Choosing the right fire extinguisher for home is a plus when fighting house fires that can break out unexpectedly and cause significant property damage and loss of lives. Quick action taken with a fire extinguisher will help contain the fire to prevent it from escalating. As such, having the right fire extinguisher could mean the difference between life and death.
Fire extinguishers remove one or more of the three elements of the fire triangle (heat, oxygen, and fuel). While they may all look similar, they come in different types, each intended to extinguish specific classes of fires.
From determining where the extinguisher will be used to the type of hazards in your home, this guide explores how to select the right extinguisher for your home to help you find one most appropriate for your needs.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
Despite your best efforts to create a fire-resistant home, you’ll still need some gear in the event of a fire, including the right fire extinguisher. This firefighting apparatus can protect lives and assets by suffocating a fire before it gains momentum.
Fire extinguishers look similar, but each type is engineered to extinguish different fires. Below, discover the different kinds of fire extinguishers to pick one that massages your needs.
Water remains one of the most effective ways to fight some types of fire. Water fire extinguishers belong to the Class A category, meaning they are best for tackling ordinary combustibles like wood, paper, plastics, and rubber.
Some water fire extinguishers are enhanced with wetting agents that lower the surface tension in water molecules to increase their efficacy in smothering flames.
As much as water fire extinguishers are effective on combustible solids, they can be dangerous when used on other classes of fires they are not intended for.
Never use a water fire extinguisher to extinguish electrical fires, as this can cause electrocution. The same applies to flammable liquids. Using a water fire extinguisher to put out flammable liquid fires can cause the fire to flare up and spread.
Aqueous film-forming foam fire extinguishers are best for Class A and B fires. So, besides smothering ordinary combustibles like wood, plastic, and rubber, this type of extinguisher will also work on petroleum, solvents, alcohol, and other flammable liquids. Aqueous film-forming foam fire extinguisher releases foam as the dousing agent, smothering the fire by depriving it of oxygen.
Note: AFFF fire extinguishers are not suitable for use in freezing temperatures because they’ll freeze.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
CO2 fire extinguishers use a gas cloud to put out a fire by eliminating oxygen in the air. As such, it doesn’t leave any residue, making it a go-to option for situations where foam or other extinguishing agents can damage sensitive electrical appliances.
One caution, though, is that carbon dioxide fire extinguishers have a short range depending on the unit’s size. Once CO2 is discharged from the extinguisher, it starts spreading, as gases do.
For this reason, the horizontal discharge range of the carbon dioxide stream is limited to 3 to 8 feet. That’s approximately half the average range of a multi-purpose fire extinguisher.
Since a CO2 fire extinguisher is gas-based, it’s not meant for outdoor use or indoor areas with high airflow. Wind can dissipate the extinguisher’s reagent, impairing its ability to smother flames.
- ABC Powder
ABC Powder is the sole dry chemical agent categorized as a Class A fire extinguisher. It uses a yellow powder that melts into a tacky molten substance at nearly 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
The solid is propelled out of the extinguisher using nitrogen at a range of approximately 15 feet. This substance holds on to burning embers, eliminating oxygen and extinguishing them.
ABC powder fire extinguishers are suitable for extinguishing Class A, B, and C fires. The disadvantage of this device is that it leaves behind a huge mess.
- Deionized Water Mist
Recently, there have been advances in fire extinguisher technologies. Fire extinguishers have been established for every class of fire. A water mist fire extinguisher is among the recent advances in fire extinguisher technology.
It releases deionized water in a fine mist that emits water droplets to deprive a fire of oxygen without leaving the area soaking wet.
The water droplets are so small and leave almost no trace, making this type of extinguisher the best option for areas with books, electronics, or other invaluable possessions that a water-based fire extinguisher would damage.
Additionally, the deionized water in this type of extinguisher cannot conduct electricity so that you can use it on both Class A and Class C fires.
- Wet Chemical
Wet chemical fire extinguishers take on flames by removing two vital components of the fire triangle: heat and oxygen. These devices use wet potassium acetate to form a cooling effect while simultaneously quenching the fire. Wet chemical fire extinguishers have a wide range and last for long before running out.
How to Choose the Right Fire Extinguisher
A fire extinguisher is an essential safety item that every home should have. When used correctly, it can mitigate or avert a fire-related disaster. Picking one is simple once you know the various types of extinguishers available for the different classes of fires that can occur.
Here’s how to choose the right fire extinguisher:
Determine where the fire extinguisher will be used
Will the extinguisher be used in the garage, kitchen, vehicle, or just a general location in the house? Knowing this will help you identify the type and size of fire extinguisher required.
Determine the classes of fires that can occur in that location and choose the right type of extinguisher
Fires are categorized into different classes, including:
- Class A: Ordinary combustibles like plastics, wood, and rubber.
- Class B: Flammable liquids and fumes like molten plastics and gasoline.
- Class C: Electrical fires, including any energized electrical objects.
- Class D: Combustible metals such as lithium batteries.
- Class K: Oils and greases found in a kitchen fire.
Choose an extinguisher approved to fight the classes of fires you’ll likely encounter
Some fire extinguishers can be used on multiple classes of fires, while others might be dangerous to use on more than one class. Extinguishers come with one or more extinguishing agents to smother flames and another chemical gas as a propellant. Extinguisher types include wet chemicals, carbon dioxide, aqueous foam, water (with or without antifreeze), and dry chemicals.
No matter the contents, national standards determine the required labeling of fire extinguishers for the types of fires on which they can be safely used. For instance, a water-based fire extinguisher must only be labeled for use on Class A fires.
Know the dangers of selecting the wrong type of fire extinguisher
Some fire extinguishers can endanger your health if misused or abused. A carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguisher, for example, discharges a cloud of gas at over 100 degrees below zero.
In the wrong hands, this might cause severe and instantaneous injuries. Carbon dioxide and most “clean agents” are also asphyxiants, meaning they displace the air (and its oxygen) in a closed space, making it difficult for people to breathe.
Select appropriately sized fire extinguishers
Consider where the extinguishers will be kept, who will use them, etc. For instance, you’ll need a larger fire extinguisher in a garage that has a significant volume of combustible materials. A miniature extinguisher is suitable for a small cooking fire.
Note: Instead of buying one large extinguisher, get multiple smaller ones for a wider selection. This way, you can be confident that one of them will work in the event of a fire.
After choosing the right extinguisher, install and maintain it as if your life may rely on it someday
Ensure you install your chosen extinguisher in an accessible and visible location. Also, let every household member learn to operate it properly. You can also put up a sign or label to show guests the location of the fire extinguishers in case you are away when they are required.
Moreover, read and understand the inspection, testing, and maintenance steps for your particular unit. Disregarding the maintenance tasks can render the extinguisher inoperable when you most need it.
Tip: Don’t install your fire extinguisher close to your stove because this is a common source of kitchen fires. A blaze will make it challenging for you to get your extinguisher.
What to Look for in a Fire Extinguisher
There are some important considerations when incorporating a fire extinguisher into your fire safety plan. Consider these shopping tips to help you find an appropriate fire extinguisher:
- Size and weight
Fire extinguishers are available in various weights, including 2.5, 4, 5, 10, and 20 pounds. These figures represent how much extinguishing agent the bottles hold and exclude the weight of the bottle, stem, head, and hose.
For household purposes, a 5-pound fire extinguisher is sufficient. In a garage, it’s best to use a 10-pound unit as you’ll likely have enough storage space, and there are more flammable materials in a garage, like paint thinners, scrap wood, and rags.
When it comes to physical bottles, they all have the same shape and size relative to volume. Despite the common belief that bigger is better, large fire extinguishers can prove difficult to store and handle. Finding a device that fits snugly where you need it is crucial.
Fire extinguishers usually have powder-coated steel1 or aluminum2 cylinders. Both are incredibly durable, corrosion-resistant, and temperature-resistant. Some portable options are made of recyclable plastic aerosol containers.
Single-use fire extinguishers come with plastic valves that are ineffective once the chemical agent is released. Extinguishers with metal valves are rechargeable, meaning you can reuse them.
However, please note that recharging necessitates refilling by a professional fire maintenance technician, which you should pay for.
Fire Extinguisher Inspection Checklist
Despite popular belief, fire extinguishers don’t last forever. It’s a common trend for people to buy a new extinguisher, stow it away in a closet, and forget about it.
This, however, is a disaster recipe. The typical service life of a fire extinguisher ranges from five to fifteen years. It’s best to replace the unit once the service life specified on the paper tag expires.
Fire extinguishers don’t require extensive maintenance, though they should be inspected regularly for physical damage, leaks, and the rest. Here’s what to check:
- Location: Is your extinguisher easily accessible and visible? If not, find an appropriate place for it in a closet or cabinet.
- Pressure: Is there enough pressure in the extinguisher? Some models feature a gauge you can check to ensure the pressure falls within the manufacturer’s recommended range, as shown on the label.
- Damage: Examine for any physical damage. Inspect the trigger for dents, the hose for kinks, and the cylinder for rust or corrosion. If you spot any damage, replace the whole unit.
- Cleanliness: Maintaining cleanliness is crucial for properly operating a fire extinguisher, especially if installed in the kitchen, where it can accumulate greases and oils from the air. Consider cleaning your extinguisher regularly to remove any residue.
How to Use Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are easy to use, but in a fire, you should think and act fast. As such, you should be familiar with the operating procedure beforehand. Given below is a step-by-step guide to safely using a fire extinguisher:
Step 1: Pull the pin:
All fire extinguishers have a pin inserted into the handle to keep the fire extinguisher from being discharged accidentally. Hold the ring and pull the pin out from the side of the handle.
Be careful when pulling the pin to avoid pressing the lever, or you’ll fracture the canister’s seal, and decompression will commence.
Step 2: Aim the hose at the base of the fire:
Grab the lower handle lever with one hand and hold the hose with the other. Aim the hose directly at the base of the fire because it’s where the fuel source is. Aiming the hose at the flames won’t stop the fire source.
Stand at least 6 feet away from the fire. Extinguishers have different ranges from 6 to 20 feet distance for spray. Check your particular model for specifics.
Step 3: Squeeze the lever:
Squeeze the lever to discharge the dousing agent while pointing the hose at the base of the fire. Apply slow and even pressure when squeezing the lever. Most extinguishers have nearly 10 seconds of spraying time, so be quick before the extinguisher runs out.
Step 4: Sweep the hose from side to side:
Slowly sweep the hose from side to side until the fire has been put out. Close in on the fire as the flames diminish, monitoring closely for reignition. Keep discharging until the fire is extinguished, including any glowing embers. Doing this leaves no room for reignition.
Step 5: Repeat if the flames reignite:
Examine the fire for reignition. Back away slightly if they flare up again, and repeat the same procedure if you have more fire extinguishers at your disposal. If not, try other alternatives, like using a fire blanket to suffocate the fire.
Step 6: Leave if you cannot extinguish the fire:
A fire extinguisher can run for 10 seconds before being fully discharged. If the fire isn’t extinguished when your extinguisher is fully discharged, evacuate immediately and seek professional help from the fire brigade, who have the necessary resources to combat fires.
Step 7: Replace or recharge your extinguisher:
Fire extinguishers are different. Some are disposable and should be discarded once they fully discharge, while others are rechargeable and can be refilled and repressurized.
Note: Generally, you should never use a fire extinguisher to fight large or growing fires. These lifesaving devices are only meant for small flames that are just getting started. If the flames are uncontrollable, leave immediately and contact the fire brigade.
Step 8: Inspect your extinguisher monthly:
Inspect your extinguisher regularly, preferably monthly, to ensure the pin is intact and the pressure gauge reads between 100 and 175 psi. If not, replace the extinguisher or consult your local fire department to see if they’ll recharge it or recommend where to do this.
Best All-Around Fire Extinguisher for the Home
It’s always good to have multiple fire extinguishers in your home, but if you own only one, consider a model with a balance of good capacity and convenient handling and storage. The widely recommended option for home use is the Class ABC extinguisher, with a capacity rating of 3A:40-B: C.
This general-purpose extinguisher, weighing around 9 pounds and standing approximately 18 inches tall, is best for different types of fires. It typically comes with a mounting bracket for easy placement inside a cabinet or hanging on a wall.
All homes should have one or more heavy-duty multi-purpose fire extinguishers. If you need more extinguishers, opt for a different type or size for specific areas. Whichever model you choose, ensure you practice fire extinguisher safety for effective fire suppression and response.
Here are some safety tips for fire extinguishers:
- Always read the manufacturer’s instructions on the extinguisher.
- Maintain a safe distance from the flames and don’t endanger others in the immediate area.
- Install fire extinguishers in a clear path to facilitate convenient access in an emergency.
- Call the fire department for larger fires, as fire extinguishers are only intended for small, contained fires.
- Know your extinguisher and the class of fire it is meant to extinguish.
- Master the PASS technique to ensure you smother the flames effectively. Pull the pin, Aim the hose at the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever, and Sweep from side to side.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where do I Store a Fire Extinguisher?
You should have at least one extinguisher on each level of your home. Also, it should be in a readily accessible area. Keep your extinguisher away from high temperatures, often installing it a few feet away from heat sources, like space heaters. While high temperatures won’t damage the extinguisher, they can slow down discharge.
How long does a fire extinguisher last?
The lifespan of most single-use fire extinguishers extends up to 12 years from the purchase date. However, some can have a shorter lifespan of around six years. If your device reaches the end of its valuable days without being used, replace it with a new one. For rechargeable models, recharging is necessary after each use or every six years if unused.
What happens if you use an expired extinguisher?
The extinguishing agent of an expired fire extinguisher cannot effectively smother a fire. Apparently, this could endanger your life and that of your family, and it’s not worth the risk.
How do you dispose of a fire extinguisher?
Take your fire extinguisher to a hazardous waste disposal center. You can search online to discover the location nearest to you.
What is in a fire extinguisher?
A fire extinguisher is filled with different dousing agents, including water, dry chemical powder, CO2, and wet chemical foam. Water is effective against wood fires, paper fires, and other ordinary combustibles but ineffective against other classes of fires. Home-use fire extinguishers often use pressurized CO2 as the extinguishing agent or chemicals like potassium bicarbonate.
Can I recharge a fire extinguisher myself?
It’s advisable to have a qualified professional deal with recharging. They can ensure your extinguisher is appropriately pressurized and filled with the right dousing agent.
Right Fire Extinguisher for Home
A fire extinguisher is one of the most significant investments in any home due to its capacity to smother flames before too much damage is done.
These lifesaving devices have flooded the market, and choosing the right fire extinguisher for your home is a critical step in ensuring the safety of your loved ones and your valuable possessions.
You can determine the right type of fire extinguisher for your home by assessing possible fire hazards and choosing an extinguisher that aligns with the classes of fires likely to occur.
Once you get a suitable extinguisher for your home, perform regular maintenance and proper placement, as this further contributes to its reliability.