Should You Refill a Fire Extinguisher or Buy a New One?

Here’s the deal:

Fire extinguishers are must-have safety equipment in any home.

But what many people don’t know is that even a small discharge or leak can cause an extinguisher to become inoperable when there’s an actual fire.

All fire extinguishers should be regularly inspected and refilled if necessary to ensure that they are always ready when needed.

Should You Refill a Fire Extinguisher or Buy a New One?

If your fire extinguisher is in perfect working condition, a refill might be a better option. You can refill an extinguisher yourself if you have the required knowledge and equipment, otherwise getting it recharged by a professional would be safer. However, if you have a smaller extinguisher, and a new one costs less than a recharge, buying a new one would be more suitable.

But is recharging necessary? And how do you know if your extinguisher is rechargeable?

Keep reading to find out the answer:

Why Extinguishers Become Ineffective With Time?

Like any other perishable item, a fire extinguisher only remains effective for a certain time. Even when not used, fire extinguishers still require periodic inspections and maintenance every couple of years.

Getting your extinguishers inspected from time to time ensures that all of their parts are functioning correctly, and the extinguisher is capable of fighting a fire. Aside from that, regular maintenance is also necessary so that any faulty parts can be replaced, and the extinguishing agent can be refilled if needed.

While both inspections and maintenance are essential, you do not always need to do both. In some cases, only an inspection is required, while in other instances, a recharge or replacement may be necessary. So what are those conditions? Let’s find out below:

When To Get A Refill

Extinguishers can be costly. So if yours seem to be in good condition, it would be natural to consider getting a refill instead of buying a new one. However, a refill is not always the best option in some cases, or even possible sometimes. 

Here are a few scenarios where a refill might be a more suitable option:

  1. You have used the extinguisher: The extinguisher is pressurized. And once used, it may not have enough pressure inside to dispense the extinguishing agent forcefully enough to fight a fire. Therefore, you should get your extinguisher re-pressurized after any use.
  2. After every ten years: Despite how well the extinguisher might be able to hold up, the NFPA recommends that you should recharge them every ten years. The place where you get your extinguisher refilled will also inspect it to ensure that it is in working condition.

When To Get A Replacement

If your fire extinguisher has been around for a while, it might be time to get a new one. If the extinguisher isn’t easily recharged, you will probably have to replace it. Here are some conditions under which a replacement might be necessary:

1. Your extinguisher model isn’t rechargeable: There are two main types of fire extinguishers, one with a metal valve assembly and the other with a plastic/nylon valve assembly. The ones with the metal valve assembly usually are rechargeable. These also have three distinct sections in the pressure gauge, undercharged, overcharged, and the correct pressure zone in green. They’re also usually labeled as rechargeable.

On the other hand, plastic/nylon valve assembly extinguishers are not refillable. These are usually marked as non-rechargeable. Although, another good indicator is that their pressure gauge has only two sections, full and empty. 

If you’re unsure, take your extinguisher to a local fire department to identify the type you have.

2. Replacement is cheaper than refilling: The cost of replacing or recharging is not that far apart, especially in the case of smaller extinguishers. In some cases, overall inspection and the replacement of a few parts can quickly add up the total cost. But buying a brand new one would cost the same, or even less if you can get a good deal.

3. The extinguisher is more than twelve years old: The NFPA recommends that fire extinguishers, especially non-rechargeable ones, are replaced twelve years from their manufacturing date. The reason is that they can develop cracks in their plastic valve assembly, causing a pressure leak.

When To Get An Inspection

Regular inspections are a crucial part of maintaining extinguishers. Just because you haven’t used them doesn’t always mean they are operable. And when a fire erupts, they need to work as advertised.

Therefore, your extinguisher needs regular inspection to ensure it always stays in working condition. Here are the conditions under which an inspection is due:

1. The extinguisher has been unused for over a year:

In just a year from manufacturing, many different parts of an extinguisher can become defective. That’s why it’s necessary to get annual inspections done by a professional to make sure the extinguisher is in working order in the case of a fire.

2. Parts or body of the extinguisher is rusting or damaged: 

Environmental conditions or just the everyday mishandling can cause some parts of the extinguisher to start rusting, crack, or break altogether. If you notice that your extinguisher is visibly damaged or is deteriorating, an inspection might be due.

How Do You Refill A Fire Extinguisher?

If your extinguisher meets the conditions necessary for getting a refill, then it’s time to move on to the next step, recharging the extinguisher. 

Most people would consider the option of recharging the extinguisher themselves. However, properly recharging an extinguisher takes experience, knowledge, and proper equipment. If you have access to those, then there’s no harm in servicing and refilling the extinguisher yourself.

However, since most people do not possess the necessary skills, the better option would be to take it to your local fire department or a fire extinguisher company. They have trained professionals who will properly inspect and refill your extinguisher, so it is in perfect running condition.

Here are the steps involved in refilling a fire extinguisher: 

1. Firstly, the technician de-pressurizes the cylinder and removes all of the extinguishing agents.

2. Next, the entire valve assembly is removed, which includes the discharge valve, the siphon tube, the valve stem, and the valve spring.

3. After that, the extinguisher is examined for damage, both internally and externally. This damage can be any cracks, dents, or rust on the valves or the canister. 

4. Then, the valve stem is replaced with a new one, which ensures that the valve sits on the canister tightly and doesn’t lose pressure again.

5. The technician then refills the extinguishing agent according to the canister’s capacity. The canister is then also re-pressurized with gas as per the guidelines on the extinguisher.

6. After that, the technician runs a leak test to ensure that the pressure is maintained. The hose and discharge nozzle are reinstalled, and the extinguisher is weighed to ensure it meets specifications.

7. Lastly, the tamper seal is reinstalled on the safety pin. All of the measurements are noted on the inspection tag, including the refilling date, and applied to the canister. 

Related Questions

Why should I refill a fire extinguisher?

A fire extinguisher can lose pressure due to leakage or being used. Either can cause it to become unusable, requiring a refill to operate correctly.

How do you know if your fire extinguisher has expired?

The expiration date is generally written on the tag on the canister. Otherwise, it can be found under the plastic ring on the neck or the bottom of the canister.

How much does it cost to recharge a fire extinguisher? 

Refilling a fire extinguisher can cost around $20-$50 depending on the size. If there are some faulty parts, replacing them can cost you a little more too.

How do you inspect a fire extinguisher yourself?

To inspect a fire extinguisher yourself, firstly look at the pressure gauge to determine the pressure in the canister. Also, examine the overall condition of the body and look for any damage or signs of rust.

How much does it cost to get your fire extinguisher professionally inspected?

Inspecting a standard ABC type fire extinguisher can cost between $15-$20 depending on the size. The NFPA recommends a professional inspection every year.

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