Fire Prevention: Top Ten Tips for Historic Houses

Reid Thomas at Chicamacomico

During C2C’s recent Fire Disaster Recovery Workshop, Reid Thomas, NC DCR’s Historic Restoration Specialist, shared some of his wisdom in a presentation on simple and inexpensive steps historic house museums can take for fire prevention. Here are ten of his tips:

Palmer-Marsh House after a 1989 fire.

1. Make sure fire alarms and smoke detectors exist and are functional.

2. Keep fire extinguishers in accessible locations and make sure they have not expired.

3. Inspect electrical wiring and systems regularly. Squirrels and other rodents can chew through cords and wires quickly. 

squirrel damage

4. Replace old breaker systems and post mapped out functions for each switch.

5. Install a master switch to shut off power to all outlets except climate control and security systems and emergency lights. This measure is especially useful in historic houses that may rely on multiple lamps in various spaces. Thomas worked with one site to install this switch and it cost about $600–well worth the added convenience for staff and the added measure of fire prevention.

exhaust unit with cover removed

6. Change air filters regularly. Not only do dusty filters reduce the climate control system’s efficiency and raise costs, but build-up also risks ignition and is a fire hazard. The cause of the 1989 fire in the Palmer-Marsh House was determined to be an overheating of the climate control system. Restricted air flow from dirty filters can lead to system overheating.

7. Similarly, clean exhaust fans in bathrooms and elswhere annually to limit dust accumulations.

8. Store flammable materials, such as paint, ethanol, and other cleaning chemicals, in a metal cabinet specially designated for that purpose.

9. Work with local fire officials to install a knox box to store keys, floor plans, and any other important information to share with responders in the event of a disaster. 

10. Two floor plans are especially useful: one showing all access points (doors and windows) and noting which are original and which are reproductions. If firefighters have to break in, the floor plan will help them prioritize access points. The other floor plan should indicate locations for the institution’s priority artifacts. If there is time to save anything, firefighters will know which objects are the most important and where to retrieve them.


About collectionsconversations

This blog will contain posts from the C2C project staff on a variety of topics related to collections care and disaster preparedness. Enjoy the posts and let us know if you would like additional information or have a topic you would like for us to address.

Posted on February 24, 2012, in Connecting to Collections, disaster preparedness, guest bloggers, historic houses, historic sites, workshops and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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