There’s nothing in life quite as scary as having a fire in your own home. Even the smallest fire makes us think of what might have been. So, if you’ve had a fire, you may be wondering whether it’s OK to go straight back to bed or whether there’s something else you need to do first? Is it safe to sleep in a house after a small fire? This is what you need to know.
It is not safe to sleep in your house after even a small fire. Smoke damage can be very dangerous to your health. The smoke can leave behind dangerous chemicals and other products of combustion throughout your home. It is not safe to be exposed to any of this.
We will discuss the steps you should take after you have a fire in your house, as well as the importance of smoke detectors.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: How Long Does A Fire Investigation Take?
Why Is Smoke Damage Dangerous?
Depending on what is burning, smoke in a normal house fire can contain carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, acrolein, mercury, and many other dangerous contaminants.
These are all potentially very dangerous chemicals, many even in extremely small amounts. Some are proven carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). You don’t want to be exposed to any of these.
Those who stay in houses with smoke damage often report that they develop trouble breathing and even skin irritations quickly afterward.
That means it’s very important to get professionals to come in and clean everything and decontaminate the area thoroughly.
We do not recommend you sleep in your home even after a small fire, due to possible smoke exposure.
Also read: How Long Does It Take To Put Out a House Fire?
What Should You Do After A Small House Fire?
First, talk to the firefighters or investigators when they are done putting out the fire.
They may be able to offer guidance and advice on whether you should stay in the house or leave. They will also usually be able to test for carbon monoxide, another residue of smoke, which can be deadly in sufficient quantities.
The odds are that even for the smallest of incidents, you will be advised to stay somewhere else until your home is made safe.
Also read: How Do Firefighters Check for Carbon Monoxide (CO)?
Then, pack your bags and find a place to stay for a while.
Contact friends, family, or stay in a motel or hotel. If these aren’t feasible options – then don’t worry. Charities such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army can often help you to find something in an emergency.
The most important thing at this moment is simply to ensure that you and your family are safe before you take any further action.
Set The Wheels In Motion
Next up, you need to get in touch with your home insurer and start the process to make a claim.
You should find that your insurer has a clause that allows for “loss of use” – this will provide you and your family with some money to meet your daily expenses while you are out of the home.
Many insurers will either pay this daily or even provide a decent advance on this money, this can be a huge help at putting your worries at ease.
Don’t forget that when you spend money under this clause, you need to keep the receipts. Your insurer will then attend to the important parts of dealing with your property – they should offer some advice on securing it, cleaning it, and repairing it, as well as ensuring that these expenses are met.
Also read: How Fast Does Fire Spread? (House Fire, Wildfire)
Keep Your Home Safe
Make sure to visit your home and protect it from entry from others (board up windows, etc.) and any adverse weather conditions. Remove any small valuable items from the house too. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
If You Have Pets
Pets are often even more sensitive to fires than we humans are. So, if you have pets it’s a good idea to take them to the vet and have them checked over.
In particular, you want to make sure that their lungs are fully functional and that they’re not hiding any burns below their fur, hair, or feathers.
You may well find that your insurance covers these costs too – it’s certainly worth asking about it.
Get Copies Of Any Reports From Your Fire Department
Your insurer will want them, and they may provide useful information for you and your family too.
Spare a thought for your local fire department, they spend as much time writing reports as fighting fires at times – but the report is something you should have, you will need it.
Keep Paying Your Debts
Mortgage and rent payments will still need to be paid – even if you’re not living in the home. You will also need to keep paying credit card bills, car payments, etc. even if things you owned were destroyed in the fire.
Check Your Home Inventory
You should keep a list of all your possessions worth over about $100 each. Even better, take pictures or videos of everything in and around your house.
Then when something like this happens, it’s easy to claim for anything lost, destroyed, etc. on your insurance. In general, most policies only pay out what the item is worth secondhand unless you have paid for a “new for old” cover which is more expensive.
Look After Your Family
Fires are traumatic.
Moving out is traumatic.
Dealing with all the post-fire hassle is traumatic. If you or any member of your family finds themselves in a bad place following a fire – make sure to get the help you need.
Move Back In
Once the insurer says that you’re OK to move back in – it’s time to head home. We’d recommend that you check all your smoke alarms are working when you do. You don’t want to go through this again.
The Importance Of Smoke Detectors
It’s very important if you want fires inside your home to stay small, for you to detect the fire as soon as it breaks out. But, most importantly, smoke alarms can alert you and your family of a fire early enough to give you time to safely get out.
Smoke detectors save lives!
There are two main types of smoke detectors, ionization and photoelectric.
You should make certain that any home that you are living in has working smoke detectors that provide efficient coverage of the space inside.
For more fire safety tips and stats, read this article.
Also read: House Fire Temperature: How Hot Does It Get?
How Is Smoke Detected?
Smoke detectors work slightly differently from each other and this is how the two most common types can help detect smoke in your home:
These smoke alarms are really good at detecting smoke on a roaring fire. They operate by the use of ionization (hence the name).
What happens is that the alarm contains two electric plates (each one is charged) with a little bit of radioactive material suspended between them (don’t worry, this is not dangerous – there’s not enough material to raise the background radiation by even as much as 0.000001%).
This radioactive material forces the air around to become ionized and as it flows between the plates, this ionized air allows a current to flow between them. Then in the event of a fire, smoke enters the chamber and it does not become ionized by the radiation.
Thus, the electrical current becomes weaker or breaks completely – when this happens, the smoke alarm goes off and you know that something’s wrong.
As the name suggests a “photoelectric” sensor operates using a beam of light (photons) and sends this beam into the main chamber of the alarm at a specific angle from the sensor.
When there’s no light touching the sensor, the alarm is off. When smoke drifts into the chamber, however, the light will reflect off of smoke particles and hit the sensor. At that point, your alarm goes off and you know you need to attend to the fire.
This video goes into more detail about smoke detectors work:
Whichever type you decide on is fine, but you need to have working smoke detectors in your home, as they can and do save lives!
I recommend the 6-pack of 10-year smoke detectors from Kidde. This should be enough for good coverage of most 1 story houses (you may need more for multiple stories).
And best of all, you never have to change the batteries on these, they have built-in batteries with a 10-year life!
Note: To determine how many smoke detectors you need in your home and where to place them, read this article.
Is it safe to sleep in a house after a small fire? No, because when you have a fire, even a small one, your house can become coated in the toxic residue left behind by the smoke. So, it’s best to try and have the house cleaned prior to sleeping there again.
You don’t need to move out forever, just make sure that you have your affairs in order to minimize the impact of the fire on you and your family, and that you don’t sleep there until the smoke residue is gone. (This should be easy to achieve after a small fire).
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