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I recently read that a million dollar home in the United Kingdom received serious fire damage after a crystal door knob refracted sunlight and lit a towel on fire. Also, a fire department employee said he'd seen two cases where crystal ornaments have caused severe fires. Will my house be covered if my crystal wind chimes set it on fire?

Yes, if sunlight hitting your crystal wind chimes were to cause a fire, the resulting damage would be covered by your home insurance policy.

A standard homeowners insurance policy insures both your home structure and its contents for fire and smoke damage. Also, water and other damage your home sustains by fire fighters as they extinguish the fire is covered under a home insurance policy.

While refraction of light doesn’t make the list of most common reasons for home fires in the United States -- cooking equipment and heating equipment top that list -- the National Fire Protection Association does note “the sun’s rays can be very dangerous when magnified through bottles, ornaments, aquariums and items of this nature.”

In the United Kingdom there have been a few residential fires due to the sun’s rays refracting with a household object.  The story you mentioned was a bad blaze at a million-dollar mansion caused by strong sunlight refracting through a crystal doorknob and catching a robe on fire (see pictures here). 

The London Fire Brigade was quoted in The Telegraph as saying that in the last five years a shaving mirror and other glass objects refracting light were responsible for 33 fires in the London area.  That included fires started from sunlight striking a crystal ball and setting curtains on fire and sun rays reflecting off of a make-up mirror on a bedroom table and onto curtains that caught fire.

UK fire investigation units urge homeowners to keep crystal, glass ornaments and even mirrors out of direct sunlight, especially sunny window sills.  This is good advice for homeowners anywhere.

Last updated: Jul. 18, 2014