Fire safety is so important, and reducing the risk of a house fire is a top priority for most folks who rent, own, or live in any type of permanent structure. Although your family’s safety is an obvious concern, you may not know exactly how to keep your home — and more importantly everyone in it — out of harm’s way. And that’s OK because you’re not alone.
Most of us could use a refresher course on fire safety, so we’re here to help. Follow our timeline of how often you should test, replace, and clean certain items in your home, and you’ll be well on your way to ensuring a safe environment for your entire household.
1. Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors: Once a month
What good is any type of alarm doing if it’s not in working order? The answer, of course, is none. That’s why testing your smoke alarm — along with any other alarm that’s meant to keep you safe — is absolutely crucial. You should always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, but it’s recommended that you test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors monthly.
Next: This item could come in very handy during the start of a house fire.
2. Check the fire extinguisher: Once a month
The life of a fire extinguisher can last up to 15 years, so long as it’s in good condition and hasn’t been used or damaged. However, there’s only one way to be sure it is, indeed, working, and that’s to check it regularly. Atlanta fire chief Dennis L. Rubin told Real Simple that the people should check the pressure gauge monthly.
“If the needle is in the green area, it’s functional,” he says. A needle that falls anywhere else means that maintenance is required. Bring it to a professional, and they can tell you whether it just needs to be serviced or replaced altogether.
Next: And here’s when you should replace the extinguisher altogether.
3. Replace or service fire extinguisher: ASAP if used or damaged
Speaking of fire extinguishers, yours should be serviced or replaced ASAP once it’s been used or damaged. When considering whether the fire extinguisher in your home needs attention, Real Simple says that these are the scenarios you need to check out: The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped, or blocked with debris; the locking pin on the handle is missing or unsealed; the handle is wobbly or broken; or the inspection sticker is missing.
Next: Keeping one of these in your house can help if and when someone gets injured.
4. Stock first aid kit: Once a month
Keeping a first aid kit on-hand can help ensure that minor injuries are kept under wraps. For this reason, it’s important that you keep your first aid kit up-to-date and restocked as needed.
According to the Red Cross, your first aid kit should include “any personal items such as medications and emergency phone numbers or other items your health-care provider may suggest,” Additionally, the organization recommends checking the kit and expiration dates regularly, as well as replacing any used or out-of-date contents as needed.
Next: Keeping every area of your home free and clear of potential hazards is key.
5. Clean around heating and cooling vents: Once a month
Regarding heating and cooling vents in your home, Amy Artuso, program manager and home and community safety expert for the National Safety Council, tells readers at SafeBee, “Vacuum, dust and clean around them. Make sure furniture is not blocking the vents.” Furthermore, Artuso recommends changing out filters for air conditioning systems once a month.
Next: You know how often you should check smoke alarms, but what about changing the batteries?
6. Change batteries in smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors: Once a year
According to the Red Cross, you should test your smoke alarms once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year. And once again, keeping your carbon monoxide detectors on the same schedule is a great habit to get into.
Next: Does your family know what to do in case of a fire emergency?
7. Practice family escape plan: Twice a year
This one is especially important for anyone with young children at home. Devising a family escape plan could be the difference between life and death should a house fire happen to you. In particular, the Red Cross says that every member of the family should know two ways to escape from every room.
Establish a family meeting spot outside of the house, along with a family emergency communications plan. Naturally, the plan will only work if it’s put into action, so make sure that your family practices it twice a year and everyone knows what to do.
Next: Checking these items is another crucial step in keeping your family safe.
8. Check your meds: Once a year
It’s important to keep up with the inventory in your medicine cabinet, tossing anything that’s past its expiration date or no longer needed. “If you have young children, make sure all medications are up and away and out of sight,” Artuso tells SafeBee. Additionally, you should be mindful of proper disposal, as some medications require special attention.
Next: This is an important step in making sure your home is safe.
9. Check safety locks and latches around the house: Once a year
Locks and latches have a lifetime; do you know the shape yours are in? Have you had the same window latches ever since you moved in? If so, it may be time for an update, especially if you have toddlers who are now able to reach new heights. On the flip side, you’d never want a family member not be able to get out through a window that’s never been opened before if a disaster strikes.
Next: Sweeping this part of the house is absolutely crucial.
10. Clean your chimney and furnace: Once a year
Sweeping the chimney at least once a year is important, so don’t be afraid to get your Cinderella on. Make sure it’s free and clear of unnecessary items and debris. Additionally, it’s important to do the same for your furnace, as having something catch fire from being too close is a serious risk.
Next: Don’t ignore these items around the house, either.
11. Check all appliance wires around the house: Once a year
Most wires remain out of sight, which is why inspecting them at least once a year is absolutely imperative. Because frayed or worn out wires are a fire hazard, you’ll need to repair or replace them as needed. If and when you do find yourself in this situation, skip the duct tape route and opt for a professional, instead.
Next: Cleaning the gutters is a pain, but it’s a must.
12. Clean outdoor debris from roof and wires: Once a year
Hanging tree branches and falling leaves are bound to collect on your roof, in the gutters, and around outdoor electrical wires. And because these can pose a real threat to the safety of your family, removing them as needed is essential. For most parts of the country, the time to do this is in the fall.
Additionally, you can always call a professional tree-trimming or branch removal service. Furthermore, you should call the local electric company if you spot anything that’s fallen or is resting on a power line.
Next: Do you know where to find the circuit breakers in your home?
13. Check circuit breakers: Once a year
Not everyone knows where to find their circuit breaker box, but they should. While it’s probably common knowledge to know where it is if you own your home, that’s not always the case for those who rent. And beyond knowing where it’s located, ensuring that each breaker is properly labeled is just as important.
Next: Here’s how often you should replace your carbon monoxide detectors.
14. Replace carbon monoxide detectors: Every 5 years
We’ve already covered how often you should check and change batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors, so now it’s time to discuss how often you should actually be replacing it. It’s recommended that you replace your carbon monoxide detector every five years, if not sooner. But, if it’s not working properly, you should replace it ASAP.
Next: One last note about smoke detectors in your home.
15. Replace smoke detectors: Every 10 years
To wrap things up, we’re right back to where we started with smoke detectors. Keeping up with monthly checks and changing the batteries out annually are the first steps. After that, there’s another important reminder you need to set for yourself: After you’ve had a smoke alarm for 10 years, it’s time for an upgrade.
Think the state of your home measures up to total fire preparedness? Give this checklist a go for a full home assessment, and see how ready you really are.
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