Homeowners

25 hidden fire hazards at home (and how to prevent them)

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If you’ve never experienced a house fire, you may be shocked to learn the sheer volume of fires that are sparked each year by everyday occurrences like cooking or dust collection. An estimated 358,500 house fires occur every year, and house fires account for more than 3,000 deaths annually.

House fires also come with financial repercussions. House fires are the cause of over $12 billion in damages each year, making them one of the most common home insurance claims.1

While there are some clear house fire risks that you’re likely familiar with, others are less obvious. There are potential fire hazards in virtually every room in your home, from the basement to your bedroom.

Here, we’ll explain 25 of the most common fire hazards at home, how to prevent them and what to do if you ever find yourself in a house fire.

1. Cooking

Unsurprisingly, cooking is the number one cause of house fires. Whether it’s dialing up the heat too high or leaving the stove unattended, cooking can pose a serious risk, as cooking incidents cause almost half of reported house fires.2

Stovetops are usually the source of house fires. When grease, fats and other oils get too hot, they can become a dangerous fire risk in your kitchen since they expand quickly and aren’t tamed by water. No matter what you’re cooking, you should never leave the stovetop unattended under any circumstances. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Keep flammable items at least three feet away from the stovetop and oven 
  • Make sure microwave vents aren’t obstructed
  • Never leave your stove unattended 
  • Since grease fires can’t be extinguished with water, keep a fire extinguisher nearby

2. Cluttered kitchens

Similar to cooking hazards, a cluttered kitchen can also cause house fires. With crowded countertops, it’s easy for stray dish towels and other flammable objects to come into contact with heat sources, like a stovetop or burning candle. All too often, flames from cooking reach other flammable materials, which can quickly create a larger fire. 

For this reason, make sure you’re operating with a clear countertop before launching into Sunday dinner prep.

Prevention tips: 

  • Clear clutter prior to cooking
  • Clean up while cooking 

3. Dirty stove or oven

Grease buildup and charred remains of past meals can create a film on the oven interior. Over time, this can lead to disastrous cooking conditions, and even a small kitchen fire can escalate quickly. 

Cooking with a dirty oven continuously can create carbon fumes, which can be a fire danger if not dealt with properly. Once you’re done cooking and your oven has completely cooled, give it a firm scrub to fend off lingering grease.

Prevention tips: 

  • Clean your oven every 12 weeks (monthly if you use it frequently)
  • Quickly clean leftover scraps after you finish cooking

4. Grilling

Grills can serve as a fire hazard for a variety of reasons. Gas leaks and flammable liquids are common causes of grill-related fires. Additionally, grilling tends to be more popular during summer months, which also coincide with annual periods of drought. When nearby grass and brush are dry in the summer, it doesn’t take much more than a rogue ember to ignite a fire. 

If you live in an area that sees frequent droughts, be sure to proceed with caution and exercise safe grilling practices. While the use of propane is allowed during burn bans, you should be extra careful during these periods. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Place your grill away from your home or deck 
  • Keep a water source nearby 

5. Fire pits

It should go without saying that exercising proper fire pit safety is critical. So how far should a fire pit be from a house, you may wonder?

A fire pit should be at least 10 feet from your house and anything else flammable. You should also avoid placing the fire pit on grassy surfaces, wood decks or any sort of enclosed porch. If you’re enjoying a wood fire, be sure to use a metal screen to keep logs from rolling off.

Prevention tips: 

  • Extinguish the fire pit prior to leaving the backyard 
  • Use a metal screen over wood fires
  • Supervise children whenever using a fire pit 

6. Fireplaces

When not properly maintained, fireplaces can be another fire hazard in the home. The wood you choose for your fire plays a large role in fireplace safety. Dry and well-aged wood produces less smoke and burns more evenly than wet wood. More smoke causes more soot, and soot buildup restricts the wood’s oxygen, posing a definite fire risk.3

You should also keep a close eye on children when the fireplace is in use — for their safety and the safety of others in the home. Metal screens are the best way to ensure small children don’t get too close to the flames. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Crack a window while the fire is burning 
  • Double-check that the flue is open before lighting the fire 
  • Clean out ashes from previous fires

7. Candles

Candles add a seasonal ambiance to your home during the holidays, but they can be a significant fire hazard if not handled with care. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), candles are the cause of 20 house fires per day, with numbers peaking during December and January.4

Keeping candles on heat-resistant surfaces and not burning them for longer than recommended is critical for ensuring safe practices. Candles should also be placed in spots unreachable by pets or small children and away from any flammable materials. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Keep candles away from clothing and curtains
  • Consider using flameless candles  

8. Space heaters

Space heaters and other heating equipment are common for homeowners in colder areas looking to winterize their house. However, according to the NFPA, space heaters account for four out of five deaths related to home heating equipment.5

If you’re using a space heater, be sure to look for signs that it meets industry safety standards, like a label showing it’s been tested in a recognized laboratory.6 Older space heaters don’t always meet those standards, so exercise caution when using an older model or consider upgrading to a newer model. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Keep space heaters off flammable surfaces and clear of upholstery and textiles
  • Turn off your space heater before leaving the room
  • Inspect space heaters thoroughly for any damaged wires 

9. Faulty smoke detectors

Research shows that three out of four Americans ignore smoke alarms; however, smoke is the earliest sign that something has overheated or could quickly ignite. Having just a few spare minutes or even seconds can help prevent serious fires, so be sure that all smoke detectors are working properly. 

Smoke alarms should be placed inside and outside every bedroom and on every level of the home, including the basement. Smoke alarms should also be placed 10 feet from cooking appliances to reduce the number of false alarms.7

Prevention tips:  

  • Test your smoke alarms monthly to ensure they’re functioning properly 
  • Replace smoke detectors every 10 years 

10. Lint screens and dryers

Dryers are responsible for roughly 90% of appliance fires, but can easily be prevented.8 When doing laundry, you should clean out your lint traps after every use. 

While forgetting one time won’t necessarily lead to a fire, it’s beneficial to get into the habit of cleaning your lint screen after every load. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Keep the area around the dryer free of flammable items 
  • Check your clothes for tags that say “dry away from heat”

11. Damaged extension cords

Cracked or frayed extension cords are another common cause of fires in the home. In this case, preventing house fires means preventing extension cords from becoming damaged in the first place. 

Running cords under rugs or through doorways are common causes of damage and should be avoided. Another best practice to prevent possible fires is unplugging cords when they’re not in use, especially when you’re going out of town. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Never use a cord that is hot or damaged 
  • Avoid running cords through doorways 
  • Avoid altering a cord in any way (cutting, taping, etc.) 

12. Overloaded electrical outlets

It may be tempting to load up your electrical outlets, especially if you have an elaborate work-from-home setup or a spectacular outdoor light display. However, overloading electrical outlets can spark a fire in your home. 

As a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t plug more than two appliances into one outlet, and you should try to avoid piling up appliances into one outlet through extension cords. When dealing with high-watt appliances, such as irons and microwave ovens, limit one appliance per outlet.   

Prevention tips:

  • Don’t exceed 1,500 watts in an outlet 
  • Try not to stack up appliances on one outlet using extension cords
  • Don’t exceed more than two appliances on one outlet, and only use one if the appliance is over 1,000 watts 

13. Outdated wiring

Tripping circuit breakers and smoke can be evidence that you’ve got outdated wiring in your home. Telltale signs of bad or old wiring include sparking and dimming lights. 

Homeowners with knob-and-tube wiring, which are wires that run through porcelain tubes in the floor, should have an experienced electrician check their wiring for signs of aging. Specific to older homes, this type of wiring isn’t as well equipped to handle modern appliances and is more susceptible to damage and overload. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Look out for flickering lights and discolored outlets
  • Have a licensed electrician inspect your wiring

14. Laptops

Laptops need proper ventilation to avoid overheating. You should never place a laptop on upholstery or bedding, as this will insulate the fan. 

While rare, laptop battery fires happen and are devastating when they do. Unlike cell phones, laptop batteries have multiple cells. As a result, when one gets damaged from heat, it can create a chain reaction that impacts the other battery cells.

Prevention tips: 

  • Always use your laptop on a hard surface, like a table 
  • Avoid blocking the air vents on a laptop. These are located on the back and sides. 

15. Lampshades

Certain lamp materials can withstand heat better than others and should be carefully considered, especially if you plan on making your own lampshade. 

The inner liner of the lampshade is what protects the shade itself from heat. Adhesive styrene is the most common material for inner liners, and is available at most craft stores if you plan on going the DIY route. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Research the most heat-resistant lampshades 
  • Turn off lamps when you’re not home 

16. Light fixtures

Beyond lampshades, light bulbs can also be fire hazards if not handled properly. You should only use bulbs with wattage equal to or less than what the manufacturer recommends. The label on the lamp will tell you what wattage bulb you should buy. 

For ceiling light fixtures or other appliances that require a light bulb, you should still adhere to what the manufacturer recommends. Some light fixtures that require multiple light bulbs will offer total wattage, so make sure you’re totaling the wattage of all bulbs in these cases.

Prevention tips: 

  • Check labels to see recommended wattage 
  • Switch off lights immediately if you smell smoke 

17. Christmas trees

While festive, the combination of heat from Christmas lights and dry branches can lead to home fires. Using LED lights on your tree is your best bet for preventing possible fires, as LED lights give off significantly less heat than incandescent ones. 

Additionally, be sure to water the tree regularly so the branches don’t get too dry. You’ll need to cut an inch or so from the tree trunk in order to water it. If you’re buying your tree from a shop, the tree will likely be cut for you. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Use LED lights as decor
  • Water the tree regularly to prevent branches from drying up

18. Generators

When not handled properly, generators can be another source of serious house fires. Portable gas generators need to be kept outside and away from windows. Not only can generators be a carbon monoxide risk, but they can also overheat.

Since gas generators use flammable propane, external hazards like lit cigarettes or sparks from a fire pit can cause generators to catch fire. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Place generators far from any flammable materials 
  • Keep children away from the generator 

19. Hot water heaters

Gas heaters and water heaters can both pose risks for house fires, but for different reasons. With gas heaters, gas or propane leaks most commonly cause house fires, whereas with electric heaters, overheating is the primary concern. 

Getting regular inspections from professionals and keeping flammables away from the heater is the best way to prevent fires stemming from water heaters. Since they’re made from flammable materials, old furniture and cardboard boxes can be particularly susceptible to catching flame if stored near the water heater. 

For a safer option, you may also want to consider a tankless water heater

Prevention tips: 

  • Get your heater inspected annually
  • Keep all flammable materials away from the water heater

20. Crowded radiators

Although it may be tempting, especially in an apartment where you may not have in-unit dryer access, placing anything on a radiator is never a good idea, including damp clothing or towels. 

On the off chance that your radiator malfunctions, it’s essential that the area is free of any flammable objects to ensure the fire doesn’t spread. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Don’t place anything on top of the radiator 
  • Have your radiator inspected annually by a professional

21. Newspaper piled in damp, warm places

Another surprising addition to this list is newspapers piled in damp, warm places, as these can spontaneously combust — even without a heat source. 

A large enough newspaper stack is able to generate enough heat to start a fire. So if you’re recycling large heaps of newspaper, stack them in a cooler atmosphere away from anything flammable. 

Prevention tips: 

  • Stack newspapers in cooler places 
  • Keep large newspaper stacks away from any flammable materials

22. Smoking cigarettes

According to the National Park Service, over 500 people are killed annually from house fires caused by cigarettes or other smoking material.9 

Furniture or items in trash cans can catch fire when you smoke and dispose of cigarettes inside. As a result, you should always smoke cigarettes outside and ensure you’re disposing of cigarette butts in a stable ashtray.  

Prevention tips:

  • Always smoke outside 
  • Make sure ashtrays are sturdy to avoid tipping over 
  • Soak cigarette butts in water before disposing of them

23. Collected dust

Keeping a clean house can offer more than health and allergen benefits — it can also save you from a house fire. With enough warmth, dust that collects near electrical outlets or heaters can ignite and spread throughout the home. 

The best way to prevent dust fires is to clean regularly. Not only will this benefit your immune system, but it will eliminate the risk of a dust fire.  

Prevention tips: 

  • Dust surfaces and outlets regularly 
  • Use a damp cloth to clean up dust

24. Glassware on a windowsill

This may be one of the most surprising hazards to make the list, but if your window attracts abundant natural light, this could very well put your home at risk. 

When coupled with sun rays, glass creates a magnifying effect, which can spark a fire, particularly when cast upon textiles and fabrics such as carpeting, curtains or upholstery. Especially during the warmer months, be wary of your glassware placement and ensure it’s not exposed to direct sunlight.

Prevention tips: 

  • Avoid placing glassware in direct sunlight 
  • Draw blinds if you plan on leaving your home for a while 

25. 9-volt batteries

In 9-volt batteries, the positive and negative posts are both positioned on the top, making them a potential fire risk if the ends come in contact with metal. 

When loose in junk drawers, the tips of 9-volt batteries can easily spark a fire with other metal items — even something as small as a paper clip. Cover the ends with tape to ensure they can’t come into contact with other metal items.

Prevention tips:

  • Place 9-volt batteries in their own separate drawer
  • Ensure you’ve covered or taped over the top of the batteries

Types of fires

A fire’s class denotes how quickly it burns, how dangerous it is and how difficult it is to put out. Knowing the different classes of fires can help you understand the best way to extinguish them in the event you experience one in your home. 

Fire extinguishers are also specific to certain classes of fires, and using the wrong one can sometimes even intensify flames. In the section below, we’ll explore each class of fire and the type of extinguisher necessary for putting it out.

 fire types

1. “Ordinary” fires (Class A) 

Class A fires, or “ordinary” fires, describe the least threatening type of blaze. These generally occur when a combustible material like wood, plastic or fabric catches a spark. While these fires aren’t necessarily too dangerous on their own, they have the potential to spread if not handled quickly. 

How to extinguish: Class A fires can be extinguished by water or a foam extinguisher. Since these are typically small fires, other substances are generally not needed to extinguish the flame.10

2. Liquid and gas fires (Class B) 

Oftentimes starting as a result of a grilling incident, Class B fires involve flammable liquids or gasses, like propane or kerosene. These liquids typically have a high carbon content, which makes them combustible.11  

How to extinguish: While water can easily extinguish a Class A fire, it should be avoided at all costs when extinguishing a Class B fire. Class B fires are extinguished by smothering the flame, thus removing oxygen from it. This can be done through an aqueous film-forming extinguisher or film-forming fluoroprotein extinguisher.12

3. Electrical fires (Class C) 

Class C fires start as the result of electricity and are most common in places with heavy electrical usage, like data centers. In settings like this, faulty wiring and overloaded outlets are generally the cause of electrical fires. Old homes or buildings using outdated wiring or old space heaters may also be susceptible to electrical fires. 

How to extinguish: In the event of an electrical fire, it’s essential to use a nonconductive material to extinguish the flame, like a specific Class C fire extinguisher. Class C fire extinguishers employ agents that separate fuel, heat and fire, which controls the flames.13

4. Metallic fires (Class D)

Most common in laboratories, metallic fires are rarer than the other classes and include metallic flammable materials, like titanium and magnesium. 

How to extinguish: You’ll need a powder fire extinguisher to put out a metallic fire. Class D fire extinguishers cover the fire in a non-reactive powder material, eventually calming the flames.14 You shouldn’t use anything reactive when dealing with a metallic fire, so water should be avoided in these cases. 

5. Grease fires (Class K) 

While Class B fires are most common on the grill, Class K fires happen most frequently in the kitchen, as they include grease fires and fires from cooking oils and animal fats. Class K fires tend to be dangerous because they’re difficult to manage and can spread quickly. 

How to extinguish: Like metallic fires, water is likely to make the blaze worse. Class K fire extinguishers use cooling agents to smother the fire and cool down the appliance.15

For the home, the NFPA recommends a multi-purpose fire extinguisher. These extinguishers are easy to handle and can combat both small and large fires. Using conductive and non-reactive materials, they can also fight Class A fires without intensifying other reactive fire types.16

What to do after a house fire

Navigating the time following a house fire can be difficult and emotional; however, you can take the following steps to recover as quickly as possible. 

 house fire checklist

1. Find a place to stay 

First things first: Find a comfortable place to stay. If you have a close friend or family member nearby, stay at their place for at least a few days as you plan your next steps. Once you’re safe and comfortable, you can begin the process of determining how to fix your home and recover lost items. 

2. Contact your insurance agent 

Getting in touch with your insurance company after a fire will help you quickly qualify for loss of use coverage, which helps you pay for living costs while your home is being repaired. 

Additionally, your insurance agent can help you create a plan for restoring or replacing damaged items in your home, as well as guide you through the process of repairing the home itself.  

3. Call fire damage repair services

If not a total loss, immediately shore up your home from weather and wild animals with emergency repair services that can board up broken windows and any access points created by the fire. Home insurance companies will likely recommend a fire damage repair service to work with. 

The cost of fire damage restoration largely depends on the size of the house. Make sure to keep receipts after you hire a fire damage repair service, as you will include them in your claim later down the road. 

4. Request a copy of the fire report 

A fire report tells the story of the incident that took place. Make sure to obtain a copy of it after the event, as you’ll need it during the claims process. 

To obtain a copy of your fire report, contact the U.S. Fire Administration and request a report through the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS).

How to prevent fire hazards at home

The best way to prevent fire hazards at home is to be aware of common hazards and to understand the risks involved in household appliances, gadgets and tools. Routine maintenance by skilled professionals can keep your home in working order — and house fires at bay.  

For homeowners who live in drier areas or older homes that are more susceptible to house fires, you may want to consider hazard insurance as an extra layer of protection against possible damage from fire, wind or lightning. 

If you’re looking to reevaluate your policy, consider comparing home insurance quotes to ensure you’re protected in the case of an unexpected house fire.  

 hidden fire hazards infographic
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