When buying a fire extinguisher for your home or apartment, it is important to understand the alphabetized coding system which describes the four main types of fires. These codes correspond with the type of fire extinguisher you'll need to fight them. Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can make a dangerous situation even more dangerous.
When it comes to fire types, most people can expect to encounter a Class A fire involving common dry combustibles such as paper and wood. A fire extinguisher containing water and pressurized gas should be adequate for small Class A fires, but nothing else. Before buying any fire extinguisher, look for the letter designation (A,B,C,D or a combination) or a picture depicting the precise type(s) of fire it is designed to fight. A water-based fire extinguisher is only rated A for common combustible materials. Never use it on grease or electrical fires.
A Class B fire type involves liquid flammables such as oil or grease or gasoline. A fire extinguisher for a Class B fire may contain a supply of carbon dioxide which smothers the flame without spreading it. This type of fire extinguisher may also work on electrical fires, but it won't smother Class A fires effectively. A Class B fire extinguisher can emit dry ice during use, so avoid skin contact.
Class C fires are electrical in nature. A Class C fire extinguisher either uses a dry chemical powder or another form of carbon dioxide which does not conduct electricity. Class D fires are generally caused by reactive metals such as magnesium or sodium, so most home fire extinguishers are not rated to handle them.
The best solution for a homeowner is to buy a multi-rated fire extinguisher which uses a dry chemical base. The easiest way to discover which fire extinguisher models are multi-rated is to look for a A-B-C designation, or at least an AB or BC rating. Modern extinguishers may use a picture graphic instead of letters, but they are designated by the same types of fires. Choose the one fire extinguisher that addresses all of the possible types of fires you could reasonably expect in your own home. Kitchen fires may involve oils and grease, so a Class B element is necessary. Paper products in a bathroom may ignite, so Class A protection is also good. Those with computers or other electronics may need Class C protection as well.
Other fire extinguisher considerations include ease of use and storability. A fire extinguisher should have clear instructions on its proper use and easy access to the trigger and safety pin. Special holding brackets may be included to secure the fire extinguisher to a wall or inside a cabinet. You'll want easy access to the extinguisher during an emergency, but you may not want to move it constantly to get at other items. Find an inconspicuous area out of the main line of traffic and mount a holding bracket there.