In the United States, fire departments respond to a fire every 88 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Cooking is the most common cause of home fires and smoking is the leading cause of death from home fires. But there are many other ways that you could inadvertently start a fire. These are some of the hidden sources of fire in your home.
All batteries pose a fire hazard, even those with a weak charge, according to Craig Gjelsten, vice president of operations at Rainbow International, which restores fire, water, and mold damage. Gjelsten says 9-volt batteries are the main culprits in the fires. Since their terminals are very close, they can easily short out. “I recommend a battery storage case or just leaving the batteries in their original packaging rather than being loose.” Gjelsten also recommends storing batteries in an upright position and placing electrical tape over the ends of each battery, regardless of battery type. Other tips include not storing batteries in metal containers or placing them near keys, steel wool, or other metal objects. “Also, be sure to store the 9-volt batteries separately,” says Gjelsten.
Damaged electrical equipment and dust bunnies
If your electrical equipment is damaged, it can easily overheat and start a fire, according to Tom Wallace, a certified master inspector at Home verification inspections in Riverview, FL. “It’s important to regularly inspect your home’s electrical equipment for damaged or frayed cords and plugs,” advises Wallace. You may be thinking that you would know if you had damaged or frayed cables and plugs. But that is not necessarily the case. “Power cords or extension cords hidden behind a bed or table that are repeatedly struck can wear out,” explains Bill Timmons, director of residential product marketing at Legrand. It also cautions against walking on cables, for example under carpets or on your hardwood floors, as this can also result in damage. And don’t forget about the dreaded dust bunnies. When they form around electronic devices, plugs and heaters, Gjelsten says they can ignite and cause a fire. “Regularly vacuum dust near plugs, cables, and appliances, including cracks and areas behind furniture,” he says.
“Your coffee maker could overheat and start a fire,” says Battalion Chief Raymond Williams of the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Service Department in Birmingham, AL. He says coffee makers with plastic components can get too hot if you forget to turn them off. Although most coffeemakers with digital clocks have a two-hour automatic shutdown, there is still enough time for them to overheat. Additionally, several years ago, Kenmore recalled 145,000 coffee makers due to faulty wiring. So, to be safe, don’t leave your coffeemaker unattended and manually turn it off when you’re not using it.
It’s probably not surprising that gasoline or kerosene can inadvertently start a fire. “These flammable items should be stored away from heat sources in appropriate containers,” says Wallace. “Containers must be labeled and easily identifiable.” However, there are other flammable liquids that can also start a fire. For example, a woman in Texas opened a bottle of nail polish remover and left it near a candle in an unventilated room. The bottle ignited and suffered third degree burns.
If you’ve ever held your laptop on your lap for an extended period of time, you know it can get really hot. However, you may not have known that it can actually catch fire. “Laptops can get quite hot during normal operation. When placed on a blanket or similar surface, the batteries can overheat and cause a fire in the house, ”says Gjelsten. He cautions against leaving your laptop on any kind of soft surface. If you don’t have a home office or desk, consider using a laptop stand.
Do you know the term “overlap”? It occurs when the power of the bulb is too high for the lamp, and Gjelsten cautions that the overlap can cause a fire in the home. For example, if you use a 75-watt bulb in a 40-watt lamp, it will overlap. “If the lamp is not checked, stay below 60 watts to be safe,” says Gjelsten. He also advises caution with compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). “Avoid using CFLs when the base of the bulb is enclosed by the fixture, such as with track and recessed lights,” he says. “If your CFLs are burning out early and are brown at the base when removed, the bulbs are overheating.” Gjelsten recommends a cooler option, like LED.
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As you tidy up your laundry room, don’t forget to clean your dryer vent regularly. You should empty your dryer lint filter before every load, according to Dave Lavalle, founder of Dryer Ventilation Assistant. “Although the dryer vent and duct system carries air and lint out, some of it is trapped in the lint filter,” he explains. And since lint is very combustible, it says the screen needs to be emptied before every charge. “Also, on a quarterly basis, clean the lint filter with soapy water,” he adds. This is because detergent, fabric softener, and other materials can build up and create a transparent film. Also, you should check the vent cover on the outside of the house to make sure there is no mulch or bird / rodent nesting materials. “Lastly, check out the flexible tubing transition duct that connects the dryer and the duct,” says Lavelle. Every two months, he recommends checking behind the dryer to make sure the transition duct has not been crushed or broken.
Other hidden sources of fire
Gjelsten also cautions that if you leave stacks of newspapers and magazines too close to a heat source, they can ignite. “And if you use blankets and heating pads, don’t put the cord between the mattress and the box spring,” he adds. Gjelsten also advises against using these heating elements anywhere other than the lowest setting. “Plus, throwing that unused charcoal bag in the nearest storage closet is never a good idea.” It says wet charcoal can ignite and cause a serious fire. Instead, Gjelsten recommends storing the bag in a metal bucket or trash can with the lid tightly closed.