May is the perfect time for National Barbecue Month — the days are getting longer, and evenings are staying just a bit warmer, which means many of us are cooking and dining al fresco. Since a lot of grills are being pulled out of their winter hibernation and pressed into service, it’s the perfect time to talk about safe grilling and your homeowners insurance policy.
Statistics behind grilling accidents
The numbers might surprise you. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) tracks house and structure fires, and they released a report in April of 2016 on this topic. Grilling — which covers grills, hibachis, and other outdoor cooking apparatus — caused 8,900 house fires during the study period from 2009 to 2013. These fires caused an annual average of 10 deaths, hundreds of injuries, and $118 million in property damage.
Some additional information from the NFPA report
- The grills used in five out of six of these fires were gas-fueled grills
- The leading causes of these types of grill fires are: 1) a failure to clean properly; 2) having a grill too close to something that could catch fire; and 3) leaving the grill unattended
- Gas grills also resulted in fires caused by issues such as gas leaks or a break in the gas line
Steps to take for grilling safely
The most important step you can take is to make sure your grill is clean and operating correctly. Grease, fat, and food drippings should be cleaned off regularly. If you have a gas grill, check to make sure all hoses are secure. Apply a 1:1 soap and water solution to the hose and valve that connects the fuel source to the grill, and then open the valve and check for bubbles. If bubbles appear, there is a crack or leak in the fuel line that needs to be repaired before you can safely use your grill.
Make sure that your grill is a safe distance from your house and other structures and that it is on a level surface.
If you use a charcoal grill, only use lighter fluid specifically designed for lighting a charcoal fire. Never use gasoline or other accelerants to light your charcoal, and never add fuel to a fire that is already burning to “speed it up.”
Structure fires represent many claims, but injuries from burns happen too. Keep small children and pets away from hot grills, and wear protective clothing, such as heavy grill mitts and an apron whenever you are cooking over an open flame. Have a working fire extinguisher close by.
Grill fires and your homeowners insurance policy
Your homeowners policy will usually cover damage to your covered structures, such as the house and garage, if you do experience a grill fire. You’ll be required to pay up to your deductible, so small fires that cause only minor damage might not warrant submitting a claim. Check your policy and know what it covers.
If you are a renter, check your lease — many apartments and rental properties prohibit the use of grills or hibachis. A grill fire that damages your apartment won’t be covered by your renters policy if it was used in violation of your lease.
Grill safely, and bon appétit!
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