Unoccupied homes and houses which are not used as a primary residence are at risk from fire. Travel restrictions imposed by lockdown have contributed to a growing number of properties being vacant or only managed by a skeleton staff.
Fire does not discriminate. A fire in any property can have a devastating effect, but particularly if it is empty and the alarm cannot be raised quickly. A fully developed fire can rapidly destroy a building and its contents.
Fire safety experts, Barratt & Arber, have highlighted for us the main fire risks to unoccupied homes and offer some guidance to identify the threats and to reduce the likelihood of a devastating fire occurring.
Arson is in fact one of the biggest fire threats to unoccupied properties
As far as is practical, limit the access to the grounds and house, ensure doors, windows and gates are locked.
Fit security lighting and intruder alarms. These measures will also act as a deterrent to burglars. More specific deterrents for arsonists are the following:
• Remove any flammable substances
A fire needs an ignition source and fuel. Lock away or, better still remove, any fuel cans from garages and workshops.
• Store any combustible items away from the property
Check what is around the exterior of your home which could be used to start a fire. Remove any bins, cardboard etc. Try and deprive the arsonist of the items they need to make a fire.
• Fit a fire guard on the letter box
Alongside these security measures, they also recommend the following:
Install or upgrade to a monitored fire alarm system linked to central monitoring service.
This will alert an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC) to the activation of a fire alarm. Most of these monitored systems can be deactivated when the home is occupied. It is important to liaise with your local Fire Service to check their policy on attending automatic fire alarms.
Arsonists can start fires by posting burning materials or flammable liquids through letterboxes. Fire proof boxes or bags fitted internally can catch and contain burning items. Letterboxes could be removed or fitted with a secure cover and external boxes fitted.
Install a sprinkler system
Sprinkler systems can control fires by reacting to the rise in temperature in a specific area. They discharge a fine spray of water to the fire and limit its spread. The water damage is far less than the damage an uncontrolled fire would cause, and there has been significant progress in the installation of these systems in heritage buildings.
Consider filling any voids and adding compartmentation.
Fire and smoke can spread rapidly. Products of combustion will travel through spaces above ceilings and through unprotected service ducts. Compartmenting the property using fire stopping materials can limit fire spread and its resulting damage.
Electricity is still a significant cause of most property fires. Unoccupied houses are still at risk, isolating the power supply will remove this risk, however this is not always practical as fire alarms, security systems, heating etc all rely on a power supply. It is therefore advisable to isolate as many electrical fuses as possible, leaving essential fuses on.
Rodents may take advantage of a quiet, warm space. Rodents gnawing electric wiring causes 20% of all house fire in the USA. It is not such a significant problem in the UK but it is still advisable to deter rats, mice and squirrels.
Water and electricity do not mix; if possible, turn off the water supply or consider fitting a leak detection system.
Prevention is always the best option. Make sure that electrical systems and appliances are serviced regularly.
Being prepared for the worst-case scenario will help to reduce the devastating effects a fire could cause.
Close all internal doors
Closing doors can help reduce the amount of smoke and fire spread. A close-fitting door can keep fire from spreading for around 20 minutes. It is worth considering upgrading some doors to fire doors to prevent fire/smoke spread from rooms of higher fire risk, or if strategically placed along corridors, they can contribute to
creating a fire break.
Have at least one nominated keyholder within 15 minutes (but closer if possible) whose
number is with the Alarm Receiving Centre
They will need to liaise with the Fire Service. Ensure this person is fully briefed in the fire safety and emergency and salvage plans for your property.
Barratt & Arber work with families and staff to reduce the likelihood of a fire. They equip their clients with the knowledge, confidence and ability to put fire safety measures in place to buy valuable time, even when they are not in residence. For further fire safety advice, training or to put priority salvage plans in place, please contact Barratt & Arber www.barrattandarber.com
If you would like to discuss your insurances further please contact Lycetts on 0845 671 8999