House fires: prevention, safety and claiming on your home insurance

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House fires can be one of the biggest risks to your home. Here we talk about how to prevent them and how to claim on your home insurance afterwards

A house fire can be an extremely frightening and dangerous experience. We’ve put together this guide for help on how to prevent and cope with a fire – and explain what to do after a house fire, from an insurance perspective.

Preventing house fires

There’s only so much you can do to prevent a fire.

Fortunately, over the years, legislation has been introduced to make things like sofas and mattresses fire-resistant.

You can reduce the risk further by following these guidelines:

  • Do not leave lit candles unattended
  • Stub out cigarettes carefully, and do not smoke in bed
  • Do not leave matches and lighters lying around where children can find them
  • Use a fire guard if you have an open fireplace
  • Remove lint from your tumble dryer regularly
  • Clean your oven regularly – built-up grease and food splatter can ignite at high temperatures
  • Do not overload plug sockets
  • Place heaters away from anything that could ignite
  • Have your chimney swept regularly
  • Turn off and unplug electrical items that give off heat, such as hair straighteners and phone chargers, when not in use Where to place smoke alarms.

Every home should have at least one smoke alarm on each floor, and every alarm should be tested at least once a month. It’s a good idea to place each smoke alarm close to a potential source of fire.

Often, people place smoke alarms in the kitchen and then disconnect them because they cause a nuisance during cooking. Statistically, more fires start in the kitchen than anywhere else, but to avoid sensitivity to everyday cooking mishaps like burning toast, it is best to place the smoke alarm just outside of the kitchen. It will still detect genuine kitchen fires, including those from white goods like fridges.

A fire in a bathroom or garage is relatively uncommon. It’s much easier for fires to take hold where there is lots of combustible material available: carpets, curtains, bedding and clothes. So it’s a good idea to have an alarm close to the bedrooms (such as on a landing), and in the living room.

What to do during a house fire

Where possible, you can extinguish a small fire by starving it of oxygen: for instance, use a damp tea towel to put out a chip pan fire. Do not attempt to tackle a large fire yourself. Raise the alarm straight away and call the emergency services as soon as possible.

Evacuate as quickly as you can, and notify neighbours if you think their property may also be affected – especially if the fire has spread to the loft space, or you have people living above you. Getting out Gather everyone, including any pets, and get out of the house as quickly as possible.

If there is lots of smoke, crawl along the floor (smoke rises) and place a wet towel over your mouth. This will act as a filter to help you breathe more easily. If you’re not on the ground floor, first try escaping down the stairwell. Do not use any lifts.

Renters living on the first or second floor should consider asking their landlord for a set of foldable steps that can be used to escape from a window.

Claiming on your home insurance after a house fire

We recognise that house fires are an extremely traumatic event, and damage to your home is likely to be significant – including damage from water used to extinguish the flames. If your home is damaged by a fire, the first priority is your health. Do not worry about contacting us until you are physically and mentally in a fit state to do so. When you’re ready, call our claims team on 0333 220 2034.

If you have a combined home insurance policy, you will be covered in two ways: for the Building and its Contents.

Your home will be assessed by the fire service, who will declare whether or not it is structurally sound. If so, we may assign a loss adjuster to assess the cost of repairs, and begin the process of rebuilding.

If not, your home may be condemned and require demolition. It may be entirely rebuilt or, if this is impractical, you may receive a cash payout equivalent to the amount it has decreased in value.

You will also be able to claim on the Contents insurance policy for replacement of any items damaged by fire or smoke. The likelihood is that your home will be considered uninhabitable while repairs and rebuilding are being completed. In this case, we will pay the cost of renting temporary alternative accommodation for everyone who normally lives at your home, including your pets.

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