Fire Safety During Sleep

Ryan Fiorenzi, BS, Certified Sleep Science Coach - Updated on July 12th, 2023

According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), 80% of all fire deaths in North America are the result of house fires. And according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), 51% of all deaths from residential fires occur between 11 pm and 7 am, when most people are sleeping. Because most house fires are preventable, we feel that it's important to share as much helpful information as we can to help you and your family to stay safe.

Fire Fatalities by Situation - Fire Safety While You Sleep

Source: International Association for Fire Safety Science

Fire Risk at Facts

What are the Most Common Causes of Fires?

Fire Causes by Year -Fire Safety While You Sleep
  • FEMA found in 2017 that 3,400 Americans died in fires and over 14,670 were injured.
  • It takes less than 30 seconds for a small flame to turn into a major fire. In 5 minutes a fire can get so hot that everything in the room ignites at once, an event called a flashover.
  • Fires start bright but quickly produce black smoke that can make vision impossible and make you lose your bearings in your own house.
  • The heat of a fire is a killer as inhaling super-hot air (which can get to 600 degrees or more) can scorch your lungs and burn skin.
  • Smoke and toxic gas kill more people than flames. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, with 3 deaths from inhaling smoke to every 1 death from burns. Breathing in even small amounts of smoke and toxic gas can make you drowsy, disoriented, and short of breath. Many people die from lack of oxygen before fire reaches a room because it sucks all of the oxygen out of the room, replacing it with smoke and toxic gas.
  • According to the American Red Cross, house fires are most common in December and January, and on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Children under 5 and adults over 65 are most likely to die in a residential fire.
  • Though candles are only responsible for a small percentage of all house fires, they caused approximately 9,300 home fires and 86 home fire deaths between 2009 and 2013.
  • The United States has higher than average fire death rates compared to other countries in the United Nations at 12.4 people per million population. Finland has the highest at 18, Switzerland has the lowest with 2.
  • In the United States, 9 out of the top 10 states with the highest overall fire death rates from 2013–2017 were in the South.
  • Fire death rates in the United States are declining. All states had lower fire death rates from 2013–2017 than from 1981–1985.
  • Public fire departments responded to 1,318,500 fires in 2018 in the United States, responding to fires every 24 seconds.
  • $25.6 billion of property damage occurred in the United States in 2018, a huge increase due to the $12 billion loss in the Northern California wildfires. These wildfires killed 92 people, destroyed over 22,000 structures, and burned almost 480,000 acres.
  • 25,500 structure fires were intentionally set in 2018, which is a 13% increase from 2017.
  • Between 2013 and 2017, home grills and hibachis were the cause of 10,200 fires per year, causing an annual average of 10 civilian deaths and $123 million in property damage. Around 25% of the time, the grills hadn't been cleaned. 85% of these fires were fueled by gas, with leaks or breaks among the common causes. More than 25% were started on an exterior balcony or open porch. July is the peak month for these types of fires, followed by August and May.
  • House fires from electrical malfunction or failures caused an average of 440 civilian deaths and 1,250 civilian injuries every year between 2012 and 2016, and $1.3 billion in direct property damage. These electrical fires break down to:
    • electrical failure or malfunction (50%)
    • cooking equipment (15%)
    • heating equipment (9%)
    • fans (6%)
    • air conditioners (3%)
    • clothes dryers (3%)
  • House fires from electrical distribution and lighting equipment most often occur in the bedroom (17%), attic or ceiling (12%), or a wall assembly or concealed space (9%). 24% of these fires occurred between 12 am and 8 am, yet accounted for 60% of the deaths.

According to FEMA, the 7 most common causes of fires are:

    1. Cooking - 50.3%
    2. Heating (such as furnaces, hot water heaters, etc.) - 9.6%
    3. Carelessness - 6.6%
    4. Electrical malfunction (damaged cords, overloading outlets, etc.) - 6.5%
    5. Open flame (bonfires, fireplaces, candles, etc.) - 4.3%
    6. Arson - 4.2%
    7. Appliances - 3.6%

Where Do Most Fires Start?

    1. Kitchen - the most common cause is the stove.
    2. Bedroom - many bedroom fires start due to smoking in bed.
    3. Chimney - the buildup of creosote on the inside of chimneys is flammable and causes many fires.
    4. Living room - common causes include smoking, sparks from the fireplace lighting nearby objects such as blankets or a Christmas tree.
    5. Laundry room - lint buildup inside the dryer is the most common cause of laundry room fires.
    6. Outside - grills that are too close to flammable materials such as overhanging trees and decks are the cause of most outside fires.
    7. Attic - FEMA states that the leading cause of attic fires is electrical malfunction.

The Most Important Steps in Fire Security

There are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from fire, but there are two crucial things that are most important (one is free and the other isn't cheap).

Close Your Bedroom Door

The number one thing you can do to increase fire safety while you sleep is to close your bedroom door. According to the Underwriter Laboratories Firefighter Safety Research Institute (FSRI), when a fire spreads, a closed door will keep a room under 100 degrees. An open door can cause the room to heat up to over 1,000 degrees. Closing the door prevents oxygen from feeding the fire. It's recommended that if you have to leave your home due to a fire, close your doors if possible to slow the spread. Metal door handles can be extremely hot during a fire, so it's recommended to push them closed with your feet (with shoes on).

The FSRI's "Close Your Door" initiative was the result of over 10 years of research. Closing your door not only reduces the ability of the fire to spread but also reduces toxic smoke levels, improves oxygen levels, as well as decreases temperatures. And because of synthetic materials in furniture and construction, fire spreads faster than before. 40 years ago, you had on average 17 minutes to escape. Now it's 3 minutes.

Home Fire Sprinkler System

Though it may be cost-prohibitive for many people, installing a home sprinkler system can save lives. According to the NFPA, home sprinkler systems reduce the risk of dying in a home fire by 80% and fire damage by 97%. Smoke detectors are very important, but they do nothing to suppress a fire. Home sprinklers will both alert you, help suppress the fire, and give you and your family valuable time to get out of the house. California, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. require all new one and two-bedroom family homes to have sprinkler systems. If you are unable to afford a home sprinkler system, make sure you at least have a smoke detector in each bedroom, in open areas outside your bedrooms, in your kitchen, and in your basement. Check out our go-to recommendation on Amazon which uses a lithium battery and lasts the life of the alarm.

Consider that you have on average 3 minutes to get all of your family members out of the house once a fire starts and that if you're in the deep sleep phase of sleep, many people will take a while to wake up to the sound of the smoke detector. If you're a deep sleeper, or if you've been drinking that night or are really tired, your decision-making skills and reaction times—once you wake up to a smoke alarm—may be slower than normal. This reduces the amount of time you have to get your family out. And it's possible that even if you test your smoke alarms every month, the batteries can die in between testings. Home sprinkler systems give you a powerful additional layer of protection.

If you have someone living in your house who isn't mobile (the very young, old, bedridden, and wheelchair users), who can't escape quickly even if they hear a smoke alarm, a sprinkler system is a really smart option.

Home sprinklers work by activating when the air temperature above a fire rises. They also emit a loud sound alerting occupants.

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Cost vs Benefit of Home Sprinkler

The drawback of a home sprinkler system is the cost. According to the Fire Protection Research Foundation, the average cost of a home sprinkler system is $1.35/square foot.

  • 1,000 sq. ft. home = $1,350
  • 2,000 sq. ft. home = $2,700
  • 3,000 sq. ft. home = $4,050

Home sprinklers aren't cheap, but when you consider the benefits, they make a lot of sense, because:

  • They save lives.
  • They reduce the amount of toxic gas created by synthetic items that have caught fire.
  • They reduce the amount of smoke damage to your home.
  • They reduce property loss on average by 70%.
  • They use 400x less water than fire and emergency services, reducing damage to your home.
  • They reduce average home insurance costs by 7%, and up to 13%.
  • 74% of U.S. homeowners consider a home with sprinklers more valuable.

Myths About Home Sprinklers

  1. Newer homes are safer and sprinklers aren't necessary. Newer homes in some ways are more dangerous because of their lightweight construction, furniture made of combustible materials, and their wide-open spaces.
  2. When one sprinkler goes off, all of them go off. 85% of the time only one sprinkler activates during a fire.
  3. A little bit of smoke will activate the sprinkler and ruin items in the house. Sprinklers are activated by heat between 135 and 160 degrees, not by smoke.
  4. Home sprinklers are ugly and intrusive. You can get concealed sprinklers that are a flat plate that opens up in the case of a fire. The sprinkler isn't visible and the average person would have no idea what it is.
Sprinkler System Head Types - Fire Safety While You Sleep

Fire Prevention Tips

There are many things you can do to increase your fire safety while you sleep.

Smoke Alarms

  1. Install smoke alarms in bedrooms and hallways throughout your home. 65% of home fire deaths occur in homes with no working smoke alarms. If you have a working smoke alarm, your chance of death is cut in half. Make sure everyone in your home (especially children) knows how they sound and what to do when they hear it.
  2. Install both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms, or units with both.
  3. Test smoke alarms every month.
  4. Replace batteries in battery-powered and hard-wired smoke alarms at least once per year, unless you're using 10-year lithium batteries.
  5. Replace smoke alarms every 8 years, or according to the instructions.
  6. Never disable a smoke alarm while cooking.
  7. Use monitored smoke alarms in case of a fire when you're not home. A monitored smoke alarm will let a monitoring center know if there is a fire and alert emergency responders.

Fire Extinguishers

  1. Keep a fire extinguisher on every level of your home. As most home fires start in the kitchen, keep one in your kitchen that's not near the stove, because if there's a fire you may not be able to get to it. Also keep one in the garage, laundry room, and each bedroom. Make sure all of your family members know how to operate a fire extinguisher, and know when to replace or recharge them.
  2. For grease fires, only use a fire extinguisher class B or baking soda. Don't use water as it will spread the fire.


  1. When cooking, don't wear loose-fitting clothes, and roll up your sleeves.
  2. Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove while cooking.
  3. Do a nightly check to make sure the stove is turned off, curlers and other appliances (such as irons) are turned off. Never use a stove to heat your home.

Fireplaces, Matches, Grills

  1. Keep matches out of reach of children.
  2. Keep flammable items away from anything that is hot, such as space heaters. This includes rags, chemicals, papers, and any other items that can easily ignite.
  3. Put barbecue grills at least 10 feet away from anything flammable, including nearby trees, siding, and wooden decks.
  4. The leading cause of home fire deaths in the US is smoking. Never smoke in bed or when tired or on medication, and only smoke outside (especially if someone in the home is on oxygen).
  5. Never leave a burning candle or incense unattended.
  6. Use a glass fireplace guard to prevent sparks coming out of your fireplace and igniting nearby carpets, blankets, or dog beds.
  7. Keep Christmas trees away from the fireplace.
  8. If your power goes out, use flashlights, the flashlight on your cell phone, or battery-operated candles for light, not candles.


  1. Don't run wires under rugs.
  2. Portable generators should never be used indoors.
  3. Use only lab-approved electric blankets.
  4. Turn off portable heaters when you go to sleep.
  5. Make sure your furnace and stove are in good working order. Have them checked periodically as many home fires are started by poorly maintained furnaces and stoves.
  6. Don't run your washer or dryer when you're not home in case there's an issue.
  7. Don't ever use frayed extension cords.
  8. Never overload outlets with multiple extension cords.
  9. If you have exposed wires or loose plugs, have an electrician take care of these issues.

Emergency Planning

  1. Have a fire escape plan with your family and practice it twice a year. Every family member can be assigned specific roles because you have on average 3 minutes to get out of your house. Ideally, every room should have 2 escape routes.
  2. Use quick-release devices on barred windows and doors.
  3. Have a family emergency communication plan to make sure everyone knows who to contact in case family members can't get in touch with each other.
  4. As part of your emergency fire plan, have a designated meeting place outside of your home to make sure that everyone is safe.
  5. Make sure your house number is readable from the street, especially at night.

Other Fire Prevention Tips

  1. Get your chimney cleaned regularly to prevent the buildup of creosote.
  2. Clean your home vents once per year as they can accumulate a buildup of flammable particles.
  3. Dryer lint is the main cause of laundry room fires, so clean your dryer filter after each use.
  4. Replace mattresses made before the 2007 Federal Mattress Flammability Standard. Mattresses made since then are required to be more fire-resistant.
  5. Never leave a glass bowl on a wooden deck. The sun's rays can act as a magnifying glass and cause the wood to catch fire.
  6. Only use fireworks at a distance from your home.
  7. Keep a flashlight in every room. If there's lots of black smoke in the house, it can be very difficult to see. It's common for people to get lost in their own house. Flashlights can also be used to signal firefighters if you get pinned in a room and you're unable to get out.

Action Plan in Case of Fire

  1. If a fire occurs in your home, get out immediately and call for help. Once you're out, stay out.
  2. If there's a lot of smoke, stay low to the floor until you're out.
  3. If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll. If you can't, use a blanket or towel to smother the flames.
  4. If you see smoke or fire in your first escape route, use the second escape route.
  5. If you have to exit through smoke, crawl on the floor to get out as the air 6 feet off of the ground could be 500 degrees or more and the air near the floor could be 100 degrees.
  6. If you have to escape through a closed door, feel the door before you open it. Don't touch the handle first as metal can be very hot. If the door isn't warm, open it slowly. If the door is warm, use a secondary escape route.
  7. If all of your escape routes are blocked, place a rolled-up towel under the door and keep the door closed and open a window. Then use a brightly colored fabric or flashlight to call for help.
  8. If you're on the second floor and you're trapped, exit through the window with bedding material you can use to break your fall if you have to jump.
  9. If you have to exit through a window and it won't open, break the glass and use bedding, towels, or clothes to line the inside edge of the window so you don't get cut when you exit.
  10. If you get burned, after you escape, use cool water on the wound for 3–5 minutes, then cover with a clean, dry cloth until you receive medical attention.

What to Do After a Fire

  1. Check with the fire department to make sure it's safe to reenter your home.
  2. Don't reconnect utilities yourself. The fire department will let you know if they're safe to use.
  3. Contact a disaster relief organization such as the American Red Cross if you need temporary housing, food, or medicine.
  4. Contact your insurance company for instructions on how to conduct an inventory of your belongings. Don't throw away damaged items until after you make the inventory.
  5. Save your receipts for any money spent related to the fire, which you may need to provide to the insurance company.
  6. Let your mortgage company know about the fire.

Pet Fire Safety

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that nearly 1,000 fires are started every year by pets. Many of these fires can be prevented by taking a few precautions.

    1. Never leave open flames unattended, including candles and fireplaces. Cats are known to knock over candles with their tails.
    2. Remove stove knobs or cover them well when you leave the house, and don't leave food unattended on the stovetop. The stove is the number one way that pets start fires.
    3. Keep pets away from areas where they could start a fire.
    4. Secure loose wires that your pet may chew on, which can cause fires.
    5. When you practice fire evacuations, take your pet with you. Make sure your dog is trained to come when you call. As cats aren't as responsive, know their hiding spots so you can find them quickly.
    6. Invest in a pet safety decal alert that you place in one of your front windows so firefighters can see how many pets and what kind of pets you have. It's also advised to keep pets near entrances so firefighters can find them more easily.
    7. Make sure all pets' collars have updated contact information.
    8. Keep leashes, collars, and pet carriers near the exit. If you have to leave the house due to a fire, there will be chaos and it can be difficult to keep your animal from running away. Keep a familiar smelling blanket in the pet carrier to reduce your animal's stress if there's a stressful event such as a fire.
    9. If there's a fire and you can't find your animal, leave the house and leave a door open so they can escape.
    10. Have a bag of food ready in case of an emergency where they won't be able to eat for a while.
    11. If you can't stay in your home due to a fire, find out what local hotels accept pets. If you can't find a place that takes them, arrange for a kennel or cattery if pets aren't allowed where you stay.

Kid's Fire Safety

According to FEMA, children set 35,000 fires annually. There are several reasons why children will experiment with fire. Many are simply curious about fire, while for others it can be a sign of deeper issues such as a cry for help, thrill-seeking, mental or emotional issues, or even a willful intent to cause destruction.

Kids' Fire Safety Facts

According to the NFPA:

  • Younger children tend to find a hiding spot inside the house (a closet, under a blanket, or a place that they won't easily be discovered) to play with a lighter or matches.
  • Older children tend to experiment with fire outdoors.
  • In 50% of the fires started by children, lighters were the source of the fire.
  • 83% of home fires and 93% of outside fires are started by males.
  • 40% of fires started by children occur in their bedrooms.
  • Between 2005 and 2009 it's estimated that fires started by children caused $286 million per year in direct property damage with 110 civilian deaths.

There are a few things that parents can do to prevent their children from playing with fire.

  1. Hide all matches, lighters, and any other firestarters. It's best to keep these items locked away.
  2. Educate your children about the dangers of playing with fire, including harm to themselves, their pets, home, and family. Tell them to give you any matches or lighters that they find.
  3. Practice stop, drop, and roll if any part of their clothes catch fire, as well as crawling on the floor in case there's smoke in the house.
  4. Make sure they know the sound of the smoke alarm and what they need to do, as well as the 2 escape routes from each room in the house.
  5. Include them in fire emergency training. Depending on their age, you can give them a specific job so they can feel they're part of keeping your home and family safe.
  6. Teach your children not to hide from firefighters.

Fire Drills at Home with Your Children

Have everyone go to their rooms and wait for the sign. You go to a smoke alarm and test it, and press start on your stopwatch. It's everyone's job to get out of the house in under 2 minutes safely and meet in a previously agreed-upon meeting spot that's not too close to your home, but still on your property. Once you get to the meeting spot, simulate calling 911. If anyone has specific jobs, such as getting any animals out of the house, make sure they successfully did their job.

You can then do a second round which is practicing what to do in case there's lots of black smoke in the house. As the smoke and heat are much worse at standing height, practice crawling out of the home. If it takes any family member more than 2 minutes to escape, try again.

It's also a good idea to practice fire drills when it's dark.

Some other good things to review include:

  • The 2 exits from every room in the house.
  • Discuss fire safety facts, such as where most fires start, and then go through your house and ask them to look for potential fire starters (such as the Christmas tree too close to the fire, or a towel too close to the stove).
  • Quiz them about whether it's safer to keep bedroom doors open or closed.
  • If they're old enough, you could simulate using a fire extinguisher, and review where all of your fire extinguishers are stored.
  • Stop, drop, and roll if any part of their clothing catches on fire.

If you have younger children, you can take turns with who presses the smoke alarm, or who starts the timer. You could also give prizes for who gets out of the house the fastest (but still safely), or to everyone who makes it out in less than 2 minutes.

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