9 Things We Wished We Did Before Our House Burned Down

This pictures is of Melanie’s house as it burns to the ground within 60 minutes. It was a fixer-upper she and her husband had poured their savings and souls into with all sorts of DIY projects, and they and their two-and-half year-old son escaped it becoming their pyre by only minutes and with only the clothes on their backs. These are 9 things she wished beforehand, now that she is wrestling with insurance and filing claims:

From the Young House Love blog:

1. Subscribe to an online data backup service (my external back up drive sat right next to my laptop in my office)
2. Keep passports in a safe deposit box
3. Take pictures of each room initially and update them as improvements are made (storing them somewhere offsite – like Flickr)
4. Take pictures and keep hyperlinks of all expensive purchases, including jewelry
5. Hire an architect (my dad in our case) or use floorplanner.com to document each floor layout along with precise wall/ceiling measurements, each outlet, light switch, crown molding, other trim, type of flooring, any unique items to structure of property
6. Put phones in a consistent place each night
7. Get fire ladders for any second floor bedrooms
8. Scan each photo and receipt [for expensive purchases], again keeping them offsite, or on an online data backup service
9. Do not be frugal with homeowner’s insurance. Spend the extra $50 per year for the most coverage

It was a tragedy, but now Melanie and her family are pulling through, thanks in no small part to the generosity of their neighbors. She just wishes they had taken some precautions in advance to make the insurance claims filing process easier, and is now sharing what she’s learned so others don’t make the same mistakes.

For info on choosing and using a home safe, check out this Consumer Reports guide.

On A Serious Note [Young House Love]

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  1. Brunette Bookworm says:

    A house fire is my greatest fear, ever. I want to get some kind of small, fire-proof safe to store my passport and some other items in. Thanks for the guide to safes!

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      While that’s a good start, a safe deposit box at your bank is best for valuables.

    • UnicornMaster says:

      Yes fireproof safe. A Safe Deposit Box is a little overkill for documents that are easily replaceable, albeit a pain in the butt. If I had to go to a bank every time I went out of the country it would drive me nuts.

      • nbs2 says:

        It really isn’t that bad if you aren’t travelling out of the country on a regular basis. We’ve been averaging one trip a year for the last five years, and it is a five minute per visit issue to stop by on a Sat morning and get our box.

        I’m more than happy to join folks in railing against BoA, but we have our safe deposit box with them, and one feature we like is the hand scanner that they have. It lets us into the safe without having to wait for a bank employee, and then we use our key to get the actual box. Usually, the hardest part of the entire trip is dealing with the too-small parking lot.

      • fourclover54 says:

        If you’re in a rental though, bolting a safe to the floor usually isn’t an option.

      • DEVO says:

        I don’t think most people go out of the country enough to think going to the bank is a pain. No?

    • JennQPublic says:

      That small, fire-proof safe will be the first thing stolen if your house is ever burglarized. It doesn’t matter that most people keep nothing in it that has value to anyone but themselves, they are portable and will be the first thing a thief runs off with.

      Someone broke into my neighbor’s house and tried to steal his small safe (that only contained important documents). He was hauling it through the bedroom when he apparently stepped on the sleeping rottweiller, as evidenced by the safe sitting in the middle of the room and every object between that point and the door being knocked over.

      But unless you have a convenient large dog, I’d suggest a safe deposit box.

      • myCatCracksMeUp says:

        My small fire-proof safe weighs almost 100 lbs – I think it’s about 18″ cubed. Hopefully the weight will deter any thief from stealing it. There are valuable ligtht-weight items in my house that I hope will look more appealing to any thief.

        I keep all my important papers in the safe, and I also keep a back up hard drive which has got all my pictures I’ve ever taken, within the last month or so. Ever couple of months I get the hard drive and back up new pictures.

        • Brunette Bookworm says:

          That’s what I want to do. I want to have something fire-proof/resistant that is easy to get to in order to update documents or a back-up. I don’t really want to have my passport in a safe deposit box just because of the inconvience of getting to it….plus I’m in a small town and don’t know of them being available at my bank. I think the TV and electronics on the way to where I would store the safe at would be more inticing if anyone ever broke in.

          • JennQPublic says:

            My neighbor’s thief bypassed the big-screen TV, a couple of laptops, an Xbox, and a garage full of tools (and two Harleys) to focus on the safe that contained nothing of monetary value. Because in his mind, it likely contained emeralds, diamonds, and piles of gold doubloons, rather than the title to a car and a kid’s birth certificate, which was actually in there.

            I plan on getting one of those safes, and keeping it empty (or possibly with something stinky in it) and in my closet. Hopefully any thieves will spend their energy trying to boost it, and will leave my toys alone.

            • webweazel says:

              We have a fire safe, albeit a small one, for important papers and such. We keep it in a much larger rifle-sized safe in a closet. We drilled holes into the back of the big safe it and lag bolted it (8) to the studs and also bolted it to the concrete. They’ll have to saw off the wall studs to get it even halfway out. Good luck. Add to the fact we only store computer backup disks, checkbooks, photos, and backup packs of Forever stamps in it, besides the fire safe, good luck with that.
              Getting in past the alarm system, the dogs, AND the eagle-eyed neighbors would be hard enough, but heading out the door with a large safe attached to a chunk of wall would definitely be much harder with said neighbors watching.

        • ClutchDude says:

          It won’t deter them. It cost them nothing to break into your house and, if you have a hand truck or anything else to make it easy, they’ll use it.

          When my house was broken into, they carted off my 500 pound gun safe off because I didn’t bolt it down.

          100 pound vs. really valuable stuff inside is easy for a crook.

      • not-gonna-tell-ya says:

        My fireproof safe weighs 300 pounds and is bolted to the floor. Double locking. Good luck stealing that. While a theif may go for it in an upscale neighborhood, they wouldn’t bother in the ghetto I’m in.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        hide it well. i’ve asked friends who know me well to figure where they think i put my safe. no one has found it yet, even when in the same room with it and parts of the safe visible.
        then again, i have a really cluttered house

    • Ilovegnomes says:

      Make sure you get one that can be bolted into the floor. Try to find a safe shop where they specialize in safes. They’ll help advise you on size, burn time, placement in the home (most likely to survive a fire) and securing it to avoid theft. We went for the bigger size because we found out that if you also store tax documents in it, the cost can be tax deductible. Don’t ask me for specific details on that thought. Maybe someone else can chime in with specifics.

    • islandgirl says:

      My husband and I use a safety deposit box at Wachovia that is free with our checking account. It is so useful and accessible, and I love the peace of mind knowing that even if our home is burglarized or destroyed, our important items and documents are safe.

    • sonneillon says:

      You could also get a a fireproof lockbox if price is an issue.

    • Eugene says:

      I have one of those sentry fireproof safes and dropped it when we were moving and it popped open, real secure. Also unless you spend the extra for a media safe it will only protect papers, not photos or cd/dvd’s. For the price of a decent media safe you can guy a gun safe which is larger and has a better fire rating.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        i got a pretty good one, designed for media [papers have to go in it folded] on sale at home depot for $20. they have sales on them pretty regularly

    • jesusofcool says:

      This is my biggest nightmare as well, ever since I was a child. It’s hard for me to even do anything about it because doing something about it means thinking about it…

    • Snaptastic says:

      Ditto. Every day I leave my house I check everything (OCD-like) to make sure nothing will burst into flames. I keep everything “vital” in my work-bag so in case something happens I can throw the bag over my shoulder, grab the dog and run.

    • ouijabored says:

      I have friends who keep their important documents at the bottom of their freezer – in the case of a house fire, the seals on the freezer will melt and the documents will be safe.

      • flychinook says:

        I wouldn’t count on that. I’ve been doing fire restoration work for about half a year now and have seen a few destroyed refridgerators. The outside doesn’t burn much, and they do melt shut… but the plastic inside the fridge also melts. Unless you want to chisel your paperwork out of a blob of plastic, invest in a nice fireproof safe.

  2. thompson says:

    I’d just like to concur with #9. It really bothers me when people seek out the cheapest, most cut-rate insurance they can find. Yes, you’re saving money—but is CheapInsurCo going to be that helpful when your house burns down? Find a company that will stand behind you, and make sure you have a good relationship with your agent.

    • Necoras says:

      There’s a car insurance company here in Texas who’s whole advertising pitch is that they *only* offer the legal minimum coverage. If you want more than the minimum go somewhere else because they won’t give it to you.

      • George4478 says:

        Funny you should mention that since recently I heard a radio advertisement here in Georgia that said the exact same thing.

        The whole “we only do the minimum” concept is why I noticed it.

        • catnapped says:

          cough…Safe Auto…cough?

          • Coalpepper says:

            Prolly Titan, i hear their ads all the time. I highly doubt i’d get much help in an accident if all i had was that, and i really hope i never have an accident with one of their clients.

            That said, a cheap insurance company can cause trouble for you in more ways than just not paying, or not paying much. Legally how long can they take to pay the claim? How many ways can they delay it? While they may end up paying in the end, that’s not much help ifn they keep you jumping through hoops for months or even a year or more.

      • madanthony says:

        Well, if it’s the minimum legally required it’s liability, which means it pays the other driver if you hit them. If you are buying something that benefits someone else, you might as well buy the cheapest possible.

        It’s only comp and collision where you would be the one collecting and might care if the claims process sucks.

        • SChance says:

          No, no, you shouldn’t.

          The state minimum for bodily injury in my state is $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. (NB: my insurance company, for whom I also work, won’t even offer limits that low, because we think they’re ridiculous.)

          What happens when you hit a car with four people in it, all four of whom have to be taken to the emergency room by ambulance, and two have to stay in the hospital for a few nights?

          You guessed it – that $50,000 is GONE, and YOU are on the hook for the rest of the damages.

          It’s really hard to have “too much” liability insurance, especially these days.

    • joako says:

      Yea I know someone who had their house burn down due to a faulty drier vent or something like that… it’s really worth it to have “replacement value” insurance that will pay for the actual replacement value of e.g. your kitchen instead of paying the *depreciated* value of your 5-year old kitchen!

    • evnmorlo says:

      Yeah, everything is nicer when you pay a lot money.

      • AnthonyC says:

        It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Sometimes the difference between bad and great is very small.
        For renter’s insurance, the difference between replacement and current value is a few dollars a month. For car insurance, rental coverage for when you’re getting a repair is only a few dollars a year. GAP insurance adds only a few bucks to your loan, or lease. I have never had homeowner’s insurance, which is of course much more expensive (liability coverage and the need to possibly rebuild a whole structure), but I expect that, percentage-wise, good coverage is only marginally more expensive.

    • Greg Ohio says:

      Insurance is highly regulated. Some companies may be better than others, and some coverages may be better than others, but there’s really no benefit to choosing an expensive insurer. Typically, they’re expensive because they spend more on advertising, not claims.

    • Maxamus says:

      But 99% of the people will NEVER use insurance in their life. I’m in my 40s and have never had a claim on my homes, boats, cars, motorcycles or even health.

      • TheCorporateGeek Says Common Sense Is The Key says:

        Must be nice, but when it does happen, you’ll be glad you have it……

  3. slappysquirrel says:

    This all sounds like good advice. Thanks.

  4. dolemite says:

    Most of my expensive purchases are done online, and I can pull up purchase orders for years past at any time.

    Most of the measurements/floorplan info is included in the info I got from the appraiser.

    • czadd says:

      The rest of these make perfect sense, buy why would you need the detailed floor plans? What purpose might the serve?

      • jpmoney says:

        I got the idea that they mean’t it with regards to improvements. Those nice built-in cabinets you put in won’t be on the survey but you’d need some sort of evidence to be made whole again insurance-wise.

  5. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    For “expenses” purposes, not “expensive” purposes. (When I was a secretary, I used to see executives make this error also, so don’t feel too bad.)

  6. Red Cat Linux says:

    Fire is my great fear as well. There is a lot of stuff on my computer hard drives, but none of it compares to the paper that is irreplaceable.

    I have a safe deposit box to keep important legal papers and jewelry I don’t often wear. I also keep a copy of my data backups on DVD in it. I usually update the offsite copy at the end of the year.

    Guess this is my reminder to do that now. The pictures of the house would be an excellent addition to my offsite stored valuables.

  7. Rachacha says:

    In addition to photographs of your house, a video might be nice too. That way you can walk around the room, and provide narration and for certain items, look all around it and pick the item up to show marks of authenticity. After you are done with the video however, get it on to your computer and thenstore a second or third copy offsite.

    • Kevin411 says:

      Be sure to carefully document the contents of closets and clothes drawers. Just replacing a family’s underwear/socks/tees could cost a couple hundred dollars, not to mention all the casual shirts, dress shirts, slacks, ties, winter coats, etc. If you have a lot of these, you could be looking at thousands of dollars to replace them, but without documentation, the insurance company will assign an average value to your expensive former wardrobe.

    • jebarringer says:

      I was just getting ready to post this. With digital videography, you can afford to spend a good bit of time documenting just about everything, providing narration, giving validity for dates (showing newspaper, etc), burn it all to a few dvds, and throw it in a safe deposit box. You might also be able to make copies of the dvds and give them to your insurance agent as yet another backup source. Finally, if you really want to verify the date of the video, you can seal the dvd in an envelope and either get a notary public to sign/stamp the seal, or get the local post office to postmark the seal.

  8. Tamar Weinberg says:

    For online data backup, go with CrashPlan family plan. Best data investment ever.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      Hmm, checking their site. Looks pretty good. I definitely need a better backup than my stupid thumb drive.

    • TheSpatulaOfLove says:

      Crashplan has one very nice feature above and beyond their online backup. It allows you to backup to friend’s machines through a secure connection.

      A friend of mine and I have been playing with this for the past few months to see what kind of performance hit it would do on our machines, and it has been excellent. It waits until the computers are idle, and trickles your data across, not saturating your connection.

      So far, everything including restoration has been flawless and it has the benefit of being cross platform (Win/*nix/Mac).

      My plan for this going forward is to load this client on my parents’ and inlaws’ computers, have them backup to my fileserver, then up to their service in a big blob so if there are any catastrophes in any of our homes, photos will be archived in multiple locations. You may ask why I would want the responsibility of managing these backups? Even after numerous warnings, nobody does it – so I will take the control AND the brains out of it and it will be done…

    • TimothyT says:

      It’s not an investment. It’s a data backup plan or loss prevention. Why do people use the term “investment” so loosely? Investments have gain potential, like stocks, land, etc. Cars, insurance, data backups, homes (if mortgaged) are not investments.

      Investment is putting money into something with the hope of profit. More specifically, investment is the commitment of money or capital to the purchase of financial instruments or other assets so as to gain profitable returns in the form of interest, income (dividends), or appreciation (capital gains) of the value of the instrument. -wikipedia

  9. RandomHookup says:

    I’m not sure I understand #5. How does documenting the light switches help?

    • Jeff says: "WTF could you have been thinking?" says:

      To make sure you get all your switches and sockets in the rebuild. If you had two switches and 4 outlets in a room, that’s what you should end up with. The insurance adjuster will want to go with the lowest bid which may only include 1 light switch and 2 sockets in that particular room.

      • RandomHookup says:

        Interesting. I just assumed you got a check for a certain amount and it was up to you to figure out how to spend it.

        • jebarringer says:

          When I was a teenager, my family’s one car garage and carport burned down. After all way said and done, my parents received a check for the cost of an equivalent replacement. So they had the option to replace exactly, or put the money towards a two car garage (they opted for the latter). I don’t know if that was a provision of their insurance policy or their choice (as in, they could handle the logistics of building a better structure or have the insurance company handle the logistics of an exact replacement).

          • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

            my sister had similar with a flood. the insurance said they’d pay x amount. she applied that amount to the replacement cost and paid out of pocket for the upgrades to better carpet and carpet padding because she’d been saving up for that anyway.

      • IvansMom says:

        I work for an insurance company and was an adjuster for 8 years. Fires are such a special kind of claim. Not in a good way of course. I think they are the most devastating, even if there are other losses that can cause as much damage or more. Losing everything is only part of it. I will say that #5 above seems ridiculous. Houses don’t burn to nothing, at least not that I have ever seen in all of these years. The footprint is still there, and code requirements will dictate wiring, framing, etc. Most policies offer at least some coverage for code upgrades required by a covered loss. The homeowner is entitled to payment for what they had, and they don’t have to put things back exactly the way they were. The insurance company does not get to tell you how to rebuild, just what they owe for. I told people all the time – we owe you for what you had, but feel free to get what you want. If it costs more, you just pay the difference.

    • Maximus Pectoralis says:

      I’m a little confused by some of these items as well (particularly #3 and #5). Presumably if it’s a “fixer-upper” the electrical, plumbing etc. may not be up to the latest standards. If the house was completely burned down, and assuming they wanted to rebuild with the same layout, wouldn’t it then make sense to modernize these features?

      I made sure my house had proper wiring for the wall mounted TVs (electrical outlets and through-wall channels for signal cables) and added Category 5E network lines to every room, along with a series of conduits running from basement to attic to allow easy addition of low-voltage electrical changes on the top floor at a later time (bottom floor LV wires go through basement).

  10. Tunnen says:

    #10 – Pay the firefighter’s coverage protection fee

    =P

    • bethshanin says:

      “But its $75 a year? Surely they will put out my house fire for me anyway!”

      No, they won’t. They’ll come to protect your neighbors house and watch your’s burn… and don’t call me Shirley.

      • tbax929 says:

        I just paid for my fire service for one year, and it was $375. I think that’s a little steep, but my homeowners won’t cover me if I don’t subscribe. Also, if I have a fire, it won’t seem like that much!

  11. owtytrof says:

    “6. Put phones in a consistent place each night”

    Well, I’m 1/9th of the way there!

  12. Scrutinizer says:

    Seventeen years ago when my wife and I were just married the kid across the hall in our condo decided to play with matches and an aerosol can indoors. We had just bought condo insurance a few months before so we were very lucky. Pay attention to number 9 things add up much faster than you would ever think. Number 3 is also a must, when the adjuster asks for an itemized list you won’t be able to do it from memory. I can remember the adjuster for the woman up stairs asking her how many socks she had.

    I our case the fire burned around us so we were able to get in and salvage a few things we used a recorder to walk from room to room noting everything.

  13. johnny_ryall says:

    very sound advice, a few of these items hint around at creating a home inventory without coming out and saying it…take pictures of your stuff, write down model and serial numbers for electronics, scan receipts and store it off-site…

    …also, adrive.com has 50 gigabytes of free online storage…..use that sh*t

  14. macoan says:

    Fire Proof Safe – in which I also keep my computer backup’s in……

    WHICH BRINGS UP A POINT – Not all fire proof safes will keep things like backup drives, CD’s, DVD, etc… That is many of the cheaper ones are rated to keep paper, so no fire will get in there…. but NOT rated to keep heat away, so a melted CD or other items that don’t do good in heat… those cheap safe’s will not help – make sure you get one rated for electronics and such.

    • Maximus Pectoralis says:

      Off-site backup is always a good idea. When I build my shed, I am going to run underground electrical and network lines there, and probably keep a temperature-resistant storage device inside for critical backups. Probably something with SSD or flash memory. This would allow for “off-site” backup without having to deal with slow transfer speeds or subscriptions, software problems, etc.

  15. The cake is a lie! says:

    If you don’t have your important documents (passport, social security card, birth certificate, deed, titles, etc) in a fireproof safe already, then go get one now. You know they are important, which is why you are saving them. If they are important, then you probably don’t want them burned down.

    As for your data, you should back up your hard drive to something else and have it easily accessible if not in a fire proof case. The last thing you want to be doing in a fire is digging around under your desk for the external hard drive wrapped up in a nest of cords.

    You should also have all of your photo albums somewhere easily accessible as well. book shelves by the front door are a good place for those. You scrapbooked for hours and hours to get them that way, so why not put them somewhere easy to save? Anything you want to save should be somewhere easy to get to. Everything else which is replaceable can be wherever.

    Definitely keep records of all of your purchases. If you have the serial number and the owners manual then that is enough to convince just about any insurance company that you owned the product. Keep the manuals in something relatively fireproof somewhere far away from the middle of the house. I keep mine in a metal box out in the garage. Unless the fire actually started there, I think I’m pretty safe. In the event of total destruction, I at least have the serial numbers backed up on a fireproof hard drive.

    An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Except in the case of a fire, where an ounce of prevention is worth a TON of cure. You can’t replace people, so obviously save them first, but there are many other things which are either irreplaceable, or damn near so, that you want to have easy access to.

  16. agold says:

    I set my dad up with Carbonite remote backup on his computer and it was super easy and low-maintenance. I’m about to set it up for myself. http://www.carbonite.com

  17. RulesLawyer says:

    Add #10: After a fire, get your own attorney or private insurance adjuster to work on your behalf. The insurance company’s adjuster is employed by the insurance company, and it’s the insurance company’s ultimate goal to improve returns for their shareholders. They do this by paying out as little as they can.

    A house fire is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence (or less). Hire someone who has more experience with these things than you.

    (I’m not saying this because I’m a lawyer — I’m saying this because I had a house fire in 2003, and it was so much easier letting my private adjuster deal with it than it would have been for me to worry about it for the two years they fought it out.)

    • Gizmosmonster says:

      Excellent point. Insurance companies are not your good neighbor, friend, pal or anything else. Make sure you have someone on your side to think of all the things you are still too stunned to deal with.

  18. aaron8301 says:

    I subscribe to most of these tips. However, I keep my computer backup on an external drive in my Suburban. Because if my house burns down, the first thing I’m doing is jumping in my Suburban and getting us and it away from the burning house!

    The only flaw to this is if someone breaks into the Suburban, steals the drive, and then steals the computer in my house. But Ruger and Mossburg have assured me that’s highly unlikely.

    • Geotpf says:

      Good thing it’s a Suburban and not a Ford Explorer. If it was a Ford, chances are the fire would have started in your vehicle in the first place.

    • TheSpatulaOfLove says:

      I think I would be concerned about that external HDD bouncing around in the back of a Suburban and being readable later, let alone any temp fluctuation…

      Perhaps SSD would be a better fit?

  19. James says:

    Did I miss “Keep a fire extinguisher on every floor?” We have on the kitchen (already used once for a grease fire,) upstairs and in the basement. A small home size one costs little, and can put out a fire (hopefully) more easily than throwing blankets on it trying to smother it – or making it worse.

    • jshier says:

      Yeah. Seems like #1 should be “Make sure your house isn’t a firetrap.” If your house burned down in 60s, you’re doing something wrong.

  20. HalOfBorg says:

    On the theft issue, there was a book I read where the family had $1000 hidden in the rear of a kitchen drawer that obviously didn’t pull out as far as it should.

    It was there for thief to find, so they get happy and leave. I always liked the idea, wonder if anyone used it, did it work?

    • Shmoodog says:

      I think that is not a smart idea. People are greedy by human nature, if you give them a taste of the milk, they’ll want the whole cow. If I was a thief and found $1,000 just sitting there, it would wet my appetite to search the rest of the house.

  21. flipflopju says:

    This list is pretty much what I’d suggest following a break-in too. When my house was broken into, I was able to provide a list with photos, prices and even a few scanned receipts for my semi-valuable jewelry. The detective in charge of my case had never seen someone so organized with it. My only regret was not having a complete list of electronic serial numbers. I had once made a list and save it…on a computer that was stolen.

    Also, if you have a workplace machine in your home, make sure you and/or the company have the serial on that. My husband’s company had just been purchased and were unable to provide the numbers for that machine. Having those numbers can also help in case of a fire for replacement value.

    • NatalieErin says:

      We’ve made a similar list, and then emailed it to my parents to print and store in their fire proof safe. Added bonus – it’s also backed up in my email account, my boyfriend’s email account, and both of my parents’ accounts.

  22. QuantumCat says:

    I use Dropbox to keep my important documents backed up. It syncs a specific folder on your computer with its cloud, so all you have to do is save documents into your dropbox folder. It’s free for 2GB–obviously many people would want to pay for a real backup service, but for someone like myself who mostly deals in documents and spreadsheets, it’s more than enough.

  23. hmburgers says:

    They list is in the article, but not in this list…

    SMOKE DETECTORS!

    This line FTFA:
    “Sadly, on Thursday January 6th, just before 6am I woke to the sound of two second story windows shattering followed by bright lights. I peeked into our guest bedroom and flames had just begun to enter, the smoke detectors went off seconds later.”

    So they had them, but clearly they were not placed well enough if she was able to hear windows shattering, make a move into that room, THEN heard them go off…

    Battery powered or hard-wired w/ battery back up… get the ones that are networked together… place them in every room except the kitchen and bathroom, place them in the hallways, top of stairs, etc…

    It’s always so sad to hear about someone who loses a house (or a life) due to lack of notice that a fire is occurring…

    And #7 should be #2… those ladders will save your life if a fire has consumed an area near the stairs… I’d highly recommend the type that are permanently built into the wall such as the Werner ESC220, they are about $100-175/ea depending on the length… they should be in EVERY room above the first floor where someone may be sleeping…

    Imagine if you could spend $500-1000 to save your home and possibly bring someone back who is dead or horribly burned… that’s what we’re talking about when it comes to cost of smoke detectors and escape ladders… probably less then your deductible anyway…

    • thompson says:

      Also, get PHOTOELECTRIC smoke detectors. Ideally you should have both PE and ionization detectors, but sadly most people only have ionization.

      Several municipalities are banning PE detectors (the most common) simply because they don’t provide enough warning. Look for the videos online, you can have a PE detector in a room full of thick black smoke and it won’t go off.

      • thompson says:

        Gah, I haven’t had my coffee yet. The last paragraph should read:

        Several municipalities are banning *ionization* detectors (the most common) simply because they don’t provide enough warning. Look for the videos online, you can have a *ionization* detector in a room full of thick black smoke and it won’t go off.

        • kelrod says:

          Photoelectric and ionization smoke detectors detect smoke in different ways – ionization detectors are best suited for areas with highly combustible, fast burning materials, while photoelectric detectors are best suited for slow burning materials that may smolder. Ideally a house should have both types, not just one or the other.

          /fire alarm technican

  24. quail says:

    As to the home insurance, see if you can get a rider to where the insurance will pay your rent while your house is being rebuilt. This is the one area where you’ll be hurt in the pocket book extra deep due to a catastrophe like a fire. Because think about it, can you afford your mortgage and rent?

  25. cybrczch says:

    A lot of these tips are also good for:
    * House hit by tornado
    * House hit by flooding
    * House hit by earthquake
    * House hit by meteorite
    * House hit by thieves
    * House hit by wildfires

  26. Shane says:

    Backups the Easy and Cheap Way

    - Scan all Documents, Photos, etc. (might as well include other data, like e-mail and music)
    – Burn at least 3 copies of everything onto DVDs (verify each disc, label with Sharpie)
    – Get at least 2 copies out of your house. (Parents? Brothers or Sisters? Safe deposit?)
    – have them stored in a dark, cool, dry place. (no sunlight, room temp, no damp basements)
    – every year or so, burn your new data since then and add it to each set.
    – every 10 years re-burn EVERYTHING. (use the latest technology, like USB thumbdrives or BlueRay)

    Costs you $20 in blank media and disaster would have to befall 3 separate locations at about the same time before you lost it.

  27. Etoiles says:

    We have a private, password-protected photo album online with photos of everything — wide shots of our rooms, close-ups of electronics and jewelry, open cabinets — the whole nine yards. I hope we never need them but at least this way, if I can get to the internet from any computer in the world, I can get to those photos.

    I used to keep full-color copies of our passports in a locked file drawer at the office but I tossed them last time we got new passports. I should do new ones.

  28. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    was just discussing this on a diabetic support forum too – how we all keep documentation of our medical supplies in case of disaster
    my linen closet is usually worth between $5-7k in insulin pump supplies, blood glucose testing and then there’s the cost of the insulin in my fridge – usually around $800.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/catastrophegirl/4159545564/
    and because it’s constantly changing i take pics of it every time i get a new shipment of supplies.

  29. AnthonyC says:

    Photographing your possessions is an excellent suggestion- I did that last summer when I had to move (in case I needed to make a claim for my moving insurance). I even photographed each page of my DVD binders.

    As for #8- yes, do this. Don’t just keep receipts- they fade fairly quickly. If it’s something expensive, scan the receipt.

    And #1 is a good idea, but there’s a cheaper solution (though it takes a bit more legwork to keep your backups current)- keep an external hard drive either at the office or at a friend’s home, and update it’s contents once a month or so.

    As for #9: this goes for renter’s insurance too! Get replacement value coverage, not just the current value of the items. And make sure to get riders for any high value items- computers, jewelry, electronics- assuming it’s something you’d want to replace. Really do take the time to go through what your stuff costs- you probably own more than you think! Clothes alone- pants, shorts, undies, socks, t-shirts, dress shirts, formal wear- add up quickly. Throw in pots, pans, dishes, appliances, tvs, computers, movies, video games, knick-knacks, furniture, mattresses… it adds up very quickly.

  30. Kestris says:

    Taking lots of photos and having a fire proof security box was one of the best things I did before our housefire 15 years ago.

    We still ended up having to get a lawyer to get our home owner’s insurance company to pay up despite having proof and records of what we did indeed have that they say we didn’t, but in the end, it was worth it.

    The house wasn’t a fixer-upper in our situation, but a brandnew stick build. It was exactly 11 months old, still under that 1 year builder’s warranty when an outlet that was improperly grounded in the wall arced and solder for several hours before burning through the drywall.

    Last we heard back then, was the ins. company sued the contractor/building company for shoddy workmanship after they settled our claim.

  31. Ragman says:

    If your safe was moved into your house by human beings, it can be stolen, irregardless of weight. Period. If you insist on putting it in your master bedroom, bolt it down. Better yet, put it in a different room. Burglars go straight to the master bedroom and bath for valuables.

    I keep two external backup drives with soft copies of my data, one in a fire safe at home, the other in the safe deposit box. Firesafes are only rated for a certain amount of time, and better rated ones get expensive quick. If a house fires takes out the one in the house, I’m only out a few months of data, which won’t be that hard to recover since it’s recent.

  32. Clyde Barrow says:

    The most important AND first step should be: Plan and practice an escape route in case of a fire. This goes especially for kids. You may be dead and cannot help, but your kids can escape with proper planning so they can help themselves to get out of danger.

    Contact your local fire dept or get online and do some reading on this. It’s always good to know what to do before you have to do it.

    Remember that smoke kills more people than the actual fire so make sure your smoke / fire detectors are working too.

  33. Ragman says:

    Make sure your safe is also water resistant – the fire dept will pump a lot of water onto a fire.

  34. Maxamus says:

    Except for item 9, you can’t spend just $50 per year for the most coverage.

    I pay $1300 a year, to increase coverage the next “tier” is $1900 and then $2500.

    And chances are, like 99% of the people out there, you will never use ANY home insurance in your life.

    • sipsake says:

      99% is way off.

      99% of people may not have there house burn down, but more than half will file a homeowners claim at some point in their life.

      Fire, lightening, hail, snow, high winds, theft, burst pipes, medical payments, liability coverage, falling trees, careless drivers, vandalism, gas leaks, riots, civil commotion, aircraft, missels, spacecraft, smoke, electricity, frozen plumbing, unauthorized use of a credit/debit card, forgery, identity theft, counterfeit money, removal of debris, temporary repairs, fire department charges, collapse, trees, shrubs and plants, payment of arson reward, damage caused by broken glass, terrorist acts and loss by fire as a result of nuclear action, are all covered by your standard homeowners policy.

  35. Tokarev_Makarov says:

    I think flooding is actually worse. These are great ideas about preparing about a possible fire. But with that in mind, the first thing I’d find out before purchasing a new home is what’s the flooding risk for that area, and can flood insurance be purchased.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      many places this is mandatory. your mortgage lender and your insurance company usually require it. before i bought my house both the insurer and the credit union went over the flood maps. of course, before i made an offer on it i did that myself.
      i was just talking to my credit union/mortgage lender about purchasing the vacant lot next to my house and adding it into my mortgage loan. since it’s adjacent, they are ok with it but since that piece of land sits 12 feet lower than mine and is a flood zone, i’d need to get flood insurance for both lots, and my house.
      if i come up with the money myself and don’t legally join the two lots, i don’t need the flood insurance because there’s no building on that lot.

  36. snoshy says:

    Can someone explain the #6 about putting phones in a consistent place each night? I’m not following this one.

  37. Mike M says:

    If you value the information on your computer, off-site backup (storing a backup away from your house) is critical. Only thing more critical is having a backup in the first place. If you have tons of data (e.g. tons of photos) and a slow internet connection, online backup (#1 in the article) might be a pain. I have been very happy with my solution: get two large external hard drives, either the portable self-powered kind (now up to 1TB is available), or internal 3.5-inch drives in combination with a hard drive “dock” aka “toaster”—these options avoid hauling around bulky drive enclosures and power adapters. Store one backup in your desk at work, have other attached to your computer running daily backups (on a Mac, Time Machine is a nice solution). Swap drives every 1-2 weeks, always by bringing the home drive to your work, so all three copies of your data (original, 2 backups) are never in the same place. Easy and secure.

  38. chaelyc says:

    An evernote account used properly would take care of #’s 3 & 8!

    This is definitely reminding me that I need to put a fireproof safe on my wishlist for my passport & backup harddrive.