There are many websites out there that highlight the 5 or 10 most common causes of fire, and I urge everyone to take all fire safety tips very seriously. However, since this is a website about building and home maintenance I wanted to take a minute to highlight some of the things that you or your local handymen can do to help protect your home from fires.
Let’s start with the number one cause of fires cooking. The majority of things involved with cooking fires a handyman cannot help you with other than to tell you “Don’t leave fires unattended even fires from a stove.”
However, there are a few things we can help you with. Number one is making sure that your hood vent or microwave is installed and vented properly and cleaned and maintained on a regular basis. These things do not need to be done by professional HVAC contractors but they do need to be done properly. I have gone to many houses where someone has hooked up a hood fan with flex vent which can trap grease in the folds and is made of plastic, not the best material to carry hot air out of your home.
Secondly have your handyman check that your over the range microwave is high enough off the stove many times this requires raising the cabinet; however, since this is so much work many homeowners will just install it where it is leaving very little room between the stove and the microwave. This dimension is usually determined by the microwave brand; however, I recommend at least 15”.
Finally, as a preventative measure have your handyman install a fire extinguisher in your kitchen and check or maintain it on a regular basis. They are relatively inexpensive but can be invaluable if a larger fire breaks out in your home. If you think they look unsightly talk with your handyman about finding a way to disguise it in your home. You could build a face frame and hide it in the wall or mount it inside one of your cabinets.
Home Heating Fires
Moving on to the second leading cause of fires we’ll be talking about your homes heating. Whatever you’re using to heat your home it’s important to have it inspected at least once a year.
I know many people who think in terms like, “if it aint broke don’t fix it” however, when it comes to your furnace or boiler you should not be taking this approach.
If you’re not trained to inspect your furnace you should not be doing it as more than likely all you’ll be able to do is clean it out and glance at the wires. The bottom line is 33% of fires caused by your central heating unit are caused by an unclassified mechanical failure or malfunction, 11% by an automatic control failure, 6% by a backfire and most of the remaining percentages by similar electrical or machine control malfunctions. Unless you feel capable of inspecting the units for these types of malfunctions leave this job to the professionals.
One thing you can do to help with keeping your furnace from starting a fire is to change the filter. This should be done as often as necessary you should be able to tell the difference between a clean and dirty filter and if not have your local handyman explain what to look for. The dust and debris collected by these filters is flammable and if not changed regularly can build up and over time find its way close to the flames.
Dryer Vent Fires
The next topic is dryer vents and this is something that you can help to prevent by making sure you empty that pesky lint trap. Simply emptying the lint trap every time you do a load of laundry is a big help in keeping the fan and pipe free of lint. The leading cause of dryer fires igniting was failure to clean them.
There are some additional things that need to be done on a yearly basis to ensure your dryer isn’t waiting to start a fire. First off take the panels off to expose the portion of the dryer that directs the air through the fan and out of the house. This is usually a toe panel underneath the front of the dryer where the lint trap is. After removing this panel there is likely a cover over the fan and connected to the lint trap, remove this as well. Now take a shop vacuum and vacuum out all the lint stuck in all the little nooks around your dryer. Take a moment to check near the heating elements as well and make sure there is nothing flammable near them.
Finally you need to check the vent pipe as well. If you have a flex pipe on your dryer I suggest replacing it with solid venting although not required think about all the little nooks inside that pipe it’s a lint trap on its own. If you cannot get away from a flex vent then I suggest replacing it with new every year or two or as required. If you have a solid pipe then you need to clean it or at least check it once a year. Take the vent cover off on the exterior and shine a flashlight inside the pipe to check it and do the same where it connects to the dryer.
Next you’ll need to find a way to clean the pipe if it needs it in some cases you may be able to stick a shop vacuum far enough into the pipe to clean it out or you may need to get creative with the tools you have available. If you suspect a blockage that you cannot reach then it’s time to call in the professionals who can either dismantle the pipe or use special tools to clean the whole thing out.
My final topic is smoke alarms. These pesky things can be a royal pain if you cook like my dad used (don’t tell him I mentioned that) to but there invaluable if a fire starts while you’re sleeping. Did you know According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 74% of reported home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke detectors or no working smoke detectors. Each year, there are over 3,000 fire deaths, 13,000 fire injuries and $6.7 billion dollars in property damage. Make sure you have a smoke and C02 detector on each level of your home including the basement. It is recommended that you install 1 between sleeping area(s) and the rest of the house, and then above the base of any stairs on other floor levels. After 1994 it was required that one be located in each sleeping area. Not only is it important to make sure you have smoke and C02 detectors installed but also make sure to test them and there batteries every year. These can sometimes be difficult to reach so call your local handyman to help with this yearly task. We can also add some new ones in if your missing any.