Firestopping all exterior walls and interior partitions not only cuts down fire risk but adds greatly to insulation from both heat and cold. Fires that originate in the cellar frequently travel upward in the dead-air spaces behind lath plaster. For houses already built, the best means is to pack the walls with pulverized asbestos. There are contractors who specialize in this work and have equipment for doing the job quickly with minimum cutting and inconvenience.
An electric fire detector in the cellar acts much like a burglar alarm. There are several now on the market. The principle on which they work is thermostatic. Sensitive to increased heat, an alarm bell sounds the moment fire develops. The White House has one of the most elaborate systems of this sort, which was installed shortly after the executive office fire of a few years ago.
Checking chimneys comes next after leaving the cellar. All chimneys should rest on a solid foundation in the ground. Those carried on wooden beams are never safe. The normal settling will produce dangerous cracks in the joints of the brickwork. Likewise, unused stove-pipe holes should be closed with bricks and mortar cement. Chimneys connected with open fireplaces ought to be equipped with spark arresters. These are simply bronze or brass wire of sufficiently fine mesh to catch any sparks. Placed at the top, they also serve to discourage chimney swallows from nesting in the throat of an old-fashioned chimney, to the doubtful pleasure of the occupants of the house.
For the roof there are slate and non-burnable shingles as well as a system by which weather boarding under wooden shingles can be replaced with panels of fireproof plaster sheathing.
If there is any doubt regarding the condition of electric wiring it will be real economy to have a licensed electrician inspect it and replace any which is obsolete or not in accord with insurance regulations. Also, if steam or hot water pipes go through flooring or are close to the wooden trim, there should be at least three-quarters of an inch clearance. Otherwise, the heat dries and carbonizes the wood. Then slight additional heat may produce spontaneous combustion.
Then there are more elaborate rebuilding projects such as installing a fire sprinkler system in the cellar.
A built-in incinerator located in the cellar with chute opening in the kitchen is excellent for the immediate disposal of trash and rubbish.
Two stairways connecting living and bedroom floors are always better than one. Either stairway should be accessible to any bedroom. An emergency doorway will make this possible.
If the garage is attached to the house it should be lined with a fire resisting material. Metal lath and plaster or a good grade of plaster wall board is preferred. The door between house and garage should, of course, be fire resisting and self closing.
There is one other refinement which the country house owner may take into consideration, especially if he happens to own an historic old house. That is the installation of a system of perforated pipes in the dead air spaces behind all walls connected with storage tanks of carbon dioxide under pressure. If a fire breaks out, turning on this system will flood the house with a gas that will smother all flame. Mount Vernon is a notable example of a house so equipped.