Beware of These Common, Risky Fire Hazards in Older Homes in Austin
Have an Older Home in Austin? Take Precaution of Possible Fire Hazards
There’s no denying the charm of living in an older home. Arched doorways, ceiling medallions and other architectural details representative of a bygone era catch the attention of many homeowners. But along with the unique charms that come with living in an older home in Austin, come unique hazards, such as fire risks. Purchasing an old home may require more than a lot of elbow grease, a few coats of paint and TLC touches throughout. Thoroughly investigating to uncover potential fire risks in your Austin home is an important step to take to prevent catastrophic fire damage. Below are some of the most common fire hazards lurking in your older home.
1. Bad wiring
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical failures or malfunctions were the second leading cause of U.S. home fires in 2012-2016, accounting for 13 percent of home structure fires. Antiquated wiring such as knob and tube wiring — which was the standardized method of electrical wiring in homes until the 1940s — poses a potential risk for fire damage.
Knob and tube wiring systems use porcelain knobs for running wires through unobstructed spaces and porcelain tubes to protect wires running through studs and joists.
If a knob and tube system is intact and functioning properly, it poses no immediate risk. Problems arise, however, when the rubber sheathing that’s used to insulate the wires degrades (modern electrical wiring is encased in plastic). As the rubber degrades over time, it exposes live wires to air and moisture, thereby increasing the chance of a short or a fire. The combination of modern insulation and knob and tube wiring also poses a fire hazard that can lead to devastating loss and the need for fire damage repairs and restoration to your Austin home.
This antiquated wiring system utilizes porcelain knobs to suspend the wires in open air to allow the heat to dissipate. When homeowners insulate the attic and walls of their notoriously drafty older homes, the insulation surrounding the wires will cause heat to build up, resulting in a potential fire. Currently, the United States National Electrical Code® (NEC) forbids use of loose, blown-in or expanding foam insulation over knob and tube wiring.
Older wiring is also rated for lower amps than is required by the multiple appliances we use today. This can result in circuits being overloaded, which can cause a fire. Knob and tube wiring systems also lack a grounding conductor. Grounding conductors reduce the chance of a fire and damage to sensitive equipment.
Hiring a certified electrician or electrical inspector to evaluate the wiring throughout your home is key to preventing a potential fire and preventing the need for fire damage repairs and restoration with the additional water damage that can occur, as is removing knob-and-tube wiring from inside your walls or attic prior to adding insulation.
2. Balloon-frame construction
According to firefighters, the way your home is constructed could make it a bigger fire risk and susceptible to fire damage. Balloon-frame construction, popular in the 1930s and 1940s, is a common sight in older homes. Unlike the modern platform building technique in which a floor (platform) is built, then wall studs (boards that function as framing elements in the home) are installed, then another floor (platform) and so on, balloon framing is characterized by wall studs that run continuously two or more stories high from the foundation to the attic floor. The problem with a balloon-frame house is that when a fire starts in the lower level of the home, there’s nothing to stop the flames from quickly spreading to the attic.
If you live in one of these homes, retrofitting the walls could be quite costly. Keep this in mind if you’re considering buying an older home with this type of framing construction.
3. Outdated appliances
Vintage appliances may add to the charm of your older home, but they also add an increased risk of fire. Your old-fashioned plug-in fan, vintage light fixture and chrome coffeemaker may still run, but they were made according to antiquated safety codes and may include frayed or damaged wires. An appliance that doesn’t come with a UL mark, signifying that Underwriters Laboratories has vouched for the item's safety in actual use, should be rewired.
4. Old furnaces
The average life expectancy of furnaces is 15 to 20 years. Furnaces that are 20 years or older pose a danger due to their use of an old-style pilot light for ignition. House fires that are started by pilot lights, bad ventilation and/or gas line leaks are another major fire hazard of an outdated heating system. The combustible materials or any flammable objects near a furnace also create an increased possibility of fire or explosion.
While replacing your furnace with an energy-efficient modern model is best, if you’re not ready to replace your old furnace, be sure to have it diligently inspected and serviced by a professional every year.
Before spending your first cozy night indoors sitting by a crackling fire, be sure your fireplace chimney and/or wood stove has been recently inspected. It’s vital that your chimneys are inspected annually, and cleaned of creosote buildup — a flammable dark brown or black tar-like byproduct of the wood-burning process that’s deposited on the walls of a chimney. If creosote builds up in sufficient quantities – and the internal flue temperature is high enough – the result could be a chimney fire.
A professional chimney cleaning typically includes sweeping the fireplace, inspecting the firebox, liners, smoke chamber and flue, and chimney exterior. Recommendations for proper operation or replacement of equipment and necessary repairs to any equipment or structure will also be made.
How SERVPRO Can Help
Our professional team at SERVPRO of East Central Austin knows just how devastating and traumatic a fire can be. If you do have an older home, and there are many in Austin, please be sure to have all of the above issues checked for your safety. While checking these issues may be time consuming, it is far better to update your older house to current standards, so as to prevent any potential fire risks and future fire damage.
Our SERVPRO team will examine the extent of your fire damage while providing top-level service, care and expertise during the fire damage repairs & fire damage restoration process.
Our highly qualified, trained and certified personnel, uses top of the line equipment for handling all of your fire damage restoration needs. Our team is trained to clean and restore your home, in the aftermath of any fire damage, with as little disruption as possible.
For more information, contact our fire damage specialists at (512) 420-9886.