Have you ever conducted a home safety inspection in your house? Keep these steps in mind to protect against fire and carbon monoxide poisoning!
A few months ago, we did a full home safety inspection in our house, after several neighbors went through some very scary situations in their homes! This month is Fire Safety Awareness Month, so we thought it was the ideal time to share our story with you–as well as teach you all we learned in this process!
By Will and Erin Odom
With the craziness of life, it’s often easy to forget the maintenance of some areas in our lives.
We were abruptly reminded to review the home safety in our home recently when a neighbor’s dryer caught fire and burned a portion of their upstairs a few months ago.
We’ve lived in our house for three years and have never really thought much about the dryer vent. It was something we needed to address, especially since we had bought the dryer with the house and didn’t know if the previous owners had paid attention to it.
As such, we had someone come into our home to measure our dryer output and clean the vent. While he was in the house, he also discussed other fire preventions with us.
4 Main Ways to Protect Against Fire and Carbon Monoxide with a Home Safety Inspection
Obviously smoke detectors are your first line of defense when it comes to a fire. However, they are often one of the most neglected items, we discovered during our home safety inspection.
Well…that is until it’s 2 a.m., and the alarm starts chirping at you until you find it and change the battery. Why is it always 2 in the morning when this happens?
The man who conducted our home safety inspected recommended to check your detector and change the batteries when you set your clocks backward or forward for daylight savings time.
Something else to keep in mind is that if your house is older, the building codes and fire alarm requirements have changed over the years. By law, a house only has to meet the building code that was in effect when it was built.
However, it would be a good idea to bring your house up to the current standards for the safety of your family.
For example, when our house was built, it only required two alarms – one upstairs and one downstairs. Now, the code requires alarms in each bedroom as well, so we have added them to the bedrooms.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends homes should have smoke alarms installed inside every bedroom, outside each sleeping area (like a hallway or landing) and on every level of the home, including the basement.
See the illustration below for some guidance on placement of detectors.
Detectors typically work with two types of sensors:
- Ionic – These alarms sound when smoke disrupts the electrical current between two metal plates. They can detect fast burning fires that produce little smoke, including kitchen fires and ones involving paper or flammable liquids. These do contain a small amount of the radioactive material americium-241 (just something to keep in mind).
- Photoelectric – These detectors contain a light-senstivie electric sensor that is tripped when smoke scatters the light causing it to hit the sensor. These detectors usually respond better to slow burning fires that smolder before they combust.
Dual sensors with both ionic and photoelectric are available on the market. However, I have read that the industry standards on these detectors are somewhat lacking.
Many experts recommend the photoelectric detectors over the ionic, and some organizations have stopped recommending ionic detectors all together.
Detectors are usually powered 1 of 3 ways:
- Hardwired detectors – These are hardwired into your home’s electrical network and should have a battery back up
- Battery-powered detectors – This one is pretty self explanatory. These guys are not hardwired into your house and run only on batteries.
- Sealed battery detectors – They have a built-in, irreplaceable battery that will usually last a number of years (most last 10). You will need to replace the entire detector when the life-span is up.
With wireless technology, you can get more geeky if you want to. These are more advanced (and expensive) alarms like Nest or home security system that sync to your phone. These still require some type of power source whether it is hardwired or battery.
Here are a few options for fire/smoke detectors:
- First Alert Hardwired Smoke Alarm w/Battery Backup
- Kiddie 10-Year Battery-Powered Smoke Alarm
- First Alert Dual Sensor Fire and Smoke Alarm
- First Alert Atom Micro Photoelectric Smoke Detector
- Kiddie Battery-Powered Carbon Monoxide/Smoke Alarm
- First Alert Hardwire Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup
- Dinly Smiley Extended Battery Life Hardwired
Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Last year, another family in our neighborhood was poisoned by carbon monoxide gas that seeped into their home.
During our home safety inspection, we asked the inspector about this as well.
A study released by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that CO can easily pass through drywall and other materials in most residential homes. The materials are porous and do nothing to stop the colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas.
As a matter of fact, every year in the U.S., 20,000 to 30,000 people get sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. Approximately 400-500 people die from the dangerous gas, and most of these occur in a home from appliances, heating systems, generators, etc.
Thankfully, the family near us were saved, but it was a very scary situation.
Other than regular maintenance and proper use of appliances, a CO detector can provide a level of safety for your family.
If the CO alarm sounds, do not attempt to find the source. Exit the house to fresh air and contact emergency services, usually 911.
- Dull headache.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Shortness of breath.
- Blurred vision.
- Loss of consciousness.
You can choose a combination alarm that covers fire and CO or a specific CO monitor. Much like smoke detectors, the CO2 alarms should be placed in bedrooms, hallways, basements, kitchens, garages, and any other areas that could present a potential hazard. (See illustration below.)
Here are a few options for CO detectors:
- Kidde Battery-Operated Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Digital Display
- First Alert Hardwire Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup
- Kidde Battery-Operated Smoke/Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Voice Warning
- Kidde Nighthawk Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup and Digital Display
- First Alert Battery Powered Carbon Monoxide Alarm
- Kidde Tamper Resistant Plug-In Carbon Monoxide Alarm with Battery Backup
In addition to CO detectors, anyone with a gas stove or fireplace should consider a combustible gas alarm. These alarms also detect for natural gas leaks:
When the home inspector asked to see our fire extinguisher, I was a little concerned and embarrassed that we couldn’t find it. I don’t know if it didn’t make the move to the new house or if we just put it somewhere to keep it safe (yeah…that worked real well).
So, we needed to buy some new ones.
During our home safety inspection, the inspector was able to give me some good information about fire extinguishers that I did not know.
I had no idea that there are different classes of fires:
- A: solid materials like paper, wood, plastic
- B: flammable liquids like oil
- C: flammable gas like propane
- D: metals including magnesium, aluminum, etc.
- E: electrical apparatus
And there are several types of fire extinguishers (water, CO2, dry chemical, etc.) that are used for each class of fire. I can’t get into every type of extinguisher, but I do want to discuss the main type that you will use in your home.
For your home, you will mainly purchase a dry chemical extinguisher, and there are two types to consider:
- BC – This regular extinguisher is filled with sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate. The BC variety leaves a mildly corrosive residue which must be cleaned immediately to prevent any damage to materials.
- ABC – This is the multipurpose extinguisher filled with mono ammonium phosphate, in addition to the sodium bicarbonate and potassium bicarbonate. The ammonium phosphate is a sticky, yellow powder that leaves a residue that may be damaging to electrical appliances such as a computers. This sticky residue will create a barrier that will keep a fire to reigniting but may also require the removal of items that it contacts.
The National Fire Association recommends an 2A-10BC fire extinguisher on every level of your home (see illustration below for placement). If you have sensitive electrical equipment, then a BC extinguisher should be on hand as well.
Our inspector obviously recommended keeping the extinguishers where they are easily accessible. In addition to the garage and kitchen, he specifically suggested keeping one in the master bedroom in case you need it to get downstairs or across the hall to your children.
For example, our dryer is in the hallway between our bedroom and the girls’ bedroom. We should have an extinguisher in our bedroom for that reason.
Here are few options for you to consider:
One of the first things that kids learn when the fire department visits the school is that they should have an exit plan with their family in case of a fire.
We have talked with our girls, but even though we live in a two story house, we had never purchased a ladder.
The inspector suggested keeping the ladder in the kids’ bedroom because that is most likely the last place you will go before you exit the house – to get the kids.
All of our girls are in one bedroom, but he suggested keeping it in the youngest child’s room or having more than one.
There are several versions of these ladders, so make sure you are getting something sturdy.
Another device to have handy, especially in your car, is a device to break glass. If a window is jammed and will not open, then you can use the device to break the glass and escape.
And or course it always a good idea to have flashlights stashed around the house in case of a power outage or any emergency.
I keep one of these combo flashlight/glass breaker in each car and might consider putting one in the house.
Do your own home safety inspection, asess your situation and make any necessary adjustments to keep your family safe!