6 Common Fire Hazards Lurking in Your Home (and Simple Ways to Prevent Them)

iStock
iStock

Whether you're a homeowner or renter, a house fire can be a costly disaster. According to the National Fire Protection Association, home fires account for more than 2500 deaths and more than 12,000 injuries in the U.S. every year, not to mention billions of dollars in damage. U.S. fire departments respond to an average of 350,000 house fires annually.

The good news is, total fire-related deaths, injuries, and property losses have trended downward in recent years, and that may be due to improved fire-fighting technology at home. Nothing beats the effectiveness of smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and a solid fire escape plan, but the newest smart home devices can help you prevent these common fire hazards lurking in your home.

1. UNATTENDED BURNERS

Wallflower stove monitor
Amazon

We’ve all had that moment of panic when we ask ourselves, “Did I remember to turn off the stove?” It’s worth double-checking, since cooking equipment is the leading cause of house fires. Stoves, ovens, and other appliances account for nearly 50 percent of incidents, while unattended cooking is the leading contributor to these fires.

Fortunately, new smart stovetop sensors and monitors will alert you when you’ve left the stove on. The Wallflower simply plugs into the wall with your electric stove, then alerts you when the stove is turned on, when it’s been on longer than usual, and even when you leave the house without turning it off. The crowd-funded Inirv React, meanwhile, promises to be a system of smart stove knobs that use sensors and electronics to detect smoke, natural gas, and motion, while allowing you to monitor your stove remotely.

2. DEAD SMOKE DETECTOR BATTERIES

Nest Protect home smoke detector
Amazon

Working smoke alarms should be placed on every floor of your home, and inside every bedroom: They cut the risk of dying in a house fire by half.

Basic smoke detectors can get the job done, but newer models can also alert your phone if there's smoke in your home, turn off your HVAC system to slow the spread of smoke, or record video so you can check the situation remotely.

Security expert Emily Patterson of independent review site A Secure Life highlights the Nest Protect as one of her favorite devices for fire safety. “It has CO detection as well as heat and humidity sensors, so it has the ability to distinguish between real causes for concern and burnt toast,” Patterson tells Mental Floss. “You can also enable smartphone alerts, which is handy if you’re not home, and set up automated protocols to unlock doors or record video if the alarm goes off.”

The detector is only as reliable as the battery powering it, though. The Roost Smart Battery allows you to retrofit existing smoke detectors with 9V batteries to be managed by your smartphone and alerts you when battery life is running low (after three to five years).

3. SPACE HEATERS

Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater
Amazon

Space heaters keep things cozy when your existing heating system performs poorly, but they can also be extremely dangerous. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 1100 residential fires—and more than 50 deaths—are linked to portable electric heaters every year. Fires often occur when the heaters are left on unattended or they’re too close to flammable materials like paper or blankets.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends purchasing only newer-model heaters equipped with safety features like a tip-over switch and automatic shut-off, which kicks in if the heater exceeds a certain temperature. The Dyson Hot + Cool fan heater uses diffused mode heat to warm rooms evenly while the machine stays comfortable to the touch. For a more affordable option, the Smart Ceramic Tower Heater has infrared heat settings, a sleep timer, overheating protection, a tip-over safety switch, and Wi-Fi connectivity that lets you control it with your smartphone—just in case you forget to turn it off before leaving home.

4. OVERLOADED OUTLETS

Wemo smart plug
Amazon

Heat-producing small appliances like coffee makers and toasters can pose a fire risk if used improperly—like if you have too many appliances plugged into one outlet. The NFPA recommends plugging only one heat-producing gadget into an outlet at a time [PDF], while smart plugs make it easy to turn off power to small appliances when you’re not home. Some devices even turn off outlets automatically when they’re not in use. There are dozens of options on the market now, from Wemo’s Insight Smart Plug with energy monitoring to the iDevices Switch. Most can be controlled with your phone, and are compatible with smart-home hubs. Be sure to check that the smart plug you choose is equipped with enough power to handle the wattage of your appliances.

5. COMBUSTIBLE LANDSCAPING

B-Hyve sprinkler regulator
Amazon

The landscaping around your home can mitigate fire risks—or multiply them. Any plants that are too close to the house can present a fire hazard, especially when they’re dried out, says Cassy Aoyagi, a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s L.A. Chapter and president of FormLA Landscaping. “Several popular plants, like pampas, feather, and fountain grasses, marketed in the West as ‘drought tolerant,’ are actually quite combustible,” she tells Mental Floss.

A smart sprinkler controller makes it easy to ensure that your yard is moist and as fire-safe as possible. It can regulate and even reduce your water consumption, too. The Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is equipped with a weather-monitoring system to adjust water use based on the forecast. The Orbit B-Hyve has fewer bells and whistles, but still offers smart scheduling with a smartphone app.

6. INTENTIONAL FIRES

iCamera KEEP home security system
Amazon

Let’s hope you never have to deal with this one, because playing with fire is no joke. The NFPA reports that 8 percent of residential fires between 2011 and 2015 were set intentionally, with 15 percent of civilian deaths happening as a result [PDF].

To keep your home safe inside and out, consider using a smart home security system. The iCamera KEEP Pro from iSmartAlarm has a powerful image sensor, sound and motion detection, event-triggered video recording, and a motion-tracking feature that allows the camera to follow movement around your space. The Wyze Cam 2 is a smaller model with motion-tagging technology and a budget-friendly price tag.

Nothing beats the power of common sense, of course. “Preparedness is the best protection,” Patterson says. “Have the right tools, have an evacuation plan, and know what to do in the event of an emergency. Fires are scary and it can be difficult to act quickly and think clearly in the moment if you aren’t prepared.”

This Simple Plastic Wrap Hack Will Make Your Kitchen Life Much Easier

iStock.com/clubfoto
iStock.com/clubfoto

Plastic wrap, cling wrap, Saran wrap—no matter what you call it, it's a great product to have available in your kitchen. The only downside is that it's constantly sticking to itself, making it rather cumbersome to use. A surprising tip from TODAY Food could change all that, though.

It may sound silly, but try storing your plastic wrap in the freezer instead of tossing it in a drawer or cupboard. The cold temperature alters the polyethylene at the molecular level, which helps to remove the static and stickiness.

You may be wondering, "But isn't that the point of cling wrap—to, well, cling to things?" Yes, that's true. However, the freezer only temporarily changes the properties of the plastic wrap, giving you enough time to rip a sheet off and cover your leftovers with it while the material is still cool. Once the plastic wrap warms up, it will go back to its old, clingy self.

Carolyn Forte of the Good Housekeeping Institute tried it out and gave the freezer method a thumbs up. "The plastic wrap was a lot easier to unroll and use," she tells Good Housekeeping. "It doesn't stick to itself when it's cold, but still works to cover up a dish. As it warms up, it goes back to being sticky, but it's definitely easier to handle when cold."

If you don't have the space to store your cling wrap in the freezer full-time, stick it in 15 minutes before you need to use it. If you're looking for other ways to optimize your cooking routine and save some time, check out these 15 easy kitchen hacks.

[h/t Good Housekeeping]

You're Probably Raking Leaves All Wrong

iStock.com/Zbynek Pospisil
iStock.com/Zbynek Pospisil

'Tis the season for viewing fall foliage, which means the less lovely season of raking dead leaves isn't far away. You may want to brush up on your raking technique, because apparently there's a wrong way to tidy up your lawn, according to The Spruce. Several wrong ways, in fact.

First, you'll want to check your toolshed to make sure that what you have in your possession is, in fact, a leaf rake. There are over a dozen different kinds of rakes suited to different tasks, and it's easy to mistakenly use the wrong kind. Leaf rakes are a little like lawn rakes, except they have plastic instead of metal tines—and yes, it makes a difference.

Fortunately, raking is one of those chores where procrastination is okay, and even encouraged. The Spruce suggests holding off on raking until almost all of the leaves have fallen. That way, you can do it all at once and save yourself the hassle. However, it is recommended that you occasionally use a mulching mower or lawn mower with a bag attachment to collect any leaves that drop early on in the season.

If you have a garden, The Washington Post suggests using a mower (with a bag) to shred the leaves, which can then used as mulch to nurture your flower beds or soil. And if you really loathe raking, just start a compost pile and let it break down naturally over the winter. Local wildlife that find their food in piles of leaves will thank you.

For everyone else, put your raking skills to the test on a dry, windless day. You should be raking "deeply and vigorously" so that you're scraping up lawn thatch (dead grass) in addition to leaves. WeatherBug recommends that you rake small amounts of leaves at a time, using a "medium-paced, quick sweeping motion." It's quicker than long sweeps, and less likely to tire you out. Keep your back straight, knees bent, and periodically switch up the position of your hands so that you're not putting pressure on just one area.

If this sounds a little like preparing for rigorous exercise, it's because raking leaves is moderate physical activity, according to experts. Be sure to wear gloves and long pants, and try to enjoy autumn while it lasts. After all, raking leaves is still better than shoveling snow.

[h/t The Spruce]

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