­­A Cautionary Tale: The Day Jennifer’s Water Heater Almost Burned The House Down.

This is a guest post from our very own Jennifer Hermon, Administrative Specialist for Home Rental Services.

The day after Memorial Day, we learned that our smoke detectors are functioning well. Thank goodness. It took a while to realize that the water heater was the potential ignitor of a house fire.

Five a.m. on Tuesday morning, the sound of ten smoke alarms screeching throughout the house launched me out of bed, into my robe and stumbling out the bedroom door. I ran recklessly through the house trying to locate the source of what was surely a malfunction or false alarm.

I could hear one of the boys banging on the other’s bedroom door and noticed that the dogs were frozen in place. Still, I kept looking for what had caused the smoke alarms to go off. It wasn’t until I opened the storage room door that the shrill sound finally ceased.

I was stumped. I’ve been in the property management industry for almost 20 years. I know the cautions, the signs and hazards. Or so I thought.

The air conditioning was on, so the fan was running. I thought maybe something was wrong with it and turned off the power switch at the unit. After all, it was at least 16 years old. But my detectors weren’t carbon monoxide detectors. Only smoke. There’s no smoke in the house.

The Water Heater

Home Rental Services - Water Heater Potential Fire SourceThankfully a person taller than I am noticed an old paper manual of some sort on top of the water heater. The edge was brown, warm and crisp like it had been smoldering. And two 1 foot sections of floor trim were also on top of the water heater. They were warm and showing signs of browning.

My stomach turned when I realized how close I was to leaving for work with my kids at home and a potential fire situation. Even worse was the thought of what might have happened if the smoke detector in the storage area hadn’t worked properly. I had visions of a roaring fire filling our house with smoke before we could see or hear that anything was happening.

Did you know that most people who exit the house during a fire don’t have shoes on? I was brought up in a family of American Red Cross volunteers and I still wasn’t ready. PJ’s with no shoes, no glasses on. It’s easy to overlook. You think it won’t happen to you.

Morals of the story:

1)     Nothing should be placed on top or near your water heater. It’s not just the furnace that needs to be clear of items.

2)     Always test your smoke detectors twice a year. When the clocks change is an easy reminder. Fall back, Spring forward – change your filters, check your detectors, change your batteries (in smoke alarms and flashlights).

3)     Make sure you have fire extinguishers that haven’t expired. Do you or your kids know how to operate an extinguisher?

4)     Practice fire drills with your family! You might avoid 30-60 seconds of confusion if you practice, and that could make a big difference in the event of a real fire.

Each year, Home Rental Services helps place quite a few families who have lost their home due to a fire. That fact alone proves it can and does happen. Please take time today, or this weekend, to make an emergency readiness plan with your family. Commit to practicing fire drills. Check with your Department of Public safety for fire, tornado and other safety tips for the whole family. Be safe!