7 Fire Prevention & Safety Tips for Your Home

More than 350,000 house fires occur each year in the United States. They cause thousands of deaths and injuries and billions of dollars in property damage. That’s why it’s important to be proactive about fire safety in your home. 

You can take these steps to reduce the chance of becoming a statistic:

AFCI outlet, as seen on the side of a kitchen island

1. Install AFCI and GFCI Outlets

Arc-fault and ground-fault circuit interrupter outlets both prevent electrical shocks and fires, but each has a specific purpose. 

AFCIs detect high power discharge of electricity and cut power to the branch circuit. So-called arcs arise from punctured and pinched wires, like when an electrical cord is repeatedly stepped on.

GFCIs, on the other hand, constantly track electrical current flow and cut power to the outlet when there’s a detected change. This is a lifesaver if you drop an appliance — like a hairdryer — into a sink or tub filled with water. 

Kitchens and bathrooms, as well as outdoor areas, garages and crawl spaces, are common locations for GFCI outlets. For everywhere else, you should consider installing an AFCI outlet. 

Leviton’s AFCIs and GFCI outlets do have one thing in common: TEST and RESET buttons to make sure they do their job. Press the TEST button once a month to simulate hazardous situations; power to the outlet should cut off as soon as you do. Press the RESET button and power will return.

Best of all, safety now comes with convenience! New USB Combination GFCI outlets come standard with Type A USB ports. 

Download this easy to use checklist for information on how you can conduct a Home Electrical Audit: electrical-audit-checklist.pdf (leviton.com)


Man installs smoke detector with screwdriver
(©HighwayStarz, DepositPhotos)

2. Install Smoke Detectors

Preventing electrical fires is just one piece of the puzzle. Candles, cooking and fireplaces all can lead to house fires. That’s why every home should have smoke detectors. 

But before you purchase some at the home center, you need to know what you want. 

These are the three main types of smoke detectors: 

  • Optical: Detects smoldering fires
  • Ionization: Detects flaming fires
  • Combination: Detects smoldering and flaming fires

Install at least one smoke detector on each level of your home, with one located in or near each bedroom. You can hardwire a smoke detector into the home, or just use batteries as the main power source. 

It’s important to place alarms on or near the ceiling and away from the corners of the room. Replace batteries every 6 to 12 months (or just replace the device every 10 years if your model uses sealed-in, long-lasting lithium batteries), and annually clean detectors by gently vacuuming them or blowing them with canned air.

And remember: you should replace smoke detectors every 10 years.

Finally, think about ways to prevent house fires. Instead of candles, for instance, set the mood with Decora Slide dimming switches and battery-powered, flameless candles. Always watch the pot while you’re cooking, and never leave a fire unattended. 


Residential sprinkler, seen close up, in ceiling

3. Install Residential Fire Sprinkler Systems

A residential sprinkler system puts out a fire in the crucial minutes when it first starts, whether you are home or not. It’s particularly helpful for people who are disabled and senior citizens. 

These sprinklers are activated by heat, not smoke, so only units closest to the fire come on when one erupts. Usually, just one sprinkler is needed to control the blaze, limiting water damage to the home.

The cost of installing a sprinkler system averages $1.61 per square foot or a little over $3,000 for a 2,000-square-foot home. 

Best of all, having a sprinkler system installed in your home can result in a 5% to 30% reduction in your homeowner’s insurance fire protection costs.

For more information on residential sprinkler systems, see the Home Fire Sprinkler Coalition website.


Carbon monoxide detector installed on a residential wall
(DepositPhotos)

4. Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas generated by fire or combustion.

Sources of carbon monoxide include:

  • Natural gas and propane appliances such as stoves, space heaters and water heaters.
  • Gas, fuel oil, wood, or coal-burning furnaces and heaters.
  • Gas and wood-burning fireplaces.
  • Fires in your home
  • Gasoline and diesel-powered engines used on cars, boats and generators.

Carbon monoxide is invisible and odorless, so installing a CO detector is the only way to know if you are being exposed to it. 

CO detectors can be battery-powered or plug directly into a wall outlet. 

Want the best bang for your buck? Combination units contain smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Here are guidelines for carbon monoxide safety:

  • Install at least one carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home.
  • Put a CO detector in or near each bedroom.
  • Write the date purchased on the back of each alarm.
  • Note the replacement date on each battery and replace batteries as needed or every 6 to 12 months. (Or just replace the device every 10 years if your model uses sealed-in, long-lasting lithium batteries)
  • Clean CO detectors yearly by gently vacuuming them or blowing detectors out with canned air.
  • Replace carbon monoxide detectors every 10 years.

Man services a fire extinguisher that's hanging on the wall
Monthly check-ups are necessary for maintaining a fire extinguisher. (RioPatuca Images – stock.adobe.com)

5. Keep Fire Extinguishers Handy

A multipurpose fire extinguisher should be easily accessible at all times in your home, especially in the kitchen.

Fire extinguishers are effective on:

  • Combustible materials including wood, cloth and paper.
  • Flammable liquids like oil and gasoline.
  • Electrical fires.

Not sure how to use a fire extinguisher? Remember the acronym PASS:

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle to discharge the chemical agent.
  • Sweep the extinguisher from side to side across the fire.

Escape ladder, as seen outside, hanging from a house
(©75tiks -stock.adobe.com)

6. Store Escape Ladders

When a fire erupts, it’s easy enough to exit the home through a door or window on the first floor. However, it’s a long way down if you’re trapped on the second floor. That’s why it’s necessary to have an easily accessible escape ladder on the upper story. 

To use an escape ladder, take out the ladder, open the window, lock the ladder in place and secure the ladder over the edge of the window sill. Then, pull the tab to release the ladder, and climb carefully down the ladder to safety.

Directions may vary based on the escape ladder you choose. The most important thing is to just have one — preferably in every second-story room — and know how to use it. 

Installing a smoke detector that’s compatible with a powerful automated controller like the Leviton OmniPro II can bring peace of mind, alerting you to a fire with an alarm and text message, while contacting first responders. 


Man inspects furnace
(© liquidlibrary – JupiterImages)

7. Get an Annual Inspection

Finally, you need to hire a trained professional to annually inspect your fireplace and furnace. It’s especially important to do this before cold weather arrives.

For the fireplace, check for blockage, damage to the bricks and mortar, and creosote build-up. If excessive creosote is found, the chimney should be cleaned.

For the furnace, confirm that the burner and combustion chamber are in good condition and the unit is vented properly.

With the right maintenance and equipment, you can stay safe and live well!  

7 COMMENTS

  1. I have been in the fire protection industry for 20 years.
    In those 20 years, sprinkler systems have never received the exposure that they have in the last couple of years.
    The media will normally cover fires after someone has been hurt or killed. Very rarely do you hear that a sprinkler system put out the fire with minimal damage and no loss of life. This was very refreshing and I’m sure that I can speak for everyone in the industry by saying…THANK YOU…well done!!!! ***Fire sprinklers save lives***

  2. Tracey I agree with you 100%. I was impressed with the positive face that CBS put on this story. If sprinklers did not work they would not be used in commercial and industrial occupancies. In almost 25 years of firefighting I never once responded to a fully involved structure that was sprinkled. And I never had to pull a victim from a sprinkled building either. Unfortunately I can not say that about residential dwellings. Let’s get this law passed now!

  3. Fire extinguishers are truly a first line of defense, however a fire extinguisher in the kitchen would be best served to be a “BC” rated extinguisher as opposed to an “ABC” rated extinguisher due to the potential cooking grease fire. I would have liked to also state the very limited time to escape can be less than 3 minutes. Very nice article. Thank you for your support of the Fire & Life Safety Industry.

  4. Fire sprinklers not only save the lives of occupants of buildings, they indirectly save firefighter lives. It is a lot safer to send a couple of firefighter’s into a building to shut off the sprinkler system that activated than it is to send them into a fully involved structure fire.
    To your point Tracey, the problem with our industry is when sprinklers work, it is a non-news event.
    Nice Job CBS.

  5. Great article and great coverage this morning! I had the privilege to witness this live as it was happening here in the Chicago area. I am excited about what this is doing for our industry!
    Thanks CBS, Danny Lipford, LaGrange Park FD, HFSC, and everyone else who contributed!

  6. The area that I live in is very dry and prone to fires in the summer, so I’m planning on upgrading my fire safety equipment now before the next heat wave hits. A sprinkler system is definitely worth looking into, for sure, and the fact that only one sprinkler did the job in 90% of the homes that were equipped with them really attests to their effectiveness as a fire deterrent. Of course, we have smoke detectors already, and a fire extinguisher, but I’m planning on getting the extinguisher replaced to make sure that it still works despite many years without use.

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