The odds are about 1 in 300 that your home will burn this year, whether or not you live in wildfire country. (As I write, a Santa Barbara wildfire has already destroyed dozens of homes and sent 10 firefighters to the hospital.)
Someone dies in a house fire about every three hours in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control, and someone is injured about every half hour.
Smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths, and cooking is the leading cause of residential fires (although washers and dryers prompt a surprising 14% of house fires; vents clogged with lint are a real hazard).
Here’s what you need to know:
Two-thirds of U.S. homes are underinsured, meaning the homeowners don’t have enough insurance to completely cover the rebuilding of their homes. The gap between what they have and what they need averages 18%. On a home that costs $200,000 to rebuild, you could be faced with ponying up $36,000 outÂ of your own pocket. Review your policy, talk to local contractors about rebuilding costs in your area, and ask your insurer at least annually to make sure your coverage is adequate.
Don’t count on fire-proof safes. The best are fire-resistant to high temperatures for an hour or so, but a hot-enough fire that burns long enough can still turn the contents to ashes. Back up computer files online or to media stored in an offsite location. Send copies of important documents and precious pictures to relatives who live out of the area.
Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The CDC recommends long-life versions with lithium batteries and hush buttons to silence false alarms. If you use the regular kind, change the batteries every six months. Have at least one on every level and one outside every bedroom.
Inventory your stuff. You can exhaustively list everything you own, or walk around with a camcorder recording your stuff. Keep a copy offsite.
Have an evacuation plan. The CDC advises you to identify two ways out of every room, establish a safe place near the house for the family to meet, and practice the plan every six months.
For more, read:
- Is your home underinsured? 8 key tests
- 3 costly myths about insurance
- Do you really need disaster insurance?
- What your homeowners insurance doesn’t cover