Top Eight Causes of House Fires and How to Prevent Them
When it comes to fire safety, we often forget about the dangers around us in our own homes. It took a near kitchen fire to realize how unprepared I was if a fire ever broke out.
Since then, I have done a lot of research to find out the most common causes of home fires and what I can do to prepare myself.
What are the most common causes of home fires?
- Falling asleep while smoking
- Faulty home heating systems
- Space heaters placed too close to flammable materials
- Chimney fires
- Kitchen Fires
- Clogged dryer vents
- Electrical Fires
1. Smoking is not only bad for your health but one of the leading causes of house fires
Many people know that cigarettes are the nations leading cause of preventable deaths, but most people don’t know that it is also the leading cause of fatal fires.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, cigarettes are responsible for almost 25% of all
Often, the nearly 1000 deaths a year are not just the smokers who fell asleep but innocent children and family members.
Cigarettes are designed to stay lit until consumed, so a dropped cigarette can burn through a couch cushion or the mattress creating toxic gasses, rendering the sleeping victim even more unconscious and helpless.
2. Faulty home heating systems
Heating equipment fires are the second leading cause of home fires, and almost half of all home heating fires occur in December, January, and February.
Gas furnace fires can be caused by having flammable objects too close to your furnace.
I have been in many homes where people use the furnace rooms as storage rooms, storing everything from suitcases to bags of clothing and toys directly next to the furnace.
If you have a gas furnace take a look under it, you will see a fire burning inside it, and that’s how the water is heated, so having anything flammable next to it is extremely dangerous.
Another example of a furnace fire is a central air furnace that is not maintained, causing the motor to overheat and catch on fire.
Take simple steps to ensure your motor doesn’t overheat as a fire hazard and as unnecessary repair costs.
The most important and easiest thing to maintain is the air filter. Having a dirty air filter not only makes your furnace run inefficiently but also makes the motor work harder than it has to and causes it to overheat.
Dirt built up around the motor can act as insulation and cause the motor to overheat.
Faulty parts and bad wiring can create excessive voltage fluctuations and tight bearings.
Tight or worn motor bearings can create excess friction when dry and eventually catch on fire, so the motor bearings need to be regularly lubricated.
3. Space heaters place too close to flammable materials
According to the NFPA, 4 out of 5 home heating-related fires are caused by space heaters.
A space heater works by heating a metal or ceramic element to a high temperature. This high temperature is then passed into the room by convection, some space heaters have a fan, and some do not.
A typical space heater designed to heat a small room can use about 1500-2000 watts of power or 15 to 20 Amps of current. That’s the equivalent of leaving 15 to 20 100 watt lightbulbs on.
The heating element on a heater is burning hot.
Anything flammable that comes in contact with it can easily catch on fire, so if you have to use a space heater, make sure you keep it clear of anything flammable and inspect the electrical cord because the cord also gets very hot.
A cable that’s damaged can create sparks and cause a fire.
4. Chimney fires
You can prevent chimney fires by cleaning your chimney at least once a year to avoid soot build-up by a professional chimney cleaning company.
A chimney fire is the burning of residue deposits, also known as soot or creosote, on the inner surface of the chimney tiles, flue liners, or stovepipes.
5. Candle fires
According to the National Fire Protection Association, candle fires are one of the leading causes of home fires. The top three days are Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day, and New Year’s Eve.
Nearly 58% of home fires started when there was something flammable near the candle, so place candles on a surface with nothing else around it that is flammable.
- Use candle holders that are wide and stable. Ensure you secure the candle inside the candle holder by first dripping melted wax inside and then inserting the candle, so the candle doesn’t fall out.
- Never put a candle on a table cloth. If a candle falls over on a table cloth, chances are a fire will grow too quickly for anyone to put it out.
- Don’t leave children alone in a room with a lit candle.
- Lighting a candle in the bedroom is a recipe for disaster and accounts for 38% of home fires.
- The bedroom is probably filled with the most flammable materials in the whole house and the most likely place where you will fall asleep with a lit candle.
What can you do to prevent candle fires?
- Don’t use candles at all. That should solve the problem.
- Don’t use candles in your emergency kits. We have a lot of power failures where I live, and I used to light candles whenever the power went out, but I threw out all the candles, and I bought LED emergency lights that use very little power and last a long time.
- If you’re like me and use candles only for emergencies, then you can look at some of the emergency lighting products found on Amazon.
If you like to use candles on the dinner table, think about using fake candles that you often see at restaurants, they look pretty natural, and you can buy a pack of them for a few dollars.
6. Kitchen Fires
Your kitchen has all the right tools for starting a dangerous fire, gas, heat, and an open flame. Two out of five home fires start in the kitchen while food is cooking, and in most cases, fires start when food is left cooking unattended.
Cooking oil or grease can quickly overheat and burst into flames. Since it is usually done in an open pan, it can grow in a matter of seconds, spreading to anything that’s nearby, making it almost impossible to put out.
Although our first instinct is to fight the fire, we only have a few seconds before a kitchen fire can grow out of control.
Hence, it is essential to understand your limitations, especially when you’re not prepared with the right tools such as a fire extinguisher.
Trying to put out the fire yourself can make things worse three out of five people injured during cooking fires were injured while trying to put the fire out themselves.
How to prevent kitchen fires
Keep the stove clear. Keep anything that can catch on fire— oven mitts, paper towels, plastic bags, food packaging away from the stove, especially when you’re cooking with oil or grease.
Keep an eye on it when you fry food. If you have to walk away from the stove, turn it off.
7. Dryer vent fires
Most people have never cleaned their clothes dryer vent or are even aware that they have one. This is why there are so many cases of dryer vent fires.
What is a dryer vent? Your dryer produces a lot of heat. The heat has to be released to the outside of the house through a vent on the back of the machine.
Clothes dryers produce a lot of lint, which is very flammable. Some of the lint is captured in the dryer’s lint trap, but some of it passes the lint trap and goes out through the dryer vent.
The dryer vent usually exits the house directly behind the dryer. In this case, the vent duct is only a few feet long, with only one or two bends in it until the hot air exits the house.
But, in homes where the vent is much longer, sometimes 10 to 20 feet, the excessive length of ducting allows the lint to settle in the duct.
Over time enough, lint can build up until the duct is completely clogged, and when the hot air has no way to pass through, the flammable lint gets overheated and catches on fire.
Because of this, it is recommended that dryer ducts be cleaned at least once a year. The duct must be disconnected from the dryer and cleaned with a shop vac with a long hose to clean the vent.
You need to get behind the dryer to clean the vent and disconnect the duct from the dryer.
Cleaning only takes a few minutes to complete, but if you don’t feel like cleaning it yourself, you can hire someone to clean the vent for you. Some companies specialize only in dryer vent cleaning.
8. Electrical Fires
According to the U.S Fire Administration, electrical fires accounted for 24,000 home fires in 2014. Most electrical fires happen in December and January because of the increased use of space heaters and lights.
The top 5 causes for electrical fires are:
- Faulty appliances and outlets: Most electrical fires are caused by loose electrical outlets and loose internal wiring inside old devices, creating sparks and arching.
Arching occurs when the prongs from an electrical cord do not make a tight connection with the electrical outlet and cause large sparks.
- Extension cords: Extension cords are not designed to be used as permanent wiring in your home.
Running extension cords under carpeting or through walls is against electrical codes because the outer casing can be easily cut or damaged, exposing the inner electrical wires creating sparks that will cause a fire.
- Light fixtures: Exceeding the light bulb wattage rating on lighting fixtures will cause the fixture to overheat and catch on fire.
All light fixtures have a maximum wattage warning near the bulb socket. Do not screw in a 100 watt light bulb on a fixture rated for 60 watts.
- Space heaters: Portable space heaters are often placed too close to curtains, beds, couches, and rugs. Space heaters get so hot that they can cause instant combustion to any flammable material.
Always place space heaters far away from anything flammable. Also, inspect the space heater’s electrical cord to ensure it’s not frayed or damaged.
- Outdated wiring: Overloading the electrical circuits is one of the most common causes of home fires.
Installing circuit breakers that don’t match the wiring current rating will cause the wires to overheat inside the walls and catch on fire.
Circuit breakers are designed to shut off the electricity to your electrical appliances should there be a short in the device or wiring. An old faulty circuit breaker that doesn’t Pop is extremely dangerous.
How can you protect your family from a fire?
Smoke detectors do not prevent fires from starting, but they prevent people from dying!
According to the National Fire Protection Association, an average of 1,450 fire deaths occur every year in homes with missing or non-functioning smoke alarms.
Take a look around your house. How many smoke detectors do you have? If you don’t have a smoke detector in every room, you don’t have the proper fire protection.
Smoke detectors only work when smoke enters their smoke chamber, so it is essential to have a smoke detector in every room.
If you don’t, that means a fire that starts in one room would only be detected when the smoke reaches the nearest smoke detector, and by that time, it could be too late to get help or save your house from burning down.
Unfortunately, most homes do not have the proper smoke detectors installed for adequate protection.
In new construction homes, you must have one smoke detector installed in every bedroom, one outside every bedroom, and at least one smoke detector on each floor, including the basement.
For the best protection, you can install smoke detectors that connect to your home security system and are monitored by your alarm company.
The alarm company will dispatch the fire department if a fire starts, which is crucial when you’re sleeping or away from home.
Get fire extinguishers
Every home should have at least three fire extinguishers. They should be mounted on a wall for easy access. One in the kitchen mounted somewhere near the stove, one in the laundry room in case of a dryer fire, and one in the garage.
Having a fire extinguisher on hand is useless unless you know how to use it. Read the instructions when you purchase it and understand what you need to do if there is a fire.
The last thing you want to do is read the instructions while you have a grease fire in your kitchen, and if you’re not comfortable using a fire extinguisher, don’t try to be a hero.
Just get everyone out of the house as quickly as possible.
How much does it cost to install smoke detectors in your home?
The average cost of installing wire smoke detectors in your home by a licensed electrician is about $150 to $250, depending on where you live, the type of smoke detector is installed, and the level of difficulty of the installation.
Installing battery-operated smoke detectors is much less expensive because they don’t require hiring a licensed electrician. You can buy battery-operated smoke detectors for about $25 to $60 on Amazon.