Baby it's cold outside

Fire AlarmAs the temperature dips, the chances of a home fire increases. What can you do to help protect an investment property?

 
A sobering statistic from NSW Fire and Rescue highlights that 43 per cent of fire fatalities occur in winter. Every winter thousands of homes across the country are damaged or destroyed by fire and, worse still, many people lose their lives. Yet, most household fires are accidental – and preventable.
 
While a large proportion of fires start in the kitchen, as the cooler weather settles in, more fires are sparked in other parts of the home as occupants switch on heaters, light fireplaces, dry clothes indoors (using tumble dryers or hanging garments close to heat sources), burn candles to create a cosy atmosphere and use more electrical appliances such as electric blankets. Victoria’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade notes that unattended heating and faulty appliances are two of the most common causes of house fire.
 
Firefighters encourage everyone to be extra vigilant in the cooler months, taking care not to overload power points or power boards and ensuring that all electrical equipment is in good working condition – which is another message that you can pass on to your tenants.
 
However, there are things that a PM and landlord can do themselves to reduce the risk of fire in a rental.
 
Smoke alarms
Ensure that an adequate number of suitable alarms are correctly installed and positioned throughout the home and that they are tested regularly. Alarms should meet Australian Standards and any applicable Building Code. They must also comply with legislative requirements in your state or territory (hard-wired smoke detectors may be compulsory).
 
Landlords, and by extension their PMs, are responsible for ensuring the home is fitted with the proper smoke alarms (while the specifics may differ, every state and territory has mandatory requirements for smoke detectors in rental properties). Despite this, tenants may also have some responsibilities, such as changing expired batteries, alerting the landlord or PM to any problems with the alarms ASAP and also not to damage, remove or disconnect them.
 
Fire extinguishers and fire blankets
Consider supplying these at the property, especially in kitchens. Only purchase those that meet Australian Standards – and make sure to get the right extinguisher for the type of fire (there are different ones for wood/paper, fats and oils, electrical etc.). Explain to tenants how to use them correctly.
 
Fireplaces
Get chimneys professionally cleaned and ensure the fireplace is properly ventilated. Check the fireplace brickwork, chimney and flue. Provide a fire screen.
 
Fixed heating appliances
Only authorised installers should be used and the appliances, whether gas, wood, oil or electric, should be checked and serviced regularly by qualified contractors. Don’t neglect to have reverse cycle air-conditioners checked and cleaned.
 
Safety switches
Install safety switches/RCDs to protect all power outlets and circuits and lighting circuits (check if this is required by legislation) and always use a qualified electrician to undertake installation and repairs.
 
Fire alarms, emergency lighting and sprinkler systems
Enlist the services of qualified personnel to check these systems if they are installed.
 
Furnished properties
Be mindful of fire resistance and ratings for all furniture and furnishings provided.
 
From an insurance perspective, making sure that the systems and services related to heating in a rental property are safe and in good working order is paramount – failure to provide an adequately maintained and safe property can pose serious liability risks and, if the policyholder is found to be negligent, could void their cover.
 

Did you know? 
In just 60 seconds a house fire will have blown out of control and be giving off poisonous smoke. By the three minute mark, the fire will have reached over 800°C, burned all the contents in the room in which it started, and spread to other rooms in the home.
(Source: Tasmanian Fire Services)