House fires are more common than you may realize, with potential fire starters like light bulbs, laptops, and lint traps hiding in plain sight throughout your home, disguised as harmless, everyday necessities. Are you guilty of one of these bad habits that could burn your house down? Read on to find out.
Misusing Electric Blankets
A warm and cozy electric blanket is a welcome comfort in the cold of winter, but it also poses a potential fire hazard if used improperly. Never allow pets to snuggle up on top, and don't pile extra covers over the electric blanket, because excessive heat buildup may lead to fire. Keep your electric blanket at its lowest setting, never bend the coils, and always turn it off in the morning.
Related: 7 Reasons to Choose Zoned Cooling and Heating
Neglecting Appliance Recalls
During the last decade, home appliances caused an estimated 150,000 fires each year, and a significant number of these were caused by defective appliances. To keep on top of recalls and prevent disaster in your home, register your appliance with the manufacturer or go to www.recalls.gov to find out if any of your models are on the list.
Lingering Dryer Lint
We all know that emptying the lint screen increases your dryer’s efficiency, but did you know that lint is also flammable? Mixing excessive heat with lint buildup is a recipe for disaster. Clean the dryer vent and exhaust duct regularly, as well as the interior of the dryer frame, to clear away lint and clogs, and reduce the risk of fire.
Letting Your Laptop Overheat
If you own a laptop, you know how hot it can get. When you leave your computer on your bed, couch, rug, or other soft, flammable surface, you run the risk of restricting airflow through the cooling vents, which can cause your laptop to overheat and possibly catch fire. To prevent fires, keep your laptop on a desk or table instead.
Choosing the Wrong Wattage
If you've ever thought to yourself, "It's probably OK to use this 60-watt bulb in a 40-watt socket," you're not alone. You are, however, putting your home at risk. Installing a light bulb with a wattage that is too high for a lamp or light fixture is a leading cause of electrical fires. Always check the light fixture’s maximum wattage, and never go over the recommended rating.
Using Too Many Extension Cords
Extension cords are meant to be a temporary response to a lack of electrical outlets, not a permanent solution. This is why: Connecting a large number of cords for a significant amount of time can cause an overload that leads to a short circuit—which could ignite a fire. If you need additional outlets, hire a qualified electrician to install them, and you'll avoid this problem altogether.
Performing DIYs You're Not Qualified to Do
Americans will spend about $200 billion this year fixing up their homes, and nearly a fifth of this expense will go toward DIY projects. But jobs involving electrical wiring, plumbing, and HVAC units should never be completed without a qualified professional, because gas leaks and electrical sparks resulting from improper installation are a common cause of house fires. Don't put your home and your family at risk by attempting these dangerous DIYs on your own—hire a licensed professional instead.
Believe it or not, built-up dust can be a fire hazard if it collects in and around electronics, electrical sockets, and even floor heaters. By vacuuming on a regular basis, especially behind your electronics, you’ll significantly reduce the likelihood that particles of dust will catch fire due to prolonged exposure to heat sources.
Storing Batteries Improperly
If you store 9-volt batteries in your kitchen junk drawer, you may be putting your home at risk. When loose batteries roll around with other metals, such as screws or paper clips, the two terminals could short out and generate enough heat to ignite nearby flammables. Put a piece of electrical tape over the terminals, or store the batteries in their original packaging to prevent this possibility.
Ignoring Uninvited Guests
Mice and other rodents like to gnaw on electrical wires to control the length of their teeth. Over time, they can remove the sheathing, leaving the wires exposed. Unfortunately, the electric current that travels through the wire generates heat, and in the absence of sheathing this could lead to sparks caused by short circuits, which in turn could ignite the surrounding surfaces. If you suspect a rodent infestation, call a professional exterminator immediately.
Forgetting the Chimney Sweep
Dead birds, raccoon nests, cracked mortar, and built-up creosote are all common causes of chimney fires. The National Fire Protection Association recommends scheduling a professional chimney sweep at least once a year to ensure the safe operation of the chimney. And when you're building a fire in your fireplace, always light it with an approved fire starter—never kerosene. The consequences could be disastrous.
Overlooking the Range Hood
While ovens and cooktops are the most common sources of kitchen fires, range hoods also pose a potential threat. Over time, grease that has built up on the vent hood filter can drip down onto the cooktop, possibly igniting a fire. From there, the flames could easily reach your cabinets, and before you know it, your kitchen could be consumed by fire. Don't let this happen to you! Regularly clean and maintain your range hood to keep your kitchen out of harm's way.
Arranging Furniture Unwisely
If your furniture is too close to your wood stove, it could spontaneously ignite. Pyrolysis, a chemical decomposition of a combustible item, occurs when an object (say, a sofa) is continually exposed to a heat source (a wood stove) and eventually dries out. This leading yet seldom-considered cause of structural fires does not require a direct flame; all it takes is heat and time for ignition to occur.
Leaving Candles Unattended
Candles add ambiance and aroma to any interior, but their soft glow can grow into a blaze far bigger than you planned for if left to burn unsupervised. While you’re away, Fido could knock the votive over, or a draft could cause the flame to flare up and ignite nearby flammable items. Always keep lit candles in sight and out of reach of pets, children, or flammables like drapes. Before leaving the room, use a snuffer to completely extinguish candles.
Cigarettes, pipes, and other smoking materials sparked around 17,200 home fires in 2014; careless smoking practices indoors are all too often to blame. The embers of an improperly extinguished cigarette can interact with newspapers or other nearby flammable items and start a fire. While smoking in bed can cause nearby bedding to go up in flames, especially if the smoker accidentally dozes off while puffing. To avoid a visit from the fire department, only smoke outside, and be sure to pour water on cigarette ashes and butts before tossing them in the trash.
Stepping Away from the Stove
You may think you have enough time to get the laundry out before the onions on the stove brown, but resist the urge to leave the kitchen with the stove still on. A small flame can turn into a conflagration in less than 30 seconds, so keep your feet in the kitchen and your eyes on the stove whether you’re sautéing vegetables or searing meat. If you must step away, turn off the stove before doing so; it won’t take as long as you think to reheat!
Ignoring Loose-Fitting Plugs
If no plug seems to stay put in one of your electrical outlets, it’s likely because the metal contact points in the receptacle have deteriorated and no longer allow for a secure connection. Continue plugging into the shoddy outlet and the missed connection could ignite a spark and cause a house fire as the current moves across air gaps, a phenomenon known as “arcing.” For peace of mind when plugging in, call an electrician to replace the at-risk receptacle right away.
Not Giving Space Heaters Space
The same space heaters that keep you toasty when the duvet alone doesn’t cut it are the culprit in 43 percent of home heating fires and 85 percent of home heating fatalities. When placed too close to other combustible items, those items can get too hot to handle—so hot in fact, that they can catch fire. Only use heaters that automatically shut off when knocked over, and park them no less than three feet from any item that can burn, be it clothing or bedding.
Leaving Traces in the Toaster
Every time you brown bread or a bagel in the toaster, they shed crumbs that fall into the bottom of the appliance. During the next toasting cycle, these same crumbs can heat up and catch fire, and your toaster, along with the kitchen, could, well, be toast. If your toaster has a removable crumb tray, regularly unplug and cool down the toaster, take out and empty the tray, and wash it with warm soapy water to prevent crumb build-up. If the unit doesn’t have a crumb tray, unplug it and then gently tip over and shake it to get rid of most of the crumbs.
Piling Up Dirty Rags
A wood stain can bestow the perfect finishing touch on a DIY furniture project. But later on, that pile of oil-soaked rags you tossed in the corner could trigger the perfect storm: Left unattended, those rags are a very real fire hazard, as they could oxidize and spontaneously combust, causing a house fire. To dispose of oily rags properly, place them in a metal can that's been filled with water, and cover it with a tight-fitting lid, or lay them flat outside to dry.
Adjust these bad habits now to avoid a dangerous situation in the future.
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