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Published on Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Importance of Smoke Alarms and the Changing Face of the American Home

Fires reaching flashovers quicker, meaning smoke alarms must be working

Smoke alarms are working harder, because their stake in keeping America safe from deadly fires has increased. Changes in the modern residence in the last 30 years have reduced the amount of available and safe egress times when a structure is on fire.

Simply, house fires are reaching quicker flashovers. The time that it takes for a home to become fully engulfed in flames is eight times faster than it was 50 years ago, according to Underwriters Laboratory. It takes about three minutes for the fire to get out of control, leaving little time for occupants to seek safe ground.

The reason fires are taking the fast track is because more petroleum-based synthetic materials are being used to build furniture and other goods. Manufacturers are shunning wood and natural fibers in favor of high-performance, lower-cost synthetic materials in an effort to cut costs and improve product performance.

Most upholstered furniture available today, for example, utilizes polyurethane foam for padding and synthetic fabric covers, replacing natural padding materials like cotton, down and feathers, and cover materials made of cotton, wool, linen or silk.

These materials increase fuel loads and the potential for fires to spread more quickly, according to Underwriter Laboratories (UL). Synthetics typically ignite faster, burn more intensely and create more smoke than natural materials.

Today’s smoke alarms are much better than their counterparts from 40 years ago, but researchers are still working to make them better.

Researchers are also trying to understand the characteristics of various types of fires, as well as their smoke and gas byproducts, and hope to produce a smoke alarm that reacts more effectively to fires in the modern home.

Test smoke alarm batteries and change out old units to ensure operation

Smoke alarms are already getting smarter. Two years ago, a physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed a new smoke alarm technology that differentiates between nuisance smoke – an example is smoke from cooking – and smoke from a real fire. Nuisance smoke is a major reason why people disconnect fire alarms, fire prevention officials say.

But understanding more about fire detectors and adhering to some steadfast safety rules will be more meaningful than ever until the new generation of smoke alarms emerge.

It’s a fact that smoke alarms save lives, but they have to be checked periodically to ensure they are ready to meet the call when a dwelling is on fire or smoldering.

NFPA recommends that existing smoke alarms be tested at least once a month by pressing the test button. If the alarm doesn’t test correctly – most respond with that harsh chirp – then it likely has dead batteries or a loose connection. If you still aren’t sure, reach out to your local fire department. They can probably assist you in determining if detectors in your properties are working properly.

Also, smoke alarms should be changed every 10 years from the date of manufacture to stay current with the times and to help ensure there isn’t a failure at a critical moment.

Above all, residents should be educated about the benefits of smoke alarms and their lifespan.  That’s food for thought.

 

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Author: Web Master

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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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