Having old smoke alarms—even if they work!
An effective smoke alarm can make all the difference when it comes to surviving a house fire. It’s not enough to change the batteries twice a year, you also need to replace your alarms every decade. “You should test your smoke alarms every month,” says Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy for the National Fire Protection Association. “But also don’t forget to check the dates and replace an alarm it’s more than 10 years old.” (These are things smart homeowners do every year to save money and prevent big screw-ups.)
Leaving the kitchen while you cook
One in five Americans admits to leaving food cooking unattended on the stove, found an American Red Cross survey. Walking away from food cooking in the kitchen is a serious fire risk. “The leading cause of home fires is cooking and the leading cause of those fires is unattended cooking,” says Carli. If you need to use the stove or oven, be sure to keep an eye on it. (Find out these 13 things you never knew about home safety.)
Turning the heat too high when you cook
Cranking up the heat too high can be lethal, even if you’re in the kitchen while you cook. Kevin Kelley, senior director of community preparedness programs for the American Red Cross, recommends paying close attention and turning off the burner if you see smoke or grease starting to boil while frying food. This is the real reason most recipes have you bake at 350 degrees.
Having a dirty stove while you cook
If your stove is covered with grease and other flammable grime, a small kitchen fire can get out of hand quickly. Clean and clear the area around the stove before turning on the heat. (Learn how to keep your kitchen health-inspector approved in less than 5 minutes.)
Not fully extinguishing your cigarettes
While cooking is the leading cause of home fires, smoking is actually the leading cause of home fire deaths. “If you have people in your home who smoke, make sure they smoke outside and extinguish all of their cigarettes completely in sand or water,” says Carli. (Need another reason to quit smoking? Find out the 15 wonderful things that happen when you stop smoking for good.)
Using unsafe candleholders
Leaving candles unattended is an obvious fire risk, but a lesser-known candle risk is unstable candleholders. “If you’re burning candles, put them on sturdy candleholders and make sure they’re at least a foot away from anything that can burn,” says Carli. (Read the true story of what one mom learned after her house burned down.)
Not cleaning your chimney
Have fireplaces, chimneys, and wood and coal stoves inspected annually by a professional and cleaned if necessary. It should go without saying, but never leave fireplaces or stoves unattended when in use. Find out other winter-weather proofing ideas to keep you home safe.
Misplacing space heaters
Where you put your space heater can be a matter of life and death. If it’s too close to anything that can catch fire, including bedding or curtains, you greatly increase your chances of a house fire. “Make sure you keep space heaters three feet away from anything that can burn,” says Carli. If you need to use a space heater, place it on a hard and nonflammable surface, such as a ceramic tile floor, and avoid rugs and carpets altogether, advises the American Red Cross.
Using frayed electrical cords
If it has been awhile since you’ve looked at the condition of your electrical cords, now is a good time to check in. Frayed or broken electrical cords are problematic and can cause fires if they aren’t replaced. You should also plug power cords directly into outlets, not into extension cords. Warning! Keeping your electronics plugged in is costing you A LOT of money.
Not having a fire extinguisher in the home
A small fire extinguisher can help put out a small fire before it has a chance to rage out of control. When you’re cooking, keep a pan lid or cookie sheet nearby. You can use it to cover your pan if it catches on fire. Salt and baking soda can be sprinkled on a grease fire to extinguish it. (Make sure you always have these 10 things in your home emergency kit.)