When you think about household fire risks, your plumbing system is probably not the first thing to come to mind. However, while your pipes themselves don't pose a fire hazard, fires can and do get started when plumbers make mistakes, or when certain other things go wrong. Read on to learn how plumbing fires break out and what you can do to prevent them.
On the Dangers of Soldering
Case in point—a home in El Paso, Texas recently caught fire and sustained $20,000 in damage because of some soldering work that a plumber was performing. That came after plumbers caused another El Paso fire in April, that one at a motel. In fact, according to the National Fire Prevention Association, torches used by plumbers to solder metal pipes are a top-ten cause of residential fires each year.
That doesn't mean you should shy away from metal pipes entirely. It does mean that you need to be sure to hire only licensed plumbers who take the utmost safety precautions when a job requires soldering. Alternately, if you handle the plumbing yourself, hold yourself to the highest safety standards so you don't accidentally start a fire. Always use a flame protector cloth or steel plate to protect any flammable material near your soldering site, and always turn your soldering torch off before you put it down. Furthermore, make sure you have a fire extinguisher and a bucket of water handy in case you do have an accident.
Hidden Leaks and Frozen Pipes
There is another way your pipes can surreptitiously start a blaze. If you have a hidden leak somewhere in your plumbing system, the water could potentially seep into an area with electric wiring. If the wiring's insulation isn't up to par, the water could generate sparks that could start a fire. To avoid this scenario, keep an eye out for unexpectedly high water bills or discolored spots in your home that could indicate a leak.
The other major fire risk is somewhat ironic in that it arises when you try to protect your pipes from freezing in the winter. Sometimes the danger comes from preventative measures like using heat tape to wrap pipes that are located in uninsulated parts of the home like attics or under the porch. If heat tape isn't applied properly, it can overheat and start a blaze. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that faulty heat tape accounts for 1,500 fires, 100 injuries and 10 deaths each year.
Some people also run into trouble after pipes have already frozen by using a torch to thaw it out – for safety purposes, you should never use an open flame on frozen pipes. Instead, use a hair dryer, heat lamp or even a hot towel to melt the ice without risking a fire.
Place Your Trust in the Plumber
To avoid fire risk in your plumbing system, make sure you hire a licensed plumber who adheres to strict safety standards.