Friday, 4 May 2012

Protecting Your Home from Fires: An Essential Guide

For many, a fire in the home is a nightmare scenario to be avoided at all costs. Beyond simply being quick to spread and difficult to control, house fires are capable of doing an extraordinary amount of damage in a remarkably brief period of time. As if this were not trouble enough, however, fires can also prove deadly to those living in a home if not quickly controlled or prevented outright.
In light of these concerns, the most important question for many homeowners looking to prevent or protect against house fires should be an obvious one: what kinds of measures can be taken to ensure that a home receives the best possible protection against fires and the factors that contribute to them? The following tips and strategies are intended to serve as a comprehensive beginner’s guide to home fire prevention, and should ultimately allow for greater security and peace of mind year-round. 
1.       Ensure that your home has a sufficient number of working smoke alarms. There should be a minimum of one smoke alarm on each level of the home, and the batteries in the alarms themselves should be checked and replaced on a regular basis. Test your smoke alarms once a week (by pressing the “test” button which comes included on most commercially available units), replacing the batteries every year or as needed.
2.       Take appropriate care when using electrical appliances or plugging them into wall sockets. Plugging too many appliances into one or several sockets could cause them to overheat, which in turn could lead to an increased risk of fire. For this reason, it is essential to ensure that the minimum possible number of appliances is plugged into each socket, and that any changes in this regard are carefully monitored. Appliances themselves should also be inspected regularly, as any wiring that is old, damaged or otherwise faulty could ostensibly trigger a fire under the right circumstances.
3.       A home’s electrical systems should also be checked regularly by a certified electrician to ensure that they are safe and up to current standards. Older homes should be given particular attention as their wiring may have become defective with age, and any necessary replacements of these systems should be made immediately.  
4.       Candles and wood-burning fireplaces should be used with extreme care, if at all. When burning candles, check to see that the area around them has been cleared of potentially flammable materials such as paper, oils and plastics, and ensure that they are securely fastened to a holder or frame that will prevent them from falling or tipping over. It is also advised never to leave candles burning when leaving a room, even if only for a moment. When using a wood-burning fireplace, attentiveness is equally important; homeowners may want to take additional precautionary steps, however, such as laying down a flame-retardant mat in front of the fireplace and ensuring that the chimney is cleaned on a regular basis.
5.       As more than half of all house fires are believed to be cooking-related, take particular care when using ovens, stovetops, toasters or any other cooking appliances that could start a fire if handled improperly. Many cooking oils are also flammable, so try to remember this when using them around the kitchen.
6.       If you or anybody in your household smokes, make certain that all butts are properly stubbed out and disposed of. Smoking in bed or in a reclined position elsewhere in the house is also highly inadvisable, as it increases one’s likelihood of falling asleep with a still-lit cigarette and starting a fire.
7.       Although one should not make a habit of expecting the worst, being prepared for it is often a good idea. Keeping a working fire extinguisher within easy reach is advisable even at home, where fires are rarely predictable or expected. You should also make a “fire escape plan” in the event that you or anyone else in your home knows exactly what to do and how to get out of the house in the event of a fire. “Bedtime checks”, in which appliances and other potential sources of concern are checked immediately before bed, are also recommended and will help to ensure the greatest possible degree of safety and protection for you and those living with you.

For many homeowners, following these simple steps might well prevent the unthinkable from happening and, with it, the loss of life or valuable property. As damage from house fires can also result in expensive home insurance claims and increased insurance rates in the years that follow, being smart about fire safety could save you far more than simply the cost of your personal effects as well. At the end of the day, we must face the facts: being fire-safe just makes sense, and the sooner we come to realize this, the better.      


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