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How to Protect a Vacant Building From Fire

Your guide to vacant building protection

As many businesses around the country continue to work from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many offices stand empty. In fact, an unprecedented 17 percent of offices remained unoccupied at the end of 2020.

Unoccupied buildings, especially commercial spaces, face an increased probability of vandalism, theft, and break-ins. More importantly, they are at high risk of structural damage such as pest infestation, frozen pipes, and water damage from sprinkler systems or leaks.

One of the biggest risks an empty building faces is the threat of fire. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), over 6,000 vacant nonresidential building fires are reported each year. Altogether, these cause multiple deaths and injuries as well as more than $200 million in property loss.

Regardless of how long your building will stand empty, it’s important to make sure you’re taking every precaution when it comes to fire safety.

Why a fire protection system is important in a building, even when vacant

Whether just unoccupied or completely vacant, empty buildings have an increased risk of fire that calls for greater protection. 

There are a number of reasons why the risk of fire is greater, all of which make a protection system crucial:

Cold weather. Vacant buildings are a haven for squatters year-round, but especially during the winter months. Not only is open flame used to keep warm, but also to cook, which can often lead to fire in commercial spaces.

Intentional arson. FEMA data shows that intentional actions are the leading cause of fires in vacant commercial buildings, even those that are secured. In fact, more than 500 arson fires set at empty buildings are reported each year. 

Poor maintenance. When a building is vacant, things like electrical shorts and pest infestations (resulting in damaged wiring), can easily be missed. When these types of problems go unnoticed, fires can easily occur. 

When a building isn’t routinely monitored, checked, or visited, problems like these can quickly spiral out of control and result in thousands of dollars in structural fire damage. 

Maintaining proper building fire protection during Covid-19

For most companies, a building fire can prove to be extremely costly and difficult to recover from, oftentimes resulting in permanent closure. Fortunately, there are several ways to make sure your vacant commercial building is protected from this risk.

Make sure the building is empty. An empty building should be just that: completely empty. It should be cleared of all inventory, especially any combustible material, when the building is shut down. If this can’t be done the same day, it should be done as quickly as possible afterward.

If you expect your building will remain unoccupied for more than a few weeks, anything other than building materials should be removed. This includes furniture and floor coverings, which are combustible. 

In addition, the building should be kept at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or higher while empty to prevent freezing pipes, especially during winter months.

Invest in building security. More than one-third of office fires occur between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and are responsible for 67 percent of property damage. Without a doubt, security is invaluable. 

Enlisting a security team that regularly checks on and patrols an unoccupied building will help keep unwanted visitors at bay but also protect from fire risks. Regular patrols make it easy to regularly inspect buildings for any structural damage, electrical issues, gas leaks, and signs of squatters. In addition, they can spot potential exterior issues that can quickly catch fire, such as weeds or overgrown bush.

Ensure that you are using the proper types of fire protection systems in the building. Whether you choose a fire sprinkler system, fire alarm system, or fire suppression system, investing in proper protection is critical. Not only does a fire protection system help quickly detect fire and reduce structural damage, but many will also automatically alert authorities.

Once the proper systems are in place, maintenance is of the utmost importance. All elements should be regularly inspected, and this includes fire protection control valves, fire sprinklers, and alarms. In addition, fire doors should be closed and if you have a water system, fuel or power should be maintained and sprinklers should remain unlocked and open.

Finally, alert the fire department of the building’s vacancy and provide access if needed.

Not taking the proper precautions against fire in your unoccupied building can lead not only to structural damage but also to neighborhood damage and insurmountable financial losses. 

Is your building protected from the risk of fire? At Allegiant, we take fire protection services seriously. Reach out today to schedule an inspection.

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