5 Fire Safety Tips For Your Home

Equipping your home with the right fire safety equipment can help you gain precious seconds in a fire emergency. Be sure your home includes the following equipment, that you (and your family) know how to use it.

What to Include in Your Home Fire Safety Kit

1. Smoke Alarms
The single most important piece of fire safety equipment you can have in your home is a smoke alarm. A properly working smoke alarm can cut your risk of dying in a fire by half.1 Be sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your house, especially outside rooms where family members sleep. Test and clean them with a vacuum every month, and replace the batteries twice a year. And install new smoke alarms every 10 years.

2. Automatic Fire Sprinkler System
It’s important to note that an automatic fire sprinkler system won’t necessarily extinguish every fire that starts in your home. But it will reduce the amount of harmful smoke and gases so you can get out of the house. Some sprinkler systems can also be connected to your alarm system, so it’ll call the fire department if a fire starts.

3. Fire Extinguisher
You should have at least one fire extinguisher in your home. Extinguishers with A-B-C ratings are effective against ignited cloth, wood, paper, rubber, and plastics (A), flammable liquids like gasoline, alcohol and oil-based paints (B), and energized electrical equipment (C).

What to do when using a fire extinguisher:

  • First call the fire department.
  • Use an extinguisher only on small fires with minimal smoke.
  • If you’re dealing with a liquid fire, use the extinguisher only if you can eliminate of the source of fuel. Otherwise, immediately get out of the house.
  • Remember “PASS”: Pull the pin. Aim low. Squeeze. Sweep.
  • If you can’t put out the fire within the eight seconds it takes to empty the extinguisher, take immediate steps to get out safely.

4. Fire Escape Ladders
If you have a two-story (or more) home, you need fire escape ladders in every upstairs bedroom. They come folded into permanent or portable boxes that you can store under a window or bed. During a fire, if all other exits are blocked, you can drop the ladder out of the window and climb down to safety. Fire escape ladders are either 15 feet (for second-story windows) or 25 feet long (third floor).

Pro Tip: Make sure your ladder has a stable standoff, which is the support arm system at the top that holds the ladder away from the side of the house to steadies it and make escape quicker for you.

5. Fireproof Safe
The most valuable of your possessions should be in a safety deposit box at the bank. But if there are certain things you want to protect and also keep close, you need a fireproof safe. Depending on what’s kept in there, you can get a safe that’s guaranteed not to get hotter than 125 degrees (DVDs, computer disks) or 350 degrees (papers). Most fireproof safes offer 30 minutes of protection.

Once you have all of the right fire safety equipment in place, don’t forget to create and practice your home fire escape plan. Having the right fire safety equipment can help reduce your family’s risk of injury and property damage due to a serious fire. Or at the very least, you’ll be warned and have time to get out.

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Cigarette Smoke Damage

Much of the discussion around traditional cigarettes centers on the dangers they pose to our health. The list of risks smoking poses to your health and the health of those around you is almost endless – there’s risk to your lungs and heart, and risks to your teeth in terms of staining, as well as your appearance. However, we don’t hear as much about the effects cigarette smoking can have on the inside of your home. Just like your body and health, long-term cigarette smoking inside your home can cause sometimes irreparable damage. Effects like clinging odor can be unpleasant for non-smoking guests, and damages caused by smoking can reduce the resale value of your home.

Fire Hazard
When left unattended, a burning cigarette can lead to a full-blown fire whose effects can range from smoke damage to a complete loss. These fires can sometimes be fatal for the smoker and other occupants in the house. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that nearly 1000 smokers and non-smokers are killed each year by fires caused by cigarettes.

Ceilings, Walls, Furniture and Floors
Cigarette smoke contains a variety of chemicals, some of which cling and build up on surfaces that are exposed to it. In your home, cigarette smoke can build up and stain walls and cause wallpaper to curl. Walls too can see nicotine stains build up and discolor them. If the smoking goes on for long enough, the particles can literally embed themselves in sheetrock and be impossible to remove. If you’ve ever used the smoking huts at Atlanta’s airport, you can’t help but notice how discolored the ceiling tiles and walls are.

Electronics
Besides clinging to walls, curtains and other household items, cigarette smoke can also cling to electronic components (especially computers) and have disastrous effects over time. For example, with computers, the smoke will cling to anything that’s emitting heat (i.e. fans, capacitors, processors, etc.). This heat attracts a good bit of “dust” already, but the dust just magnifies when you add cigarette smoke to the mix. Also, cigarette smoke carries moisture with it and can lead to both a corrosion of parts and a dangerous build-up of dust.  Dust and chemicals can even work their way through your walls and coat the inside of your electrical outlets.

Air Conditioning System
Your home’s A/C and heating system is critical to keeping your home comfortable, especially if you live in the Deep South or in a really cold region. The system(s) work by pulling in outside air through a filter. Every so often, these filters require changing.
Smoking in your home adds to all the dust, pet hair and other particulate matter in the air. These particulates have to be caught by the filter. As you can imagine, cigarette smoke will dramatically shorten the time between filter changes. Not changing the filter(s) more frequently while smoking in your home can cause your A/C system to overwork and possibly break down.

Cigarette smoking can have immediate effects that are noticed right away, especially by guests or anyone else living in the home. But over time, the smoke can literally embed itself in everything and even destroy things beyond repair.

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Understanding the Fire Restoration Process

The longer the delay in contacting a restoration company, the more opportunity there is for damage from water and smoke to intensify. A homeowner’s insurance company should be able to refer an approved and experienced restoration firm, or you also are within your rights to hire whomever you see fit to handle the project. It is surprising just how well restoration works in light of how destructive a fire can be. Depending on the damage, a home can often be restored to its before-fire state. A restoration team has a difficult task to perform, and a great deal of responsibility, but properly certified and trained technicians are well-equipped to return a home to its original condition.

The fire restoration process involves the repair of any structures damaged by smoke, fire, or water. Carpets undergo a chemical process to remove smoke odor. Sub-floor materials undergo inspection for damage and may need to be replaced. Upholstery and curtains are subject to a similar process. Furnishings are taken to a separate location and restored to pre-fire condition. The home is aired out for as long as needed to diminish the effects of odor and mildew, and deodorization efforts continue throughout the process. Through the cooperation of the insurance company, the restoration team, and the homeowner, a home can be restored and made safe to live in once again.

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Top Causes of Workplace Fires

Each year, fire erupts at some 70,000 U.S. workplaces, killing 200 employees, injuring thousands, and causing billions of dollars in property damage. Most workplace fires are the result of human behavior rather than equipment failure, which means they can be prevented with a proactive program reinforced by training. Keep reading to find out the most common causes of workplace fires and the simple strategies that can keep your facility safe.

Heating equipment, such as improperly installed, operated, or maintained furnaces. Every furnace or heater has minimum clearance distances on all sides and above; make sure to keep material and building components away from this area. Never store combustible material in furnace rooms. And do not use temporary heating units in public buildings.

Electrical. Misused, overloaded, damaged, or improperly maintained electrical equipment is a common cause of workplace fires. Do not leave cords coiled up when plugged in. Only use extension cords for temporary power for equipment in use at the moment. Use multiple outlet strips for computer equipment, not for appliances or other electric equipment. Avoid overloading circuits.

Cooking equipment. Microwaves, coffeemakers, and stoves can cause fires if they are misused. Make sure all break room equipment is equipped with smoke detectors. Never leave cooking unattended, and follow microwave popcorn instructions carefully.

Mechanical friction. Improperly maintained or cleaned mechanical equipment can lead to a fire. Keep bearings properly lubricated and aligned. And keep conveyors and mobile equipment cleaned and free of accumulations of combustible material.

Housekeeping. Poor housekeeping practices are a common cause of fire. Avoid excessive storage of boxes and other combustible material. Make sure stored material never blocks exits, walkways, electrical panels, or emergency equipment.

Proximity hazards. Watch out for hazards outside of buildings, such as other buildings within 100 feet of your site. Other hazards include nearby fuel tanks, dumpsters, and weeds, grass, and brush.

Smoking. If you still permit smoking in your facility you may want to reconsider. Unauthorized smoking or poor setup of smoking areas can put everyone at risk for fire.

Special hazards. Take extra precautions if you have cutting/welding and other hot work that can produce flames, slag, or sparks. Other special hazards include flammable liquid storage and handling; spontaneous combustion from oily rags, chemicals, hay, and leaves; commercial cooking equipment; and LPG and natural gas.

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Dryer Vents & Fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, this common household appliance was the cause of more than 15,500 U.S. home fires in 2010.  Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer hose and vent duct, reducing air flow, backing up exhaust gases and eventually creating a fire. These hazards can be avoided by thoroughly inspecting and cleaning your dryer vent every year. (This is particularly true if your dryer vent duct was not designed or installed properly.) Not only are you reducing the risk of fire, you’re also putting money back into your wallet by improving the dryer’s efficiency.

Here’s a checklist which may help you know if your dryer vent needs cleaning or replacing:

1. Drying time for clothes takes longer and longer.
When a dryer vent is clogged, the drying cycle can double or triple in time. You’ll notice that clothes are not completely dry at the end of a regular cycle. A dryer is designed to push out the hot moist air for clothing to dry. If your vent is blocked by lint, the air will stay in your dryer keeping your clothes hot and moist. And when it takes twice as long to dry clothes, your dryer runs longer, putting more wear and tear on it and therefore cutting the machine’s life in half.

2. Your clothing and the outside of the dryer are very hot.
Do you notice that your clothing is very hot at the end of a cycle or the dryer is hot to touch? This warning sign means the vent is not exhausting properly. If your system is clogged, it not only wastes energy, but can cause the heating element and blower in the dryer to wear out faster.

3. You notice a burning smell.
When you run your dryer do you smell a burning odor? Lint, which is very flammable, can build up in the exhaust tube, lint trap and even in the drum casing. If it gets too hot, it can catch on fire, causing a burning smell. (Remember to empty the lint trap often). Discontinue use of your dryer and have it inspected as soon as possible.

4. The vent hood flap doesn’t open properly.
Another visual red flag that you’re due for a cleaning: You can see lint or debris around the dryer hose or outside vent opening: or the duct hood flap does not open as it is designed to do. An outside vent that doesn’t open when the dryer is running means air flow has been restricted due to lint buildup.

5. It’s been longer than a year since your last inspection.
Dryer vent ducts should be inspected at least once a year to reduce the risk of fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. If you hire a professional to clean your vent, expect to pay between $75 to $150, depending on the length and location of the vent. If the exterior exhaust vent is easily accessible, you can try cleaning it yourself with a brush kit.

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Building Materials & Fire Part 1

Building fires, which normally reach temperatures of about 1000 ºC, can affect the loadbearing capacity of structural bearing elements in a number of ways. Apart from such obvious effects as charring and spalling, there can be a permanent loss of strength in the remaining material and thermal expansion may cause damage in parts of the building not directly affected by the fire. In assessing fire’s effects, the main emphasis should be placed on estimating the residual load-carrying capacity of the structure and then determining the remedial measures, if any, needed to restore the building to its original design for fire resistance and other requirements. Obviously, if weaknesses in the original design are exposed, these should be corrected.

Making an analysis of the damage and assessment of the necessary repairs may be possible within a reasonable degree of accuracy, but final acceptance may depend on proof by a load test, where performance is generally judged in terms of the recovery of deflection after load removal.

Timber

Timber browns at about 120 to 150 ºC, blackens around 200 to 250 ºC, and emits combustible vapors at about 300 ºC. Above a temperature of 400 to 450 ºC (or 300 ºC if a flame is present), the surface of the timber will ignite and char at a steady rate. Table A-2 shows the rate of charring.

Analysis and Repair
Generally, any wood that is not charred should be considered to have full strength. It may be possible to show by calculation that a timber section or structural element subjected to fire still has adequate strength once the char is removed. Where additional strength is required, it may be possible to add strengthening pieces. Joints that may have opened and metal connections that may have conducted heat to the interior are points of weakness that should be carefully examined.

Masonry

The physical properties and mechanisms of failure in masonry walls exposed to fire have never been analyzed in detail. Behavior is influenced by edge conditions and there is a loss of compressive strength as well as unequal thermal expansion of the two faces. For solid bricks, resistance to the effects of fire is directly proportional to thickness. Perforated bricks and hollow clay units are more sensitive to thermal shock. There can be cracking of the connecting webs and a tendency for the wythes to separate. In cavity walls, the inner wythe carries the major part of the load. Exterior walls can be subjected to more severe forces than internal walls by heated and expanding floor slabs. All types of brick give much better performance if plaster is applied, which improves insulation and reduces thermal shock.

Analysis and Repair
As with concrete, it is possible to determine the degree of heating of the wall from the color change of the mortar and bricks. For solid brick walls without undue distortion, the portion beyond the pink or red boundary may be considered serviceable and calculations should be made accordingly. Perforated and hollow brick walls should be inspected for the effects of cracks indicating thermal shock. Plastered bricks sometimes suffer little damage and may need repairs only to the plaster surfaces.

 

Importance of Renters Insurance

Even if you don’t own a home, unexpected events may arise. While you may not always be able to prevent certain situations, such as a break-in or visitor’s injury, you may be able to help minimize the impact. Whether you’re renting a single-family home or an apartment, renters insurance may help protect you in important ways. Here’s a look at some key coverages that a typical renters insurance policy may include.

Personal property coverage, a typical component of renters insurance, may help cover the cost of replacing your stuff if it’s unexpectedly damaged or ruined. That protection generally applies to certain risks (also referred to as “perils”), such as fire and theft, the Insurance Information Institute (III) explains. So, if your computer and television are stolen, or your furniture and clothing are destroyed by a fire, this coverage may help you pay for the cost of replacing them. It’s important to know that coverage limits — the maximum amount your policy will pay for personal property losses — will apply. Read your policy carefully or contact your agent for information on what may or may not be covered.

When purchasing a renters insurance policy, you may face a few different choices. For instance:

  • You’ll want to set coverage limits that are appropriate for your situation. Creating a home inventory may help you assess the value of your belongings and help you decide how much personal property coverage is right for you.
  • You may also have to decide what kind of personal property coverage to purchase, the III says. A policy that provides actual cash value protection typically covers belongings up to their current market value (taking depreciation into account). Meanwhile, a policy that includes replacement cost coverage may help you pay to replace your items at today’s retail prices after a covered loss.

It’s important to consider that personal property coverage may not help protect everything you own. You may find that certain types of belongings, such as jewelry or a coin collection, have limited coverage under a standard policy. A local agent can help you decide whether additional coverage designed to help protect specific items (often referred to as scheduled personal property coverage) makes sense for you.