Residential fires are dangerous and costly disasters that can strike any home. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that 365,000 home fires broke out in 2012, resulting in 5.7 billion dollars in property damage. Though residential fires are unpredictable, advanced planning can help keep your home and family safe. This article overviews some must-have products to have in your home in the event of a fire.

Smoke Detectors

If a fire is present, occupants need to be notified immediately so that they can take action. According to the NFPA, three out of five home fires resulting in death took place in homes without a working smoke alarm. When purchasing a smoke alarm, you’ll have several important decisions to make, including what kind to buy and how many to install.

Smoke detectors come in three basic types:

  • Photoelectric – more responsive to smoldering fires
  • Ionization – more responsive to flaming fires
  • Dual-sensor – combines features of ionization and photoelectric smoke detectors

Most fire safety organizations recommend having at least one of each alarm type or using dual-sensor alarms. Always follow manufacturer recommendations when installing smoke detectors; however, the following are some common do’s and don’ts:

    Do install smoke detectors on every floor of the house, including the basement.

  • Do place smoke detectors near bedroom doors so that occupants will hear the alarm if a fire breaks out in their sleep.

  • Do install smoke detectors high on walls or the ceiling so that they will sense rising smoke.

  • Don’t place smoke detectors directly inside kitchens or bathrooms, which can trigger false alarms.

  • Don’t install smoke detectors on exterior walls or ceilings beneath an attic. The temperature differences in these areas can prevent an alarm from triggering.

  • Don’t place smoke detectors within three feet of air registers.

Once installed, smoke alarms should be tested monthly. Most smoke detectors are powered by nine-volt batteries that should be replaced annually. Once your smoke detector is ten years old, replace it—even if it appears to be in working condition. Long-life smoke detectors have a built-in lithium battery that lasts approximately ten years. When the battery has reached the end of its life, the entire system will need to be replaced. To caution against a malfunctioning battery, some smoke alarms are designed to be hardwired directly into your home’s electricity, but be sure to have these installed by a qualified electrician.

Home Security Systems

Security system companies can hardwire smoke detectors directly to your control panel. With 24-hour monitoring, a security system company can receive the signal that a fire is present in your home and immediately dispatch the fire department. Cutting down on the time it takes for the fire department to arrive can potentially save money and lives.

Fire Extinguishers

Best used immediately on small fires, fire extinguishers can help mitigate damage and keep it from spreading. Once a fire has escalated, evacuate your home and call the fire department immediately. A trained firefighter can better handle large-scale fires. For more information on when it’s safe and appropriate to use a fire extinguisher, visit the US Fire Administration’s information page on fire extinguishers.

While there are five different classes of fire extinguishers for use on different types of fires, many household extinguishers are combination A:B:C, which cover the following:

  • Class A – ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, and cloth

  • Class B – flammable liquids, such as gasoline, grease, and oil-based paint

  • Class C – electrical equipment, such as fuse boxes, appliances, and wiring

Check manufacturer recommendations for care of your fire extinguisher. For example, it’s recommended to shake dry chemical extinguishers once a month in order to prevent settling and packing.

Residential Sprinklers

Typically found in larger commercial buildings, fire sprinklers can also be installed in residential dwellings. The US Fire Administration estimates that residential fire sprinklers cost $1.50 per square foot to install in new homes and $2.50 to $5.00 to install in older homes. The cost to install in older homes can vary significantly depending on how difficult it will be to run pipes. With residential fire sprinklers, you don’t have to worry about flood damage in your home should the system activate itself during a fire. These sprinklers are designed only to activate near the source of the fire, and they release water at a lower rate than commercial sprinklers.

Escape Ladders

Any fire evacuation plan should include multiple ways of exiting a home in the event of a fire. In a multi-story home, fire ladders allow occupants to escape safely if other exits are blocked. When practicing your home evacuation plan, be sure to evacuate through the primary exit as well as down an escape ladder. You’ll want to know how to quickly and efficiently use your escape ladder before it’s ever needed.

While no home is every truly safe from the threat of a fire, having certain systems in place can minimize the damage that a fire can rapidly cause. From detection to evacuation, be sure to protect your home and family by taking the necessary precautions.

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Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); US Fire Administration.

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