Advice and Opinion

Protect your home this winter with a sound insurance policy

With winter just around the corner, accidental fires in residential homes tend to be on the increase as homeowners frequently use their fireplace or other electrical appliances such as heaters during the winter months to keep warm. Fire is one of the most devastating causes of loss or damage to a home as not only can it destroy a home in a matter of minutes, but the resultant hassle of having to live in a temporary residence while the site is cleaned up and structural damage is repaired can be both frustrating and costly if a sound insurance policy is not in place.

This is according to San-Mare van Zyl, Head of Insurance Operations at MUA Insurance Acceptances, who says that without adequate insurance cover in place, consumers are at risk of being left with hefty financial bills for the damage caused by fires, as well as additional charges for the use of emergency fire services in the event of an incident.

“It is important that consumers are aware of what services are covered in their area and what they may be expected to pay for, especially if they do not have adequate insurance cover in place. Homeowners should speak to their insurance provider to update their insurance policies to avoid being under-insured should they suffer huge damages.”

She provides the below tips for homeowners to reduce their risk of potential fires in the home;

Do not overload plug points

The cold winter weather often results in an increased use of a number of electrical appliances, such as heaters, electric blankets, coffee machines and devices providing entertainment. With the number of electrical appliances in the home increasing, there are typically not enough plug points present for all appliances, resulting in many consumers using multi-plug adapters (sometimes together with additional plug adapters for two-prong power points). This electrical ‘nest’ presents one of the most common causes of accidental domestic fires.

Use gas appliances responsibly

During winter the electricity grid is under immense strain and power suppliers are encouraging consumers to use gas appliances as a reliable source of alternative power. Gas stoves, cockers and heaters do however pose fire risks for homeowners if they do not use the apparatus responsibly.

An incorrect installation of gas bottles also increases consumers’ risk of a domestic fire developing. It is advised that gas bottles are installed;

· Less than one metre sideways from doors and windows

· Less than two metres from drains and air vents

· Less than three metres below windows (unless a non-combustible roof is installed)

· Less than one metre from the property boundary wall (unless it is a fire wall)

· Less than five metres sideways away from a switchable electric point or plug switch

Do not leave electrical appliances on stand-by mode

Many homeowners do not realize that an electrical current is still flowing to appliances in stand-by mode. This presents a fire risk in the event of a power surge occurring which causes damage the transformers.

Instead of leaving appliances in stand-by mode, it is better to switch off the device using the on/off button at the unit itself to mitigate the risk of these types of fires. However, it is important to note that switching a television on and off directly at the plug point could damage the transformers and could distort the picture colour or clarity.

Ensure chimneys and fireplaces are clean and secure

Along with the pleasure of having a fireplace, comes the responsibility of maintaining it properly. Check the chimney for loose or missing mortar and make sure the damper closes tightly. It is also advisable to have the chimney cleaned professionally at least once a year as leaves or birds’ nests could be stuck in the chimney and prove to be a dangerous fire hazard.

“By looking out for these above mentioned scenarios homeowners can not only mitigate the risk of physical harm to homeowners and occupants but also the financial and emotional strain of a residential fire and massive insurance claim,” concludes van Zyl.