MS&H Blog

Prevent Spontaneous Combustion

Source:  Chubb Accent

Prevent Spontaneous Combustion.   Protect your property against this cause of fire.

Have you heard about the multi-million-dollar house that was destroyed after painters re-stained the front door and left behind solvent-soaked rags that spontaneously ignited? Or about the historic home that burned to the ground when the restoration of its intricate woodwork was nearly complete?

James King, Chubb’s field technical manager, reviews cases like this several times a year. “The worst part is that not only do these losses often happen at the eleventh hour, when a house is nearly move-in ready, but they’re entirely preventable.”

In fact, spontaneous combustion is not a myth. It happens when a flammable material (oil, stain or gasoline) comes into contact with a combustible object such as a rag, towel or drop cloth. Fires happen—even under normal weather conditions—when a combustible object is heated to its ignition temperature through oxidation.

King says a lot of these incidents happen in the spring when homeowners begin outdoor projects, such as refinishing decks and porches.

“At least half of our losses are [due to the actions of] subcontractors,” King notes. Many combustion incidents occur in the most mundane-sounding ways. For instance, a refinisher may bundle paints and solvents and throw them into a garage can; a construction worker may leave turpentine-soaked rags on a second floor; a painter may use a torch to strip paint; a housekeeper may put fireplace ashes in a trash receptacle.

Since so many losses are due to the actions of a third party, King advises that, “homeowners should be vigilant about checking their property after vendors or subcontractors leave for the day. Ideally, workers should take these hazardous things [drop cloths, solvents, etc.] with them and dispose of them safely off-site.”

And when you’re working on your own house, avoid disaster by never bundling or stacking solvent-soaked cloths. Also, never toss used rags into a trash can or plastic bucket, and always store paints and solvents away from heat-generating equipment such as furnaces or water heaters.

For safe disposal, place rags in a non-combustible container and completely cover them with water and an oil-breakdown detergent. King recommends using a container in accordance with NFPA 30: Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code, which provides minimum safety standards. Then store those containers away from your home or other structures, and dispose of them during a hazardous waste collection day.

Finally, before hiring help in your home, remember to check insurance limits for contractors or sub-contractors. Then enforce “no smoking” policies on your property and invest in fire extinguishers. Speak to your own insurance specialist about preventive measures you can take before undergoing a home repair project.

“It’s a problem that just isn’t on homeowners’ radars,” King says. “But it can be especially frustrating, since it’s so easily preventible and so often happens when all the hard and risky work is done. That’s when homeowners and contractors begin to let their guard down.”

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