Last updated June 23, 2021.
Fire. It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare, but it’s a terrifying reality for reptile keepers. Between heat lamps and flammable substrates, we need to prioritize reptile room fire safety to protect our reptiles—not only as valuable financial investments, but as beloved pets.
While writing this article, I realized that my own reptile room (which currently doubles as a home office and storage facility) can use a lot of improvement. So we’re in this together.
Reptile Room Fire Safety Tips
1. Install a smoke detector.
When it comes to fire, you need time on your side. And an early warning from a high quality smoke detector inside your reptile room can make all the difference.
Already have one? Don’t relax quite yet. I’m guessing that you haven’t heard from it in a while. The batteries may be dead, or maybe it just isn’t very sensitive. What you want guarding your reptiles is the annoying kind of smoke detector that goes off if you’re grilling steaks in your oven or showering with the bathroom door open. Annoying, yes. Overkill? No.
2. Have a fire extinguisher ready.
In the event of fire, having a fire extinguisher handy is essential to keeping your reptiles safe. Install it near the door to your reptile room, in a place where it is easily accessible. Keep a backup outside of the reptile room (ex: in the kitchen) and make sure to get it certified functional by your local fire department.
I recommend getting a Grade 2A10BC fire extinguisher, which covers just about everything for the average household, and costs about $65. So you might want to put off your next reptile addition to invest in protecting the ones you already have. It’s worth it!
- PRO TIP: Know how to use a fire extinguisher before there’s an actual fire. It helps.
3. Don’t overload your outlets.
Overloaded circuits are one of the main causes for reptile room fires, and house fires in general. So get to know your local breaker! A 15 amp circuit can safely handle up to 1320 watts, and a 20 amp circuit can handle up to 1760 watts. If your circuit is different, simply use this equation:
Total Voltage x Circuit Amperage = Maximum Watt Load.
Then multiply the Maximum Watt Load by 0.8 to determine safe maximum capacity.
More tips: Use surge protectors, and don’t plug power strips into each other.
If you’re not confident in your electrical abilities, call an electrician for a professional opinion on your situation.
4. Keep the room clean and tidy.
I know! It’s hard! And your reptiles keep you busy enough. But keeping your reptile room easily accessible and clutter-free is one of the best ways to prevent fire. Dust your heat lamps, give your heat pads room to breathe, and don’t put anything that produces heat next to anything that can burn (paper, cardboard, wood, houseplants, fabric, etc).
5. Know your heat lamps.
When you’re running high-wattage heat bulbs, check the label on your heat lamp to make sure it’s rated for that kind of wattage. Otherwise you can overload the socket and sparks start flying. And honestly, it’s a good idea to read and follow ALL safety instructions that come with heating elements, lamps, extension cords, and the like. It’s boring, but hey, I’m not asking you to read the Terms & Conditions on yet another iPhone update.
- PRO TIP: Keep heat lamps securely fastened with these so kids, cats, etc. can’t knock them down.
6. Use thermostats.
Have a heat pad? Make sure it’s connected to a good, reliable thermostat like Herpstat! This is best practice for avoiding reptile burns, but doubly so when it comes to fire safety. And like heat lamps, replace your heat pad immediately if it gets damaged.
7. Get insurance.
Does your home or rental insurance policy cover personal property? If not, call up your agent right now. It’s not too expensive to add, and if in spite of your best efforts, you lose your reptiles or reptile supplies in a fire, insurance money makes dealing with the aftermath easier.
8. Don’t use candles.
For some odd reason, not everyone appreciates the distinctive musk of reptile. You may be trying to cover it up with candles. Candles, though they smell lovely, become a huge fire hazard when left unattended.
Long story short? Keep candles out of your reptile room. In fact, keep fragrance products and even essential oils away from your reptiles, as it is not yet known quite how these products affect reptile health when used in close proximity over a long period of time.
For the rest of your home, ditch the matches and try a candle warmer. Or better yet, use a nontoxic, heatless room freshener like Enviroscent.
9. Be observant.
Is there a funny smell in your reptile room (aside from the lovely gift your reptile just decided to leave you)? There may be melting plastic or rubber somewhere. Is a light fixture loose? A frayed/chewed on cord? Old, chewed-on, and/or worn out heating elements should be replaced immediately!
10. Hire a house sitter.
If you’re going out of town, you’re going to hire someone to feed and look after the reptiles anyway. So go one step further and take the time to explain reptile room fire safety to them. There are far too many stories of reptile keepers going on vacation and coming back to a pile of ashes.
11. Get a sticker.
Wait—a sticker? Yes, now listen up. Get a sticker like this one and stick it on an easily-seen window, door, or wall. That way if you’re not home, firefighters will still know that you have pets that need rescuing.
12. Have a reptile boarder on standby.
What if you are able to rescue your reptile(s), but you still lose your home to the flames? Rather than scrambling to make sure your pet(s) has a place to stay while you scrape your life back together, you can preemptively minimize stress by pre-determining who will take your reptile(s) in case the worst happens. This can be a friend, local reptile shop, reptile rescue, or professional boarding service. Make sure to set aside some money to compensate them for their help.
In Case of Fire
In case a fire does break out, quick action is needed to save your reptiles—and your home.
1. Call 911. Inform the dispatcher that you have pets. Be sure to tell them how many.
2. Use the fire extinguisher.
3. Evacuate people first. You can debate the ethics of this all day. But in a fire, you don’t have time for debates, so get the humans out of the house first.
4. Evacuate reptiles. (ONLY IF CONDITIONS ARE STILL SAFE!!) Keep an animal carrier in your reptile room for fast, easy evacuation.
For more reptile evacuation tips, read Emergency Preparedness with Pet Reptiles.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a looot of work to do…
What are your best fire safety tips?
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I am so sorry for your loss, but thank you very much for sharing what you learned from your experience. I will update the article!
My house burned down. My fish/reptile room only got smoke and no flames. I would add to have a reptile boarder in contact for any emergency. I work at a reptile store so they were able to watch my frog, tortoise, and juvi tegu. If my tegu was an adult, it would have not had the space to keep her at my store. It was a giant stressor trying to find a home for my 2ft long pacu fish. One of my coral lights connects to the wifi and tells me if it stops sending signals. My boss at petco lost about $10K in saltwater fish because he was at lagoon all day and was not aware of a power outage until it was too late. If you are at the point were you have an entire animal room, get some sort of wifi connected thingy that alerts you if power gets cut.
Thank you for this correction. As you can tell, I’m no electrician.
Incorrect, 15 amp, 110 volt circuit can safely handle 80% capacity or 1,320 watts
A 20 amp, 110 volt circuit can safely handle 80% capacity or 1,760 watts