Statistically, too many fires have been known to have started from basements, erupting and spreading to the entire building structure. For this reason, we have to address the recurring issue of fire safety from the ground up, quite literally.
Fire safety should be a major concern for any domicile, old or new. With the right tools and a little know-how, fireproofing your home’s basement can be surprisingly simple. Newly constructed homes often employ fire-stopping blocks that prevent flames from spreading to other parts of the house, while older homes can be outfitted with other easy-to-install fireproofing measures. Finding an option that works for your living space could save both your property and your life.
Follow the steps below meticulously to properly fireproof your basement:
Measure the distance between your basement wall studs:
Stretch a tape measure across the expanse from one stud to another. You should be measuring between the inner edges of the studs. Write this number down, rounding to the nearest quarter inch (roughly 1.25cm) The firestopping blocks will be cut to fit this space.
- Before you begin, check to see if your the walls of your basement already have some form of fire-stopping in place.
- It will be necessary to fire-block any wall sections that create interior cavities greater than 10 feet (3m) in width.
Cut 2x4s to fit the space between each stud:
Acquire a set of 2” (48mm) nominal lumber boards. Using the measurements of the stud spacing that you just took, saw the boards straight across width-wise. Take care to make the edges clean and even. The best way to do this is to use a circular saw that allows you to make precise cuts.
Secure the firestopping blocks:
Position the newly made blocks in the space at the top of the studs where they meet the floor joists or recessed wall frame. Nail the blocks into place, then test them to confirm that they’re firmly fastened.
- The firestopping blocks act as a barrier to keep flames and combustible gases from rising to the upper levels of your home. Without them, hollow wall cavities are like chimneys, creating drafts that draw the fire upward.
- Some homes utilize a double layer of firestopping for added protection. You might consider this approach should your space and materials allow it.
Treat the blocks with a fire retardant coating:
This coating can prevent a fire from burning through your blocks and spreading. Firestopping blocks can only withstand a standard fire for a certain period of time, often just 15 minutes. A fire retardant coating can extend that time.
- Follow all directions on the packaging to make sure you apply the coating correctly.
Fill in the gaps with fireproof caulking:
If there are any spaces remaining between the studs and the firestopping blocks, this will seal them and prevent drafts from forming and accelerating the spread of fire. Simply spray a thin line into whatever cracks and crevices you come across. As it dries, the caulk will expand inside the gaps, blocking them off and neutralizing airflow.
- For larger gaps, you can use an expanding fire blocking foam to completely fill the spaces. This is an easy solution that will help you ensure full coverage.
- To be on the safe side, seal every space surrounding the blocks, including where the studs intersect the joists of the upper floor. Every gap should be covered, including gaps around ducts, pipes, cable wires, etc.
Wall over the studs:
Once the firestopping blocks have been successfully installed, you can proceed to cover the studs with plywood or drywall. This will create multiple separate compartments inside the wall rather than one large cavity. In the event of an emergency, each individual compartment will help stop or slow the spread of fire.
- If you want extra protection, choose a fire rated drywall. You can find one at most home improvement stores.
- Oxygen will be unable to infiltrate the sealed compartments, effectively stifling the fire.
- Patch holes opened by contractors and plumbers with fireproof building materials and sealants.
Insulate your basement with fire-blocking materials:
Insulators like gypsum, mineral wool and particle board are known for their fire-retardant qualities. If you’re in the process of building a new house, you probably won’t have to specify that you want fireproof materials, as these features are now standard. That being said, it never hurts to ask what types of materials are being used in the construction of your home.
- Replace old and unsafe insulation with fire-rated materials as soon as it’s discovered.
- Installing fireproof insulation in older homes demands a lot of labor and expense, but it’s worth considering if you’re serious about safeguarding your family and property.
Use fireproof caulking and adhesives:
As mentioned, there are many different types of sealants available that have been approved for firestopping. Use fireproof caulking to seal any visible cracks or spaces between firestopping blocks, wall studs and joists. It only takes a small amount to make problem areas fire-tight.
- Fireproof sealants are readily available at major home improvement stores.
- Finishing your basement with a fireproof sealant is always a good idea, especially if your home has balloon framing or a similarly hollow construction that can create openings for drafts.
Invest in fire-safe windows:
For basements with windows, you’ll want to shop around for styles that meet prescribed safety regulations. You can also pick out windows that are made with fire-rated glass. These types of window glasses are treated with special compounds that reflect and disperse heat, making them less likely to shatter. With the right windows, you’ll be protected from fire whether it originates inside or outside.
- One popular alternative to conventional windows is glass blocks or panels, which will allow natural light to filter into the basement without becoming a safety hazard.
- It’s also critical that your basement present some clear and unobstructed means of escape in case a fire does break out. Your windows will need to be at least 20″ wide by 24″ high and easy to open without any screens, grills or other covers.
Install a home sprinkler system:
While not a form of fireproofing in the traditional sense, a sprinkler system can stop flames in their tracks before they grow big enough to wreak havoc. Sprinklers trigger automatically when exposed to heat, meaning you don’t even have to be aware of a fire for them to do their job. This makes them an exceptional first line of defense against fires that start in the sub-levels of your home.
- Get an estimate to see if it’s feasible to have water routed through a sprinkler system in your home.
- If you do decide to put in a sprinkler system, don’t forget to clear your basement of any belongings that are vulnerable to water damage.
Have your wiring inspected regularly:
Faulty electrical wiring is one of the leading causes of household fires. Schedule an inspection at least once a year to to ensure that your home’s wiring is safe. In the meantime, be on the lookout for fraying, splitting, shorting and other electrical risks that could potentially lead to a fire.
- Remember: when it comes to accidents and disasters, prevention is the best solution.
- If your home is more than a few decades old, or you experience electrical problems with abnormal frequency, it may be time to have it rewired.
Place fire extinguishers in easily accessed areas:
In the event of a small fire, a fire extinguisher can be a great asset. Show everyone in the family where your fire extinguishers are located. Make sure each person also knows how to use them.
- You can find inexpensive fire extinguishers at a home improvement store or online.
By sticking to these handy tips, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about your basement being engulfed in flames. However, fire prevention is still the safest approach. You can also check out some of our fire-related articles here. Be sure to stay in touch with us for more guidelines and feel free to book a consultation session as well.