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Household Fire Hazards

Each of the following scenarios illustrates situations that can happen in just about any home. All were taken from real-life stories. One or both of us have experienced more than one of them as well.

Light at the Top

There's a cavernous storage closet on the lower level of your home. It has just one wimpy light fixture—an exposed bulb in a basic light holder. Pretty much everything gets stored here when not in use. Over the years, what used to be manageable stacks of clothing and other household items have grown tall, and a couple of them are inching near the light bulb.

Cause for concern? Yes, especially if clothing is allowed to pile up near the fixture. An estimated 12 percent of all house fires begin in a closet. An incandescent light burns at between 212 and 572F. Wool can ignite at 442F, cotton at 482F. Even a 40-watt bulb can generate enough surface heat to ignite fabric or plastic.

Clothing should always be kept away from closet light fixtures. If the fixture in your closet is mounted too close to shelves or rods, remove them. If it's a bare-bulb fixture, often found in older homes, replace it with a glass-globe fixture.

Room with a View

You have a large closet in your master bedroom. So large, in fact, that your thoughtful architect decided to install big skylights to let more light in. During the summer, nearby trees shade the area, keeping your closet nice and cool. When the leaves leave the trees, however, things really cook in your closet.

Cause for concern? Possibly. Remember, fires need three things: an ignition source, fuel, and oxygen. Here, the ignition source is the heat from the sun's rays. It could build up high enough to cause spontaneous combustion. However, sun-scorched clothing is the more likely problem. If you're concerned, check into installing UV film on the skylights.

Let the Light In

You were shopping at your favorite thrift store and found a lamp you couldn't live without. When you got it home, you discovered that its cord was frayed, so you replaced it. You can't read what the lamp says about maximum wattage, so you figure it's okay to stick a 100-watt bulb in the socket. You also fitted it with a new, larger shade. It makes the lamp a little tipsy, but boy, does it look good

Cause for concern? Possibly. Exceeding a fixture's recommended wattage can cause overheating. Fitting a lamp with a too-large shade compounds the problem. If the lamp were to fall over and come to rest on something flammable, the overheated socket could cause a fire.

Nice and Toasty

You love sleeping under an electric blanket. Your dog, a Great Dane, loves sleeping on top of it. When it's really cold out, you crank the blanket up almost as high as it can go, and you and Rover hunker down for the night.

Cause for concern? Yes, and especially so if you also tuck that blanket in. Both practices can cause excessive heat buildup that can start a fire.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Common Household Disasters © 2005 by Paul Hayman and Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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