The colder season invariably includes mobile home fires. Not necessarily in your park. Maybe only once a decade, if ever. But there’s no question that fires occur in mobile home parks more frequently in winter than summer. The culprit? Space heaters. It’s just a reality that many residents elect to use space heaters – even when homes are not designed for them – and refuse to pay extra for ones that have disconnects if they fall over.
You can’t really mandate “no space heaters”
Sure, the easy way to end fires started by space heaters would be to simply put in the park rules “no space heaters”. But that’s probably not legal in your state and certainly would be impossible to enforce. So this is not a problem that can be easily solved through some type of notice or prohibition. Many mobile homes have central systems in which the furnace has failed years or decades ago, and the resident has adapted to heating the home exclusively through space heaters. Others have working heat systems, but simply prefer extra heat in some rooms – and space heaters are cheap and easy to buy at Walmart or Amazon.
Make sure that you have working smoke alarms in any home that belongs to the park
Since fire is a real possibility, at least protect residents as best as possible from the results of their actions. Every home should have working smoke alarms. However, the only homes that you have control over are the ones that are owned by your park. In those homes you need to ensure that the alarms are working and that there are enough of them, as well as have the resident sign some type of paper agreeing that the alarms are working. Christmas toys need batteries and they know they can get some from either the TV remote or the smoke alarm – and there’s not way they’re going to lose the ability to watch TV. Talk to your insurance agent and/or state MHA to get an approved form to prove that you have done your job.
Educate residents on the dangers of space heaters
Feel free to educate residents on the very real dangers of space heaters. Many may not be aware of the fundamental hazard of placing them near curtains or furniture, or what might happen if a pet knocks it over. Additionally, if they must buy a space heater, at least make sure it has a “tip over” disconnect. Even better, buy the “radiator” styled ones that look like old-time steam heaters and do not have any surface hot enough to ignite fabric or wood. You can buy those style heaters at Walmart or Amazon and, although they do cost more, they last much longer. Isn’t safety worth that extra investment?
If you are inclined, provide smoke alarms to those in need
It’s a good idea for every home to have working smoke alarms, whether it’s your responsibility or not. Since the holidays are a great time to “give back”, it might make the perfect time to offer to “give”
any resident free smoke alarms if they ask. Again, you might want them to sign something acknowledging that you are giving them these alarms as a gift and are not warrantying their performance or that they have been installed properly – and that the batteries must be inserted for them to work at all. Smoke alarms only cost around $15 each, and that seems a small price to pay for the health and welfare of your customers. Also remember that smoke alarms not only save lives but might allow the resident to respond quickly and save their home. Of course, providing free fire extinguishers is also a great idea but are far more costly.
Mobile homes and space heaters have a long and dysfunctional relationship. They have been a part of the industry for a half-century, even though they are not supposed to be a heating source in a mobile home in the first place. But as long as you can buy them cheaply at Walmart, residents will continue to use them, so plan accordingly and do your best to mitigate the risk.