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There are many things and activities in a home that have the potential to cause a fire. All should be examined to assure a safe cold weather season. Let's look at some of the hazards and what to do to make your home safer.
First priority is to check your smoke alarms. Test an alarm by pushing the test button. Even the "wired" alarms have a battery as a back up power source. If you have not installed fresh batteries in your alarms in the last six months, do it right away.
As the weather turns cool, everyone begins to think about starting up their home's heating system. If we give it a second thought, we might reflect on the fact that the job of a heating system is to produce heat, and uncontrolled heat can cause a dangerous fire. Since in cold weather we spend much of our time indoors depending on the warmth a heating system provides for our comfort, we know the system needs to be operating safely. And since we're going to be spending so much time indoors, we should be concerned not just with the heating system, but also other components of our home that can promote fires.
Start of course with the central heating system in your home, whether you have electric resistance heat, a boiler, natural gas, propane or oil heat. First, check to be sure the fuel supply is not leaking. For gas lines, sniff along the accessible gas pipes, especially at any joints to determine if there is any gas odor. If odor is sensed, do NOT turn on the system; shut it down and call a licensed service technician. Check along the length of oil lines to be sure there are no fuel oil leaks. If no gas odor or fuel oil leak is detected, turn off the electric service switch that is usually located near the furnace. Check to be sure the gas or oil valve is on. Go to your thermostat and make sure it is set to "heat," and select a temperature higher than the current room temperature. (Note that some thermostats are wired so that the service switch must be on before you can change the settings). Go back to the service switch and turn it on. Within a few moments the furnace should begin to activate. Different furnaces have different cycles they go through as they fire up. For this safety check, if you have a gas or oil furnace, you want to observe that there is no explosive ignition. That is, when the burners come on, you may hear a "Whump," but there should be no flame jumping out of the burner compartment. If there is, shut the furnace down and call a professional technician. Explosive ignition can burn the face of the furnace, and ignite anything nearby. Make sure no flammable materials are stored too close to a furnace on any side. For an electric furnace there are no burners of course, but when the heat strips are on, be sure the furnace cabinet does not get unusually hot, and keep flammable materials away from it as well.
While you're examining your boiler, gas or oil furnace, check the condition of the visible sections of the exhaust flue pipe, including in the attic if it passes through that space. These pipes can get hot. The joint connections should be secure, and the pipe must be kept away from flammable materials, including the structural framing of your home. Different pipes have different clearance requirements. Double wall pipe generally requires two inches of clearance, and single wall pipe requires at least 6 inches. Anything closer than that is a fire hazard. Remove anything too close to the flue. If the flue location needs to be adjusted to allow required clearance from part of the structure, call a professional.
If you have a gas water heater, check its ignition too. Stand a little to the side and adjust the thermostat dial to a higher temperature. The dial is usually located at the bottom of the appliance. As you rotate the dial toward HOT, the water heater burner should come on. Make sure the metal flame shield is in place and that flame does not come out of the burner compartment on the bottom of the unit. If it does, and particularly if there are scorch marks on the outside of the appliance just above the burner access opening, call a licensed plumber to correct the problem. After observing, be sure to turn the dial back to where you started. And like a furnace, make sure there is no flammable material or structure too close to the water heater and its flue pipe.
Do you have any portable electric space heaters in use? Is the heater and power cord in good condition? Or perhaps you have portable kerosene heaters. Extra care must be exercised to keep combustibles such as drapes, rugs, clothing and paper goods away from these devices. These type heaters can easily start a fire if flammable material comes in contact with them.
Now take a look at everything electrical in your home. While you needn't get unduly alarmed, keep in mind that just about everything about the electrical system and devices connected to it have the potential to cause a fire, not to mention shocks, if not kept in good condition. Let's start with the visible parts of the wiring. Run your eyes down the length of all the wiring you can see. That would include wiring in attics, basements, crawl spaces and any unfinished parts of your home. Any wiring that is cracked, frayed or deteriorated in any way is not only a fire hazard, but can be a shock hazard. Are there any wire splices visible? For fire safety, all splices must be inside a covered junction box. Get any deteriorated wiring or uncovered or missing junction boxes repaired by a licensed electrician. Check all switches and receptacles. Are any loose or damaged? Are any switch covers hot? If so, get them fixed.
Examine your electric panel, including any subpanels if you have them. If you have an old panel with fuses, are you sure you have always replaced any fuse with a new one of equal amperage rating? Using a fuse rated higher than the capacity of the wire attached to it is a big fire hazard. Similarly, if you have a panel with breakers and have replaced any breaker with an amperage rating higher than the attached wire's capacity, you have created a fire hazard. With the panel cover in place, you can safely touch around a fuse or breaker. If any are so hot that it hurts to touch it, there may be a problem. If you don't know if the fuses or breakers have been replaced in the past but suspect that may be the case, or something in the panel is very hot to the touch, have a licensed electrician inspect the panel. If your home is more than 20 years old, you should have the panel inspected anyway because over time homeowners tend to add and use more and more electrical devices in their home, and that can overload a panel not rated for the added loads, and that's a fire hazard.
In the cool months, there is less natural light. Our tendency is to want our light fixtures to produce more light to compensate, so it's not unusual to install high-wattage bulbs. That could be a fire hazard. Any time you change an incandescent bulb, look for a label on the fixture, usually on the fixture base, that tells you the maximum watt bulb you should use. Larger wattage bulbs produce more heat, thus can be a fire hazard, so don't exceed the label's warning. If the fixture has no label, use bulbs no higher than 60 watts.
Examine every lamp, radio, TV and other types of appliance cords, power tools and extension cords in use in your home. Include electric blankets in your inspection. These light-weight cords and the wiring in electric blankets are easily damaged and deteriorate over time. Damaged cords are fire hazards. If the insulation on any cord is cracked or deteriorated, have the device rewired if economical to do so, or throw it away and get a new one. Never run electric cords under carpets. Every time current flows through the wire, it heats up a little. If it heats up too much, it can ignite the carpet. Do not use extension cords as permanent wiring. They are too weak to handle any current above their rating. If you attach too many electric devices to extension cords, it will be overloaded, heat up and can cause a fire.
Look around the kitchen. There are a lot of appliances in kitchens with electric cords that need to be examined. Is there anything too close to the cooktop, like cabinets, wall finish, potholders, or utensils? The sides, rear and space above the cooktop requires a safe clearance to insure radiated heat from a burner does not ignite the adjacent surfaces. And keep in mind that when you have a pot or skillet on a burner, some heat travels around the vessel and can push it closer to adjacent surfaces.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.