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While a home provides a roof over your head that protects you from the elements, you cannot guarantee that your home won’t face risks that can do real damage to your property. One of the biggest threats that homeowners face, regardless of where you live, is a house fire. It is an unfortunate fact that houses on fire are common across the country. Fires often happen unexpectedly and can quickly get out of control, doing unimaginable damage. Most homeowners insurance policies protect you from the potential financial damage that comes with home fires, but it is important to know the limits of your policy and what it covers so you are fully aware of what you might be liable for in case of a house fire.
House fires facts and statistics 2023
House fires are more common than you might imagine. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more than 26 percent of reported fires between 2016-2020 occurred in residential homes. Fires can happen in any house, in any part of the country. Here are some eye-opening statistics about house fires in the U.S.:
- In 2021, a U.S. fire department responded to a fire somewhere in the country every 23 seconds, on average. (NFPA – Fire Loss in the U.S.)
- A single home fire occurred every 93 seconds in 2021. For comparison, a single fire in any structure was reported every 65 seconds. (NFPA – Fire Loss in the U.S.)
- In 2021, one fatal house fire occurred every two hours and 18 minutes. One home fire injury occurred every 36 minutes. (NFPA – Fire Loss in the U.S.)
- Although home fires are very common, house fires only account for about 25 percent of all reported fires nationwide. (NFPA – Fire Loss in the U.S.)
- The rate of home fire fatalities has not improved over the last few decades. For all home fires in 2021, the rate of eight deaths per 1,000 reported home fires has worsened from the rate of 7.1 deaths per 1,000 reported home fires in 1980. (NFPA – Fire Loss in the U.S.)
- An estimated 75 percent of civilian fire deaths and 74 percent of all reported fire-related injuries were caused by home fires. (NFPA – Home Structures Fire Report)
- In 2021, home fires across the U.S. resulted in an estimated $3.6 billion in direct property damage. (NFPA – Fire Loss in the U.S.)
- 2021 data shows that almost three out of every five fatal home fire victims were 55 years old or over, and nearly two out of every five fatal home fire victims were 65 or older. (NFPA – Home Structures Fire Report)
- An estimated 44 percent of home fires occur in the kitchen. (NFPA – Home Structures Fire Report)
- In 2021, most house fires happened between the hours of 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., when many people are home and cooking dinner. Data shows that only 17 percent of house fires were reported between 11 p.m. – 7 a.m., but these fires caused almost half of all home fire deaths that year. (NFPA – Home Structures Fire Report)
- About 68 percent of all home fire deaths and 68 percent of home fire injuries occurred in living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. (NFPA – Home Structures Fire Report)
Top five causes of house fires in the U.S.
There are many house fire causes, but the majority of home fires in the U.S. are caused by cooking. Data shows that most home fires start in kitchens, which is also where most house fire injuries occur. This is especially true in apartments and multi-family homes. An estimated 72 percent of kitchen fires occurred in apartment and multi-family settings, whereas only 37 percent of kitchen fires started in single-family or two-family homes, based on a 2020 report.
Cooking fires are a leading cause of home fire deaths. However, between 2015-2019, the most home fire deaths were caused by smoking materials, like cigarettes and lighters. During this four-year period, fires caused by smoking materials resulted in an average of 600 deaths and 1,030 injuries per year. Data also shows that fires caused by smoking materials typically have the lowest impact on direct property damage.
You might also be surprised to learn that intentional fires are one of the leading causes of U.S. home fires. For all reported home fires between 2016-2020, about 9 percent were intentional. Data shows that intentional home fires have the lowest fatality rate out of the top five causes, but from 2016-2020, there were an average of 360 deaths per year and 820 injuries per year caused by intentional home fires.
The table below highlights the most common causes of house fires and the average property loss per cause, according to data from the NFPA’s Home Structure Fires Report:
|Cause||Average number of house fires||Average property loss|
|Heating equipment||44,210||$1 billion|
|Electrical distribution/lighting equipment||30,740||$1.4 billion|
|Intentional fire setting||29,400||$596 million|
|Smoking materials||15,900||$549 million|
Does homeowners insurance cover fires
Home insurance is not a legal requirement, but if you have a mortgage, it’s likely that you are required to have it. Under most standard homeowners insurance policies, fire is one of the covered perils, whether you have a named perils policy or an open perils policy. Specifically, homeowners insurance typically covers damage from the fire itself as well as smoke damage. So, for example, if a fire tore through your attic and destroyed the roof, your home insurance policy would likely pay for the repairs. It would also likely pay to replace the items that were stored in the attic if they were damaged by the flames or smoke. Your policy will have coverage limits, however, so be sure that your limits are high enough to cover your structure and belongings.
These are the types of coverage in a standard policy that could kick in after a covered fire.
- Dwelling coverage: Dwelling coverage is the backbone of your home insurance policy and is the coverage type that will cover the cost of repairs and rebuilding if a fire occurs and your claim is approved. However, dwelling insurance may not provide liability coverage for possessions inside your home.
- Personal property: Homeowners insurance will typically cover damage to your personal property in case of fire damage. If you have lots of expensive items, you may need to add a scheduled personal property endorsement.
- Liability coverage: Liability coverage could kick in if someone else is injured in a fire at your home.
- Additional living expenses coverage: If you are displaced from your home because of damage resulting from a fire after a covered claim, additional living expenses (also known as loss of us) coverage will help pay for everything from finding lodging to paying for meals and other resulting costs. Like any part of your policy, there are limits, but talk with your insurance agent to see what and how much is covered.
House fire safety tips
Home fires can be triggered by a variety of things, but many house fires are preventable. Taking the right safety precautions can reduce the risk of a fire starting in your home so you can keep your family safe. Here are a few tips for avoiding house fires:
- Install smoke alarms: Smoke alarms can save your life in the event of a house fire. If your home does not have smoke alarms, you can easily install them yourself with a ladder. Put smoke alarms in the kitchen, living spaces and bedrooms, and connect them so they will all sound when one alarm is triggered. Don’t forget to test your smoke alarms regularly.
- Make a fire escape plan: When a fire breaks out in your home, you may only have a few minutes to escape, so it’s important to have an escape plan. Draw a blueprint of your home and designate at least two points of exit. If you have children, make sure they know the escape plan and feel comfortable getting out quickly. As part of your plan, you should also designate a meeting space away from the home so you can make sure everyone is accounted for.
- Be aware when cooking: Because most home fires start in the kitchen, it’s important to stay aware when you are cooking. Don’t walk away when the stove is on, avoid wearing loose clothing that could ignite and keep flammable items, like dish towels and food wrappers, away from burners. If you are cooking with oil, make sure to clean up any leftover grease as soon as it cools.
- Don’t smoke inside: If you or someone in your home smokes, it’s safest to smoke outside. Lighters and cigarettes can produce embers that can catch other things on fire, including clothing. You should also make sure to use an ashtray if you or someone else is smoking. Even if you are outside, you should never toss cigarettes. They can cause small fires in grass or brush, which could eventually spread to your house.
- Light candles safely: When lighting candles, be aware of the surroundings. You should avoid lighting candles near furniture, plants or anything else that could be flammable. Ideally, you should light candles where you can see them, so you don’t accidentally leave a candle lit when you go to bed or leave the house.
- Keep matches and lighters away from kids: If you have children in your home, make sure to keep matches and lighters in a drawer or somewhere out of reach. Playing with matches and lighters can lead to home fires and it can put the child in danger.
- Use space heaters safely: Generally speaking, space heaters are not the safest way to heat your home. But if you need to use space heaters, avoid running them near flammable materials, like bedding, curtains or furniture. If possible, you should also avoid running a space heater at night.
- Evacuate if you smell natural gas: Natural gas leaks can cause explosions, which can ignite and set your house on fire. If your home uses natural gas and you smell it (the odor is like rotten eggs), you and your family members should evacuate immediately and call the fire department once you are outside. You can avoid natural gas leaks by having your furnace and gas pipes inspected annually.
- Check your outlets: Home fires can be caused by malfunctioning electrical outlets. You can check your outlets by feeling the plates for heat, looking for smoke and checking for frayed wires by removing the cover. If any of the outlets in your home are loose or no longer hold a plug tightly, it’s a good idea to replace it.