Fire Safety for the Studio

Your own safety and that of your customers, coworkers, and family is always the primary concern when it comes to fire safety. Planning for a fire-safe environment, and for a safe evacuation should fire occur can improve your chances of avoiding a fire and of escaping a fire, should one occur. This page contains some basic fire safety tips and resources for more information.

Smoke Alarms

Smoke alarms are required on every level of the home in sleeping areas and outside bedrooms. They can also alert you to a fire in the studio or office. If you have a studio in or adjacent to your home you should definitely have alarms in and just outside the studio.

Building codes are increasingly calling for hard-wired smoke detectors with battery back-ups, wired so all alarms sound if one goes off.  If you are using battery-powered detectors:

  • Replace batteries in the spring and fall when you reset your clocks - or use the new long-life sealed lithium cells that last 10 years between replacements.They are sold as "smoke alarm batteries."

  • Test your alarms frequently - the most frequent cause of failure is dead batteries. Alarms should be replaced after 10 years. You can now purchase alarms with 10 year lithium batteries or retrofit alarms with lithium batteries.

  • If your alarm begins to chirp, signaling bad batteries, replace the batteries immediately.

  • Use dual-sensor detectors or some of each type

    • Ionization detectors respond more quickly to flaming fires with small particles

    • Photoelectric detectors respond more quickly to smoldering fires.

  • Consider installing carbon monoxide detectors, or smoke alarms with carbon monoxide detectors built in. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless - a silent killer. If your heating system burns any kind of fuel (gas, oil, wood, etc.) a CO detector is a must.

Remember that the primary purpose of a smoke alarm is to give you critical time to escape safely.  Move quickly to evacuate, call the fire department, and only then consider whether it is safe to attempt to put the fire out. 

The U.S. Fire Administration has an excellent piece on selecting, installing and using smoke alarms: Smoke Alarms - What You Need To Know.

Underwriters Lab (UL) has information on the dangers of carbon monoxide.

Emergency Escape Plan

Make an emergency escape plan and practice it several times each year with everyone who works or lives in your building. The plan should include a place to meet outside, a safe distance away from your building. That way you will know if everyone got out safely.

Be sure all exits are properly marked with exit signs.  Emergency lighted exit signs with battery backups can save lives if the power goes out and exits cannot be seen. The units can be purchased for under $100 each, and are wired so they cannot be turned off by a switch. Many local fire codes require these to be installed in commercial buildings.

An emergency escape plan does not have to be boring. We saw this one in Winston-Salem, NC at the graphic design firm Henderson Bromstead Art:

Fire Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers can be a first line of defense against a small and localized fire. But do not jeopardize your safety by trying to fight a fire that might go out of control or trap you in a building. Remember, fire spreads fast.

  • Select the proper type(s) and size(s) of fire extinguisher for the fires you are likely to have and locate in an accessible location. Locating fire extinguishers near exits ensures that there will be an exit at your back if you are fighting a fire.  Local fire officials will probably be happy to recommend number, types, sizes and locations for your studio.

  • Properly mark the location of fire extinguishers - know the location of each fire extinguisher in your studio.

  • Keep fire extinguishers from becoming blocked or hidden.

  • Do a "quick inspection" every 30 days

    • Check to see that extinguisher is in its proper place.

    • Check to be sure fire extinguisher is not blocked or hidden.

    • Check to see that fire extinguisher is properly charged - the gauge is in the "green" zone.

  • Have each fire extinguisher professionally hecked and serviced annually.

  • Know which kinds of fire extinguishers are safe to use on what kinds of fires.

  • Know how to use a fire extinguisher. Practice removing it, and walk through the steps without pulling the pin.

If you need to fight a fire remember these three A's:

  • ACTIVATE a fire alarm, or call or have someone call 911.

  • ASSIST anyone who is having difficulty evacuating or needs assistance if you can do so without endangering your own safety.

  • ATTEMPT to fight the fire only after you have taken the steps above and:

    • If it is small and localized

    • Toxic smoke or explosive substances are not present

    • You have a safe exit behind you

    • Your instincts tell you it is safe

Remember the these steps to use a fire extinguisher - PASS

  • PULL the pin

  • AIM the nozzle at the base of the fire

  • SQUEEZE the handle levers together

  • Beginning at a distance of 8-10 feet from the fire SWEEP the nozzle back and forth across the fire. Remember to keep a clear path to an exit. As the fire subsides, move closer and spray around the base of the fire. Keep watch for a reignition of the fire.

The Fire Equipment Manufacturers Association has an excellent interactive site The ABC's of Portable Fire Extinguishers - Selection, Use, Maintenance

Flammable Liquids

Most artists use paints, solvents, or other flammable liquids in their work that present fire safety hazards.

  • Limit quantity of flammable materials that are stored in the studio.

  • Store flammable liquids in an approved fire-proof cabinet or in approved fire proof containers.

    • Keep debris and sources of combustion away from storage cabinet

    • Keep paint in original containers and seal them tightly

    • Keep spray paint in an approved paint storage cabinet

  • Dispose of oily and solvent-soaked rags and paper towels safely. Oily rags can cause spontaneous combustion. An approved fireproof waste container can be used to keep waste, but must be emptied daily.

  • Keep flammable liquids away from flames, sparks, static electricity and other sources of combustion. Keep workspace properly-ventilated.

    • Vapors may spread beyond immediate workspace to be ignited.

    • Do not spray flammable paint or solvents without an approved spray booth with explosion-proof motors, lighting, and controls.

  • Never use gasoline as a solvent, and never use gasoline indoors.

Here are some additional resources for information on fire safety for the studio:

FEMA's Home Fires page has tips on avoiding and escaping from a fire.

Princeton University has an informative page on the properties of and storage of flammable liquids.

Fine Woodworking magazine published an article on fire safety for a woodshop that has information on installing a sprinkler system.

Related Studio Protector pages:

Fire: Reducing Risk & Getting Coverage

Disaster Specific Plannning Resources

Disaster-Prepping Your Studio (checklist)