Beat the Heat: Housefires and Your Insurance

Over the past fifteen years, the Canadian insurance industry has seen a surge in water damage claims, with water-related losses surpassing fire as the leading cause of damage in homes. In fact, as of 2014, water damage claims comprised 50% of all home insurance claims. With the pandemic, however, fire is making an unwelcome comeback.

In June, Canadian Underwriter Magazine published an article indicating that the instances of housefires have increased since the pandemic forced millions of Canadians to shift to working from home.

For many, working from home means cooking from home: no longer are we stopping by the café up the road from the office to grab breakfast, lunch or snacks, or picking up dinner on the way home from work. The need to cook from home is compounded by the reduced hours and limited seating availability at most restaurants.

More cooking from home seems to mean more cooking fires are occurring.

Some fires are being caused by metal in the microwave or cardboard in the oven, but even seasoned home chefs can experience kitchen fires if they get distracted or the appliance or electrical system malfunctions.

How to Minimize the Risk of Cooking Fires

  • Do not leave food unattended. According to the American National Fire Protection Agency, he majority of cooking fires result from unattended cooking.
    • Anything that happens on a stovetop, or under a broiler, should be closely tended to.
    • When using the oven or toaster, you can leave the kitchen, but stay in the house.
  • Stay alert while cooking, and limit distractions.
  • Keep flammable items – such as tea towels – away from heat sources. (Wooden spoons, I recently learned, are liable burn as well.)
  • Know what you put in a stove and what you can put in a microwave. (Hint: Microwaves don’t like metal.)
  • Use timers to notify you when food needs to be checked on, or removed from the heat source.
  • Remove grease build-up from the range hood.
  • Watch what you wear. Long flowy sleeves and stoves do not go well together.
  • At any sign of sparks or smoke, unplug the appliance (if it is safe to do so).

Most cooking fires are preventable, but it is important to have an emergency plan in place. Small fires may be extinguishable, but if you are in doubt about how to put out a fire or whether it can be safely extinguished with the equipment you have, exit the home immediately and call for help.

While we tend to think of flames as the cause of damage in fire, smoke damage can be costly and extensive as well. Your home, condo, or tenant insurance policy will almost certainly cover damage from fire and/or smoke, unless the fire was intentionally lit by you or someone else insured by the policy. (Insurance is not meant to cover intentional or criminal acts.)

Safety comes first, then comfort. In the event of a fire in your home, get out and go somewhere safe. Once the emergency responders have arrived, contact your insurance broker. If a housefire displaces you from your home, you likely have some coverage for living expenses while you stay in a hotel or rent a temporary location, as well as for damaged property.