Category: Fire Safety


Top 12 Holiday Decorating Tips to Make Your Season Merry and Safe

The winter holidays are here! Before you begin your celebrations (if you haven’t already), here are 12 holiday decorating tips you need to know that will keep you and your loved ones safe whether you’re lighting candles or decking the halls.

Tip #1: Give your decorations some space

Almost half of all holiday decoration fires start because a decoration was too close to a heat source. Three out of every five candle fires start because flammable items—furniture, bedding, or decorations—were near the flame. To safeguard your family and your home, keep candles at least a foot away from anything flammable, your trees at least three feet away from any heat source (including candles), and keep your kids, kittens, and other small beings away from all the above.

Tip #2: Safe glowing!

Candle care starts with a long-tipped lighter to prevent any potential burns, which may force you to drop the candle and create a dangerous situation. Also, never leave your lit candles unattended or walk with a lit candle, and since half of home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., extinguish your flames fully before turning in for the night.

a menorah with blue and white candles lit on a table

Be safe around lit candles!


Candles are a staple in all winter holidays, and according to the National Fire Protection Association, December is the peak time for candle fires. To lower your home’s risk, place your menorahs and kinaras on a non-flammable surface or on aluminum foil that’s on a sturdy, flat surface. This prevents candles from tipping over and starting a fire. Make sure to pick a place that is out of reach of curious pets and children!

Tip #3: Peruse before you use

Before even plugging in your electrical decorations, examine them for fraying wires and loose or missing bulbs. Replace broken bulbs, and throw out the entire string if you see any exposed wires. It’s better to lose a string of lights than lose your home to a house fire. Double-check to ensure that your electric decorations have been approved by an independent testing lab, such as UL (Underwriter Laboratories), CSA (Canadian Standards Association), and ETL (Intertek), for safety.

Tip #4: Less is more…

Multi-colored holiday lights lit on the floor

Connect three, no more, or a fire may be in store.

“The Rule of Three” applies to incandescent lights as most strands only allow three to be connected at a time. Connecting more can lead to a fire hazard.

Also, be sure not to overload your electrical outlets and never plug in more than one high-wattage appliance per outlet. Forty-four percent of Christmas tree fires started with electrical distribution or lighting equipment problems, so make sure to turn off your lights and candles before heading to bed.

Tip #5: …and check your cords

Lights aren’t the only fire hazard when it comes to holiday decorating. Most light strands connect to extension cords, which can also be frayed or damaged. This not only increases the risk of home fires but can also give you quite a shock. Keep cords in good working order by not pinching them between furniture, squeezing them in windows or doors, placing them under rugs, or attaching them to walls or siding with nails or staples.

Tip #6: Take your decorating outside (but only for 90 days)

Giving outside lights special love and care is one of the most important holiday decorating tips. Since exterior decorations are exposed to the elements, they can suffer from weather damage and critter attacks, so keeping them up longer than 90 days may drastically increase the wear and tear. (The extended time also might annoy your neighbors.)

Tip #7: Don’t buy Charlie Brown’s tree. Really.

All trees are potential kindle, but you can help to prevent a real or artificial tree from catching fire by following these simple rules:

  • When shopping for a natural tree, see if it’s losing needles excessively. If so, continue the search.
  • Place the tree at least three feet away from your heat sources, including candles.
  • Keep your tree hydrated by adding water to it once it’s in the stand and adding water daily.
  • Use appropriate lighting, and never use candles.
  • Buy flame-resistant or flame-retardant decorations, including your tree (if artificial).
  • When the tree begins to lose its needles excessively, it’s time to kick it to the curb.

Also, don’t block a doorway with your tree, so you have a clear exit in case of a fire.

Tip #8: Take your holiday displays and safety to new heights

More than 160 people per day visit the emergency room with injuries related to holiday decorating, and that number increases during November and December. Keep yourself out of the hospital by placing the ladder on stable ground, never standing on the top rung of the ladder, moving the ladder rather than leading too far, and wearing appropriate clothing (fit pants, tied and clean shoes, etc.)

Tip #9: Baby, don’t be a firework

Though not as popular as the Fourth of July, Dec. 30th – Jan. 3rd draws 10 percent of all firework fires. If you plan to celebrate the new year with fireworks, follow all the federal, state, and local laws regarding firework use. Light your fireworks in clear, open areas, on flat surfaces, and have a fire extinguisher ready, just in case.

Tip #10: Invite your smoke alarms to the party

Man standing on ladder checking smoke detector

Every home needs working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Whether you’re frying latkes, cooking chicken and sausage gumbo, or baking cookies, the winter holidays are a prime time for cooking fires (along with many other types of fires).  Keep your holiday guests safe by ensuring your smoke alarms are ready for the party. Their importance cannot be understated.

Test your alarms (even hardwired detectors) to ensure they’re functional, and if you’re using battery-operated detectors, not only test the batteries but also keep an extra set around, just in case it starts to chirp. Of course, this is just a holiday decorating tip. Make sure to keep your smoke alarms functioning properly year-round.

Tip #11: Leave poison off the menu

We’ve written about Thanksgiving cooking safety with tips you should follow when preparing your winter holiday meal. Winter holidays demand an extra level of attention with poisonous materials around the house. Wash your hands after hanging lights (which have lead in the strands) and keep the holly and mistletoe out of reach of children and animals. Head over to the National Capital Poison Center for additional holiday poison safety information.

Tip#12 – Keep up with home maintenance 

Home maintenance never takes a holiday. Gain peace of mind and enjoy the holiday season by keeping your home working properly. While cleaning your dryer exhaust vent may not be top of mind in December, you may consider doing this if it’s been a year or more since it’s been cleaned. A dirty dryer exhaust vent can be a fire hazard. Similarly, you may need to get your furnace inspected or cleaned, have your hot water heater flushed, or test your sump pumps. By completing these and other home maintenance tasks as you needed, you can avoid “home surprises” and enjoy a safe and relaxing holiday.

Not sure how to keep up with home maintenance? The vipHome.app can help. Download the app now! 

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Top Fire Safety Tips from NFPA That Can Save Your Family and Home

In the unfortunate event of a home fire, you may have less than two minutes to escape your home safely from the time your smoke alarm sounds. Are you prepared?

While vipHome.app wants to help you prevent a home fire from happening in the first place, you need to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. That’s why we reached out to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA)! We spoke with Susan McKelvey, Communications Manager for NFPA, to learn the fire safety tips you need to know to best protect your family and home from a home fire.

Understanding the danger

“People tend to be overconfident when it comes to home fires,” says Susan, who has worked for the NFPA for more than eight years. “While the number of home fires has generally declined over the past 20 years or so, they can and do still happen.”

The vast majority of fires are preventable, but there’s much more work to do to reduce the risk of death and injury.

“Because of that overconfidence, people don’t always consider home fires something they should be concerned about, but in reality, it continues to be a risk,” says Susan.

While there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of a home fire, there are two basic but essential steps you can take to protect your household from fire.

“Make sure you have working smoke alarms everywhere you need them and create an escape plan,” says Susan, “so that when the smoke alarm sounds, you and your family can use that time as wisely and effectively as possible.”

Here’s how to do just that.

#1 – Install and maintain smoke detectors

“Most homes have at least one smoke alarm, but they’re not always maintained or working properly,” says Susan.

NFPA data shows that almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (41%) or no working smoke alarms (16%). Many homes have smoke alarms that aren’t working properly, either because of dead or missing batteries. That’s why it’s imperative for homeowners to check their smoke alarms monthly to make sure they are working properly.

NFPA suggests completing these steps to install and maintain your smoke detectors:

  • Install at least one alarm on every level of your home, near all sleeping areas, and inside each bedroom.
  • Install interconnected smoke alarms, so when one sounds, they all sound.
  • Use combination alarms, which detect smoldering and flaming fires.
  • Test your smoke alarms once a month to make sure they are working properly.
  • Change the batteries when the alarms indicate.
  • Replace smoke alarms every 10 years or sooner if the chirping doesn’t stop when you change the batteries. (“Many homeowners don’t realize that smoke alarms are not designed to work forever,” says Susan.)

Not sure how old your smoke alarms are? Check the date of manufacture on the back of the alarm. Your alarm needs to be replaced 10 years from that date.

#2 – Get out, stay out

Explains Susan, “Today’s home fires burn faster than ever, and you have such a small window of time to escape safely in a typical home fire. You may have as little as two minutes to get out safely from the time the smoke alarms sound.”

Not sure how to make a fire escape plan?

Susan suggests completing these essential steps to create an effective escape plan for your household:

  • Draw a grid of your home with all the rooms.
  • Identify two exits from each room (typically a door or a window).
  • Make sure exits are not blocked (by furniture or clutter) and are in working order.
  • Determine a path from each room’s exits to the outside.
  • Select a meeting place outside the home, generally in front, where everyone knows to gather.
  • Practice the plan (and different escape scenarios) with your household regularly, at least twice a year.

That last step is crucial and should not be overlooked.

Practice promotes safety

A smoke detector surrounded by smoke - fire safety tips

When the smoke detector sounds, get out and stay out.

“Practicing your plan creates muscle memory around what to do when the smoke alarm sounds,” says Susan. “As simple as it sounds, ensuring that everyone has actually practiced the steps they’d take in a fire situation can have a potentially life-saving impact. Everyone will be able to snap into action, know exactly what to do, and use the precious little time they have to get out quickly and safely.”

Equally important is practicing different scenarios, so your family will know how to escape a home fire if certain exits are blocked.

If possible, grab a cellphone on the way out or include going to a neighbor’s home as part of your plan, so you can call 911 as quickly as possible.

But NFPA stresses, “Get out, stay out.”

The next wave of fire safety – sprinklers

NFPA sees sprinklers as the next step in fire safety evolution as the home fire death rate has remained steady over the last few decades.

“What we’re seeing is that when people have fires in their homes, they’re still having trouble escaping safely,” says Susan. “Sprinklers dramatically reduce the likelihood of your risk to fire in terms of fatalities, but also injuries and property damage. They’re safer for firefighters, too.”

An arm of the NFPA is the “Fire Sprinkler Institute,” which works to require sprinklers in new home constructions. As for the homeowners who fear seeing sprinklers in their homes, Susan assures that’s not a problem.

“If you look at the way modern sprinklers are designed, it’s just like a little tap flush with your ceiling, so you really can’t see them. They’re very tastefully done.”

Awareness saves lives

The best life-saving measure when dealing with home fires is taking preventative steps and precautions.

Notes Susan, “In a real fire situation, it’s scary. It’s hot. There’s smoke. You need to be prepared in advance to ensure that everyone in your home knows how to protect themselves.”

That is why having a home fire escape plan and correct smoke alarm placement is so critically important.

“Having an awareness of the ways you can reduce your risk of home fire and protect yourself, your family members, and your home can really make such a tremendous difference.”

Prevent the preventable in your home

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How Do Wildfires Start? The Most Common Causes & How to Save Your Home

This summer, Canadian wildfire smoke spread across the U.S. and engulfed more than a third of our country’s population. While this may have been an anomaly, wildfires are common in many parts of the United States with more than half of all U.S. properties at risk for wildfire damage. 

Michele Steinberg, Wildfire Division Director, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), recently stopped by the vipHome Podcast to share how wildfires ignite and spread, so you can protect your home and family! 

Wildfires occur naturally. 

While many wildfires start due to human activity, wildfires are reoccurring natural events that frequently happen in remote forested areas.

“Most of North America has what we call ‘fire adapted ecosystems,’” says Michele, who has been helping homeowners with the NFPA since 2002. “Those are places where, over millennia, the plant and animal species have adapted to fire.”

Wildfires in these areas have several benefits, where they act as “nature’s cleanup crew.” They clean up debris and remove old dry brush. Additionally, they add nutrients to the soil and bring extra benefits to the landscape. Unfortunately, wildfires are now catching attention because of the great devastation they’ve been causing to communities.  

“We are getting bigger wildfires,” says Michele, “and we’re certainly seeing more and more impacts on our built environment and on our communities.”

Why are we seeing such devastation with recent wildfires?

Though the number of wildfires hasn’t changed, there are three reasons why wildfires have made headlines and created record-breaking damage in the past few years.

#1 – Fire-adapted environments haven’t burned as they have needed.

Though fire is natural and needed in certain ecosystems, humans have entered these environments and at times, have helped to prevent ignition. 

“We have lots of land that hasn’t been restored to its health and its natural environment, partly because again, ironically we’ve been trying to keep fire from happening in these landscapes where it does need fire,” says Michele. 

This means the natural cleanup of the landscape hasn’t occurred in some places for more than a century. The natural landscape has accumulated brush and other debris, which has helped to create additional fuel for recent fires.

“When fire does start, you’re going to have a tendency to have a worse fire, a bigger fire, a hotter fire, and potentially a more disastrous one.”

#2 – Human construction has invaded fire-adapted environments.

a wildfire burning near a neighborhood - how do wildfires start

Communities have been built in fire-adapted environments.

In recent decades, society has expanded into fire-prone areas in the southern and western U.S. Unfortunately, necessary precautions have not been taken.

“Most of the time, we’re not designing our communities and our buildings in a way that would be compatible with the fact that there is wildfire on the landscape,” says Michele.

Also, some areas that do not have fire have also suffered greatly from human development, such as Hawaii. 

“Development over time is also doing things like disturbing the natural cycles of some of these plants and animals, introducing fire in places where it hasn’t been traditionally,” says Michele. 

Certain types of development have also been detrimental, such as the introduction of grasses that carry fire well. This has led to greater devastation.  

“One person in Hawaii described it to me as the locals have sat there with the fire hazard growing up around them, quite literally with these grasses and things that are happening on the landscape,” says Michele. 

#3 – A volatile environment has helped to fuel recent wildfires. 

More extreme weather events have also led to wildfires. In the last decade, warming ocean temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and droughts on land have helped fuel wildfires.  

“We can’t look back a hundred years to say this is how we should do things,” says Michele. “We have to look forward to say, “‘Now we need to expect more significant events, more drought, more heavy rain in the seasons, etc.’”

How to prevent human-caused wildfires 

According to a joint study by the University of Colorado and the University of Massachusetts, eight out of 10 wildfires are caused by humans, and these fires are responsible for nearly half of all area burned. Thankfully, many human-caused fires are preventable. 

How to prevent wildfires from open burning and intentional fires 

Wildfires can happen when small fires, such as opening burning and unattended campfires, burn out of control. To avoid starting wildfires, listen to state and local alerts and be aware of the laws.

“If you’re following your local emergency manager or fire service, they will note a red flag day, which is a day with those hot, dry, windy conditions,” says Michele. 

opening burning - how do wildfires start

Avoid certain activities during hot, dry, windy conditions.

They’ll also let you know when there is a burn ban in effect, which is when a state fire marshal or your local county fire service may say conditions are too dangerous for open burning. 

(Opening burning occurs when homeowners burn items, like leaves or debris, in their yards. Not all states allow open burning, so make sure to know your laws and regulations!) 

How to prevent wildfires from equipment sparks 

One of the leading causes of wildfires is a spark from mechanical or electrical equipment when the weather conditions are right. 

“Our electrical power lines, for example, are the culprit of fires when we have those hot, dry, and windy conditions,” says Michele. 

A recent campaign in the Western U.S. called for “One Less Spark – One Less Wildfire” after research found many wildfires started by roadways in California, Oregon, and Washington. 

“This is maybe somebody dragging chains on a trailer or maybe somebody’s car is overheating,” says Michele. “They pull over to the side of the road, and that hot motor can ignite the dry grass underneath it.”

Similarly, grills, campfires, and fire pits can cause wildfires unintentionally, so it’s important to be cognizant during all fire use. Homeowners should also consider not mowing the lawn or using fireworks if there is a red flag warning. 

“Fireworks are a massive cause of fire every single year around the Fourth of July,” says Michele. “Any kind of use of something that could spark a fire is a bad idea.”

Simple wildfire home preparedness tips 

“Wildfire is going to happen at some point if you live in a place where wildfire is part of the landscape,” warns Michele. 

With more than half of all U.S. properties at risk for wildfire damage, you need to prepare, and here are a few simple steps that can help!

Check the first five feet around your home. 

a rank near dried brush in a yard - how do wildfires start

Clear brush away from your home.

The five-foot zone around the home is the most important area to address when making your home more resistant to potential ignition. 

“We’re talking about the perimeter right at your foundation and out,” says Michele. “That’s the place that you don’t want any material to be able to pile up and collect, like leaves or debris. You don’t want to have anything that can burn in that area.”

Make sure not to pile firewood or flammable construction/home improvement materials near your home. Also, consider landscaping choices that can help make the area safer, such as adding gravel or even bare earth. 

Check your home from the ground up. 

Stone or concrete foundations help prevent embers from getting inside your home, but some homeowners have siding that reaches the ground. For these situations, consider adding at least six inches of metal flashing or other fire-resistant material to prevent ignition. 

“Again, it’s a very small space,” says Michele, “but it creates that little barrier for embers piling up and starting to ignite anything that’s combustible on the siding.”

Also, check your home from the top down. 

Clear out any materials near your home that can ignite. Start at the roof and work your way down. Look for debris and any place embers can land. Secure these areas by screening any vents and boxing in open eaves. Clean gutters and downspouts, and clear dead, dry materials off porches, decks, stairs, and away from the foundation.

Make it a group project! 

The conditions in the Home Ignition Zone (HIZ), or the area up to 200 feet from a home’s foundation, can help to minimize (or exacerbate) the likelihood of ember attacks. That’s why it’s important to work with your neighbors, who may be in your HIZ.  

“We may not have control over a hundred feet away from our home, “says Michele, “so the more we can get our neighbors adjacent to us to do the work – to do the cleanups and be aware of the danger – the better off the whole community is going to be.”

Prevent the preventable in your home

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(At Least) 21 Super Simple Kitchen Safety Tips to Prevent a Home Fire

Cooking is the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the second leading cause of home fire deaths.

Since most cooking fires happen in the kitchen, we reached out to Andrea Vastis, Senior Director of Public Education at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Andrea shared with us an abundance of simple kitchen safety tips (at least 21!) that can help prevent a home fire from happening in your cooking space.

Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent a cooking fire

“The number one cause of cooking fires is unattended cooking,” says Andrea. “It’s usually a scenario where someone will say afterward, I left something going on the stove and forgot about it I left the water overflowing and boiling, I left my pan for just a minute.”

To prevent a cooking fire, Andrea suggests following these simple tips:

  • Staying in the kitchen while you are cooking.
  • Staying alert while cooking and not being distracted in any way.
  • Keeping children and pets at least three feet away from the cooking area.
  • Double-check your timer to make sure you set it for the right time.

“Did you do three minutes or 30 minutes or 30 seconds?” asked Andrea.

Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent cooking appliance fires

Before ever buying a cooking appliance, check to see that it was listed by an independent testing laboratory.

“You want to make sure that what you are using a product that has been tested to approved safety standards,” says Andrea.

Then, you want to use it safely. This means you should:

  • Plug the appliance into a wall properly and never use an extension cord.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Place your product on an appropriate surface.

“Most products are safe for most countertops,” says Andrea, “but you need to think – if I have a laminate countertop, should I be using a granite base or a marble base, something that doesn’t conduct heat and doesn’t have the risk of melting?”

Also, replace appliances that become hazards with frayed wires or irregularity in performance. Of course, big appliances should be left to the professionals.

“If it’s an appliance like your range top or your oven, get it serviced by a qualified professional who can either repair it or help determine if it’s time for a new one,” says Andrea.

Use your appliance properly

a woman setting the timer on a microwave - kitchen safety tips

Did you set the timer for 30 seconds or 30 minutes?

If you fail to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you can create a dangerous situation in your kitchen. This is especially important with cooking temperatures.

Explains Andrea, “If you have a slow cooker and the recipe calls for it to be on low and you’re putting it on high, you’re risking burning the food. You’re also creating the potential for something that can happen, including contact burns.”

Electric range tops manufactured after 2015 are required to have temperature-limiting controls.

“If you have an old coil stove top that was manufactured before then, you can actually retrofit it with a burner that is temperature limiting,” says Andrea.

That is important because “the majority of [cooking fires] are on the range top, and the majority of those are actually on electric range tops,” says Andrea.

Keep your appliances clean

Kitchen appliances – whether they be cooktops, microwaves, crockpots, etc., – all require proper cleaning.

“Leftover food – grease, oil, any kind of spills – can heat up and catch fire,” says Andrea.

Leftover oils, butters, food remnants, etc., can create dangerous situations, especially during the holidays or big family dinners.

“This is why we also talk about the times of the year where there are the most cooking fires – like Thanksgiving,” says Andrea. “You have all these dishes going in the oven. Maybe you didn’t clean the oven beforehand, and there’s all this leftover stuff that’s now overheating and is just very easily ignitable.”

When cleaning any appliances, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you didn’t keep your appliance’s manual, like most homeowners, there’s one easy solution.

“If you know what make and model it is, you can just very easily find [the manuals] online,” says Andrea.

Dirty stove top - kitchen safety tips

Clean appliances are safer appliances.

Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent home fire injuries

One of the easiest ways to prevent cooking home fire injuries is to wear appropriate clothing.

“It’s important that when you are doing the cooking, you’re not wearing any loose clothing,” says Andrea. “You’re either wearing short sleeves or tight sleeves. You’re not wearing anything that’s billowy that can come in contact with the range and catch fire.”

You should also use tools designed to keep you safe, such as oven mitts. Also, avoid creating dangerous situations by placing an appendage or your face where it doesn’t belong.

“We have this weird tendency to always want to stick our face into things, right?” says Andrea.

Home chefs should be careful as heat from an oven or heat from steam can burn. Even just opening a bag of hot popcorn can cause injury.

“The number one burn injury for children, especially under the age of five, are scalds and burns from things like hot foods and liquids,” says Andrea. “That’s why we really stress the three-foot zone – no kid, no pet. Also, no coffee in one hand, kid in another. Just take your time.”

a couple pulling a pan out of the oven - kitchen safety tips

Wear tight sleeves and oven mitts!

What if the worst-case scenario happens – a fire in your kitchen

Andrea runs down easy-to-remember steps to help you remain calm and stay safe in the kitchen if a fire happens.

If an article of clothing catches fire

Smother it quickly. Perform the stop, drop and roll technique by stopping where you are, covering your face with your hands and rolling back and forth or over and over until the flames are out.

“Stop, drop, and roll really can make a tremendous difference in reducing the risk of burns,” says Andrea. “It’s about smothering the flames.”

For older home chefs who may not be able to stop, drop, and roll, try smothering the fire with a blanket.

“It’s all about getting rid of any oxygen for that fire to be able to take hold and get to you to burn.”

If your pan catches fire

“Grease and frying pan fires make up a large portion of the home cooking fire problem,” says Andrea.

To prevent a grease pan fire, NFPA suggests remembering and practicing these catchy phrases – stand by your pan; keep an eye on what you fry.

“Always stay with what your frying, poaching, and braising,” says Andrea.

It’s also a great idea to have a heavy lid or a cookie sheet nearby.

“Having a lid nearby can help quickly and effectively put out a grease pan fire,” says Andrea. “Carefully slide the lid over the pan, turn off the heat, step away and just let it cool down completely.”

Andrea notes that if the fire, at any point, starts to get bigger where you can’t safely slide a cover over it to extinguish the flames or the flames continue to grow, immediately get yourself and anyone else at home outside and call the fire department for assistance.

If your oven catches fire

Shut the door, turn off the oven, and call the fire department.

With a microwave oven – shut the door, turn it off, and unplug it. If any sign of fire remains, call the fire department.

When in doubt, get takeout

One of the most important kitchen safety rules is knowing when not to cook. There are times when you should play it safe and order takeout.

“It doesn’t even matter if you’re using the microwave or other small appliance,” says Andrea. “If you’re using medication that makes you sleepy, if you’ve had a few drinks, that’s not the time to be cooking or using electrical equipment. Just get takeout.”

Learn more cooking safety tips at nfpa.org/cooking, and help children learn cooking safety at sparky.org.

Prevent the preventable in your home

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Homeownership can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The vipHome.app can help. In less than four minutes, enjoy a new way to manage your home. Simply download the app, register your home, and enjoy a simplified homeownership experience.

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A lithium-ion battery that caught fire

How to Prevent a Lithium-ion Battery Fire in Your Home

Pete and his family say the pictures of their destroyed Illinois home don’t do the damage justice. At one a.m., on a night like any other one, the non-manufacturer’s battery on their stick vacuum overheated and exploded in their laundry room.

“The fire was violent and reached over 500 degrees, enough to melt the blades of a ceiling fan,” Pete explains. “We’ve always kept our vacuum plugged in…doesn’t everyone?”

Ceiling fan blades melted after a lithium-ion battery fire
Damage from a lithium-ion battery fire (photo courtesy of Pete)

Unfortunately, 80% of the house needs to be stripped to the studs, and Pete’s family will be out of the house until, most likely, early 2024.

Lithium-ion batteries have been known to cause destructive fires, just like Pete’s. Though the chances of a lithium-ion battery failing and catching fire is one in 10 million batteries, they caused 200 fires and six deaths in New York City last year alone. 

That’s why we reached out to Brian O’Connor, technical services engineer at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Brian shared with us important safety tips to help you and your family safely use devices powered with lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium batteries vs. lithium-ion batteries

There are two types of lithium batteries, but only one of them is known to be extremely combustible.

“Lithium batteries are lithium metal one-time-use batteries,” says Brian. “Lithium-ion batteries are the rechargeable batteries that we’re seeing infiltrate everywhere.”

A lithium-ion battery (or li-on battery) uses lithium salt, which is a highly reactive metal.

“The thing that makes them dangerous is the same thing that makes them useful,” says Brian. “They have a lot of energy in a small envelope.”

You’ll find lithium-ion batteries in your cell phones, watches, laptops, electric vehicles, even your power drill and other tools. When energy is released from a lithium-ion battery, it can generate toxic and flammable gases and heat, which can lead to an explosion.

“If you’re using them correctly, if you’re using properly-listed batteries, [the threat] is pretty low,” says Brian.

Why are lithium-ion battery fires so dangerous?

The differentiating factor between lithium-ion battery fires and other home fires is its fast rate of spreading.

A lithium-ion rechargeable batteries heats up when it starts to fail and pressurizes with flammable gas. As soon as that flammable gas is released, it creates a dangerous and potentially deadly situation. 

“Think of a lighter that breaks in half,” says Brian. “It creates a very quick gas fire, so it’s able to spread to adjacent cells. It can also eject those cells into other parts of the room, so it can become a multiple-point fire.”

Since these fires spread so fast, homeowners don’t have a lot of time to react, which can lead to injury or even death.

How to prevent lithium-ion battery fires in your home

A washer and a dryer destroyed from a lithium-ion battery fire
Damage from a lithium-ion battery fire (photo courtesy of Pete)

Using lithium-ion batteries safely includes the storage, charging, and buying of devices with these batteries.

How to charge a lithium-ion battery safely 

You can lower your risk of a fire by following five simple steps for lithium-ion battery charging:

  1. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  2. Use the charger that came with the product or make sure the charger and battery are compatible. (“Different batteries need different charging rates,” says Brian.)
  3. Avoid charging lithium-ion batteries all the time.
  4. Avoid charging lithium-ion batteries overnight. (This includes your cell phone.)
  5. Unplug lithium-ion batteries once they are fully charged.

“There’s no reason to leave something charging all the time,” says Brian. “It opens you up to a higher probability of something bad happening.”

“The manufacturer recommends that even with their batteries, you charge them for 3 1/2 hours and then unplug them,” says Pete, recalling his home fire. “Only charge them when you are home and paying attention. It’s not only just product. It’s every single lithium battery that you have in your home.”

How to store your lithium-ion battery safely

a plugged-in E-bike
Store your devices in safe places.

Where and how you store your devices with lithium-ion batteries is equally important. The NFPA suggests the following protocol for lithium-ion battery storage:

  1. Avoid storing devices with lithium-ion batteries in precarious positions, such as on the stairs where they can fall, be punctured, crushed, etc.
  2. Avoid storing your devices in your bedroom or next to a door or room exit.
  3. Be mindful of extreme heat and extreme cold temperatures.

Always check the manufacturer’s instructions, but lithium-ion batteries generally cannot withstand temperatures below freezing or above 120°F.

“If you’re living out in Arizona and your garage is unconditioned, it’s going to get pretty hot in there,” says Brian. “That’s when it really increases the risk of a fire.”

Additional tips to prevent a lithium-ion battery fire

When buying a device, batteries, or charging equipment, make sure they’re listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly.

“[These labs] go through a lot of testing to make sure [lithium-ion batteries] can survive impacts and different temperature ranges,” says Brian.

Also, buy replacement parts, batteries, and chargers from the manufacturer when possible.

Pete’s home fire stemmed from a replacement battery.

“The lithium battery was not from the manufacturer, but a third-party replacement battery that we bought on Amazon that I think you can still buy today,” says Pete. 

Also, as mentioned earlier, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

“The manufacturers of these batteries know what they’re talking about,” says Brian. “They want the product to do well, so make sure that you’re using the charger and you’re charging within the temperature limits.”

How to properly dispose of lithium-ion batteries

A person putting a phone in a recycling bin
Your local DPW may collect your old devices.

Lithium-ion batteries should not be disposed of in the trash. Instead, check with your local big box stores for disposal options for small devices, such as a cell phone or tablet.

Many big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s often accept tools powered by lithium-ion batteries, Brian notes.

Your local department of waste management (DPW) may also provide lithium-ion battery recycling. Many offer an annual household hazardous waste day, when you bring these devices for disposal, even if they have caught fire. If your DPW doesn’t accept these devices, contact your local fire department for more options.

Warning signs that your lithium-ion battery may be critical

There are a few warning signs that may indicate your device’s lithium-ion battery may catch fire. First, you may notice a very strong, toxic odor. Second, the device or battery may start to inflate. 

“The electrolyte turns into a gas,” says Brian, “and just like when you boil water, the gas takes up more volume than the solid. It’s going to puff out a bit.”

an inflated cellphone battery
A battery may inflate before catching fire.

Many times lithium-ion battery systems are encased in a plastic or metal container. With layers of protection between you and the battery, you may not be able to see them puff up, but you may be able to hear or smell them.

Next signs include seeing or smelling smoke and hearing loud, popping noises.

“If you start smelling or hearing them, evacuate first, then call the fire department for assistance,” says Brian.

Also, never touch the device.

“It’s really hard to tell when that pressurized vessel’s going to burst,” says Brian, who equates a lithium-ion battery explosion to a blow torch. “You don’t want that in your hand or pocket or anywhere near you when that happens.”

Thankfully, Pete and his family weren’t home when their vacuum caught fire, but they lost so many of their personal belongings.

“This is no joke,” says Pete. “You may have read articles about this happening, but it can happen to you. We certainly didn’t think it would happen to us.”

Ultimately, we need to change the way we approach and use lithium-ion batteries.

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Hosting Guests for the Holidays? Here’s How to Stay Merry, Bright, and Safe

How do you spend your holidays? If you said “hosting family,” then you’ll need to get your home ready for your holly-est and jolliest family and friends.

Here at vipHomeLink, we want your holidays to be merry and bright. That’s why we put together a holiday hosting essentials guide to help you and your family stay safe this holiday season!

Check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms

Man standing on ladder checking smoke detector

Every home needs working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the peak days when firefighters respond to home fires, and one of the leading culprits is cooking. Before you roast chestnuts over an open fire, check your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. (Anna Farris wishes she did on a previous Thanksgiving.)

If you have a security system, arm it every time you leave the home, even if you’re just going out to see neighborhood holiday lights. Potential burglars are frequent unwanted guests during the holiday season, so take all the necessary safety precautions!

Serve up cooking safety – fire edition 

Fire extinguisher sitting on a countertop in a kitchen

Keep your fire extinguisher close!

While you might be tempted to get into the eggnog early when hosting guests for the holidays, hold off drinking any alcoholic beverages. Before you start, clean and declutter the area, especially of flammable items, and never leave your simmering or boiling pots unattended.

If you have a fire extinguisher, make sure that you have the appropriate type and know how to use it. If any of your appliances have been acting up, call a qualified technician to investigate.

Serve up cooking safety – food edition

Person putting sugar cookies onto a cookie tray

Wait for the final product!

One of the most important tips for hosting the holidays at home is to wash your hands before handling food and after handling raw meat. Use a food thermometer to ensure your dishes reach safe temperatures, and clean and sanitize utensils to prevent cross contamination. If you’re fortunate to have leftovers, follow expert safety advice, such as putting food away within two hours (one hour in areas of extreme heat).

Be bright but be safe

GCFI outdoor holiday lights

Use GFCIs when possible.

This is an important tip for all homeowners, not just those hosting guests for the holidays. If you have GFCIs, test them before the guests arrive (and also every month). Call a licensed electrician to investigate any issue you find, including non-working outlets and any burning smells.

When it comes to holiday decorations, use GFCIs where possible. Inspect light strings for damaged and loose bulbs, and never use nails or staples when rigging. Check manufacturer’s instructions for indoor/outdoor use and stick to the recommendations. Then turn off any decorations when you’re leaving home or going to sleep.

Keep your exits clear

We all love our candles, trees, garland, and figurines, but they can be dangerous. Keep decorations away from heat sources, such as fireplaces, portable heaters, and radiators. Also, keep all your exits – doorways and windows – clear, just in case you and your loved ones need to make a quick getaway. 

Baby, it could get cold and icy outside

salt in a bucket and shovel

Be ready for snow problems.

While a “White Christmas” may be a reality for some homeowners in colder locales, winter storms can manifest in different ways – snowstorms, ice storms, hailstorms, and even harsh rainstorms. Make sure you’re ready for a potential power outage with the family, including blankets, bottles of water, games, and batteries (for flashlights and other equipment).

If you’re in an area prone to snowstorms, get your ice melt, shovels, and other equipment in order.

Watch out for the little ones

Baby wearing an antler headband crawling in front of a Christmas tree

Little reindeer like to explore!

If you’re not used to hosting younger guests for the holidays, do a safety check. Keep poinsettia and mistletoe out of reach, or even skip those decorations. Consider using LED candles instead of real ones, and handle light strings and old ornaments, which may have lead in them, with care.

Small bows can be choking hazards for pets and young children alike, so avoid placing them on low branches or on presents. Also, ensure your pets wear their ID tags, just in case an unknowing guest lets them out.

Know your local laws

More friends and family in your home generally means more cars in your driveway. Do you have enough parking? Depending on your municipality, you may need to pay extra for an on-road overnight parking permit during the winter or seek other solutions. If you live in an area with mass transit, you may have a parking garage that offers parking spots, or a traveling neighbor may even welcome cars in their driveway (if you ask). One of the best deterrents against burglary can be a car in the driveway.

Call your insurance agent

Closeup on someone using their cell phone and holding to go coffee cup

Do you have the right coverage?

Anytime you’re having house guests over for a prolonged stay, you should give your insurance agent a call. Review your current policy and see if you need additional coverage. You should also make it a new year’s resolution to spend time with your insurance agent. Your agent can update your policy with any new gifts, especially expensive ones, and help keep you protected in case of a home insurance claim. 

Take pandemic precautions

Picnic table in the backyard with 3 lanterns on it

Be safe while celebrating.

Discuss safety precautions for you and your guests. Depending on your locale, you may want to opt for an outdoor dinner. If you’re in the colder regions of the country, then you may choose to use exhaust fans (to pull air out of the room and not circulate it) and consider investing in portable air cleaners and heaters. 

Stay on top of home maintenance

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15 Holiday Fire Safety Tips That’ll Save Your Feast and Home

Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and injuries in the United States. Fire departments respond to an average of 158,400 cooking fires annually, and unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the peak days fire departments get called to home fires.

“On Thanksgiving Day, you’re cooking probably more than you normally do,” says Andrea Vastis, Senior Director of Public Education for the National Fire Protection Association. “You have more going on around you. Sometimes more eyes mean fewer eyes on the cooking.”

Many of these home fires are preventable by knowing the causes of cooking fires and by following the below holiday fire safety tips.

“We say, ‘This Christmas, you want a visit from Santa, not your fire department,” says Andrea.

1. More than a quarter of cooking fires are due to unattended cooking.

These cooking fires occur when a home chef leaves on the stove for braising or frying, or gets distracted. Some home chefs even start cooking, forget they’re cooking, and fall asleep.

“We like to say, ‘Stand by your pan. Keep an eye on what you fry,’” says Andrea. “Whatever you have to do – ban SnapChat from your kitchen cooking, so you’re not constantly doing that.”

2. The range top is where most home fires happen.

Person cooking on a gas range

Some range tops can reach 1,000 degrees.

“Electric stove tops are more likely to cause fires than gas stove tops,” says Andrea. “It sounds counterintuitive because you think flame must equal fire, but the electric coil range tops can reach 1,000 degrees.”

In fact, range top fires account for 53% of the overall cooking fires, 88% of the deaths, and 74% of the injuries.

This is why one of the most important holiday fire safety tips is to never –

3. Leave kitchen towels or anything flammable near the range top.

Be mindful of oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers, curtains, and anything that’s flammable in your cooking area. That includes your clothes. Home chefs who wear bell sleeves or bathrobes can quickly find themselves in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation.

“We’re talking about burns and clothing that can catch fire,” says Andrea. “Wear short or tight sleeves when you cook.”

4. Cook with an oversized lid next to you.

oversized pot lid being held over a pan

Keep a lid handy to smother fires.

Says Andrea, “If there’s a flare up, quickly slide the lid on it, turn off the ignition, and step away until it dies out.”

Also, have an oven mitt nearby, so you don’t burn your hand as you slide the lid over the flame.

5. Don’t try to fight the fire yourself.

“Many cooking fire deaths occurred because people tried to fight the fire themselves,” warns Andrea.

Homeowners panic when a fire ignites, throw their pans in the sink, and do other reckless behaviors. Instead, Andrea stresses that homeowners need to get out, stay out, and call 9-1-1.

“Let the professionals take care of the firefighting.”

6. Clean your area before starting to cook.

You might be thinking, “Can leaving an oven on actually start a fire?”

“If you don’t clean the stove top, there’s a lot of residual grease and oil,” says Andrea. “That can ignite and cause a fire.”

Two-thirds (66%) of home cooking fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials, which can happen on the stovetop or in the oven.

Oil, juices, and other materials can fall out of the pan and lay on the bottom of your gas or electric oven. These can ignite, too.

7. Have a game plan.

person cooking shrimp on a gas range

Know the chefs in the room.

More than one person will usually bring a dish to dinner. One of the best things you can do is designate a place – a counter, a table, etc. – where guests can drop off their Tupperware. This way, people won’t set something on the stove or an area where it can catch fire, and the home chef can be in control of the situation.

Offers Andrea, “If you’re hosting, think of other jobs you can give people, so you can keep them out of your cooking.”

8. Create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around your cooking area.

“Pulling things on top of themselves and knocking into things are still sending so many kids to the emergency room and causing major burns,” says Andrea. “This is not a place for kids.”

9. Set a timer.

turkey in an oven

Keep an eye on your longer-to-cook dishes.

Timers are a great way to keep home chefs attentive. Of course, if you’re grilling, boiling, braising, or frying, stay right there at all times. For longer cooking times, like simmering, baking or roasting food, you should set a timer on your phone or use the one on the oven.

“When it’s going to be two hours, set your timer for every 15 minutes to check on it,” says Andrea. “People get distracted. They fall asleep. So many things can happen.”

10. If you have to step away, turn it off.

Says Andrea, “You think, ‘Oh, I have it here. It’s fine. I’m going to step here to go grab something.’ But inevitably, something distracts you and it takes longer.”

You may return to a fire on the stove. Better to be safe than sorry, so if you ever have to leave it, just turn the oven off.

11. Do not cook under the influence.

red wine next to a salad

Save the wine for the meal.

More cooking mishaps happen when you’re paying attention or distracted, and that includes when drinking. Best to leave the alcohol for the feast.

12. Do not cook if you’re not 100%.

If you have consumed alcohol, didn’t sleep well, or you feel drowsy, leave the cooking to another chef or call for delivery.

13. Be careful with fire extinguishers.

There’s a lot to know about fire extinguishers before you can use one.

“There are different types of fire extinguishers,” says Andrea. “The most reasonably priced extinguisher is not rated for a grease fire and will actually make a grease fire worse.”

That’s why it’s best to call the fire department for any fires that are bigger than your ability to slide the lid on it and turn it off.

14. Smoke alarms should not be in kitchens or bathrooms.

“The heat from the kitchen and the bathroom will set them off. Then you’re going to take the battery out, and now you’ll be left unprotected.”

15. But you should never cook without working smoke alarms.

person changing smoke detector batteries

Check your smoke alarms before you start cooking!

You should absolutely have working smoke alarms in your home as they can mean the difference between life and death.

“People are twice as likely to die in a fire without a working smoke alarm,” says Andrea.

The best protection is interconnected alarms that are installed by a licensed electrician. This way, if a fire breaks out on one side of the home, you’ll be alerted quickly on your side of the house. However, if you don’t have interconnected smoke alarms, then you need to ensure your smoke alarms have batteries in them and they work.

Says Andrea, “Like you need your space suit to breathe on the moon, you need your smoke alarm to be safe in your house.”

Test your smoke alarms at least once a month, perhaps on “Smoke Alarm Saturday,” or the first Saturday of the month, as Andrea suggests. Learn more about smoke alarms and where they should be in Fire Safety Tips That Can Save Your Life.

NFPA logoStay safe all year long!

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Is Your Community Threatened by Wildfires? Reduce Your Wildfire Risks Now

Wildfires continue to threaten many U.S. communities. At the very end of 2021, more than 1,000 homes were destroyed in Boulder County, Colorado, totaling more than $1 billion in damage. In just the first few months of 2022, there have been wildfires in 13 other states, including places you may not associate with wildfires.

While you can lower your home’s risk of wildfire damage, wildfires are a community risk. What one homeowner does or doesn’t do can affect the entire neighborhood.

That’s why we reached out to Michele Steinberg, wildfire division director for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Michele recently stopped by the vipHome Podcast to share tips on how to reduce wildfire risks in your community.

Wildfires can happen (almost) anywhere

Wildfires are natural hazards that can occur throughout the United States.

“We have wildfires that can affect our communities in places like Florida, New Jersey, Texas, even Hawaii and Alaska,” says Michele. “It isn’t only a California problem or a Western States’ problem.”

Wildfire ignition is part of the natural environment, and many ecosystems throughout the United States depend upon fire.

“The plants and the animals have evolved along with fire in those areas, so we know that fire is a natural occurrence that’s going to keep happening on our landscapes.”

Unfortunately, communities have been built in areas where natural fires ignite regularly, so it’s beneficial for Americans to learn how to live with this natural phenomenon.

Get wise about wildfires

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the NFPA’s Firewise USA® program provides tips and tools to help homeowners prepare their home and their communities for a wildfire.

“We’re finding the work you do around your home – while it’s important – your neighbors need to do it, too,” says Michele.

Person wearing an orange glove cleaning out a gutter

Your gutters are more important than you think!

If a home ignites, it can become fuel for a fire that can easily spread to other homes. It’s important to provide the least amount of fuel for fires in parklets, common areas, roadways, and in between homes – to prevent fires from spreading and to help everyone evacuate safely if need be.

“We need a community approach to make sure that everybody’s home is prepared,” says Michele.

Firewise USA® is a recognition program and was designed to encourage small communities to educate homeowners and help prevent wildfire damage.

“It’s a way that members of the community can start to make those practices a normal part of everyday life,” says Michele.

These communities take steps to reduce their risk of wildfire damage, such as clearing brush, debris, and other items that are flammable around homes or roadways.

“They get together and help neighbors who can’t do the work themselves,” says Michele. “These are really great efforts that the Firewise USA® sites do all the time.”

How to become a Firewise USA® site

Any community that meets the criteria can become a Firewise USA® site. Check out the website and read below to learn more about the requirements for becoming a Firewise USA® community!

Action steps to take a community approach

fuel break between the woods and open space

Communities need fire breaks to help prevent the spread of wildfires.

The first step is for the community to form a board or committee. (A community can be as few as eight dwellings or as many as 2,500.)

The board then contacts the state liaison, who is appointed by the state forestry or fire agency. With the help of the state liaison or a local wildfire expert, the community will complete a wildfire risk assessment, which will answer the following:

  • What are the risks in our community regarding wildfire ignition?
  • In what condition are our homes?
  • What would a wildfire look like when it comes to the community?
  • Are there other risks we should be aware of?
  • What are the action steps our community should take?

The committee or board will create an action plan from the assessment. NFPA suggests communities create a three-year plan, so not every item needs to be completed in the first year. The site must invest the equivalent of one volunteer hour per dwelling unit in wildfire risk reduction actions each year.

branches being raked

Clear any debris that can ignite.

“It might be that many homes are in poor condition in terms of weeds or brush,” says Michele. “That combustible material will need to be cleared out.”

Once a community has completed the necessary steps, they can submit an application on the Firewise USA® site portal. NFPA will get validation from their state forestry partners that the community has completed the necessary steps, and then the community will get the recognition of being a Firewise USA® site.

Rewards for recognition

NFPA provides signage and a plaque to the community, which are usually placed around its borders. The community will also be included in the NFPA database and the Firewise USA® interactive map.

“The encouragement is that to stay in good standing, you have to do activities every year,” says Michele. “You have to let us know every year what you’re doing and follow your plan over the years.”

Celebrate Wildfire Community Preparedness Day!

wheelbarrow full of branches in the backyard

The Firewise USA® program is one way to bring your community together to protect homes from wildfires. Another way is Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, or “Prep Day,” which NFPA celebrates during the first week of May.

Get proactive about wildfire safety

“This is a rallying point for communities to learn what they can do to be safer from fire,” says Michele. “It’s also a really great opportunity for people to take that first step into wildfire safety and preparedness.”

On this day, the NFPA provides wildfire safety tips and encourages homeowners to make improvements around their homes.

“Just within five feet of a home, homeowners can make a lot of difference,” says Michele. “That’s where embers will flow, pile up, and drop as the wind blows around these big fires.”

NFPA safety zones

Courtesy of the NFPA

Get to know your neighbors

This is also a great day to focus on helping neighbors who may struggle with completing certain proactive tasks.

“We see loads of folks helping people who are elderly, people who have disabilities or for whatever reason can’t tackle these projects on their own,” says Michele. “It’s lovely to see neighborhood and scout groups get together and do these activities on this day.”

In conjunction with State Farm, NFPA provides small grants to support activities aimed at reducing the potential loss of life, property, and natural resources to wildfire.

Explains Michele, “It’s so important because we don’t want people to think, ‘Well, I don’t have to do anything because the fire department will come and save me, or I have insurance, or the federal government will give me disaster aid.’ None of those things are a sure bet. You have the power to make a difference in your community, and we’ve got the tools to help you start doing that.”

Join the activities by posting to social media on Wildfire Community Preparedness Day. Use #WildfirePrepDay and start your community’s process to become a Firewise USA® site now!

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11 Home Fire Facts That Will Alarm You

Home fires happen, and a startling number of them can be prevented. We know what you’re thinking – “It won’t happen to me” – but it happens to approximately 350,800 home fires every year. By following a few home fire safety tips, you can lower your home fire risk and help to protect your loved ones.

We recently welcomed Andrea Vastis, Senior Director of Public Education for the National Fire Protection Association, to the vipHome Podcast. Andrea shared with us some fast home fire facts you may not know and safety tips to prevent one from happening to you.

1. While home fires have decreased over the years, there have been more deadly home fires.

The NFPA found that the number of home fires and home fire deaths are half of what they were in 1980, but the death rate per 1,000 reported home fires has been slightly higher in recent years than it was in 1980.

“Fire isn’t always top of mind for people anymore,” notes Andrea. “We’ve done such a good job over the years through building codes, policies, education, to reduce the numbers of home fires that people aren’t thinking, ‘That’s the thing that’s going to get me tomorrow.’”

However, between 2013 and 2017, 79 percent of fire deaths and 73 percent of all reported fire injuries resulted from home structure fires.

2. A quarter of deadly fires happen when people are sleeping.

“This means cooking was left unattended, something was thrown into the trash that was still on fire, a candle was left burning, or something electrical,” says Andrea.

It’s imperative for you to be mindful and attentive to open flames or any heat source that can create a fire. This means you should stay in the kitchen if you’re cooking and turn off any space heaters when you’re leaving a room.

3. Cooking is still the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries.

a turkey baking inside an oven - home fire safety tips

Don’t sleep with a turkey in the oven.

In a four-year period from 2014-18, fire departments responded to over 170,000 cooking fires. That’s around 470 home cooking fires a day that were reported, with the peak days being Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

“Unattended cooking accounts for nearly a third of these home cooking fires,” says Andrea. “We like to say, ‘Stand by your pan. Keep an eye on what you fry.’ Whatever you have to do.”

4. People are twice as likely to die in a fire where there isn’t a working smoke alarm.

“If you aren’t alerted to the smoke alarm, then you don’t know that there’s a fire,” says Andrea, “and you can’t get out in time.”

Forty-one percent of home deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, and 16 percent had no smoke alarms that were working. In homes that had smoke alarms that did not operate, almost half had missing or disconnected batteries, and another quarter had dead batteries.

So check your alarms monthly to make sure they still work!

5. You need a smoke alarm in your basement and attic but not your bathroom and kitchen.

Notes Andrea, “The heat from the kitchen and from the bathroom will set them off, and then you’re going to take the battery out. You’re now going to be left unprotected.”

There should be one smoke alarm in each bedroom, one outside each sleeping area, one in each hallway, and one on every level of your home. So make sure to install smoke alarms in the basement and attic.

a smoke alarm with smoke around it - home fire safety tips

Make sure to have working smoke alarms where you need them.

“There are so many smoke alarms on the market,” says Andrea.” The key is that the battery is in it and it’s working.”

However, the best protection is installing interconnected smoke alarms, wired by a licensed electrician.

“If a fire breaks out on the other side of the house, you will be alerted quickly on your side of the house.”

6. Smoke alarms have expiration dates.

“If it’s older than 10 years, it’s time to change the unit,” says Andrea.

Smoke alarms can fail before that, so Andrea suggests “Smoke Alarm Saturday,” where you test your smoke alarms the first Saturday of the month to make sure your alarms work and your batteries have power.

7. You may have as little as two minutes to get out of your home during a fire.

Most furniture today is made of synthetic materials, which burn faster and hotter.

“While you might have had 10 minutes to escape your home, you might have as little as two minutes to escape your home now,” says Andrea. “Once that smolder happens on a curtain or a couch, it can reach a flashpoint within two minutes.”

(Home fire safety tips bonus: Flashpoint is the lowest temperature at which vapors above flammable material ignite in air when exposed to a flame and would lead to dangerous and deadly situations during a home fire.)

8. A crucial part of a fire escape plan is the meeting place.

One of the most important home fire safety tips is to learn how to get out of your home safely during an emergency.

“We have had too many people lose their lives because they all went out the house different ways,” says Andrea

Every home needs a fire escape plan, and it’s critical to pick a meeting place – a tree in the next-door neighbor’s yard or the mailbox away from the house. And cellphones are not enough.

“We can’t always rely on the cellphone. Have a place to meet. Have a plan. Then twice a year, have people practice running the drill, dropping everything and just getting out.”

In the case of a real fire, you’ll need to get out, stay out, and then call 9-1-1.

9. Charging your cellphone on your bed is dangerous.

a burned charging cord attached to a cell phone - home fire safety tips

Limit charging to non-flammable services.

“Don’t charge your computer or phone on a bed or on other surfaces that can catch fire,” says Andrea. “These batteries can get really hot, and they can actually ignite.”

The London Fire Brigade are called to more than 24 fire calls per week started by chargers, batteries, and cables.

Lithium-ion batteries, which cell phones use, have made the news recently due to their fire risk. Learn additional tips to lower your risk of a lithium-ion battery fire from Brian O’Connor of NFPA!

10. Failure to clean your dryer can cause a fire.

“The dryer is one of those appliances that has a higher risk of catching fire because of leftover lint in the trap and in the exhaust,” says Andrea. “That can easily catch fire when heated.”

Andrea suggests cleaning the lint from a dryer every spring, including cleaning the vent from outside your house. Also, leaving the dryer on when you’re not home is an “absolute.”

11. Maintaining your furnace is more important than you think.

“This is a critical one because some of the carbon monoxide poisonings have come from furnaces that were working improperly,” says Andrea.

Carbon monoxide is called the “Silent Killer.” It’s odorless, colorless, and causes drowsiness.

“You don’t know it’s happening to you,” explains Andrea, “and that’s why people die from carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Getting your furnace checked every year can help to keep it working properly.

“You get the car tuned up and its oil changed, right? You go for your own doctor visits and immunizations. Consider doing the same for the house. These are your preventive screenings for your house.”

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a gas fireplace inside a living room – gas fireplace leak symptoms

Quick Tips: Warning Signs of a Gas Leak in Your Fireplace

Nothing warms you up on a cold winter’s night quite like a fireplace. Though gas fireplaces have become safer in the last 20 years with shut-off devices and oxygen depletion sensors, homeowners still need to practice safety procedures, but when they should be worried?

We spoke with Paul Pirro from PSE&G’s Appliance Service to learn the signs that indicate a leak in your gas fireplace and the absolute don’ts to help keep your home and everything in it safe.

Gas fireplace leak symptoms you should not ignore


  • The fireplace does not light.
  • Your home methane detectors sound.
  • Your carbon monoxide detectors sound.
  • A stench of “rotten eggs” or a “gas odor” permeates the home.
  • You can hear a hissing sound near your fireplace.

Gas fireplaces use very little natural gas compared to other gas appliances, so you can have an issue without the presence of one of the gas fireplace leak symptoms, such as that rotten eggs or sulfur odor. Your home methane detector is your best friend in this situation. Listen to it and get out of the house. When in doubt, call 911 or your local utility company’s emergency line, and always do so after leaving the house.

It should be noted that it is normal for a gas fireplace to smell a bit when it’s first turned on in a while, but it should dissipate after a few minutes. If you at all worry, get out of the house. Also, if you smell gas when your fireplace isn’t on, get out. When in doubt, always get out.

Carbon monoxide gas also a dangerous gas, and it’s odorless and colorless. Some people don’t realize that they’re suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning until they become very ill. Physical symptoms, such as respiratory problems, may occur immediately or gradually. Carbon monoxide detectors can alert occupants of the presence of deadly carbon monoxide levels that can be present without anyone knowing. When a gas fireplace is being used, carbon monoxide detectors can sense a potential carbon monoxide condition that can be created when fuel burning equipment malfunctions.

What do you do if you suspect a gas leak in your home?

  • Immediately exit the building and move at least 350 feet away.
  • Call 911 or call your gas company (such as PSE&G).

Both are available 24/7/365 and will come to your home. PSE&G will arrive within 60 minutes of the call, often sooner.

Absolute don’ts when it comes to a gas leak

a person cringing with their fingers pinching their nose - gas fireplace leak symptoms
Does your home pass the sniff test?

We’re not exaggerating. Protect life and limb by adhering to these important tips:

  • Don’t use electronic devices inside. That includes your cell phone. Only call 911 or your service company after you’ve moved away from the danger area.
  • Don’t turn the lights on or off, doorbells, or appliances. Sparks can create combustion or an explosion.
  • Don’t start cars.
  • Don’t light a match, smoke, or vape.
  • Don’t try to find the source of the odor.

Get out, assess the situation, and call the appropriate authorities.

These important do’s and don’ts also apply to detect a gas leak in your home, including gas burning appliances including hot water heaters, ovens, and dryers.

Learn more about your home

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Homeownership can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be. The vipHome.app can help. In less than four minutes, enjoy a new way to manage your home. Simply download the app, register your home, and enjoy a simplified homeownership experience.

Get it today!

Learn More