A fire extinguisher is an important part of your fire safety plan. In our opinion, all houses, apartments and businesses need at least one fire extinguisher. Some cars and boats may also need a fire extinguisher. It can save lives by catching fires in their inception stage, before they really take hold.
In this article, we outline:
- The classes of fire extinguisher and their purposes;
- Common places to put a fire extinguisher;
- How to ensure it’s a quality extinguisher;
- How to ensure a fire extinguisher is updated and ready at all times.
Important Safety Note: Different jurisdictions have different fire extinguisher requirements. You need to always follow the advice and laws of your local fire authority. This article provides general information only, which may not be relevant to your circumstances.
How to Choose a Fire Extinguisher
1. Know your Classes of Fire Extinguisher
There are many different classes of fire extinguisher – from Class a to K.
Most (but not all) non-industrial and non-commercial situations require ABC class fire extinguishers. These extinguishers don’t have water in them. They usually contain a dry chemical called monoammonium phosphate. This chemical is a foamy substance that is far more effective at suppressing fires than water. It creates a thick layer over the fire’s fuel, separating the fuel from the oxygen.
An ABC class fire extinguisher can put out:
- Class A Fires: This class of fire is a fire that burns on general fuels, like wood, paper, your couch, your coffee table, etc.
- Class B Fires: This class of fire is a fire that burns on liquids and gasses, such as gasoline and cooking oil. You can’t use water for these fires as water can make the liquids splash and spread. Furthermore, many liquids float on water, so the water’s not great at suppressing the fire.
- Class C Fires: This class of fire is a fire where the fire’s fuel is electrified. For example, if an electrical appliance has started a fire, there’s a chance that you might get electrocuted. So, you can’t use water on these fires – you need an ABC extinguisher.
The other main types of extinguisher are Class K and Class D extinguishers (in the US rating system).
Class D extinguishers use a ‘dry powder’ substance designed for metal fires. Metals burn at incredibly high temperatures causing even ABC dry chemical to simply evaporate on impact. So, Class D extinguishers have a special dry powder substance designed to crust over the burning metals even at extreme temperatures. This crust forms a layer between the metal and oxygen. This causes the fire to suffocate, and the fire will hopefully cease as it is out of oxygen – one of its important fuels for combustion to occur.
Class K extinguishers use a ‘wet chemical’ substance designed for industrial kitchens. The active chemical in these extinguishers is potassium acetate, which acts on liquids that burn at very high temperatures. While many people mistakenly believe they need a Class K extinguisher for their home kitchen, this is often not necessary (check your local authority’s requirements for what you need for your kitchen).
Class K fires are not to be used on electrical fires.
2. Ensure it has an Independent UL Rating
Many websites recommend aerosol extinguishers that are not UL rated at ABC class – but we prefer UL rated ABC fire extinguishers for our home.
So we ensure our extinguisher has a UL rating label attached to it. Preferably, for the home, we feel it should be minimum B:C-10 rated, or even a step up all the way to a B:C-80 rating.
A minimum UL rating is often a requirement for commercial extinguishers. Even the US Coastguard uses UL as their certification benchmark for extinguishers on boats.
3. Get the Right Size Extinguisher for your Situation.
We feel it’s important to have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and garage. These are two hot spots for fires. Your jurisdiction may have specific rules about what you need, but here’s what we like (this is not professional advice!)
In the Kitchen: A Kitchen-Rated Fire Extinguisher
Kitchen fires account for a very high proportion of the fires that occur in homes. This is, of course, more commonly the case during 4-8pm when people are cooking.
Most kitchen fires start with cooking accidents. These can include spilling and splashing oils, allowing grease build-up behind stoves, which acts as a fuel for loose sparks, and allowing products to burn unattended in an oven or on a stove.
We personally like the Kidde RSSP kitchen fire extinguisher, which is the only fire extinguisher for kitchen use that is UL 711A listed for residential cooking fires extinguishers.
The big thing to keep in mind is that ABC fire extinguishers aren’t necessarily best for the kitchen. We consulted James*, a firefighter, who explained why:
We pushed James on what he thought would be the best extinguisher for the kitchen, and he gave a response that surprised us. Kidde is not usually the top recommended brand by firefighters, but in this case he made a suggestion:
Note that James isn’t giving professional advice to you or us here – so consult a professional in your jurisdiction.
In the Workshop: A 10 Pound ABC Fire Extinguisher
We like a 10 pound ABC extinguisher for a workshop. These are some of the larger extinguishers you can get and useful for tackling rapidly accelerating fires that might be fueled by gasoline (but remember – you need to be trained on appropriate use).
The main downside of a 10 pound extinguisher is its weight and bulk. But, workshops are often large enough to accommodate a 10 pound extinguisher on a bracket in the corner or in a fire extinguisher cabinet.
In the Car: A 2.5 Pound ABC Fire Extinguisher
We like the idea of a 2.5 pound extinguisher for our car. There is a great range of extinguishers with vehicle mounts designed specifically for cars. The Department of Transport (DOT) also rubber stamps several models.
As ABC fires are rated for putting out liquid fires and electrical fires, they’re useful for the sorts of fires that often occur in cars. They can help suppress gasoline fires, for example.
The one time we might want to step up to a 5 pound extinguisher is if we’ve got a large RV. In these instances, we’d still want a small extinguisher, but if we’ve got enough space (perhaps under a bench), we would consider stepping up to the 5 pound range. The important thing for RVs and campers is that they have a good quality mount so it doesn’t go haywire when driving up a windy mountain.
On a Boat: For Boats under 26 feet, most 5 Pound ABC Fire Extinguishers meet Code
This one’s a little trickier.
For people with a commercial boat, the US Coastguard requires that you keep at least one fire extinguisher on board (more for boats over 26 feet).
This information may change as time goes by – so check the newest regulations.
The USCG requirements are quite strict. The extinguisher must have an independent UL rating, approved mounting bracket, and clearly visible gauge. You can also be fined if the extinguisher is not easily accessible.
The USCG wants your extinguisher to have at least a 5-B UL rating. If you’re in a larger vessel, you need a 20-B UL rating. And this goes up and up as the vessel gets larger.
Here’s a brief overview of the requirements (valid at time of first writing):
Because these requirements are so complicated, we’ve put together a full review of USCG approved fire extinguishers for boats. Check it out for more information.
4. Get a Respected Brand
The main brands in the fire extinguisher category are:
- Badger (James suggested we add this one – see below)
- First Alert
We’ve listed them above in order of what we see as the best to worst brand reputation. Amerex are known for producing very high quality extinguishers with quality metal valve components. Ansul and Buckeye also have a strong reputation. While First Alert and Kidde are known and respected brands in the fire safety space, they’re not our go-to brands personally.
Some brands have had some problems with recalls in recent years, which makes us steer clear. For the most part Amerex is our choice.
5. Ensure it’s Checked and Updated Regularly
We prefer to get a fire extinguisher with a pressure gauge that is clearly visible from its mount. The pressure gauge will usually have a green section (indicating the extinguisher is full) and a red section (indicating that you need to refill the extinguisher).
Over time, the extinguisher can lose pressure, meaning it will require a service and recharge.
You can usually find someone who will recharge your extinguisher in your city. The local fire department will often have a list of places you can go, or they may even offer the service themselves.
A refill usually costs about half as much as buying a new extinguisher. But keep in mind that you’d need a rechargeable extinguisher to do this. Some cheap ones with plastic valves are disposable extinguishers, meaning once they’ve been discharged, you need to buy a new one.
Commercial operation may be under legal requirements that insist people keep a record of regular checks of the extinguisher. Many extinguishers even come with the card that you fill-out every time you do the check. The rules about maintaining an extinguisher depend on the jurisdiction a person is in.
Many times, the extinguisher maintenance check involves:
- Seeing if the pressure is still full
- Ensuring access to the extinguisher is not impeded
- Ensuring the mounting bracket is stable
- Ensuring no leaks are visible around the rim
Depending on your jurisdiction, these checks may differ – as will the time intervals between checks. The most common rule we have come across is to do a check once per month.
Choosing a fire extinguisher is usually pretty straightforward for a residential property: e.g. to ensure it’s ABC rated with a UL rating. But you need to check the requirements in your jurisdiction. We go with Amerex for our extinguishers as they have the best brand reputation on the market. If you’re interested in buying an extinguisher, check our full review of the 9 best fire extinguishers for home use.
Remember, this information is stated as personal opinion for our circumstances and does not constitute advice, professional or otherwise, to you, your jurisdiction, and your circumstances. Consult with your local fire department for information specific to your situation and make sure you’re well trained in use before a fire occurs.