According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the United States has the highest death and injury rate due to fire in the world. Each year, more than 4,000 people die because of home fires, with more than 500,000 home fires happening across the country. The vast majority of those fires happen in one- and two-family houses and apartments. The Ed Hunnicutt Team wants to help you take measures to protect yourself as you search for a new home. If you are in the market for a new home, you need to know how to inspect the home to ensure it is fire safe. Here are some tips from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to help you protect your family from the dangers of an unsafe home.
Wood Stove Hazards Checklist
Wood stoves can add ambiance and warmth to a home, but they can also create a fire hazard. If the home you are looking at has a wood stove, here's what you should look for:
- See if the chimney and stovepipes are clean and in good repair.
- Check if the stove is sitting on a noncombustible floor protector.
- Determine if the stove is located no less than three feet away from curtains, furniture, firewood and other combustibles.
- Check for an ash removal container with a tight-fitting lid.
If you notice any of these red flags, and choose to buy the home, do not use the wood-burning stove until the problems have been addressed. Be sure to follow label instructions on the stove and local building codes to ensure it is as safe as possible. Never use your stove to burn trash, as this can cause overheating. Finally, never use flammable liquids in a gas stove, as they will cause explosions.
Fireplace Hazard Checklist
Like a wood stove, a fireplace can create a cozy atmosphere, but it also can represent a fire hazard. Here's what you need to look for:
- Check to see if there is proper space between the fireplace and combustible flooring, typically with a hearth or tile near the fireplace.
- Inspect for a clean, functioning chimney, and a flue that opens.
- Determine if flammable materials are stored near a working fireplace.
- Inspect gas lines to gas fireplaces for proper function.
If the home's owners indicate the fireplace is not being used, still check for these hazards. You may wish to use the fireplace when you move in, and you need to know that it is safe.
Kitchen Fire Hazards Checklist
Cooking equipment is responsible for more than 100,000 fires a year, leading to close to 400 deaths and thousands of injuries. As you inspect a home you are considering purchasing, carefully inspect the kitchen for obvious fire hazards. In the kitchen, look for these things:
- Ensure that combustible or flammable items are not stored above the stove.
- Inspect wiring and outlets for kitchen appliances.
- Open the stove to see that it is clean and free of food buildup.
- Look for combustible liquids, which should not be near the stove.
- Check for flammable or combustible items, which should not be within a few feet of the stove and oven.
Keep in mind that many of the fire hazards in a kitchen will be added once you move in. While the kitchen is a dangerous place and poses a high risk of fire, the National Fire Protection Association warns that much of that danger comes from cooking and baking, which is not something you can inspect before buying a home.
Flammable Liquid Risks
Another common risk found in many homes is the presence of flammable liquids. Gasoline, acetone, benzene, paint thinner, alcohol, lighter fluid, contact cements and lacquer thinner are all common household liquids that can create a fire risk. As you inspect the home, watch for these hazards:
- See if flammable liquids are stored in a properly labeled, tightly closed, nonglass container.
- Check if flammable liquids are stored far from heaters, water heaters, space heaters and other sources of flame or heat.
- Ensure that flammable liquids are stored out of the reach of any children.
If you make an offer on a house that has these visible and serious risks, the home may be at risk before you even have a chance to move in. Remember, these liquids create invisible, explosive vapors that can linger even after the contents have been moved, and the home's owner may leave behind some of these, creating problems later.
Smoke Detector and Fire Escape Checklist
A properly functioning smoke detector and a clear way of escape in the event of a fire are crucial protections to help avoid injury if the home does experience a fire. Here are some ways to check the safety and function of these important safety protections:
- Test the smoke detector to ensure it has fresh batteries.
- Look for one smoke detector on every level of the floor.
- See if the detectors are near bedrooms, mounted on the ceiling or 6 to 12 inches below the ceiling on a wall.
- Ensure that the smoke detector is loud enough to be heard whether awake or asleep.
- Ensure all major areas of the home, including all bedrooms, have a large enough door or window to serve as a fire exit.
- Ensure that a way to get to the ground floor is accessible from second-floor windows.
Wiring Fire Hazards Checklist
One of the most important areas to inspect when buying a home is the home's wiring. Your inspector will take a close look at the wiring that is visible, but you should look as well. Worn, old, outdated or improper wiring can ignite a fire without warning, and you need to be aware of what you are buying in your home. Here's what Guide One Insurance reminds homeowners to look for:
- Look up the home's wiring to see the type, with armored cable, plastic-cheated double wires and aluminum wiring being preferred over knob-and-tube wiring used in homes before the 1930s.
- Inspect visible wiring for signs of wear.
- Check that all switches, outlets and junction boxes are properly covered.
- Inspect light fixture bases, which should show no signs of damage and be secured well to the ceiling.
- Ensure that the circuit breaker is not missing breakers and does not have openings between breakers.
- Ensure that no tape or other securing measure is holding the breaker in the "on" position, preventing it from tripping when needed.
- Check to see that the electrical panel box is properly indexed.
- Determine whether any combustibles are located close to electrical equipment.
- Test all outlets and switches. Outlets that do not function can be due to wiring problems that are a hidden fire hazard.
If you have questions or concerns about the home's wiring, check with a certified electrician to ensure that there is not a safety risk. Since much of the wiring is not visible, you will need an expert's help.
Remember, fire safety is not something to take lightly. Before you make an offer on a house, make sure you have taken measures to ensure it is free from common fire hazards. Then, when you move in, practice fire safety to protect your new home and those you love who are enjoying it with you.