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Mike Holmes: Winter is a prime season for house fires

It’s that time of year again — no, I’m not talking about fall or Thanksgiving, I’m talking about Fire Prevention Week, which runs Oct. 4 to 10.

Every year, Fire Prevention Week falls on the week in which Oct. 9 lands, to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which, unfortunately, took the lives of more than 250 people and left another 100,000 homeless. It’s a reminder to all of us that a house fire can happen to anyone, so we must take the proper steps to prevent it, and then keep our families safe in case it does.

Proper homebuilding has a lot to do with fire prevention.

For example, firewalls help stop flames from spreading between semi-detached and townhouses; there can only be a certain amount of glass on either side of a house, depending on how close it is to the property line. Again, this is to help stop the spread of flames.

 

 

There’s also fire-resistant insulation (which I recommend installing on all your exterior walls) and fire-resistant intumescent paint that can be applied to sheathing and framing. It may not stop a fire from starting, but it will give you more time to escape and it will minimize damage to your home.

But as a homeowner, you have to keep on top of things, too.

The No. 1 priority: Have working smoke alarms on every level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. (About a quarter of all house fires start in the bedroom.) And test them! You should test your smoke alarms every month — no exceptions — and change the batteries twice a year. I do it when the clocks change; that’s easy to remember.

I’ve heard of some people who actually remove the batteries from their smoke alarms, or disconnect them — this is a big, big no-no. In one case, a few days after a family disabled their alarms (because they kept going off) a fire broke out in the home and the couple lost their three-year-old son.

Smoke alarms save lives. It’s that simple. In fact, they can cut the risk of dying in a house fire by about half — that’s huge!

But when was the last time you had a licensed electrical contractor come and take a look at your home’s wiring?

Electrical fires are more common than you think. And now with winter approaching, we’ll be using our heating systems and lighting more.

You have to make sure your home’s electrical system can safely handle the extra load, because it’s way too easy for bad wiring to cause an electrical fire. In fact, most home fires are caused by poorly maintained electrical and heating/cooling systems. So get them checked by the right pros!

Have your home’s electrical system checked at least every four years, and if you bought a house that’s 15 years old or older, bring in a licensed electrical contractor as soon as possible, especially if the basement is finished. Too many homeowners think they can do their own electrical, and unfortunately, many of them have done. How do you know if everything is up to code? If there’s knob-and-tube wiring? Or aluminum wiring mixed with copper? Or if the person who did the work knew what they were doing?

Have a licensed electrical contractor do an audit of the entire house. They’ll make sure all the electrical work is up to code and that all the connections are tight.

Fire prevention is not something you can put off, or that you can get around to doing when you have the time. Because the truth is, we don’t know when a fire can start in a home, and then it’s too late.

Keep safe, make it right and please, folks, make sure all your smoke alarms are working … today!

Mike Holmes, Special to National Post