Where are you most likely to do any welding, or work on your car? These activities require working with all sorts of flammable materials and in some cases create sparks or other sources of ignition.
In Florida, water heaters are usually in garages, if it is a gas fired water heater they can create sparks that may ignite fumes or fluids.
Automobiles can leak oil and gasoline. These fluids may ignite without warning. It is recommended that you keep your vehicle maintained and clean up any spills.
Liquids such as gasoline, motor oil and paint are commonly stored in garages. All of these are very flammable. Some other examples of flammable liquids are brake fluid, varnish, paint thinner and lighter fluid.
You should have a fire extinguisher located in the garage. Check with your local fire department to make sure it is rated for the types of combustible materials you may have stored in the garage.
If the garage allows access to the attic, make sure a suitable hatch covers this access and that the hatch is fire rated. Typically a piece of 5/8" fire rated Type X drywall will work.
The walls and ceiling should be covered with a fire-rated material. Typically this is Type X fire-rated gypsum. A home inspector can examine the walls and ceiling to make sure they are adequate fire barriers.
Keeping the floor and garage area clean is important. Loose papers, matches, oily rags, and other items may catch fire and spread.
Do not overload electrical outlets.
Tape down all cords and wires so they are not twisted or accidentally yanked. Do not use extension cords in place of permanent wiring. If you need additional outlets, consult with a licensed electrician about adding more circuits.
Check and make sure the door is fire rated. Many times there will be a sticker on the edge of the door with a rating. We can check this for you at your next Maintenance Inspection.
Does the door have a window? A Home Inspector can inspect the window to tell you if it's fire-rated. If it is not, you should consider replacing the door.
Look to see if the door has a self closing (or spring) hinge. Other types of self closing devices are available but, a hinge is the most common. While it may be inconvenient sometimes, especially when trying to carry groceries into the house from the car, it is still a good idea for the garage to house door to be self-closing. You never know when a fire will happen, and it would be unfortunate to accidentally leave the door open while a fire is starting in the garage.
Check to see if the weather seal around the door is in good condition. Any openings can allow dangerous fumes, such as carbon monoxide or gasoline vapor to enter the living area. A Home Inspector can recommend ways to seal the door so that fumes cannot enter the living area.
If you have a gas fired water heater, make sure it is at least 18" above the garage floor. Dangerous fumes tend stay low to the ground and could ignite. If you have a newer FVIR water heater this rule may not apply, check with your Home Inspector if you are not sure.
Make sure your flammable liquids are clearly labeled, in self-closing containers, and only store small amounts. Keep them away from heaters, appliances, pilot lights and other sources of heat or flame.
Never store propane tanks indoors. If they catch fire, they can explode. Propane tanks are sturdy enough to be stored outdoors.
In summary, there are plenty of things that you can do to prevent garage fires from spreading to the rest of the house, or to keep them from starting in the first place. However, it is highly recommended that you have your garage periodically examined by an InterNACHI inspector as part of your regular maintenance.
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