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Fire safety during a remodel: What you need to know

If you’re like most homeowners, you probably have some concerns about the safety of your home while it’s being remodeled. It’s true that the process of remodeling naturally comes with some risks, including the risk of fire. While that risk is still low, it’s crucial for the safety of your home that you work with a remodel contractor who takes jobsite fire safety very seriously. 

At Lamont Bros., we’ve remodeled hundreds of homes across the Portland Metro Area. With each job, we take several precautions to protect the safety of our clients and their homes from fire. Some members of our team are volunteer firefighters in their free time. 

This article will cover several industry best practices for fire safety during a remodel. Once you’ve read all the information here, you should be able to identify potential fire hazards in your own remodel, as well as the measures your build team should take to limit the risk. Specifically, we’ll talk about:

What are the potential fire risks during a remodel?

When your house is under construction, the work being done on your home can increase the risk of fire if not handled properly. The reason for this is that buildings are designed to be fire-resistant when completed. During a remodel, your build team has to remove some of the building’s inherent fire safety features.

For example, drywall and insulation act as flame-resistant barriers that prevent fires from spreading. When construction activity requires disassembling those elements and exposing the framing, the structure is significantly more susceptible to fire damage. 

At the same time, construction activity naturally breeds certain fire risks. Below are a few examples of possible sources of fire during a remodel.

Sawdust fires

Made of fine wood particles, sawdust is a common sight in most construction jobs. Anywhere that workers are cutting, drilling, or sanding wood, you’re bound to find sawdust, too. The problem is that sawdust is prone to spontaneous combustion if not properly disposed of. 

Large piles of sawdust have been known to ignite easily. Once it lights, sawdust burns and spreads quickly. A simple spark from a drill or sander is enough to light up sawdust. Because the wood particles are so small, they get everywhere that normal dust does. So, if it lights, it burns everywhere. 

Electrical fires

During the construction process, your build team will likely run several power tools off your home’s electricity. The presence of high-voltage tools on a jobsite also increases the risk of fire. This is especially true in old homes, where outdated methods of wiring could potentially overheat under a strong enough electrical load. 

In addition, any alterations to your home’s electrical wiring may also increase the risk of fire. If your build team has to open up a wall to add or re-wire a circuit, there’s a chance that the system could throw off a few sparks or overheat. 

Chemical fires

It’s a widely known fact among construction workers that certain chemicals can start fires. This is an especially high hazard for surface finishes, such as paint, stain, or varnish. If mixed with another chemical by accident or left out in the sun, a rag soaked in wood stain can catch fire.

Chemical fires are especially dangerous and unpredictable because a build team uses dozens of different chemical agents throughout the construction process. It isn’t always obvious what chemicals pose a fire risk or under what conditions. As a result, it’s best to treat every chemical you use on a building site as a potential fire hazard.

Oily rags can spontaneously combust if not properly disposed of.

What should your build team do to reduce the risk of fire?

Because of the heightened risk of fire, while your home is under construction, your build team should take extra precautions to reduce fire risk. There are several measures that your team could take. Here are a few of the ones we at Lamont Bros. recommend.

Provide additional fire alarms & extinguishers

During the remodel, there’s a high chance that your fire alarm system may be shut off. To compensate for this, your build team should bring in additional fire alarm systems to monitor for potential fires.

This is an especially important feature for the off-hours when your build team is not present. Because of the safety hazards of a remodel, it isn’t safe for you to go into the construction site. However, when nobody is present in the evenings and weekends, there should still be a warning system in place in case something catches fire when the build team isn’t there. 

In addition to fire alarms, fire extinguishers are essential to have on hand during a remodel. An increased risk of fire calls for added containment measures on top of what is normally appropriate. If something does catch fire, you’ll want to put it out as quickly as possible. Fire extinguishers on site are the fastest and easiest way to put out a fire before it’s able to cause serious damage.

By providing additional fire alarms and extinguishers, your remodel team ensures the safety of you and your home, even when they’re not present. 

Properly dispose of waste materials

One of the best ways to prevent combustion is to dispose of sawdust and chemical rags. At the end of each day, your build team should remove waste bins from the work site and empty them into a metal container. Some experts also recommend spraying sawdust waste down with water to further prevent fires. 

With solvent rags, it’s best practice to use the “dry, dunk, and dispose” method. After using a rag, lay it out until the chemicals dry. Once they are dry to the touch, soak the rag in water to dilute any remaining chemicals. After this, dispose of the rag in a marked bin. While it may seem a bit overkill, it’s better to be overly cautious than to accidentally burn down a house. 

Clean up the jobsite at the end of each day

Aside from disposing of waste, it’s also good practice for your build team to leave a clean jobsite each day. This reduces the risk of fire for two main reasons.

The first is that it prevents the build-up of sawdust. If your construction team properly sweeps the jobsite at the end of each day, it wipes away the layer of sawdust that accumulates. The less sawdust present on the surfaces of your home, the less likely it is to catch fire and cause damage. 

The second reason for cleaning up at the end of the day is to unplug any power tools. If powered cables or tools get left out overnight, there’s a chance those could cause electrical fires. So before going home, your team should be sure that nothing is left plugged in.

Tape off important breaker switches

As previously mentioned, there’s a chance your build team will need to use some electricity from your home. There’s also a chance they’ll need to change a few wires around while remodeling. 

If this is the case, your build team should mark on your electrical panel any breakers they have worked with. This is an important step in fire prevention because it prevents you from accidentally turning on any incomplete or hazardous circuits. 

How can you do your part to promote remodel fire safety?

Although your build team should be proactive in implementing fire safety measures during your remodel, it has to be a team effort. You have a role to play in ensuring that the construction process remains safe for your family and your home. Here are some measures you can take to make sure you’re protected. 

Ask permission before flipping breakers

Losing power in the middle of the night can be frustrating. Even so, you shouldn’t go flipping any breakers in your home back on unless you’ve asked your build team. On the off-chance you accidentally turn on an incomplete circuit, you could start a fire in the construction zone without realizing it. 

Always contact your build team before messing with your electrical panel while your home is under construction. It might be inconvenient to wait for a response, but it’s way better than filing an insurance claim for fire damage.

Read up on your remodel contractor’s fire safety plans

The more educated you are on your builder’s prevention methods, the better prepared you’ll be to follow them. While this whole experience might be new for you, your build team has done plenty of remodels before. Feel free to ask questions along the way. 

Additionally, being informed of your team’s fire safety protocols means you can hold them accountable. It’s your home, and it’s your right to expect your build team to take fire safety seriously. If you have concerns that they are not, it’s worth a conversation.

Have an emergency plan

It’s not likely that your home will catch fire. However, if there is a fire, you should have a plan to handle it.

Start by taking note of where your fire extinguishers are located and ensuring that they work. In case you’re not able to extinguish the fire yourself, have an exit plan. Know where your emergency exits are, make sure any children can be easily transported out of the house, and prioritize your life over your stuff. 

Nobody ever plans on their house catching fire during a remodel. Your build team should do everything they can to prevent that from happening. But when it comes to an emergency escape plan, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. 

Want to learn more about the remodeling process?

After reading about how a good contractor can protect your home from fire during a remodel, do you feel more confident in beginning the remodeling process? If so, the best thing you can do is continue to research. To learn more about what you can expect during a home remodel, check out this article! If you want to learn about how the design-build remodeling process can give you the best remodeling experience of your life, check out our Process Page

Thinking about a remodel, but don’t know where to start? If you want a team of seasoned designers and construction pros working together to bring your dream remodel to life, click the button below. We’ll schedule a free design consultation to help you get the process started.