This past summer, British Columbia declared a state of emergency due to the extreme forest fire season. All areas of the province were either on fire or under a haze of smoke. According to the Globe and Mail, human activity caused half the fires the province of BC struggled with – making fire prevention a serious need. True, fire prevention was on our minds while the province was burning, it can quickly be forgotten once the temperatures get cooler and the rain starts. Fire prevention awareness should extend beyond the hot summer season and a great place to start is your home and rental units.
What causes house fires anyway?
Knowing the common causes of fires allows you to help prevent fires before they start. Here is a list of some things to be aware of in your own home and to share with tenants:
Grease and kitchen fires
Obviously, the stove is the most likely place for a fire to start in the kitchen. It mostly happens because life’s busy and we get distracted. We are checking Facebook, starting the laundry and generally leaving the stove unattended. Or we throw old pizza boxes in the oven to hide them from guests and forget until they are burning when we next preheating the oven.
Not knowing how to put out a fire can spread the fire faster. For example, trying to use water to put out a grease fire:
Finally, the dust on the back of fridges can start a fire. This area gets dusty and all that heat your fridge is keeping out has to go somewhere. In a closed in environment where the heat can buildup and it can literally become a hot bed of activity for fire in the accumulated dust.
As the weather cools, heaters are used to quickly warm up cold areas in our homes. Ensure nothing is near heaters that could fall on them or there may be real fire heating the room. This is something to be aware of when they are in use as well as cooling down after use.
It goes without saying that another serious danger is smoking. As landlords, we do not rent to tenants who are smokers. Not only can the smell and film left from cigarette smoke damage a rental unit, hot ash or a fallen cigarette butt on a carpet or blanket can spark trouble quickly.
Thankfully, newer dryers have a sensor that turns them off if it is getting too hot. This kept happening to us before the clothes were dry so we knew something was up. Even after multiple cleanings of the lint trap and piping the dryer kept shutting off. There seemed to be air flowing through the exhaust on the outside of the house but after another round of dryer troubles we removed the exhaust cover and found this:
The external dryer vent was completely plugged. The mesh is needed to keep rodents out but requires cleaning periodically. If you’re a landlord, check these regularly for you and your tenant’s sake.
While not illegal, and often romantic, these fire sprites will light up a wayward drape at the first opportunity. Another thing to consider is how close to the ceiling candles are placed. Our previous landlady told us about the singe marks she once found on the ceiling after tenants moved out. The lit candles burned too close to the ceiling on a high shelf – right below her bedroom. This is something to alert renters to before there is an issue.
We have smoke alarms, isn’t that enough?
Having smoke alarms is a great first step to containing fires and keeping people safe – as long as they work. Like anything else, smoke alarms require maintenance. Specifically, pressing that “test” button once a month. Newer home smoke alarms are wired into the electrical system and still need to be tested. Older homes may have smoke alarms that need batteries checked and/or replaced once or twice a year. Changing batteries with the time change is a great way to remember.
Taking fire prevention a step further…
As a safety precaution, having fire extinguishers readily available is a necessary step towards safety for you and tenants. Because being alerted to a possible fire with the smoke alarm is good it isn’t helpful if you can’t do anything about it. Fire extinguishers help people stay safe and hopefully gives them the opportunity to put out small fires before they get out of control. Install fire extinguishers near the kitchen or along an escape routes. For more information on the best type of fire extinguishers to purchase, check out Fire Prevention Canada.
Obviously, safety is the most important thing when it comes to fire prevention. However, there are a few additional benefits that can come from making fire prevention a priority. First, taking fire safety seriously increases the trust renters have in you. It conveys that you care about them and the property. This also helps set the tone for your relationship. On the other hand, if you do have concerns once renters have moved in, checking smoke detectors is a convenient excuse to check in with renters and the condition of the suite at the same time. Although it is your right to be able to inspect rental units at any time (with proper notice), checking smoke alarms ensures it is done regularly.
Our next steps
Of course when we added our rental suites, we ensured there were proper exits and egress sized windows (large enough window openings so people could get out if needed) and implemented other fire safety requirements. However, while researching for this post we realized we have more to do to keep our tenants safe. Having fire extinguishers is good but they are useless if renters don’t know where they are when needed. This is something we will be reviewing with our tenants and adding to our New Renters’ Checklist (coming soon). As well, we need to have our fire extinguishers checked and re-certified. Lastly, we will be adding reminders in our calendars to check the smoke detectors in or our units.
What fire prevention steps do you need to take? Let us know in the comments!
Sean and Denise
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