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Don't Burn Down Your Vacation Home

By William May
Published: 07/21/03 Topics: Comments: 0

Vacation homes are somewhat more susceptible to fire than full time residences for several easy to avoid reasons.

FIRST, they sit vacant much of the time. You might think that the more any home is used the greater the chance it will be misused - that occupants may leave a fire burning in the fireplace or a stove burner turned up. While those things are relevant it is the unoccupied home that is most at risk.

SECOND, part time occupants (including the owners themselves) sometimes treat their second homes with less care than their first. And if they make a mistake like failing to turn off a burner they'll probably be back in the house within short period and catch the problem before it becomes catastrophic.

THIRD, make sure you have your vacation home furnace serviced as frequently as you do your primary residence. If the heating or air conditioning unit runs while you are gone its easy to forget that it will wear at a full time rate. Its important to change filters and have the unit serviced by a qualified technician regularly.

FOURTH, remember to regulate how guests use your place. I recommend the use of small unobtrusive "Notices" through out the home explaining the rules. If you put up instructions by the fireplace its unlikely someone will start a fire with the damper closed. If there is a notice educating them on how to operate the furnace you've increased the chances that they'll do so correctly. Plus you can usually save some on your energy bills to boot.

POINT: I'm not really sure why folks love candles so much. I can understand wanting the scent but you can do that without a flame. We recommend NOT allowing candles in vacation homes even for your own use. And if you insist on having them for decoration than grab a pair of pliers and remove the wicks. Otherwise guests will light them and you'll be taking a big gamble.

HINT: Notices can be printed with your computer in nice fonts and colors and then mounted in inexpensive picture frames. Five inches by seven inches is usually big enough. We like the oak variety you can buy at Walmart or Kmart for 2 for $5. Some should be wall mounted and some can setup on table top, night stands or bookcases. Outdoor notices can be laminated for long life and you can get those done at most quick print or Kinko's type shops for a modest price. (We put them by hot tubs)

Empty houses are kind of like untended gardens. Things can grow and become problems before you are aware of them. Owners, their families and friends present more of a problem than Guests. Last winter at a Ski Resort Chalet an owner came up to the mountains for the weekend. Sunday afternoon before driving home he was very careful to remove the still smoldering coals from the fireplace, put them in a heavy duty metal bucket, and take it out to the deck. He probably would have taken it out to the yard but it was unfortunately under 10 feet of snow. Later that night after the owner was at home far away and snuggled in his bed, the coals burned through the bottom of the metal pail, into the deck wood and ran to the house.

The neighboring vacation homes and were unoccupied at the time. It took local fire fighters an hour just to find the hydrant in the deep snow and run the hoses. By then the house had burned to the ground.

Luckily no one was inside. But had the place been occupied its possible the smoke detectors would have gone off alerting the occupants. Had guests been in surrounding homes its likely someone would have seen it. In either case the fire might have been stopped before it devoured the entire building. This may be supposition but occupied houses are susceptible to burning down in ways that those occupied full time are not.

POINT: Problems relating to unoccupied homes are just another in the many good reasons why resort communities should encourage short term rentals rather than curtail them. We don't argue that short term guests are without problems but it must be pointed out that the very infrequent issues they present are far less than the trauma of losing ones property to a raging fire. The benefit to your neighbor who doesn't rent is that having the eyes of your guests on his house protects him from fire, theft and so forth.

HINT: And while we're at it just a reminder to make sure that you have smoke and CO2 detectors installed in your homes. And that you check and replace the batteries regularly. This is by far the cheapest insurance you can buy and allows you to sleep easy at night knowing your visitors as well as your family are safe and sound in your building.

WARNING: A recent television show about detectors revealed a surprising problem with them. Even though the alarms may seem loud and piercing when you test them a surprising number of people - especially children - are able to sleep through the racket without awaking. The solution - be sure to mount extra detectors every where you can think of and especially very close to where people sleep. Or better yet install the permanent type that can be wired into an alarm system that automatically notifies a dispatch center.

SUMMARY: So here is what you can do to avoid burning your house to the ground. Be especially careful when leaving the building to go home. Drown all ashes like Smokey says. Have your furnace checked regularly and change those filters every month. (Yes I know they say every quarter - but hey they're on a few bucks). And make sure guests are well aware of the operating procedures for fireplaces, stoves and furnaces.

And let me say this one more time - no candles please. I don't want to write a story about how your home burned down because you made this mistake.

REQUEST: As always I seek your feedback. Please share you thoughts, stories, compliments and complaints on this or any other subject by writing me at Director@Vrai.orgDirector@Vrai.org.

Author: William May – Volunteer, Vacation Rental Association
Blog #: 0021 – 07/21/03

Comments: 0

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