If you’re worried about a fire starting in your basement, you right to do so. In the country, more than one-fifth of reported fires happen at home. The figure is more than 1 million house fires annually, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
Losses due to these residential fire damage amounted to about $15 billion in 2021. In addition, these house fires also cause tens of thousands of firefighters and homeowners to be injured. Worse, they claim thousands of lives too.
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So, it is reasonable and practical to think about possible fire hazards in your home. Most residential fires typically start in the kitchen, in the bedroom and living room, in attics and crawl spaces, and laundry rooms. Aside from these spaces, the basement also poses plenty of opportunity for fire to ignite.
How Basement Fires Work
A fire that starts in the basement is extremely dangerous. Because of the enclosed or mostly enclosed space, there’s little to no room for the smoke and the flames to move around. There is no other way but up through the house and your living quarters.
As most basements have no windows or outside entrance, you can expect extensive smoke to push its way from the basement toward any doors, windows and other openings. In addition to extensive smoke, a lack of ventilation and limited access results in intense heat, a big possibility of floor collapse, stair burn through, and other fire-related damages.
Causes of Fires in the Basement
So, how do fires start in the basement? We list the possible causes of a blaze in the basement below.
The basement, like the attic, can easily become the primary storage space for everything unused, unopened, or unwanted. This includes tons of paper, cardboard, and other flammable items, such as your Christmas tree, paint, gasoline, or boxes filled with more stuff that can easily catch fire.
It goes without saying that paper and all these other flammable items must be stored away from potential fire hazards. This means, don’t put flammable items next to each other or next to extension wires and ducting or piping from the furnace or boiler, for instance.
Speaking of extension wires, if you’re using them to plug in the appliances in your basement, it might be high time to consider installing an outlet or wall socket there. Plugging your washers, dryers, or other appliances into extension cords is a big fire risk. Extension wires can easily overheat and overload, and a single spark is all it takes to start an uncontrollable fire down there.
Gas- and electric-powered appliances
In addition to being a primary storage space for paper and other unused and unwanted stuff, the basement typically houses your house’s heating and cooling equipment as well as several appliances. Plus, there will be tons of pipes and wires too.
Sources of major concern are the furnace and water heater. If these appliances are not kep in good shape or lack maintenance, there’s a big chance that these might overheat and start a fire.
Furthermore, if you have your lawnmower, leaf blower, or other gas-powered appliances kept away in the basement, then you’re at risk of a basement fire. These gas-powered devices typically give out gasses, i.e., the gas evaporates. One spark is all it takes for this gas to catch fire or explode.
Again, it bears repeating that flammable items like paper, paint, and gasoline should not be placed close to these utilities and appliances to avoid them catching and spreading fire if ever that scenario happens.
Nearly 15,500 fires start from clothes dryers per year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). So, dryer vents deserve a special mention in this list.
If you have your washer and dryer set up in the basement, don’t forget to keep them maintained. This means you should empty the lint trap after every load and occasionally clean dryer vents. A clogged vent can cause the dryer to overheat and lint is highly flammable.
In addition, if your dryer vent is made from PVC or some aluminum foil looking material, you have a fire hazard on your hands. Unlike metal dryer vents, these materials won’t be able to stand up to a fire. Most likely, they will melt or deteriorate quickly under the flame and intense heat.
Fuses and fuse box
If you’re living in an older home, i.e., built before the 1970s, it’s possible that the house has a fuse box instead of a circuit breaker panel. If that’s the case, this is a big fire hazard which you should address immediately.
These older fuse boxes won’t be able to handle the amount of electricity that you’ll be using daily. There is a big chance that it could malfunction and catch fire. The same can be said of using the wrong type of fuses.
Preventing Basement Fires
While basements can pose a fire hazard to your home, there are many ways you can prevent such a disaster from happening. Below you’ll find recommendations from the U.S. Fire Administration and more tips for preventing fires in your basement.
- Install early warning devices, such as a smoke alarm, in your basement.
- Add a carbon monoxide alarm if you’re keeping any equipment that burns wood, gas, or oil down in your basement.
- Ensure that your access to the fuse box or circuit breaker panel is not hindered or barred.
- Keep the burner doors of your heaters and gas furnaces closed.
- Install a wall outlet in your basement and plug your appliances directly. In other words, don’t use an extension cord.
- Don’t leave any appliance on. Turn them off after every use.
- If you notice that your basement has leaks, unplug all your appliances immediately and fix the leaks.
- Ensure to clean your dryer’s lint filter after every load and have your dryer vent checked at least every year.
- Maintain a minimum of 3 feet between flammable items and your utilities and appliances in the basement. In addition, oily rags and the like should be kept in airtight containers.
- Keep the basement clean and organized. For instance, don’t leave stuff on the stairs or lying around the basement floor.
- Don’t pile your stuff high. If you do, the fire might easily transition upstairs through your ceiling-high piled items.
- Don’t store any trash or garbage in your basement. (That’s just gross!)
How do fires start in the basement?
In conclusion, fires in the basement can be extremely dangerous due to the enclosed space and lack of ventilation. They can start from various causes such as flammable items, extension cords, gas- and electric-powered appliances, dryer vents, and outdated fuse boxes. However, by taking preventative measures such as installing early warning devices, maintaining appliances, keeping flammable items away from utilities, and practicing good organization, homeowners can significantly reduce the risk of basement fires. It is essential to prioritize safety and awareness to protect lives, property, and prevent devastating losses caused by basement fires.