NWACA has been diligent over the past few years in getting the Austin Fire Department, the Texas Forest Service, the City of Austin, Travis County and others to educate all of us in the dangers of urban wildfire. We’re learning how to protect our homes, our neighborhoods, and our beautiful natural environment from ember storms, wind-blown fire, and other natural dangers. Now it is time to discuss the closest danger…..our own homes and poor habits! Embers from a home fire are just as hazardous as those from a wild fire!
As you are probably aware, there have been several serious home fires (individual residences, apartments, condos, etc.) in Austin over the past few years, even some in NWACA boundaries, as recently as last week. Some of the causes of these fires are the fault of the occupants, some due to flaws within the systems of the house, some due to age of the home without proper maintenance, and some from natural causes (such as lightening, extremely high winds, etc.). Many of these effects can be eliminated if addressed in a timely manner. We offer the following for your consideration.
First, consider energy systems: electricity (including solar), and natural gas. All of these systems can cause home fires if not installed properly, maintained properly, and used properly. It is strongly recommended that you have a reliable electrician inspect your system once a year, particularly the electrical panel boards. Many homes have either copper wiring or aluminum wiring, and some have a combination of the two; and they usually are found in the panel boards. The electrician should check all of the lug bolts for service lines coming into these boards and be sure they are tightened securely.
Do not overload individual electrical receptacles with multiple plugs, thus putting too many electrical appliances, etc. on a single receptacle. Bare electrical wires can cause fires and can usually be found in attic spaces, storage rooms and other cavities where rodents can find the wires and chew on them. If you find this happening, do two things: first, call your electrician to inspect and repair, and second, have a pest-control company inspect and treat your home.
Natural gas used by the City of Austin has a very distinct odor. If you use natural gas in your home and if you smell a very distinct odor in your home or around your home, call 311 and/or the gas company immediately and report this occurrence to them. They will come to your house and inspect for a leak. If you have an electric or gas hot water heater in your home, have it serviced once a year by a respectable service company.
The other major system in your home that should be installed properly, maintained properly, and used properly is your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The primary on-going maintenance for the HVAC system by a homeowner is to change the filters monthly or quarterly (Home Depot and Lowe’s both have a wide assortment of HVAC filters). And it is recommended that you have the system inspected by a qualified company twice a year: once in the Spring and once in the Fall (getting ready for cooling in the Summer and heating in the Winter).
Almost every homeowner has a washer and dryer for doing their laundry. It is strongly suggested that you read and follow the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions, particularly about cleaning lint from the dryer and the dryer exhaust outlet. There are other appliances in the home that also need to be cleaned regularly, such as refrigerator/freezers and ice makers, which draw air at the floor level and collect significant quantities of lint and “dust bunnies,” both of which can be flammable.
Finally, any open flames such as candles and fireplaces are sources for having a fire and should be watched carefully. And everyone already knows about the dangers of smoking in bed.