Don’t Get Burned: Understanding Garage Fire Safety

For many homeowners, a fire burning down their house is one of their worst nightmares. If your garage is solely used for parking your car, it is a reasonably low fire risk.

However, if you use your garage as a workshop, then the risk increases considerably. What’s worse, the risk of garage fires increases exponentially if the storage in your garage is messy. 

To prevent garage fires, your first need to identify the potential combustible and flammable items in your garage, then look at what ‘fuel’ there is for a fire.

After you’ve identified these two factors, you can mitigate the risk. 

The Most Common Flammable or Combustible Items in Your Garage

Garages typically have several items that are highly flammable or combustible. 

Before we start, it’s worth clarifying the difference between the terms ‘flammable’ and ‘combustible.’ 

Although both refer to materials that can ignite and burn, there is a subtle difference between the two terms. 

A fire that started in the garage, blazing out of control

Flammable materials ignite easily and can burn rapidly, while combustible materials require more heat or longer exposure to a flame to ignite. Once ignition occurs, combustible materials can still burn quickly and vigorously. 

Here are some of the most flammable or combustible items in the garage:

  1. Gasoline: Gasoline is highly flammable and will ignite easily if exposed to a spark or flame.
  2. Propane Tanks: Propane is commonly used for grilling and other outdoor activities. It is highly flammable and should be stored in a safe and designated area.
  3. Motor Oil: Oil is often used for cars, lawnmowers, and other equipment in the garage. It is highly flammable and can ignite if exposed to a spark or flame.
  4. Paint: Many types of paint contain flammable solvents. Store paint in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area away from heat sources.
  5. Cleaning Supplies: Many cleaning chemicals contain flammable solvents. Keep them separate from other flammable materials.
  6. Pesticides: Many pesticides can contain flammable solvents. Keep these away from heat sources and other flammable materials.
  7. Wood: Ideally, wood and lumber should be stored outside. At minimum, store them away from heat sources or machinery.
  8. Paper products: Paper products such as newspapers, magazines, and cardboard boxes can easily ignite. It’s best to store them in sealed plastic containers or totes.

When storing these items in the garage, it’s important to take precautions to minimize the risk of fire. 

This means storing them away from heat sources, ensuring proper ventilation, and regularly inspecting them for signs of damage or leaks. Additionally, it’s vital to properly dispose of any old or unused materials to prevent the build-up of combustible materials in the garage.

How Do Fires Start in the Garage?

Garages can be a potential fire hazard due to the presence of flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil, propane, and electrical equipment and tools. 

We’ll dive into the three most common ways garage fires start in more detail. 

Electrical Issues

Electrical issues are one of the most common causes of fires in garages. 

This includes frayed wires, overloaded circuits, or faulty outlets that can create sparks and ignite flammable materials like gasoline, oil, and propane. 

Poor electrical wiring and overloader power strips can also create so much heat that it melts and ignites the surrounding combustible materials.

To prevent garage fires started by electrical issues, ensure that all electrical wiring and outlets are up to code and in good condition. 

Start by checking wiring for frayed or damaged sections. Then verify all outlets are properly grounded. 

Avoid overloading circuits by plugging too many devices into one outlet or using extension cords as a permanent solution. 

It’s better to install additional outlets if needed.

In addition to these preventive measures, it’s a good idea to have a professional electrician inspect the electrical system in the garage periodically to ensure that it is up to code and in good condition. 

This can help identify potential issues before they become a problem and minimize the risk of electrical fires in the garage.

improper gasoline storage is a major cause of garage fires

Flammable liquids 

Flammable liquids are another common cause of fires in garages. 

We’ve all probably got extra gasoline, motor oil, or propane in our garages. 

They’re all highly flammable and can ignite quickly if exposed to a spark or flame. It’s essential to store these materials in a safe and designated area away from any heat sources, sparks, or flames.

When storing flammable liquids in the garage, use appropriate containers designed for the specific type of liquid being stored. 

Always store gasoline in an approved gasoline container with a secure lid. In contrast, store oil and propane in their original containers or other approved storage containers.

Avoid storing flammable materials near other combustible materials, such as paper or cardboard, as this can increase the risk of fire.

When possible, ensure that your garage has adequate ventilation to prevent the build-up of fumes. An exhaust fan is the best option, but something as simple as opening the windows can also help. 

Regularly inspect containers for signs of damage or leaks and properly dispose of any old or unused materials. Should any spills occur, make sure to thoroughly clean them up immediately. 

It goes without saying that you should avoid smoking or using open flames in the storage area.

Improper Storage

Finally, improper storage of flammable materials is another common cause of fires in garages. 

Many garage fires start by simply storing flammable materials too close to a heat source like a generator or space heater. 

Designate a specific area in the garage for storing flammable materials. This area should be away from any heat sources, such as water heaters or furnaces. Keep the area well-ventilated to prevent the build-up of fumes.

Avoid storing flammable materials near other combustible materials, such as paper, cardboard, or rags. Instead, store flammable materials in a separate area or cabinet specifically designed for that type of material.

You can minimize the risk of garage fires by taking these precautions.

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