Spring has sprung, and it is a good time to think about residential fire safety. Although we easily overlook it, our homes can be like powder kegs one spark from disaster. As you tackle spring cleaning and contemplate the hot summer ahead, this is the right time to run through your home fire safety checklist.
When you step into the garage, your main concern might be the mouse droppings along the wall or the holiday decorations that you never got around to storing properly. But if you look closer, you’re likely to spot a large inventory of potential dangers. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the substances that off-gas from many industrial products. Those acrid, chemically smells that we associate with new mattresses and “new car scent” are two examples that you may be familiar with.
Other sources of VOCs include leftover paint, gas cans, and solvents. Not only can these bother our noses, they can also create a risk of explosion. If your store these items in a stuff corner of your garage, you may be inviting disaster. Ask whether you really need to store these items long-term or if you can bear to give them up. (You’re not really going to do anything with those carpet remnants, are you?) If you can, contact your local trash collector to learn what kinds of items can be “recycled” in some way to keep them out of the landfill. If you must keep them around, use shelving (rather than stacking items directly on top of one another) and ensure that there is adequate spacing among items so that airflow can dissipate the VOCs.
Wildfire and Wiring Walkthrough
Aside from spontaneous explosion due to VOCs, the other likely sources of fire hazard in a residence are wildfires from without and electrical fires from within. A short walkthrough of your property a few times a year is a good way to protect against both dangers.
Wildfire risk is easier to manage in a suburban or rural area – if your neighbor’s house is fifteen feet from yours, you have to hope that they are being fire smart…and the same for their other neighbor, and the next person, and so on down the block. If your home is significantly separated from your neighbors’ you can adopt the practices of Defensible Space. This is a landscape concept that holds that the first 30 feet around your home should have minimal fuel. The rule of thumb is “low, lean and green” for any vegetation. In the range of 30 to 100 feet is the “reduced fuel zone,” where regular pruning and cleanup removes combustible, dead wood from trees and bushes and creates separation among canopies.
The wiring walkthrough can be done in any setting. This is especially important if the dwelling is 40 or more years old. While it isn’t exactly a wiring issue, you should have a smoke detector in each bedroom of your home (at a minimum). Replace any appliance electrical cords or extension cords that have become frayed, corroded, or otherwise damaged. If any of our electrical outlets or light switches are loose, hot to the touch, or have intermittent voltage (i.e., flickering), have them replaced at once by a professional electrician.
Always keep one or more fire extinguishers in a known place and in working condition. If this must be stored within reach of children, make sure that they understand it is not a toy. There are many different kinds of fire extinguishers specialized for different “classes” of fires. The different kinds attempt to extinguish the flames by targeting one or more of the sides of the “fire triangle” (fuel, heat, and oxygen). Specialty fire extinguishers exist for a wide variety of industrial fires, but most residential needs can be met with an ABC class extinguisher. Remove any pins, stoppers, or other seals, aim the hose at the base of the flames, and compress the handle to apply a generous amount of the flame retardant.
We hope that these tips have inspired you to add a measure of safety to your spring cleaning. If the worst has happened and you or a loved one have been hurt, you should contact a fire accident lawyer in your area.