Risk ManagementShort-term

Addressing fire risks in and around your home

Aon South Africa

Fire is one of the major causes of outright insured losses in South Africa, yet it is also one of the most underestimated and underinsured risks. Your home and everything in it are likely to constitute your single biggest investment, so make sure you take all the necessary fire mitigation steps, and that you are correctly insured for a worst-case scenario.

“Drought conditions and water restrictions in many parts of the country, faulty electrical installations and wiring, substandard and non-compliant electrical appliances and fittings, unattended electrical appliances such as heaters and fireplaces and even climate change are some of the leading causes of fires in homes that can lead to devastating losses. The precarious state of many municipalities, and in turn fire-fighting capacity and equipment, could also see the outright loss of your assets rise exponentially should a fire break out, as these systems may not be reliable or even arrive on time for fire-fighting purposes,” explains Mandy Barrett of insurance brokerage and risk advisors Aon South Africa.

Taking the necessary precautions to prevent a fire from starting is foremost, as is insuring your fixed and moveable assets for an outright loss should the worst occur.  Aon South Africa provides a handy check list of what you need to know about fire risks and insurance:  

#1:  Faulty Wiring and Appliances

Faulty wiring and appliances are the leading cause of fires at homes. That is why it is crucial to always utilise the services of a qualified electrician to ensure that any electrical work is done correctly according to standards and that you get a certificate of compliance for any work done. 

#2:  Overloading and unattended appliances and fireplaces

  • Overloading sockets with too many adaptors and/or extension cords can potentially cause a fire. Hair styling tools such as flat irons also pose a risk. Always make sure that you unplug these devices once done and use a heat proof mat. 
  • Never leave electrical devices such as ovens, heaters and fans on and unattended in your home. The likes of ‘fairy lights’ also pose a fire risk if they overheat and should be unplugged if you are not home. 
  • An additional risk is that posed by load shedding – always check to see that switches and devices are turned off during loadshedding so that when power does return, you don’t have any devices coming back on that could be a fire risk.  
  • Candles and fireplaces are a significant fire risk and should never be left unattended.  Keep all flammable items away from any open flames and never leave unattended. 
  • When it comes to home fireplaces, have your chimney flue cleaned regularly for ventilation and fire mitigation, don’t place any combustible or flammable objects close to the fire, such as carpets, blankets, curtains and the like. Use a fire screen to prevent any cinders or sparks from flying across the room and never leave a fire unattended. 

#3:  Gas Safety in and around your home

  • Thanks to loadshedding and rocketing electricity price, the inclusion of gas appliances in our households such as fireplaces, heaters and ovens are becoming very popular. It also means that we’re storing more gas-filled bottles on our properties that could potentially pose a fire risk. In fact, you may not even be aware that there is a SANS regulation that stipulates the amount of gas you are allowed to store in and around your property: 

For flats, townhouses and cluster homes:

=< 9kg gas bottle can be stored inside a building.

> 9kg gas bottle must be stored outside a building.

Freestanding house:

=< 19kg gas bottle can be stored inside a building.

> 19kg gas bottle must be stored outside a building.

Many of us store a back-up bottle of gas in the garage and the most crucial part to note is that if your garage adjoins your home, then the limitations set on indoor gas storage includes your garage. 

  • Remember that gas is a fire propellent, so these regulations are there to protect you and reduce the amount of ‘fire fuel’ on your premises.  Your insurance policy will also stipulate the amount of gas that can be stored on your premises – make sure to check these terms and conditions in your policy to ensure that you are in good standing with your insurance safety requirements at home.

#4:  Clean out the clutter

Minimise your home’s risk of fire by cleaning out the clutter – or fire fuel – to rid your home of unnecessary flammable materials such as leaves, dead branches and trees, boxes, leftover paint and chemicals and the like.  Give your garden shed and garage a regular clean out and make sure that any chemicals and the like are stored safely.    

Insure for a worst-case scenario

Make sure that your home and moveable assets are insured for replacement value. Market value is what you are likely to get in the open market if you sold your home today. However, the replacement value is about what it would cost to rebuild your home as it stands at today’s building prices. This will include additional costs such as demolition and professional fees and removal of debris, new architectural plans and so on need to be factored into the equation.  

Don’t forget to insure the contents of your entire home, not just what you think may be lost or stolen as a result of an insured peril such as a burglary. A fire is a completely different story and has the potential to destroy everything in your home. A professional assessment arranged through your broker is an invaluable exercise to get to an appropriate insured value as very few people realise how much value they amass in their homes over the years.

“Remember, if your home is underinsured at the time of a major catastrophe, such as a fire, you may only be paid partially for the loss due to the average formula being applied. For example, if you insure your household contents for R250,000 but the replacement value is actually R500,000, you may only be paid 50% of the claim value.  Likewise, if you have you home insured at the value you bought it for years ago, you could find yourself seriously underinsured for its appreciated value at today’s prices, as well as for any improvements and renovations you may have done over the years. This is where the help and guidance of an expert broker is invaluable to ensure that your most prized possession is correctly covered, no matter what comes your way,” concludes Mandy.  

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