Co-authors: TJ Ryan
What can start a house fire?
Research undertaken by Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) showed that the four most common causes of house fires in 2015 were unattended cooking, unattended heating, smoking, and faulty appliances.
Colder weather is on the way and wood fires and electric blankets are coming out of storage. So now is a great time to review your home fire safety procedures. According to Fire and Rescue NSW, 43% of all fire fatalities happen in winter.
As for where to be most vigilant about preventing house fires, we know from the MFB and Fire and Rescue NSW figures that:
- 45% of house fires start in the kitchen
- 9% start in the bedroom
- 5% start in the lounge room
- 4% start in the laundry
And it’s serious stuff – in just 60 seconds, a house fire will have blown out of control and will be giving off poisonous smoke. At the 3 minute mark, a house fire has reached over 800 degrees Celsius, burned all the contents in the room it started in, and spread to other rooms of your home (Tasmania Fire Service).
Does home & contents insurance cover fires?
Yes. Home and contents insurance policies should cover damage caused to your home building (with home insurance) and your belongings and home fixtures (with contents insurance) by accidental fire, bushfire, and other fire starters such as lightning strike or heatwave.
This is different to cover for fusion damage (a.k.a. motor burnout), which is not available as standard on every policy. Fusion damage cover is for damage caused by the electric motor burning out in your household applicances. This cover may be included as standard or it may be an optional cover that you purchase in addition to your Home & Contents or Contents Only policy.
If you’re comparing home and contents insurance policies, the comparison table below displays some of the policies currently available on Canstar’s database for an Australian aged under 50, seeking cover in NSW or ACT for a cost to replace building and contents of below $550,000. Please note the table is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical) and features links direct to the providers’ websites. Use Canstar’s home insurance comparison selector to view a wider range of policies.
A good home and contents insurance policy is vital, but it’s far better if an accident can be prevented in the first place. Follow our tips below to make sure you’re covered to prevent house fires.
How to avoid a house fire
Our hottest tips for not setting your house on fire include the following:
- Extinguishers: With almost half of home fires starting in the kitchen, an easily-accessible fire extinguisher and fire blanket are essential. Only purchase fire blankets and extinguishers that meet Australian Standards.
- Smoke alarms:Smoke alarms are essential because they can detect a house fire in under 30 seconds, before poisonous smoke is emitted and contents are destroyed (Tas Fire Service). Ensure that you have smoke alarms installed throughout your home – and replace the batteries at least once a year.
- Cooking: Never leave cooking unattended or get distracted while cooking, leaving the burners on. Keep your cooking space clean as fats and oils around the stove can catch on fire. Never use water, flour, or salt to put out an oil or fat fire on the stove.
- Watch all fires: Never leave open fires and candles unattended. That includes festive fires such as Chanukah candles.
- Kids: Never leave children unsupervised around candles, matches, lighters, or stovetops.
- Fireplace: Use a fine mesh screen in front of the fireplace to prevent embers, sparks, and logs falling out onto the floor.
- Chimney: If you have a chimney, clean it of built-up ash and soot at the start of the season, before you light your first wood fire.
- Clothes drying: If drying clothes in front of a heater or fireplace, ensure that they are kept a safe distance away. Fire and Rescue NSW advise that 1 metre is a safe distance.
- Electric blankets: Check electric blankets carefully for damage before using them. Lay them on top of the bed and test them for several minutes before installing them.
- Appliances: Check your heaters, clothes dryers, and any other appliances that are used seasonally to ensure that the electrical devices are still in perfect working condition. Ensure that electrical cords are not worn or frayed.
- Microwaves: No metal allowed! Even some recycled materials can contain small fibres of metal that can start a fire.
- Power sources: Remember not to overload your power points or power boards.
- Heating installation: When installing heating systems, only used qualified tradesmen. This is not something you want to DIY. Looking for a new heating system? Compare split system heating options with the Canstar Blue website.
- Chemicals: Store oils and household chemicals safely away from any sources of heat. This includes your cooking oils and kitchen cleaning materials – next to the stove is not a good place for them.
- Bedtime: Ensure that all portable heaters, wood fires, lamps, and electric blankets are turned off when you go to bed and when you leave the house. Never smoke in bed. Be careful when using wheat-filled heat packs (wheat bags) in bed, and be sure to remove the wheat pack before going to sleep.
- Smoking: Don’t leave lit cigarettes to burn unattended – always stub them out thoroughly.
- Be prepared: Develop and practice a Fire Escape Plan with household members. Take special care to explain the plan with children and elderly seniors living with you. Know what to do if a person’s clothing catches on fire. Stop, drop, cover, and roll.
- Bushfire season: Develop a Bushfire Survival Plan for preparing your property, escaping before a bushfire, and surviving a bushfire if you are trapped (see the Canstar Bushfire Checklist). Make sure everyone in your household knows the survival plan.
And of course, just in case, make sure that you have a great-value home and contents insurance policy!
Kitchen appliances can start fires
In 2015, faulty electrical appliances were reported to have caused 268 fires in Victoria.
MFB’s data shows that 41% of house fire claims from 2015 started in the kitchen, compared to 9% in the lounge room and 7% in the bedroom.
MFB Acting Chief Officer David Youssef says that the number of preventable house fires is increasing in Victoria, with 41 more fires in 2015 than in 2014.
Mr Youssef warned, “Most preventable house fires are triggered by a simple, avoidable mistake. A moment of distraction, carelessness or neglect, which can have lifelong impacts.”
Country Fire Authority Chief Officer Joe Buffone said, “There are hundreds of ‘safe mistakes’ that Victorians make every day without thinking. But because they don’t have serious consequences, they largely go unnoticed.
“We’re asking people to think about those other small mistakes as well – things like overloading your power boards, or burning candles too close to the curtains – which can all have serious consequences.
“We want people to think twice before putting their homes and their families at risk.”
Worried about the frayed cords on your old blender? It may be time to compare blenders and pick up a new one.
For more information about fire safety, visit the websites for your local fire department or emergency services departments: