How Often Should You Replace Your Fire Extinguisher

A portable fire extinguisher is one of the best house gifts you can buy. Like any life-saving equipment, you want to make sure that you can find it quickly and that it will work when you need it. Fire extinguishers have a service life of about 6 to 12 years if they have not been used and are maintained in good condition, says IMEC. Whenever a fire extinguisher has been used, even lightly, it will need to be recharged by a certified fire equipment dealer or fire protection company.  

A fire extinguisher is only meant to be used when you encounter a fire in the first few minutes. If you ever consider extinguishing a fire, first let everyone in your home know that there is a fire, call 9-1-1, and make sure that there is an escape route behind you, according to The University of Texas at Austin Fire Prevention Services. If a fire starts to spread or produce large amounts of smoke, you should get out of the house and wait for the fire department.

Use the P.A.S.S. method

There are a few vital steps to using a fire extinguisher safely. First, make sure you can get to it quickly. Fire extinguishers must be stored at least 4 inches off the ground and in easy-to-reach locations. They should be kept nearest to areas where there is potential for a fire, like a kitchen and a garage, as well as one on each floor, including the attic and basement, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 

To use a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym P.A.S.S. It stands for Pull-Aim-Squeeze-Sweep. Pull the pin — the pin is a metal ring fitted into the top portion of the handle and is attached with a zip tie so that it cannot accidentally be lost. Aim the nozzle — pull the hose away from the canister and aim the nozzle at the base of a fire, not the flames, because the chemical in the fire extinguisher has to get on the base of the fire to extinguish it. Squeeze the trigger — this breaks a seal in the canister to allow the chemical agent to come out through the nozzle and be sure to keep the canister upright. Sweep with the nozzle back and forth across the base of the fire. 

What you should know about fire extinguishers

Keep a distance of about 8 to 10 feet from a fire because it can spread quickly. You can always work your way closer if needed, reports SafeWise. Don't let the chemical get on yourself or anyone else. If you are using it outside, make sure the wind will not blow the chemical back on you. There are several excellent videos made by fire departments that show how to use a fire extinguisher. It's a good idea for adults and older children in your home to become familiar with its use.

Not all fire extinguishers are the same. You may notice that your multi-purpose extinguisher is marked with an A, B, and C, which classifies the type of fires it is able to extinguish and those most likely to be encountered in a home environment. Fire extinguishers come in different sizes based on the weight and amount of the chemical they contain. According to This Old House, a rechargeable 5-pound extinguisher is best for a quick grab in the kitchen or laundry room, while a rechargeable 10-pound extinguisher is good for a garage or home workshop where a fire could grow in size before being noticed. A 2-pound disposable extinguisher works well for a car. Buy one with mounting hardware, so it doesn't roll around in your trunk. Home fire extinguishers cost about $85 for a 10-pound canister and $65 for a 5-pound canister.

Fire extinguishers must be recharged

Check the gauge on your rechargeable fire extinguisher frequently to make sure the yellow arrow is pointing to the green section on the dial. This tells you that the fire extinguisher is charged and expected to work when you need it. If the yellow arrow is below the green area, it needs to be inspected and recharged, according to Koorsen Fire & Security

A fire extinguisher must be recharged after every use to make sure there is enough of the chemical agent and pressure in the canister to work the next time you need it, per Impact Fire. However, the canister can lose pressure even if it hasn't been used. If a fire extinguisher is dropped, it can also be damaged and may not function correctly. Don't delay getting yours inspected. Some local fire departments may offer inspections of fire extinguishers. If not, there are companies that service, recharge, and inspect fire extinguishers. The cost to recharge a multi-purpose fire extinguisher is between $20 to $35, reports The Pricer. Fire extinguishers are considered to be household hazardous waste. Check with your local Department of Public Works to find out how to dispose of them properly.

You should always have a fire escape plan. A fire extinguisher is critical to have in your home, but ultimately, call the fire department to fight any fires. Hopefully, a fire extinguisher is one gift you will never have to use.