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How to help someone safeguard their home from fire

| Insurance

A fire in the home is something many of us never consider a possibility in our own house, especially If you are cautious with cooking and electricals, and maintain a working smoke alarm. However, how often do we consider helping our neighbours to be fire safe too?

Our home insurance partner Ageas has been analysing home insurance claims for fire damage over the past 2 years* and found that in 18% of cases the fire was caused by a third party or external source, such as a neighbour’s house or car, so helping a neighbour is not only a nice thing to do for them, but lowers the risk of your own house suffering damage too. 

Unfortunately, some older people can be at higher risk of fire in the home due to factors such as owning older (and potentially faulty) electrical equipment, being unable to safely reach and test a smoke alarm, or having a higher tendency to forget to turn the oven or stove off after cooking.

We’ve put together this practical advice to help you offer support to elderly neighbours whilst keeping your own home safe from fire.

Help an elderly neighbour

18% of fire damage claims across all years were due to a third party or other external source*

In built up areas flames can easily catch from one house to another, so it’s important that every house is safe, not just your own. If you have an elderly neighbour you may want to talk to them about fire safety and offer them support, especially if they live alone, but it’s important to be respectful and to not intrude if someone declines your help.

Here are some ways in which you could help a neighbour to improve their home fire safety:

Check smoke alarm

Many people forget to check their smoke alarm regularly, so it can be useful to remind your neighbours to check theirs when you are checking yours.

If you have a neighbour who you suspect may struggle to check their smoke alarm because of difficulties balancing on a chair or step ladder, consider offering to test it for them.

Of course, many older people have no problems checking a smoke alarm themselves, so be careful to not come across as patronising or make assumptions about someone’s mobility based on their age.

If they accept your help, here’s how to check the smoke alarms:

  • There should be a smoke alarm on each floor of the home, ideally away from kitchens and bathrooms where steam and smoke could set off false alarms.
  • Check the smoke alarm has the British Standard number BS 5446 and the Kitemark.
  • Press the button to hear the test alarm that shows the alarm is still active
  • Brush any dirt or dust that may have built up on the alarm away, but do not use any cleaning chemicals to do so.

Smoke alarms should be checked monthly and the batteries replaced about once a year, unless you own a long-life alarm where the whole machine needs to be replaced every 7 to 10 years.

Check electricals for overloading of sockets

Fires due to electrical faults equated to 17% of all claims made.*

Overloading of sockets is a common cause of electrical faults such as power surges which can quickly lead to sparks catching on nearby furniture.

Unless you are close with your neighbour it’s probably inappropriate to snoop around all their rooms looking at their plugs. Just keep an eye out for sockets that look aged or damaged, or that are overloaded with plugs, especially with cube adaptors rather than extension lead adaptors.

If you spot anything which you think could be putting too much strain on the electrical outlet, discuss the risk with your neighbour.

If you are helping a close friend or relative, they may be comfortable with you taking a closer look at their electrical items to make sure they are safe. Check the age and condition of electric blankets, which can set fire to mattresses when faulty, and the position of any freestanding heaters to ensure they are not near any fabrics.

Clean built up grease from hobs and ovens

Cooking related fires made up 38% of all fire claims.*

Built up oil and grease around the stove and oven can catch in an instant, and quickly escalate to a serious fire in the kitchen. However, cleaning the hob and oven can be both fiddly and exhausting, so offering to do this for a neighbour is something that could be well appreciated. 

The oven and hob don’t need to be spotless but try to remove any clearly built up areas of grease. Pay close attention to corners of the oven and gaps underneath controls, pan supports, and the rings themselves if they are removable. If there is an extractor fan, it’s worth giving this a wipe down too.

Ageas’ home insurance claim analysis found that cooking related fires made up a huge 38% of all fire causes, and a lot of these were avoidable accidents caused by things such as forgetting about something that was cooking, placing something on a still hot stovetop, or using unsuitable containers in the microwave.

If the person you are helping is someone you know well, such as a close friend or relative, then you may be comfortable talking to them about these risks. You could also discuss the various products available to reduce risks in the kitchen, such as auto-shut off units for ovens, or a small fire extinguisher that they can keep in the kitchen.

Recommend free fire safety assessment from local fire service

Many local fire services offer a free Home Fire Risk Check, and some can even provide a free smoke alarm to those without one.

If your neighbour is interested in learning more about fire safety it may be worth recommending they arrange one of these visits, where a trained fire fighter will test the smoke alarm and assess any potential risks around the home, offer advice on reducing these risks, and help to plan an escape route in case of emergency.

If available at your local fire department, these visits can be arranged by calling the local fire service (not on 999, which is for emergencies only).

Useful resources

There is plenty of information available online to help you be more aware about fire risks in your own home that will enable you to help others around you. Here are a few of these:

Age UK offer advice for home safety which is specifically targeted towards older households.

The Fire Service have several detailed leaflets available online and in print format by request which explain how to avoid fire risk in a number of different situations

Alzheimer’s society offer specific advice on reducing fire risks in the kitchen for sufferers of dementia.

It’s important to have buildings and contents insurance you can rely on, so that you can rest assured that your home and belongings are protected should the unexpected happen.
Age Co Home Insurance is designed for the over 50s and has no hidden admin or cancellation fees. Call our friendly team today for a no obligation quote on 0800 731 3903.

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*Ageas analysed home insurance claims over the period January 2016-April 2018

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