11 March 2016

How to protect your home from fire

Whether you already have a good knowledge of fire safety or not, our guide will help you to make sure you and your home are well protected.

“Fires in the home environment are rare, but when they do occur they can be hugely upsetting and difficult to deal with”, says Dr Jim Glockling, Technical Director at the Fire Protection Association.

But despite being relatively uncommon, 13% of the total value of insurance claims in 2015 were a result of fire events, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

Eight main categories of fire risk

Thankfully, simple measures can be taken to reduce the risk of most types of fire.

Dr Glockling identifies the main risks:

1. Arson
Criminals sometimes start a fire to destroy evidence, but this is rarely planned in advance. Deter burglars in the first place by making sure that your home is secure and remove rubbish and excess vegetation that could be set alight by an opportunistic thief.

2. Electrical
A consumer unit or fuse box controls and distributes the energy in your home. Modern units offer much better protection against surges and other faults, so it’s worth making sure that the unit and wiring are up-to-date.

If you find that plugs or sockets are getting warm, or you are regularly replacing the same fuse, it’s best to investigate further.

3. Naked flames
Naked flames are still a major cause of household fires. Make sure candles or other flames are secured in a heat-resistant holder and placed at a safe distance from loose furnishings, hair and clothing.

4. Poorly positioned heating and lighting equipment
When used sensibly most modern appliances and fittings are quite safe, but they do have the potential to ignite local material.

In the kitchen, avoid fat and grease build-up near your cooker and make sure that tea towels and food packaging are not in danger of overheating or catching fire.

The positioning of halogen lighting can be a particular problem, he warns. Look out for security lights that have been placed too close to combustible materials, or have gradually changed their position in the wind to concentrate their heat on the building.

5. Smoking
According to Fire Statistics Great Britain 2013-2014, smokers’ materials such as cigarettes, cigars or tobacco caused 37% of deaths in accidental domestic fires.

To avoid a smoking-related fire, London Fire Brigade suggests not smoking in bed or when you think you might fall asleep, using a fireproof ashtray and emptying it regularly, stubbing cigarettes out properly and wetting ashes before disposing of them.

6. Fuel storage
Avoid drying logs near your wood-burning stove and consider how safe any flammable liquids in your garage are.

7. Abuse/incorrect operation of equipment
There is also a known problem with USB chargers at the moment, says Glockling. Because these are “universal power supplies”, the wrong devices are often plugged into them. We’ve seen particular issues with people trying to charge their iPhone using the USB plug for their electronic cigarettes, for example.

Trying to draw too much from one socket can also be dangerous. Find out whether you could be overloading your sockets.

8. Equipment malfunction
Occasionally the equipment itself will malfunction. Make sure that you turn off and unplug appliances before leaving the house or going to bed and that you regularly check your smoke alarms. Alarms that are integrated with the local fire service are the best.

Plan your escape

Rehearsing what you and your family would do in the event of a fire is very important, says Glockling. This is particularly true for people who live in multi-storey buildings and may need to escape via a ladder or onto a flat roof.

Keep your insurer up-to-date

Unfortunately, fires can sometimes occur despite a homeowner taking adequate precautions, so make sure that your insurance is accurate and up-to-date.

Insurance companies insure different types of buildings in different ways, so it’s important that you can accurately describe your building’s construction and materials, says Dr Glockling.

Finding out more about how your home is constructed can also prevent you from accidentally increasing the risk of fire while making home improvements.

If you’re planning a refurbishment or extension, always let your insurer know. Plant machinery, fuels, solvents strangers and hot works all increase the risk at your property while work is being carried out.

Your insurer may place requirements on the contractors or make safety recommendations for the period of increased risk, says Dr Glockling.

If you’re doing the work yourself, make sure that you know how it could affect the structure, Dr Glockling advises. For example any new sockets fitted in this kind of modern timber-framed structure must have a fire-rated backing or other qualities that prevent fire spreading.

Get the right cover

With Nationwide home insurance, fire damage to your building and contents is covered up to the sum insured. We’ll also cover any loss or damage to your buildings or garden landscaping caused by the emergency services.

Find out more about Nationwide’s home insurance

Other useful resources

Nationwide home insurance policies are underwritten by U K Insurance Limited.

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