slowly and prepare to shut them quickly if heavy smoke or fire is present. Close doors behind you to slow the spread of fire.
- If you must escape through smoke, crawl under the smoke to your exit.
- Stop, drop and roll if your clothing catches on fire. If someone you are with can’t drop and roll, smother the flames with a wet blanket or towel.
If both exits are blocked:
- Keep all doors to the room closed. Place a rolled towel (ideally wet) under the door to help keep smoke and fire out.
- Call 9-1-1.
- Open your window and wave something large and white or brightly colored for help. Sheets are a great option.
Once you’re out:
- Meet at the designated location, or follow your contact plan if you can’t.
- Stay outside. Don’t go back inside for any reason.
Conducting Fire Drills With Your Family
While practicing everyday fire prevention tips will likely protect you, it’s a good idea to practice your fire escape plan in case an actual fire occurs.
Most fire safety professionals recommend doing a fire drill at least twice a year and at different times of the day. This repetition increases confidence and can help boost a child’s memory if you have children.
Fortunately, you can conduct a fire drill in 5 easy steps.
- Explain the drill to everyone and review what they should do in a fire, using your fire escape plan as a guide.
- Check your smoke alarms to ensure they work. If you have kids, have them check with you so that they know the sound.
- Have everyone go to their beds, except for one adult who will start the alarm.
- Sound the smoke alarm, start the timer and have everyone evacuate. Stop the timer after everyone reaches the meeting place.
- Retry until everyone makes it out in under 2 minutes. Answer questions and address any hiccups along the way.
We also suggest taking some extra time to have everyone practice crawling and then feeling their way out in the dark or with their eyes closed. Fire smoke is toxic, and crawling is the best way to limit exposure in smoky areas. Smoke is also dark enough to block out any light.
Another good idea is to practice stop, drop and roll—the best way to put out a fire if your clothing catches. When you drop, cover your face if you can, and roll back and forth or over and over until the flames are gone. Emphasize that running will only make the fire worse.
For some fun ways to motivate children to participate in drills, check out Home Fire Drill Day.
Using Fire Escape Ladders
Most home fire safety equipment helps detect or extinguish fires. Fire escape ladders are a tool that helps you escape a fire. They are used to crawl out of windows when doorway exits are blocked.
If you live in a multi-story house, you should consider investing in a fire escape ladder for every upstairs room with a window.
What Kind of Fire Escape Ladder Should You Get?
While you can install permanent fire escape ladders to the outside of your home, some people may consider this an eyesore. A more appealing and affordable option for many are collapsible ladders that you can store inside. These can be removed and folded out in an emergency.
When choosing a collapsible ladder, you can pick one that you install inside the wall under a window or one that requires no installation and hooks over the window sill for use.
If you get one that you don’t need to install, make sure it can take multiple uses so you can practice with it. Some are labeled for one-time use only. You will also want to make sure it’s long enough for the number of stories in your house, typically 2 or 3.
Some ladders come with anti-slip gripping or higher weight capacities as well.
How to Use a Fire Escape Ladder
- Install a ladder or keep a ladder in every upstairs room with a window.
- If using a collapsible ladder, practice using it. If you have young children, have them practice with adult supervision.
- During a fire, escape using the ladder if the fire or smoke blocks your other exit points.
Fire Escape Ladder Maintenance
- If you have a permanent fire escape outside your building, keep it clear of obstacles or decorations.
- Store any inside ladders in an accessible spot that isn’t blocked.
- Don’t use ladders for anything other than escaping during a fire or for practice escaping.
- Check ladders occasionally to make sure they are still in good condition.
Dealing With the Aftermath of a Home Fire
We have shared that you shouldn’t try to protect your valuables or go back inside for anything during a fire. And you know that you shouldn’t try to stop a fire beyond a certain point, and instead evacuate and leave it to the firefighters when they arrive.
You might be wondering then what comes of your stuff—your home.
Well, there are lockboxes that can protect your most important possessions, and for the rest, there’s home insurance.
Using Fire-Resistant Lockboxes
A fire-resistant lockbox can help protect your valuables if you lose your home in the fire. As the name suggests, these boxes are made to survive most fires and ensure that what is in them does as well.
If you get a lockbox, keep your most important documents, like birth certificates, and your most cherished items, like family heirlooms, in the lockbox at all times.
Home Insurance Has You Covered
If you followed the fire prevention tips provided in this guide and invested in quality smoke alarms (including batteries!), you have gone a long way towards protecting your home from fire.
But should the worst happen, and your home is involved in a serious and catastrophic fire, home insurance is there to back you up.
Home insurance can cover damage and loss due to a fire, including:
- The cost to rebuild or repair your home
- Temporary living expenses if you can’t live in your home for a while
- The replacement of covered personal property and belongings
- Additional coverages to help you get back on your feet
How much home insurance coverage you need depends on a few factors, including the cost to replace your home, the personal property and belongings you own, and other factors such as whether you own a pool or outbuildings.
When you purchase a home insurance policy, make sure to secure enough protection to cover your property. At the same time, don’t spend money on coverage you don’t need and will never use.
When you purchase an OpenHouse Home Insurance policy and own a fire extinguisher or have fire protection, remember to select these money-saving rewards when customizing the rewards section of your policy. There are many rewards available, and your premium goes down with each reward that applies to you, including rewards for home fire safety!