Every day, there are an average of eighteen garage fires making the news all around the country. Over 93 percent of these fires occur in attached garages in single or double occupancy homes. These fires are responsible for an average of 30 deaths each year.
Fires starting in the garage are also among the most destructive house fires. Garage fires tend to spread more rapidly than fires starting in other areas of the house, and they cause more property damage than other types of fires. An estimated $457 million dollars in property damage is caused each year in the U.S. by fires starting in an attached garage.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways of keeping your garage and home from becoming one of these statistics.
Causes of Garage Fires
Garages are often multipurpose areas. Parked cars, stored belongings, home appliances, chargers for power tools, and flammable liquids like oil, gas, and paint thinner are just some of the common items found together in a garage that can lead to a fire.
Preventing a garage fire involves five points:
• Inspecting and upgrading the garage structure for fire safety,
• Properly storing or removing flammable products from the garage,
• Safe use and maintenance of appliances, lights, outlets, and battery chargers,
• Having a functioning heat alarm in the garage,
• A safe and functional garage door.
Fire-Safe Garage Construction
The first step in garage fire safety is checking the structure of the garage and making sure it is up to modern fire codes. This involves inspection of the walls, ceiling, and door between the garage and house.
If the garage has a room above it, 5/8 inch, type X, fire-resistant sheetrock should be installed on the garage ceiling. Also, any walls adjoining the house should be covered with a minimum of ½ inch sheetrock. This sheathing material acts as a barrier, slowing down the spread of a fire starting in the garage.
Also, the door between house and garage should be a solid core door with a minimum 20 minute fire rating and a self-closing mechanism. If you are unsure whether your home meets these specifications, have your garage inspected by a contractor.
Some garages have a ceiling with an attic space above which is accessible from the garage. In this case, check that the access opening has a fire-rated cover and that it is kept closed. This prevents a garage fire from quickly spreading into the roof structure of the house.
Flammable Items in the Garage
Fire safety experts recommend storing all flammable liquids in a shed completely separate from the house and attached garage. This includes products like gasoline, oil, paint, paint thinner, and varnish.
At the very least, be certain that these kinds of highly flammable products are stored in tightly closed, approved containers, and keep them as far away as possible from appliances and workshop areas where a spark could ignite them. Also, be sure that recyclable paper and cardboard, rags and cleaning supplies, and boxes of stored belongings are not next to appliances, tools, or batteries where heat or a spark could set them ablaze.
Safe Use of Appliances, Tools, and Electrical Fixtures
Overheating battery chargers are a common source of home fires. Do not plug more than one charger into an outlet, and do not use an extension cord when charging a battery in a charger. Both of these conditions can lead to overheating in the electrical circuit, resulting in a fire.
Water heaters and clothes dryers are other potential fire hazards in the garage. Make sure these appliances do not have flammable items near them and that air vents are not clogged or obstructed.
Using the incorrect wattage lightbulb in a lamp or lighting fixture is another garage fire hazard. Never exceed the manufacturer’s recommended wattage for any lighting fixture.
Installing a Heat Alarm
Fire safety experts recommend a heat alarm, rather than a smoke alarm, in the garage. Fumes from a vehicle or someone working on a project in the garage can set off a smoke alarm.
Heat alarms that are hardwired into the electrical system of the house and have a battery back-up are the most reliable. However, heat alarms should not be installed near florescent lamps, because these lamps can interfere with the electrical functionality of the alarm.
A Safe and Functional Garage Door
Finally, a functioning garage door allows you to keep the garage well-ventilated if you are using the space for a project that generates fumes, and this also reduces the danger of a garage fire.