Losing your home to a fire is a scary thought, but there are plenty of things you can do to stop a fire before it starts and keep your home and family safe.
Test your smoke detectors.
Properly maintain your smoke alarms by testing the batteries once a month. It’s easy to forget such regular maintenance, but it’s worth setting a reminder in your smartphone’s calendar to help you get it done. If they’re not working, replace them immediately.
Inspect heating sources.
Regardless of what kind of primary heating you have in your home, an annual inspection will reduce your risk of fire.
Change furnace filters regularly to avoid a buildup of dust and lint that can easily catch fire. If you use space heaters, carefully inspect them before and after each use, and place them at least three feet away from anything combustible, such as fabric or paper. Check water heaters as well, especially those that run off gas and have a pilot light. Make sure nothing is close to the heating element.
Keep the stove and oven clear.
Kitchens are the most common places for house fires. To prevent kitchen fires, don’t leave anything flammable near the stove or oven. Make sure curtains don’t hang over the stove, and never rest towels or a cookbook on the stove top. Keep oven and stove cooking surfaces clean and free of debris, especially if heating elements are exposed.
Stay in the kitchen.
Don’t leave a hot cooking surface unattended. Whether it’s a pot on the stove or an electric griddle, you need to be close by. If you have to leave the room, take the pot off the stove or turn off the griddle first. Make sure pot handles are turned inwards at all times so they can’t accidentally be bumped and splatter grease.
Check the dryer.
If you have a gas-powered clothes dryer, have it inspected once a year to make sure all connections are secure. No matter what type of dryer you have, always clean out the lint filter after a load is finished. Regularly check behind and around the dryer for pockets of lint or items of laundry that have fallen under or behind. Use a shop vacuum or hire a professional to thoroughly remove all lint and debris from the lint trap area and all external dryer vents at least once a year.
Maintain electrical cords.
Regularly check the condition of electrical cords and watch out for frayed wires. Repair or replace damaged cords immediately. Electrical cords can produce heat, so don’t trap them under a rug or between furniture and the wall. When you’re not using them, unplug any appliances that feel warm to the touch when connected to power, including phone chargers.
Use extension cords sparingly as a temporary fix, as they can deteriorate quickly with continuous use. Make sure any extension cords you use are rated for the wattage of the device they’re powering.
When it comes to power strips and surge protectors, don’t try to cut corners. Trusted name brands are best.
Know your shutoffs.
Know the locations of your power shutoffs for all utilities, including gas lines, circuit breakers, appliances, and fuses. Post clear shutoff directions next to each one. Keep a non-sparking tool handy for turning off gas.
Store flammable products properly.
Many household cleaners and cosmetic products like shaving cream and hair spray are flammable. Keep flammable products away from heat, including exposure to sunlight. Designate a cool, dark cupboard for flammable products and make sure all family members know where they go.
Keep combustible materials like paint and gasoline in their original containers. Store tightly-closed paint containers upside down so the paint creates a seal. Gasoline should be stored in containers designed for gasoline. If a container develops a crack or leak, transfer its contents into a new container made of the same material as the original.
Be careful with candles.
Never leave candles unattended and always keep them away from flammable items like blankets and curtains. Place candles in secure, tip-proof holders and extinguish them before leaving or going to sleep. If you’re afraid you’ll forget, set a timer on your stove or phone.
Be a conscientious smoker.
Avoid smoking in bed or while lying on the couch so you don’t accidentally fall asleep with a lit cigarette. When smoking outside, never leave used butts on the ground. Always dispose of used cigarettes in ashtrays or other safe receptacles when smoking either inside or outside the house.
Use the fireplace responsibly.
To keep errant sparks from escaping, install a durable metal fire screen in front of your fireplace. Don’t leave a fire unattended. Give ashes ample time to cool down before disposing of them. Always place fireplace ash in a dedicated metal container that isn’t used for any other household refuse. Have your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year to prevent the buildup of creosote and other materials that could cause a chimney fire.
Prevent wildfires from outdoor fire pits, bonfires, and burn barrels.
Make sure your fire pit or burn barrel is constructed of nonflammable materials, like stone or concrete. Avoid having fires on windy days or after long periods of dry weather. Never leave the fire unattended—it only takes one spark to ignite a wildfire.
Keep a bucket filled with water or a hose connected to a water source nearby. Extinguish the fire by thoroughly dousing it with water, and place your hand over the ashes to feel for any remaining warmth.
Keep fire extinguishers handy.
Some homes come equipped with fire sprinkler systems, but fire extinguishers stocked in key areas of your home is the next best thing. At the very least, keep one in the kitchen and others near high-risk areas like a fireplace. Remember to put the fire extinguisher far enough away from the potential fire source that you’ll be able to grab it safely without getting too close to the stove or fireplace.
Regularly review the instructions and make sure all members of the household know how to use the extinguisher properly. Post the P.A.S.S. acronym near the fire extinguisher:
If you’re not able to invest in fire extinguishers, a box of baking soda works in a pinch for grease fires. Generously shake the baking soda over the grease fire to smother it.
Close bedroom doors.
House fires spread quickly when there are no barriers. Something as simple as closing bedroom doors at night can create passive fire protection that buys precious seconds when it counts.
Know your location.
Few people realize that emergency operators can’t always trace your location if you call from a cell phone. They can estimate your location based on signals bouncing off cell towers, but firefighters still need an exact address. It’s important for every member of the household to understand how fire response works and to know your address.
Fire damage can be devastating, but learning how to prevent fire can minimize the risk of fire in your home. Make these practices part of your fire safety plan and review them regularly. For more information about fire safety, and to learn more about what do during a house fire, check out our Fire Safety Resource Guide.
Kasey is a trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and a freelance writer with expertise in emergency preparedness and security. As the mother of four kids, including two teens, Kasey knows the safety concerns parents face as they raise tech-savvy kids in a connected world, and she loves to research the latest security options for her own family and for SafeWise readers. Learn more