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5 Ways to Protect Yourself from House Fires this Winter

SmartCam, Hedge App, 24/7 Issue Escalations, Home Protection & Security, Home Maintenance, Home Tips

Published: October 18, 2021

House Fires Peak in Winter: 5 Ways to Protect Yourself

According to the National Fire Protection Association, an average of 358,500 homes experience a structural fire each year, resulting in over 2,500 deaths and $7.2 billion in property damage.

House fires generally increase during the fall and winter, reports the American Red Cross, peaking in the months of December and January. This is due, in part, to the introduction of risk factors like heating, holiday decorations, winter storms, and candles.

While thinking about house fires can be unpleasant, it's important to consider ways to protect you, your family, and your belongings. Be prepared — not scared — by following these tips for a safe winter season.

#1: Test your smoke alarms

Your smoke alarms are your best defense against fire. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms.

But in order to reap their life-saving benefits, your smoke alarms need routine maintenance. Age matters: smoke alarm batteries can wear out or die over time. Test smoke alarms once per month by pushing the test button, swap out their batteries once or twice per year, and replace the entire alarm every ten years.

Where you place your smoke alarms matters, too. Half of home fire deaths occur between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are asleep. Smoke alarms should be installed in every bedroom, outside each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the house. Avoid installing smoke alarms near windows, doors, fans, or vents, as air flow can disrupt the alarm's ability to detect smoke.

#2: Be careful in the kitchen

As the temperature dips, you might find yourself less inclined to go out to eat and more excited to cook in the warmth and comfort of your own home. That change in habit, coupled with holiday hosting obligations, might find you in the kitchen more than usual.

As cooking is a U.S. Fire Administration (not just in fall and winter, but all year round), it's important to take necessary precautions in the kitchen to avoid fire.

  • While it can be tempting, never leave a hot stove unattended. If you need to step away, take pots and pans off the stove first.
  • When cooking on the stove, keep the handles of pots and pans turned inward. That way, you'll avoid knocking into them and spilling their contents.
  • Keep the stove clear of anything that could catch fire, like cookbooks, dishtowels, or oven mitts.
  • Wear close-fitting clothing (and mind your apron strings!) to make sure they don't come into contact with a flame or burner.
  • Clean spilled or splattered grease right away, as built-up grease can catch fire. Also, never throw hot grease in the garbage, as it can ignite other materials. Cool and dispose of it in an old can instead.
  • No matter how limited your kitchen space, avoid storing food or other items in the oven. These can easily be forgotten and can catch fire as you preheat the oven.

#3: Create a fire escape plan

Fire spreads rapidly. The National Fire Protection Association estimates you have just two minutes to escape safely once smoke alarms sound, which highlights the importance of a home fire escape plan.

  • Start by walking through your home together, as a family.
  • In each room, determine two possible exits, including windows and doors.
  • Check to make sure these exits can be easily accessed and opened.
  • If your family includes babies, older adults, or members with mobility issues, make sure to designate someone to assist them in the event of a fire.
  • Agree on a meeting spot outside your home, where you'll make sure everyone is accounted for.
  • Make sure all family members know that once you're out of the home, you stay out. Never go back into a burning building; instead, tell the firefighters if someone is missing.

(For more details on creating a fire escape plan, see information from the National Fire Protection Association.)

#4: Mind your space heater and candles

Using a space heater to stay warm as temperatures dip? While they can certainly make a room more comfortable, they don't come without risks. After cooking, heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires. If your space heater malfunctions or is too close to something combustible, it can quickly spark a fire. To prevent issues, make sure to leave a few feet of space around your space heater, don't leave it unattended, and turn it off before you go to bed.

Candles present a similar risk. While they can create a cozy or festive environment, they can become a hazard without the proper precautions:

  • As with space heaters, keep candles a few feet away from anything that could catch fire.
  • Make sure to extinguish the candle before it burns all the way down to the holder. That way, you don't risk the holder becoming too hot and catching fire.
  • Never throw away a candle that's been recently extinguished, as the heat can cause combustible material in your garbage to burn.
  • When in doubt, consider flameless candles. (They can be surprisingly realistic!)

#5: Consider a smart home monitoring device

What happens if a fire breaks out when nobody's around to hear the alarm go off? How do you protect your home from fire when you're not there?

Some smart home devices — like the SmartCam from Hedge — are equipped to help you prevent fire damage. While the SmartCam can't detect smoke, it "listens" for the 3100Hz frequency emitted by standard detectors. Then, it activates Hedge's 24/7 issue escalations, sending notifications, texts, and calls to you and other users on your Hedge account, followed by your emergency contact.

Some fires can't be prevented — but many are avoidable if you take the necessary precautions. Fall and winter are a beautiful time of year, but they do come with new, fire-related risks for homeowners. As the temperatures drop, follow the above tips (plus more here!) to keep you, your family, and your home safe.

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