House fires kill and injure thousands yearly, and cost many more their valued possessions and memories. Here are some steps you can take to lessen the chance of your home becoming a part of this statistic.
Step 1. Inspect Your Home
You may need to recruit, or even hire, someone experienced in home electrical wiring, plumbing (gas), heating, and air conditioning to ensure that it is thoroughly inspected. You can also do the checks outlined in the following steps.
Step 2. Check Your Home’s Electrical System
- Look for improperly grounded receptacles. Many modern appliances require a “three pronged” (grounded) receptacle, but people will sometimes use an adapter to bypass this safety feature, or even break a ground prong off an appliance cord. Changing existing circuits to provide grounding is a job that is best left to a professional electrician.
- Look in the attic and crawl spaces for wiring which has been damaged by pests or insects. Some old wiring is insulated with a material which insects eat or chew on, and squirrels or other rodents will often chew the thermoplastic insulation off of modern nonmetallic cable (Romex).
- Look for overloaded circuit breakers, panel boxes, or fuse boxes. Check for breakers or fuses which may have circuits “piggy-backed” on them. These are rated for single circuit protection, but sometimes in outdated or undersized panel boxes, people will put two or even more wires in the terminal of a single breaker or fuse.
- Notice flickering lights, or intermittent power surges. These conditions may be caused by outside influences, but if they occur often, they may indicate a bad connection or a short in the circuit.
- Note breakers which “trip”, or fuses that “blow” frequently. This is almost always a sign of an overloaded circuit or other wiring problem, usually of a most serious nature.
- Look at the individual breaker connections, especially in outdoor panel boxes, for corrosion, signs of thermal damage (smut or smokey residue near terminals) splices which are poorly taped or wire nutted, or abraded or damaged wire insulation.
- Check the ground cable. A failure in the building grounding system and bonding can be dangerous in regard to electrical shock, as well as fire. Look for loose split bolts, clamps, or other connecting devices, and corrosion.
- Be especially careful to notice any connections in wiring other than copper. Installed correctly, and with tight connections, aluminum wire is not excessively dangerous, but when connections are made to copper wires, an electrolytic reaction may occur, causing increased resistance in the connection which will generate excessive heat. If you are able to apply an antioxidant compound to aluminum connections, it will help decrease the risk of oxidation causing a short circuit at these locations.
Step 3. Check Your Natural Gas/LP Gas System
You will want to look for loose fittings, leaking valves, faulty pilot lights, and debris or improperly stored flammable materials in areas near these appliances.
- Check the vent stacks on gas water heaters, furnaces, and clothes dryers.
- Check the automatic ignition systems or pilot lights on these fixtures, as well, particularly for any guards which are not properly installed, and for lint or dust buildup in the immediate area around them.
- Have the gas plumbing (pipes), valves, and regulators inspected by a professional any time you smell gas or suspect a leak.
Step 4. Check Your Air Conditioning and Heating Unit
These systems operate with electric motors and air moving equipment which requires periodic maintenance.
- Clean, or have your interior AC coils cleaned, and replace your return air filters regularly. This will prevent the fan motor from being overworked, and also save money on your energy bill. For window AC’s, never use extension cords!
- Lubricate belt drive pulleys (where applicable), boss bearings on drive motors, and other equipment as needed.
- Have the resistance coils or furnace burners cleaned and serviced at the beginning of the heating season, since debris may accumulate there while the system is off during the summer.
- Listen to the system when it is operating. Squealing sounds, rumbling noises, or banging and tapping sounds may indicate loose parts or bearings which are seizing up.
- If you have access to a snap-on amp meter, you may check the amperage draw on the high amperage circuit to your heating coils to make sure they are in the normal operating range. Higher than normal amperage draw on a circuit indicates unusual resistance, and in an electrical circuit, resistance is what causes heat, and ultimately, fires.