As a homeowner, one of the things that keep me up at night is worrying about a fire starting in the basement while we are all sleeping.
I dug deep and did some research to see what could be a potential fire hazard and what I could do to help prevent a fire from starting. I was able to put together a list of the 15 most common things to look for, and I’ve shared that list below.
How Do You Prevent Fires In The Basement?
To be able to prevent a basement fire, you first need to identify what can cause a fire. Below is a list of the 15 most common fire hazards found in the basement, and what you can do to prevent a fire from happening.
- Smoke Detector– A properly working smoke detector is your first line of defense in notifying you of a fire. It is the law to have a working smoke alarm on every story of the home, and outside of all sleeping quarters.
Prevention – Every month you should get in the habit of testing each smoke detector in your home to ensure that they are working properly and that the batteries are changed at least once every year or sooner if required. Smoke detectors should get replaced every ten years.
- Extension Cords– Extension cords can quickly overheat and cause a fire if they are used to power appliances that consume more watts than what the extension cord was rated to handle. A frayed or damaged cord could also start a fire.
Prevention – Do not use an extension cord for more than one appliance and never permanently. Always double check that the extension cord that you are using has a higher amperage rating than the appliance or product that you are powering. Replace damaged cords and make sure not to overuse or damage the prongs. Never remove the grounding plug from any electrical components so that you can use a two-prong extension cord to power it.
- Gas Water Heater– If a gas water heater is leaking natural gas, it can lead to not only fire but an actual explosion. One other thing to watch out for with a gas water heater is to make sure that nothing gets too close to the burner at the bottom of the tank that could catch fire.
Prevention – Have a licensed gas fitter properly maintain your water heater and make sure to have regular tune-ups on the tank. Frequently check the pressure valve to ensure proper heating and pressure of the tank are within normal limits. Never toss clothing, papers, cardboard, rags, or anything else flammable next to the water heater.
- Gas Fireplace– If a gas fireplace is leaking natural gas, this could cause a fire or an explosion. The surface of a gas fireplace can get very hot, and some items if left too close could ignite into flames.
Prevention – Make sure that your gas fireplace is installed by a professional. You can get oxygen-depletion sensors installed that will ensure that there is not a build-up of carbon monoxide in the air because if there were that would trigger the sensors and shut off the gas. Also if you are hanging clothes or other items near the gas fireplace, make sure to keep them at least three feet away.
- Wood Stoves– Wood burning stoves can cause a build-up of creosote within the chimney, which can lead to chimney fires. This combustible residue is a chemical mass of carbon that comes from burning wood, fossil fuels or tar, and can be commonly found inside of a fireplace or sticking to the sides of a masonry chimney.
Prevention – Make sure to inspect and clean your chimney at least once every year. Keep the chimney flues open a few times during the day while the fire is on to provide inlet air to help avoid a lot of build-up of creosote. Only burn dry, clean wood, and make sure never to overload the stove. Keep the stove doors closed unless you are loading more wood or cleaning old ashes.
- Loose Outlets– Over time, outlets could become loose due to the blades within them becoming unattached. When loose, the outlet becomes overheated and can cause shock or an electrical fire.
Prevention – Replace all outlets that are too loose to hold a plug. Make sure to replace outlet covers as well to avoid exposed wires and install covers if there are small children around.
- Old Batteries– If old batteries are stored together or near low resistance items, they can cause a fire due to the unstable current trying to connect.
Prevention – Do not store old batteries and properly dispose of/recycle them according to state laws. Do not store batteries in “junk” drawers, especially 9-volt batteries. The best way to store batteries is by leaving them in the packaging that they come in, or by putting a strip of electrical tape across the posts.
- Dryer Lint– Dryer lint is combustible and could catch fire.
Prevention – Clean the lint trap after every load of laundry. At least once or twice per year, you should clean out the dryer vents leading outside to help avoid the excess lint build-up and reduce the fire risk.
- Electric Heaters– These high-wattage appliances can ignite combustible items nearby if unattended and cause a major fire within your home.
Prevention – Do not use an electric heater that appears to be damaged in any way. Keep them away from items that could catch fire if overheated and never operate an electric heater unattended.
- Flammable Liquids– Flammable liquids can ignite or combust if overheated or mixed improperly.
Prevention – Store all flammable liquids in a safe place as to not exceed their heat limits. Never mix liquids and read all directions on proper care and storing temperatures.
- Electric Wires– Outdated and exposed wires throughout homes can cause electrical shocks and fires.
Prevention – Make sure to check all outlets and fixtures for faulty wires and replace them if necessary. Listen for poppy/sizzling noises or if you notice hot switches then shut off the power and contact a professional.
- Breaker Panels– Outdated or faulty breaker panels can cause an overwhelming surge of current to the home that can lead to an electrical fire.
Prevention – Make sure all breaker panels are up-to-date with current home safety codes. Hire a professional electrician to inspect, install, or fix any issues within the breaker panel.
- Oily Rags– Improper disposal of oil-soaked rags could ignite and lead to spontaneous combustion even without being near an ignition source. Oil paints, varnishes, paint thinners, etc.. release heat as they dry, which is what causes them to ignite.
Prevention – Oily rags should never get stored on top of one and other. Instead, dry the oily rags by taking them outside to a safe area and laying them flat with something weighing them down. Once they are dry, place them in a waste container that is picked by a private contractor.
- Dirty Clothes– Clothes that are not cleaned properly and still contain traces of certain oils can also cause spontaneous combustion, which will lead to a fire. The overheating of the oils mixed with the flammable materials can spark ignition.
Prevention – Make sure to store clothes that have been exposed to certain oils in a dry, cool place. Launder clothes at a commercial laundry facility to maximize the cleaning process to rid them of all combustible materials.
- Faulty Electrical Products – Any electrical product that is damaged, improperly installed or is faulty in any way could be a fire hazard waiting to happen.
Prevention – Make sure never to use damaged or faulty working electrical products. If the electrical cord is nicked, frayed, or worn out, then you should avoid using the equipment because this could cause electrical fires.
Is The Basement Safe During a Fire?
The problem with a lot of bellow ground basements throughout the United States is that they tend to have only one point of entry, and small narrow windows which could make it hard to escape from during a fire.
It is illegal to have someone living or sleeping in the basement without regulation safety exits. According to the state and local housing codes, you must have a second door leading out of your basement or have a window that is large enough for people to escape from if you intend on having someone sleep down there.
Homes are not subject to regular inspections, so, therefore, it is the responsibility of the homeowner to make sure that the basement has the proper emergency exits.
With multiple exits, large enough windows to climb through, and properly working fire detectors, the basement is just as safe as any other part in the home during a fire.
How Do You Escape a Basement Fire?
Fire can spread throughout the home quickly, leaving you with very little time to escape once the smoke alarm has sounded. Often during a fire, the entire home is filled with black smoke, which will make it very difficult for you to see where you are going.
Homeowners and landlords should take the time to write up an evacuation plan and go over it with the occupants in the home. Performing routine fire drills might seem like a lame way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but knowing your escape route ahead of time could mean the difference between life and death.
If a basement is going to be used as a living quarter and have somebody sleeping in it, then it must have a second exit, and or windows large enough for someone to crawl out. Multiple ways in and out of the basement also give the firefighters another way to rescue anybody trapped inside.
Here are some tips to help you plan:
- Have everyone in the house perform a complete walk-through of the home and look for possible escape routes. Draw a floor plan for each level of the home and mark a path and indicate where each escape point can found.
- Run mock fire drills, and have each member of the household test escape routes to ensure that a quick escape is possible.
- In the event of a fire, evacuate the home quickly, and designate a specific spot away from homes such as the neighbor’s house, sidewalk, or street light pole where everyone can meet.
- Windows and doors with security bars and locks should be easy to release so that you can open them immediately in an emergency.
- Do not run back into the home once you are out. If somebody hasn’t made it out to the designated meet-up spot, inform the dispatcher when you call the fire department. If that person makes it out while the fire department is on the route, notify firefighters when they arrive that everyone has made it out.
- For households with infants, small children, the elderly, or people with mobility limitations, nominate one person who is responsible for assisting these people. Have a backup person who can jump in if the originally assigned person is not around during the emergency.