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Published on Saturday, November 15, 2014

Handling the Heat: 7 Big Safety Tips for Residents

In 2011 heating equipment was involved in nearly 54,000 reported U.S. home structure fires, causing $893 million in direct property damage and taking 400 lives while injuring 1,520 others, according to The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These are fires started from heating devices – central heating units, portable or fixed heaters, heating stoves, chimneys and water heaters – and are the second-leading cause of home blazes.

It’s unclear of the impact, but hidden in these statistics are fires started by using kitchen stovetops or ovens to stay warm. Fire prevention advocates say this is a big no-no, and something that landlords should communicate to residents as temperatures turn chilly and home heating fires become more prevalent.

“Residents should never use their stove or oven for anything other than cooking,” says Ed Wolff, President of Leasing Desk Insurance. “This not only endangers the resident but puts others and the property at high risk.”

An obvious risk to using a stovetop, oven or alternate heating devices is potentially starting a fire because furniture, clothing, towels, bedding and other flammable objects come into contact with the heat source. A napkin that comes into contact with a red-hot burner, for example, could send a home up in flames.

Likewise, using a gas stove to heat a room could be potentially deadly to the resident. Even moderate levels of carbon monoxide poisoning from lighting a gas stove without proper ventilation can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and fainting. High doses can be fatal. A Philadelphia woman a couple of years ago was fortunate enough to survive carbon monoxide poisoning after using her gas stove for heat.

Alternate heating devices are a leading cause of fire-related deaths

The risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning from using kitchen devices is just one when alternate heating sources are used for home heating. NFPA statistics show that more than half of home heating fire deaths three years ago were attributed to placing heating equipment too close to things that can burn.

Alternate heating devices have been used in homes for years and will continue to be a favorite for residents looking for immediate relief from the cold. The devices gained momentum in the late 1970s and early 80s during the energy crisis. Consumers tried to stay warm while keeping home heating costs down by employing wood-burning stoves and space heaters.

Today, these devices and others are commonly used to take off the chill.  The American Red Cross says that nearly half of American families use alternative heating sources like fixed or portable space heaters, fireplaces and wood/coal stoves.

But while they can warm a room quickly, space heaters are high-wattage appliances that have the potential to ignite nearby combustible materials, says the Consumer Products Safety Commission. CPSC notes that 74 percent of fire-related deaths are attributed to these devices.

Wolff says owners and managers should educate residents about how to use alternate heating devices safely, especially now. NFPA reports that half of all home heating fires happen from November to January.

Preventing fires by other heat sources is manageable

The American Red Cross offers these tips to help prevent a home fire from starting by an alternate heating source:

  1. Keep all potential sources of fuel like paper, clothing, bedding or rugs at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces.
  2. Portable heaters and fireplaces should never be left unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  3. If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
  4. When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
  5. Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  6. Keep fire in your fireplace by using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  7. Have wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and furnaces professionally inspected and cleaned once a year.

And, says Wolff, don’t forget to routinely check smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

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Landlord Knowledge Base

If you’ve ever considered investing in a few rental properties in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA now might be a good time. Prices are still low in Philadelphia, but have been on the upswing. According to the National Association of Realtors, the median price of an existing home in a US metropolitan area grew 13.7% between July 2012 and July 2013, the latest in a 17-month streak of year-over-year price increases. 

New landlords can choose from properties that are likely to appreciate and a large pool of potential renters.Licensed realtor Pat Mueller cites a few reasons for this trend: “Many families have lost their homes to foreclosure and are entering the rentals market for the first time in years. Mortgages are also harder to get now, so fewer people are qualifying for a new one.”The more skills you bring to the table to get into Houses for Rent in Philadelphia Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA and the more time you have to devote to your properties, the faster you can make a return on your investment. 

But investing in rentals can also be disastrous (or too stressful to be worthwhile) without expertise. Here are three professionals you may consult about your new rental properties, and what you can do to mitigate how much they cost you:Handyman:  You may need to hire a specialist for some work on your rental. If you need new outlets or new pipes, for example, hire an electrician, plumber or licensed contractor. Handymen usually tackle smaller, more manageable tasks, like:

  • Painting and paint removal
  • Drywall repair
  • Minor appliance repairs (fixing a leaky toilet or faucet, among others)
  • Installing tiling or flooring, moldings, windows, doors
  • Refinishing decks, cabinets and other wood items

When You Could Skip It: You could do any (or all) of these projects yourself if you have the time and interest in learning. Of course, this only works if you live relatively close to your rentals and are flexible enough to service them on short notice. And if you’re willing to respond to the occasional 5 AM basement flooding.

Average Savings: Any base rates or costs-per-hour vary from location to location in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA , but nationally, you can expect to spend an average of $60 to $85 per hour for repair costs. It general costs less to hire an individual handyman than a handyman employed by a company. Expect an additional charge if your job requires a trip to the store for materials.

Resident Property Manager As the owner of a handful of rental properties, you may be able to manage them yourself, but if you want help, a single resident manager would probably be more cost efficient than a property management company. Resident managers may:

  • Serve as a handyman
  • Advertise vacancies in your units
  • Show apartments to prospective tenants
  • Review rental applications
  • Collect rents

When You Could Skip It: Again, the closer you live to your properties and the more spare time you have, the less likely you are to need a manager. The obligations of being a boss will also cut into the time you save on maintenance.

Average Savings: The national median wage for residential managers is just over $25 per hour. Research the wages in your community and adjust according to how much responsibility your manager will take on. 

Real Estate Agent: Once you’ve gotten your financials in order and done your own research on the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, you might contact a realtor to show you potential properties. You can also arrange for a realtor in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA to show rentals once they’re ready to rent.

When You Could Skip It: It depends. Even if you’re a local, or have thoroughly researched the neighborhood(s) you’re considering, a realtor is a great resource for a first-time rental buyer. Realtors have access to data and statistics not necessarily available to the general public and first-time buyers may not know all the right questions to ask. Using a realtor to fill your Houses for Rent vacancies is less of a no-brainer, depending on your other time commitments or whether you plan to hire a resident manager who could do the same thing.

Average Savings: As a buyer of rental properties, as when buying your own home, sellers typically pay most, if not all, of the buyer’s realtor fees. In this case, Mueller points out there’s little reason not to work with a realtor. For help in filling your units in Philadelphia or Bucks County, PA, the services of a realtor would set you back between 10-20% of the unit’s rent per month.  Mueller recommends interviewing with several brokers before making your final decision to invest into Houses for Rent .

The Bottom Line: As a new landlord, you can’t necessarily control the flexibility of your schedule or the amount (and cost) of unexpected repairs to your properties. Rentals are a long-term investment. However, to maximize profits from your Houses for Rent, new rentals, you can buy close to home and start small. It is best to begin with just one or two properties. This will allow you to maximize the time you spend on your properties’ needs, and minimize the amount you’ll have to pay anyone else.

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