Preventing house fires should always be a priority, but if you're like most Americans, you think you're at very little risk of ever experiencing a house fire. This attitude, however, can be almost as dangerous as fire itself. Outside of the former Soviet Bloc, Americans have the highest fire death rate in the industrialized world. In fact, in the past year there were 530,500 structure fires that caused 3,000 civilian deaths, 15,350 civilian injuries and $10.6 billion in property damage, according to the National Fire Prevention Association .
As a former professional home inspector who has been through thousands of homes, I've become a skilled observer of the obvious--and not so obvious--sources of house fires. When outside temperatures drop, fire risks increase. To keep your family safe and prevent house fires, consider the following.
Healthy heating equipment
Faulty heating equipment (including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and portable heaters) is the second leading cause of fire deaths. To prevent a fire in your house, get your heating equipment in tip-top shape:
Smart smoke detectors. All smoke detectors are the same, right? Wrong! Old-technology smoke detectors have an ionic sensor that sets off the alarm when it "sees" fire. Newer photoelectric sensors, around for the last couple of years, are more sensitive to slow, smoldering fires. Together, these two detector technologies provide a greater degree of protection and prevention against household fires.
Expect to pay about $30 for a combination photoelectric and ionic smoke detector. If your budget is tight, however, don't wait until you can afford the more expensive units. Ionic sensors alone are still effective and can be purchased for about $10. An important smoke detector feature to look for is a reset or "silencer" button. This lets you shut down the detector for about 10 minutes when nuisance alarms occur, like burnt toast. Once the smoke clears, the unit goes back to full alert.
Effective extinguishers. Before you buy so much as another potted plant to fill up your house, make sure it's protected by adequate fire extinguishers. Like smoke detectors, there are different types for different fires. The kitchen is the most common source of household fires so make sure it is equipped with one rated Type B-C. This means it is effective in fighting grease, as well as electrical fires. Type B-C extinguishers are also appropriate for the garage or workshop. For the rest of the house, purchase a combination unit rated Type A-B-C, meaning it will cover fires fueled by wood, grease or electricity. At least one extinguisher per floor is recommended for the prevention of house fires.