How to prevent fires at home

Most people know the basics of fire safety at home, such as installing a smoke alarm, not leaving burning candles or cooking unattended, and keeping a fire extinguisher on hand. Here are more important home fire safety tips.

  • Have your heating system serviced regularly by a professional, including chimneys from wood-burning fireplaces. Clean around heat sources and keep dust and other flammable items away from ignition sources.
  • Remove lint from your dryer filter after every use. A clogged filter and lint trap make your dryer less efficient, reduces the airflow needed to keep heat from building up in vents, and forces lint onto the heating coils. Also, never let your dryer run when you’re out of the house or when you’re asleep.
  • Keep firewood, piles of leaves and garbage away from the home. If a grass fire starts nearby, these items next to your home could easily become kindling. Never dump hot ashes inside or near your home; keep them in a metal container well away from your house and garage.
  • Avoid using outlet extenders or plug-in power bars: they can quickly overload an electrical circuit. Replace old, damaged or frayed appliance cords, and never force a three-pronged plug into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
  • Store containers of cooking oil well away from the stove. When cooking with oil, never leave the stove unattended. To stop a grease fire, turn off the burner and place a lid on the pan to suffocate the flames, or pour on lots of baking soda. Never pour water on a grease fire or try to carry the pan outside; water splatters the grease and makes the fire bigger, and the pan will be much too hot to carry.
  • Be sure to properly extinguish smoking materials. Smoking materials that are not properly extinguished can smoulder undetected for days before igniting a fire. Never discard smoking materials on the ground or in plant pots.

Prevent potting soil fires

Today’s potting soils contain large volumes of peat moss; and when peat moss gets too dry, it becomes highly flammable. You also find shredded wood, bark, Styrofoam and vermiculite in potting mix. These ingredients also ignite easily under dry conditions.

Here are a few simple precautions to keep your home safer:

  • Water potted plants regularly. Make sure the soil around your potted plants stays moist. Soil in pots dries out faster than soil in garden beds.
  • Keep ashtrays handy. Regular garden soil may extinguish a cigarette, but that’s not true for potting soil. Make sure smokers have a safe place to dispose of their butts, indoors and outdoors.
  • Use clay pots where possible. If a fire breaks out, a clay pot will keep it contained better than other types of pots.
  • Keep potting soil away from combustible materials. For example, firewood, stacks of old newspapers, aerosols, paint solvents, gasoline and cleaning products.
  • Dispose of unused potting soil carefully. Unused soil can dry out quickly and become a fire hazard. If you have any left over, spread it on your garden beds.

Fireplace and wood stove safety

Consider these safety tips before you light your fireplace or wood stove.

  • Have your chimney cleaned twice a year and inspect your flue vents regularly. To prevent creosote from building up in your chimney flue, don’t burn cardboard, trash or green wood.
  • Keep a Class A fire extinguisher on hand. Also, make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are installed in the proper locations and test them regularly.
  • Don’t use gasoline, charcoal starter fluid or other flammable liquids to start your fire.
  • Teach your children to stay clear of hot stoves and burning fires. Never leave young children unattended when you’re operating your fireplace or wood stove.
  • Let ashes cool in a metal container before discarding. They can contain live coals.
  • Store wood safely away from your wood-burning appliance. Check with your local fire department or wood stove manual for proper clearances.

Fireplace owners: Open the damper before you light your fire, and keep it open until the fire has burnt out and the ashes are cool. Use a screen to keep logs and embers inside your fireplace.

Wood stove owners: Have your fire department, building inspector, stove retailer or chimney sweep ensure your stove meets WETT (Wood Energy Technology Transfer) safety guidelines. If you’re installing a new stove, place it well away from walls, furniture, curtains and other combustible material, and make sure it has proper clearance, a floor pad and a ventilation system.

With these precautions in place, you’re ready to enjoy your fireplace or wood stove all winter long.

Learn more about protecting your home with Home insurance from The Co-operators.