It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes the unthinkable can occur, and your house catches fire. Perhaps an appliance overheats, reaches ignition point, and unless dealt with quickly, the fire can take hold, and spread to other pieces of furniture in the room. In a space of 20 minutes, the fire can really spread, and before you know it, it has reached the central staircase. In a worst case scenario, the staircase will act as a chimney, allowing the fire to envelope the first floor landing, and bedrooms. If this happens the prognosis for the house is not good, as most modern houses have wooden joisted floors, onto which the wooden stud partition walls are fixed.
A lot of personal effects commonly found in homes are inflammable, and before you know it the house will be well and truly ablaze. Once a certain heat develops it will literally suck all the oxygen out of the air. If a window breaks, allows oxygen in, the fire can almost explode and cause a flashover to take place. Once this occurs, the fire is out of control. From start to finish, a typical domestic house could be completely gutted in three hours.
Hopefully the house will have hard wired smoke detectors which would be activated very early on, so that any occupants have every chance to escape. With luck someone will have seen what is going on and called the fire brigade, who are able to attend the scene quickly, and actively douse the fire before the complete house is destroyed. Even so, if a fire has occurred in one room, you would be staggered at the level of damage that can occur throughout the rest of the house. Most of your personal effects will be smoke damaged. The house would need to be thoroughly cleaned and redecorated, and I suspect the carpets replaced. At best this is an expensive process, at worst; it could put severe strain on a household budget.
The other big side affect from putting out a fire, is that the room is likely to be filled with copious amounts of water. Modern buildings are usually constructed with materials that absorb water, whether it is plaster board stud walls fixed to a wooden framework, to Thermalite breeze blocks with a thistle plaster finish. Even if the house is cleaned up, it is essential to ensure that the property is dried out to prevent the onset of dry and wet rots, which again can have a devastating effect on the property.
So far I have painted a very bleak picture, one which I hope you never have to suffer. If I can get you to think about prevention, then I will have more than truly achieved my end objective. At the end of the day, it is a very good idea to turn appliances off where possible. Obviously the fridge and freezer cannot be turned off as they work seven days a week, twenty four hours per day. The other main safety item is a modern mains consumer unit. If these are fitted with MCB’s, or miniature circuit breakers, then if there is a surge of current to the appliance, it will turn the circuit off, and prevent further damage from occurring.
Obvious essentials are also the installation of hard wired smoke detectors. By hard wired I mean that they run off mains electricity, and not just small battery which can go dead after a period of time. These should be tested regularly to make sure they are in good working order. Make sure they are not clogged with dust. Normally they are fixed to a ceiling, because hot air rises, they will detect smoke most quickly in this position.
How many houses have a fire extinguisher? They cost a few pounds to purchase, and again they should be put in a prominent position so that every occupant knows where it is, and more importantly how to use it. Water based extinguishers are good, except where there is an electrical or oil based fire. Other materials used in extinguishers are Carbon Dioxide, Halon and foaming agents. In a kitchen area, it is a good idea to have a fire blanket so that if there is a fire over a cooker, you can smother it quickly, and extinguish the fire before it takes hold.
The last main concern I have is to make sure you have an adequate fire insurance policy with premiums paid for the house and its contents. Make sure you are familiar with the values insured, and that they actually cover the cost of replacement for the house itself, and all your contents. A small house can easily contain £30,000 worth of personal effects. As humans, you forget what you spend on furniture, and every day belongings. If you have to replace everything in one go, it can prove to be very expensive. With regards to buildings replacement cost, always ask a surveyor to check the valuation figures if you have the slightest doubt about whether the value is great enough to allow for complete rebuilding. Like everything, it is far better to be prepared before the event rather than try and sort it out after the event. By then it is often too late, and can prove to be a costly error.
So to sum up,
A) Make sure you have a fully paid up, properly valued fire insurance policy to also cover contents and personal possessions.
B) Try and put a fire extinguisher in your house, and know how to use it. Make sure your smoke alarm is in working order, and if possible make sure it is wired to the house electrics.
C) Try and turn unwanted appliances off at night where you can, and if you can afford it, make sure your electrical wiring system is as up to date as possible.
By doing these things hopefully you will go a long way to preventing the ultimate disaster from occurring.