Fire Safety Tips from the Inspector

By Stephen Gremillion, NPI Property Inspector, Montgomery, Texas

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) http://www.nfpa.org, there were about 365,500 household fires in 2015. As an inspector, I’ve learned that many house fires are preventable. In fact, the NFPA also states that three out of five fire deaths were in homes without working smoke alarms. This, to me, says that simply installing and maintaining smoke alarms could save your life.

When talking about fire safety, I like to break it down into three categories: Fire Prevention, Fire Preparation, and the Fire. Fire Prevention items are things that you can do to prevent a fire. Fire Preparation items are things you can do to be prepared in case of a fire, and the Fire is what to do if you find yourself in a house fire.

Fire Prevention:

  • Use caution when using electrical resistance heating items like toasters, heating blankets, etc.
  • Use caution when using open flames like candles, barbecues, fireplaces, tobacco, etc.
  • Keep your kitchen clutter free and clean of grease.
  • Fix sub-standard electrical work.
  • Add Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) protection. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2016/2510/afci-and-gfci-outlets-improve-electrical-safety-in-your-home/
  • Keep your dryer vent and lint trap clean. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2014/1248/have-you-cleaned-your-dryer-vent-lately/
  • If you have a wood burning fireplace and use it regularly, the flue must be kept clean. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2014/1728/keeping-your-chimney-clean/
  • If you use portable heaters, they should be monitored and have a tip safety. A tip safety is a function that shuts off the heater if it tips over. Also, it should be kept clear of combustibles.
  • Get a home inspection. A home inspection can reveal problems like sub-standard electrical work, improper fireplace hearths, etc.
  • Get a thermal imaging inspection. A thermal imaging inspection can reveal electrical problems that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Fire Preparation:

  • Proper smoke alarm placement and maintenance. You should have a smoke alarm in each bedroom and each adjoining space. These should be tested once a month, have the battery changed once a year, and be completely replaced every ten years.
  • Fire extinguishers. We recommend that you have clear access to an extinguisher in the garage, kitchen, and bedroom. You should be familiar with their use and have the right type. For more info: http://www.npihome.com/2014/1863/1863/
  • You should have two escape options from each room. (Second-story windows do count).
  • Teach your kids some basic fire safety.

The Fire:

Hopefully, you never find yourself in this situation. However, if you do, here are some basic tips.

  • If the fire is small, try to put it out with your extinguisher.
  • If the fire cannot be contained, then you must leave immediately. Gather your family and an extinguisher and leave through one of your planned routes.
  • Door handles may be hot. It is best to grab them with a piece of cloth.
  • Close doors behind you! It may seem silly, but it’s for a good reason. A door can act as a barrier in two ways; 1) It can restrict airflow, 2) It acts as separation that the fire will take time to burn through.
  • If you find yourself trapped, there are two important things you must do:
  1. Signal for help. A piece of cloth hanging from the window is a largely recognized symbol, but a phone call is better.
  1. Minimize your exposure to smoke and flames. This can be done by opening a window, getting low, covering your mouth with cloth, and blocking underneath doors with wet cloths.

 

Make sure to be diligent about fire protection to keep your home and family safe. Practice these steps and have a happy and healthy 2017.

Stephen Gremillion Stephen Gremillion is a professionally trained NPI property inspector working for franchise owner/inspector Garner Gremillion in Montgomery, Texas. If you live in the area, call 936 230-3440 to schedule your home inspection with Garner or Stephen.

Before you move, make sure to have your house inspected by an NPI or GPI home inspector. Visit the links below to find an inspector near you.

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Christmas Tree Safety Tips From The Inspector

 

By Stephen Gremillion, NPI Property Inspector, Montgomery, Texas

Christmas tree fireEvery year fires are started or fueled by Christmas trees. Now in no way am I saying that you should substitute a real tree for a fake one but here are some tips to help keep your home more safe.

Water Your Tree!
It may seem a little too obvious but a dry, dead tree is the first step to a fire and it can be easy to forget.

Switch to LED lights.
Not only do LED’s use less power but they also produce less heat. It’s a win-win; save on power while keeping your home and family safe. Most new light strands are LED so this is something to be cautious of if your lights are older.

tree2Remove Nearby Heat Sources.
It can be easy to do it without even thinking about it. Maybe you put an electric heater next to your tree. Or maybe an end table with a candle. Just be mindful and pay attention to avoid a potentially devastating mistake.

Check On Your Tree Regularly.
Remember your tree is most flammable when it’s dry. If it becomes a too dry you may want to consider removing the lights.

Ttree3urn the Lights Off When You’re Not Around.
Even though LED’s give off very little heat it’s still a good idea to turn them off when unattended. Just unplug the lights when you leave or go to bed. It may also prevent unwanted attention from pets.

Take the Tree Out By the End of December.
Don’t be someone who still has their tree up in the middle of February. By then it will be as dry as a tinder box.

Keep these tips in mind to make it a great holiday for you and your family.

 

Stephen Gremillion Stephen Gremillion is a professionally trained NPI property inspector working for franchise owner/inspector Garner Gremillion in Montgomery, Texas. If you live in the area, call 936 230-3440 to schedule your home inspection with Garner or Stephen.

Before you move, make sure to have your house inspected by an NPI or GPI home inspector. Visit the links below to find an inspector near you.

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Bringing Electricity Home

Electricity_shutterstock_103755371Do you know where your home’s electricity comes from? The electrical connections powering today’s homes start at a transformer on a pole or somewhere on the ground near the house. Transformers on the ground signify buried electrical lines. Transformers on a utility pole mean the electrical lines come into the house via overhead wires.

If your electrical lines are buried, they won’t be visible outside your home. However, if you have overhead electrical wires, you should regularly take a look at them for safety reasons. Damage to the wire or insulation around the wire can cause electrocution, so look for those things. You can likely check the overhead wires from the ground, and you should never touch the electrical lines.

Height regulations for electrical lines vary from one city to another. For general purposes, all electrical lines should be out of reach of people, vehicles, ladders and other equipment. This includes areas above pools, decks, porches and balconies. Electrical wires also should be clear of trees or other obstructions, including the corner of the house or the edge of a gutter, which could cause abrasion and expose bare wires. Finally, electrical lines should not touch other utility lines entering the home, such as the telephone or cable line.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home from roof to foundation. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for your next home inspection. To find your local inspector, visit one of the links below.

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AFCI and GFCI Outlets Improve Electrical Safety in Your Home

Electrical OutletAdvancements in electrical protection devices help keep homes and businesses safe. These devices include ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs). Both help prevent electrical shock and fires caused by erratic surges in electrical current.

GFCI outlets are designed to trip when they sense even a minor imbalance in current between the hot (black) and neutral (white) legs of an electrical circuit. They cut off power to the receptacle in a fraction of a second — fast enough to avoid a potentially fatal shock. Although requirements vary by location, GFCIs are generally found in kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages and other areas where water may be present, such as a workshop. GFCI outlets have test and reset buttons, and it’s a good idea to test them monthly to make sure they are operating properly.

AFCI outlets are designed to help prevent fires caused by arcing faults — erratic current flows that get hot enough fast enough to start a fire without ever tripping the breakers. In many areas, AFCIs are required on branch circuits that serve residential bedrooms in newly constructed homes. Existing structures are not required to have AFCIs, but it may be a good idea to look into having them installed in your home. A home inspector can help pinpoint areas where added safety measures such as AFCI or GFCI outlets could help protect your family.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home and its electrical system.

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Keep Your Wood-burning Fireplace Clean and Safe

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Fireplace-Brick_shutterstock_120704617Now that winter has arrived, it is a great time to refresh your maintenance plan for your fireplace. The following tips can ensure that your wood-burning fireplace operates safely and at peak efficiency.

  1. It is important to set a maintenance schedule and stick to it.
  2. Dispose of ashes as they accumulate. Never use a regular household vacuum for cleaning of the fireplace; purchase an ash vacuum designed specifically for this function. It is also a good idea to keep an ash bucket near your fireplace. Remember to make sure that the ashes have cooled before you dispose of them.
  3. Cleaning any glass or other exposed surfaces is easier when done on a regular basis, so add this task to your weekly cleaning list during months when the fireplace is in use.
  4. Examine how the smoke is traveling through the chimney. Make sure all chimney joints are tightly sealed and the ventilation system is not clogged. If you find leaks in the chimney, call a qualified contractor to make the repairs.
  5. Check for creosote buildup and clean with a creosote remover if necessary.

Once you have gotten through the colder season, it is a good idea to conduct a “spring cleaning” on your fireplace. Clean the fire box thoroughly (refer to your owner’s manual for any specific guidelines). Generally, chimneys should be cleaned annually by a qualified chimney professional.

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Fireplace Safety Can Prevent Potential Accidents

Fireplace-Stone_shutterstock_164472098Cold winter evenings are certainly an invitation to light a cozy fire in the fireplace after a long day. Here we offer a few basic safety tips to help you enjoy the fire and avoid fire-related accidents and injuries:

  • Be aware of children. Children should never be left unattended while a burning fire or hot coals are active in the fireplace.
  • Use fireplace tools. Fireplace tools are specifically designed for use with your fireplace. Using your hands or other objects, such as sticks, to reach inside and poke around the fire can be very dangerous. Serious burns can occur, or a foreign object can ignite, possibly creating a contact fire.
  • Ensure proper venting. When using the fireplace, consider opening a window as well as the damper to ventilate the room and allow smoke to escape. This can prevent possible damage from smoke inhalation or build-up.
  • Close Doors. Close the doors of the fireplace after the fire is lit. Hot coals could crackle and jump from the fireplace, causing injury or a contact fire.
  • Clean the chimney. A properly maintained chimney should be cleaned and inspected once a year by a chimney professional. The inspection will be for soundness, buildup, and overall safety conditions and corrections needed. Creosote is buildup from smoke that is extremely flammable and can cause a chimney fire, which could devastate your home. Creosote is also corrosive and can deteriorate the chimney. Furthermore, creosote exposure poses health threats to individuals exposed to this harmful toxin.
  • Keep flammable material away from the fireplace. Never store or place flammable materials near your fireplace. Fire-proof mats or rugs should be used in front of or near the fireplace. Do not dash flammable liquids onto hot coals or a flame, as this can cause an explosion or severe burns.

Many resources are available for additional information regarding fireplace safety. Professional chimney cleaning companies, fire departments, yellow pages and Internet resources are readily available if you have further questions or concerns.

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Did You Know: Common Causes of House Fires

burn-baby-burn-1229975-1600x1200Believe it or not, house fires frequently share common causes. Knowing the common causes of house fires should help prevent such potential fires through education. Reader’s Digest recently posted a slideshow of the top 11 causes of house fires and how to avoid them:

  • Cooking: Grease fires can start in just two to three seconds. Never leave the kitchen while cooking.
  • Heating equipment: Too often fires start when people are just trying to stay warm. To avoid a hazard, have furnaces and fireplaces inspected annually. Keep portable heaters away from other flammable items, such as clothing.
  • Smoking: If you’re a smoker, don’t smoke in bed or in any position that you could fall asleep. Smoking outdoors is a safer, keeps your home smoke-free and reduces the risk of falling asleep.
  • Electrical equipment: Don’t overload electrical outlets or extension cords. Check regularly for frayed or worn wires, and don’t run cords under rugs or heavy furniture.
  • Candles: Don’t leave burning candles unattended around pets or children. Burn candles in fire-safe holders and place them on level surfaces. Extinguish all candles when you leave the room.
  • Children: Prevent children from accessing lighters or matches in the home.
  • Inadequate wiring: Warning signs that your electrical wiring may be insufficient and/or unsafe are dimming lights, frequently tripping breakers or blowing fuses, and having to unplug an appliance to use another.
  • Flammable liquids: Don’t store flammable liquids near an open heat source or hot temperatures. Store them outside in a cool environment, in proper containers.
  • Live Christmas trees: Keep live trees watered and away from heat sources and televisions. Check light strands for frayed wires.
  • Barbecues: Clean your grill with soapy water and always use it outdoors. Make sure to place the grill so that flames are away from decks, trees, flammables, etc.
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Ask the Inspector: What Fire Safety Items Will My Home Inspector Check For?

Smoke detectorYour inspector may comment on any number of fire safety issues, as a key component of a home inspection is safety. Here are 12 of the more common fire safety items your home inspector should note:

  • The presence of smoke detectors. Depending on the circumstances, the inspector may not press the “test” button on smoke detectors. If detectors are wired together or to a security company, then pressing the test button (without having the system deactivation code) could cause the fire department to be called.
  • If the inspector has access to and can peer into dryer vents, then he may note that buildup of lint could be a potential fire hazard
  • The inspector should check the chimney flue for creosote buildup, which would warrant concern.
  • An exposed incandescent light bulb inside a closet (near clothing/shelving, etc.) is considered a fire hazard.
  • Curtains or draperies blocking heat registers can pose a fire hazard.
  • Any over-fusing in an electrical panel is a fire hazard. An over-fused circuit is a one that is protected from over-current by a fuse or circuit breaker that is oversized for the capacity of the circuit conductors.
  • Too many appliances or cords plugged in to an electrical outlet.
  • Single-stranded aluminum branch wiring — whenever this is discovered, the inspector should recommend that the system be fully inspected by a qualified, licensed electrician.
  • A door leading from the garage to the house should be fire-rated and perhaps self-closing.
  • Most inspectors use gas detectors during the inspection, and any indication of a gas leak would be a concern.
  • If there is a vantage point, the inspector would hope to find a “fire stop” in the space that fireplace flue occupies and the next floor above.
  • Any hole or breech in wall of a garage and next to the living space is a potential fire hazard.
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Reverse Polarity: What it Is and Why You Should Be Concerned

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Outlet_shutterstock_67938619Quite simply, reverse polarity means that the wires in an electrical receptacle were installed incorrectly. A receptacle with reverse polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle.

A home inspector will flag any outlets that are reversed polarity. Why should you be concerned about reversed polarity? Most electrical appliances and devices are designed so that the on/off switch interrupts electrical power at the point of entry into the appliance, device circuitry or components. If the hot and neutral wires are reversed, then it is possible that the device could be energized even if the switch is turned off. Reversed polarity on an electrical outlet should be considered an unsafe condition, as the risks include damage to the appliance, short circuit, shock or fire.

How Can I Tell if My Receptacles Have Reverse Polarity?
You can purchase a plug-in type voltage tester at your local hardware store. These are generally inexpensive. The tester will include a chart that will tell you which lights should illuminate when you plug it in to a properly wired outlet. The chart will also indicate what the other lighting combinations mean, such as an open ground condition.

How Do I Fix Reverse Polarity?
Once you find a receptacle with reversed polarity, leave the plug-in tester plugged into the receptacle and find the circuit breaker that is delivering the voltage to that line. Turn the breaker OFF. When you return to the receptacle there should be no lights lit up on the tester. If there are, then you turned off the wrong breaker. Try again.

With the power to that circuit OFF, remove the cover plate and the two screws holding the receptacle to the wall box. Gently pull the receptacle out of the box. If there are any other wires inside the box, use a touch-style voltage tester to ensure that they are also OFF. If they are hot, find the circuit breaker feeding them and turn it OFF as well.

Inspect your receptacle. A receptacle with reversed polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle. Simply remove the white and black wires and connect them to their properly intended sides of the receptacle. To wire it properly, the black gets connected to the dark or copper-colored screw and the white wire gets connected to the silver screw. If the wire looks brittle or damaged, use wire strippers to cut the old wire away and strip off a 3/4-inch fresh section of insulation. Wrap a strip of electrical tape around the screw terminals for added safety, resecure the receptacle to the wall box and attach the cover plate.

Finally, plug the voltage tester in to the receptacle and then turn the circuit breakers back on. When you get back to the receptacle, the tester should indicate proper wiring. If, for whatever reason it still reads reverse polarity, then the problem may be in another receptacle or in a junction box somewhere. In that case, your best bet would then be to call a licensed electrician.

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Smoke Alarms Save Lives, Reduce Fatalities

Smoke Detector2According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there have been 1,370 civilian fire fatalities in the United States this year. Based on the information reported, either a smoke alarm was not installed or was not working correctly in more than half of the incidents. While some catastrophic fire fatality events cannot be prevented, others can. Fatalities caused by fires often can be reduced with the use of properly working smoke alarms.

The National Fire Protection Association states that all smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years — this is 10 years from the date when the alarm was manufactured. In addition, home owners should test each device once a month, although smoke alarms normally will chirp if the battery is low and needs to be replaced. A battery for a smoke alarm lasts about a year.

Where’s the Fire?
Information collected by the U.S. Fire Administration reveals that the states with the highest fatalities are California, Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

North Dakota is the only state that has zero fire fatalities reported so far this year.

Free Help Purchasing and Installing Smoke Detectors
Elderly, disabled or financially burdened families or individuals may not be able to afford or install smoke detectors. Many local fire departments and the Red Cross are able and willing to assist with providing or installing the devices. They can also provide you with valuable information regarding ways to escape and safeguard a residence. For more information about these programs, contact your local fire department or visit http://www.redcross.org/prepare/location/home-family/prevent-home-fires.

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