This month we are reminded of the serious fire hazards present in our own homes and the important steps to keep our homes and families safe. There are several key areas in your home that can be fire and safety hazards of which you should be aware and take care to maintain regularly so that they operate safely.
Your heating system, when not properly maintained, is one of the biggest fire and safety hazards in your home. In 2010, heating equipment was involved in an estimated 57,100 reported home structure fires, 490 civilian deaths, 1,530 civilian injuries, and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.* To operate safely, heating systems need to be inspected annually, including being cleaned and tuned-up by a professional.
Furnace malfunctions can be very dangerous. A gas furnace in particular should be checked every year. All the safety switches need to be tested and the combustion checked. If your furnace has a pilot light, it’s extremely important to make sure there aren’t any leaks in the heat exchanger. Leaks in the heat exchanger can allow combustion products such as carbon monoxide to get into your home, creating a serious safety concern. Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning is known as the “silent killer,” because you cannot see it, smell it or taste it, but it claims nearly 300 lives each year, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).
Electrical heating systems need to be examined annually as well. Running electric heat puts an enormous load on your electrical circuits. The heating up and cooling down of the wires can lead to expansion and can loosen connections. A loose connection can lead to higher amperage and could burn wires. During a tune-up, all of the connections are inspected to make sure they are tight. There are also safety switches and relay points that are checked during an annual tune-up to ensure the system is operating properly. For example, if your heat strip sequencer isn’t working properly and sticks closed, it can cause the heat strip to run continuously, greatly increasing your monthly electricity bill
Annual water heater maintenance ensures that you avoid more serious threats to you and your home. For example, the temperature and pressure valve is designed to prevent a water heater from exploding if temperatures or pressure exceeds safe limits by opening and releasing pressure. Unfortunately, residential valves are somewhat prone to failure. They should be checked once a year by pulling up on the handle. Water should flow freely out and stop when you let go of the handle. If it does nothing, runs or drips, then the valve should be replaced. When water heaters explode, it's catastrophic. People are injured or die and homes are severely damaged.
Believe it or not, lint from your dryer is another leading cause of fires in homes. According to the CPSC, dryer lint is responsible for 15,000 fires, 20 deaths, over 300 injuries and $80 million in property damage annually. To avoid this hazard, it’s important to clean out the lint screen between loads and to periodically clean out the lint lining the walls of the dryer ducting and the inside of your dryer. Failure to perform this maintenance also decreases the efficiency of your dryer, as clothes take longer and longer to dry, increasing your energy usage and utility bills.
The investment in regular maintenance is well worth the money. Even if there is nothing wrong with your home systems, you can sleep better at night with the peace of mind of knowing everything is in good shape.
Sources: *“Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment,” by John R. Hall, Jr., September 2012 Report, National Fire Protection Association, Fire Analysis and Research Division.