As small business owners, it is our obligation to keep our guests safe. Yet, somehow, safety seems to be one of the least-discussed aspects of vacation rental management! Instead, our focus tends to go toward the fun “bells and whistles” like decor, linens and the latest smart home tech.
I was guilty of this myself when I started out 10+ years ago. But as an advocate for vacation rental best practices, I knew I had to set out to learn everything I could about guest safety.
Thankfully, we now have industry safety experts like Justin Ford of Breezeway, who make the job of learning about guest safety a whole lot easier.
Below, Justin breaks down the most important items to include at your vacation rental to keep guests safe. It’s the kind of information I wish I had a decade ago! So take heed and implement his wise words at your vacation rental.
As you read, keep in mind that vacation rental safety is more like a philosophy and state of mind than a list of items to purchase. Remember when I discussed anticipating guests’ every need before they even know they have them? Well, this applies to safety, too. It’s a consideration of all the small things that can go wrong, from gas grills positioned too close to the house to bunk-beds without proper ways to access them.
Thanks to Justin for taking the time to bring the knowledge to our industry! Justin started his career with the US Coast Guard, then became a firefighter, then a vacation rental property manager, and now the world’s foremost expert on vacation rental safety—the ideal blend of his many skills!
Now, onto the safety items…
1. Fire Extinguisher
Home fires are often unpredictable—and they can be deadly. Although you never anticipate this type of emergency, they can and do happen. Yep, even at vacation rentals!
Having a fire extinguisher in your home may not prevent a total loss of your structure, but it is a must-have and can save your guests’ lives. These are non-negotiable.
On top of it being the right call for guest safety, having a fire extinguisher is required by the international building code for anyone running a business, and is likely required by your insurance provider, too.
Justin says, “The biggest mistake many people make is that they don’t take the fire extinguisher out of the box, and they place it under the sink.”
Don’t do this!
Most fires take place in the kitchen—the stove to be exact—so it’s smart to install the extinguisher in the kitchen but away from the stove, so that accessing the extinguisher is safe if the stove goes up in flames.
- Approximate Cost? $20 – $100
- Where should a fire extinguisher be installed? You want to keep the fire extinguisher easily accessible and visible. But also consider that you want to keep it out of the hands of small children. So be sure to mount them 3.5 to 5 feet above the floor.
- How many fire extinguishers should I have? One multipurpose fire extinguisher on each level of your home, one in your garage, and a smaller (but at least 5 lbs.), supplemental unit in the kitchen within 30 feet of cooking appliances
- How often should the extinguisher be replaced? The manufacturers notes will specify this information along with servicing, but the general rule of thumb is every 6 years.
2. Smoke Alarms
Like fire extinguishers, smoke alarms are a life-saving device, and therefore are non-negotiable in your rental. (If you need another reason, they’re also required by the international building code in all 50 states and Canada.)
You should hardwire your detectors if you can. But if that is not an option, battery-only is acceptable.
Make sure to properly test and maintain your smoke alarms—and do so often. Note that pushing the ‘test’ button simply tests the alarm sound and power supply. To actually test the alarm itself, use a proper smoke alarm tester like this one, which is canned smoke sprayed at the alarm and costs less than $20. Justin recommends you test your alarm every 6 months.
At Breezeway, Justin says, they always recommend buying separate smoke and CO detectors, rather than combination options (more on that below). Interconnected alarms are the best or use a Minut device to monitor.
- Approximate Cost? $30 – $70
- Where should I install my smoke alarm? On every level of the rental property, inside each bedroom, and in the hallway outside each bedroom.
- How often should I test my smoke alarm? Every 6 months with a smoke alarm tester (as mentioned above) and after each turnover with the test button to ensure it is still powered.
- How often should I change the batteries? Every 6 months.
- How often should I replace my smoke alarm? The manufacturers notes will specify this information along with servicing, but the general rule of thumb is every 10 years.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – First Alert, Kidde (Hardwire only detector) & First Alert, (battery only detector)
3. Carbon Monoxide Monitor
Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that can go undetected by human senses, so having carbon monoxide monitoring at your rental is extremely important. (Many are familiar with the heartbreaking stories of CO poisoning deaths at vacation rentals without proper monitoring.) In addition, having a CO monitor is most likely required by law in your locality. But even if it isn’t, you should have them!
It’s important to be able to register how much CO is evident in the air if an incident occurs, which you can get with digital readout detectors. This will help medical professionals in the treatment of any carbon monoxide poisoning, should the worst occur.
- Approximate Cost? $40 – $90
- Where should I install my carbon monoxide detector? In each bedroom and near any carbon-fuel burning appliances. They should be installed 4-5 feet off the floor.
- How often should I test my carbon monoxide detector? Hit the test button after each turnover.
- How often should I change the batteries? Every 6 months.
- How often should I replace my carbon monoxide detector? The manufacturers notes will specify this information along with servicing, but the general rule of thumb is every 7 years.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – First Alert
4. Explosive Gas Detectors
We highly recommend installing an explosive gas detector for propane or natural gas near any appliance that uses either. One in the kitchen near the gas range, one in the utility room near the gas furnace, and one in the laundry room near the gas dryer.
- Approximate Cost – $50 – $75
- Where should I install the explosive gas detector? Near any appliance that uses propane or natural gas on the interior of the home.
- How often should I test my explosive gas detector? Hit the test button after each turnover.
- How often should I replace the batteries in my explosive gas detector? Every 6 months.
- How often should I replace the explosive gas detector? The manufacturers notes will specify this information along with servicing, but the general rule of thumb is every 7 years.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – Kidde
5. Safety Ladder
If any bedroom window is less than 20 feet above the ground, you will need to supply a safety ladder.
- Approximate cost? $50 – $75
- Where should I install the safety ladder? in the closet or under a bed, and notify the guest where they ar located.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – Kidde
6. Bristle-Free Grill Brushes
Brace yourselves: some unfortunate folks have actually gotten grill brush bristles caught in their throats. This makes these a hazardous item to stock at vacation rentals! Grills are likely cleaned more frequently at vacation rentals, too, upping the potential hazard. Protect your guests and yourselves by springing for grill stones or bristle-free brushes like these ones.
- Approximate Cost? $12 – $50
- How often should I replace the grill brushes? Annually or sooner upon inspection.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – GrillArt, EarthStone
Flashlights are essential for unplanned power outages or other emergencies. Sure, most people have flashlights on their phones—but what if they’ve run down their phone battery, not anticipating a blackout? Plus, phone flashlights are not particularly powerful (or waterproof).
Install flashlights in each vacation rental bedroom. Justin recommends the Lumen Stormproof Power Failure Nightlight & Flashlight.
Use a label maker or permanent marker to label the flashlight with your property name so that guests don’t walk off with them accidentally!
- Approximate Cost? $25 – $50
- Where should I install the flashlights? One in each bedroom.
- How often should I replace the batteries in my flashlights? Every 6 months.
- How often should I replace my flashlights? The manufacturers notes will specify this information along with servicing, but the general rule of thumb is every 2 years.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – Lumen
8. First-Aid Kit
For less than the cost of soaps you leave for free in your vacation rentals, you can make customized First-Aid kits with your logo and safety items that a renter may need, including bandages, ointments, disinfecting wipes, and other items depending on time of year and where your rental is located (bugspray, sunscreen, etc.). These will likely cost less than $10 apiece and should get you through one or two high seasons.
- Approximate Cost? $5 – $20 each.
- Where should I leave the first aid kit? In your welcome basket.
- How often should I replace the first aid kit? For each set of guests.
JUSTIN RECOMMENDS – Equate
9. Emergency Kit
Be sure to also think about the “what if’s” that go beyond what a First-Aid kit provides. It’s time to think about an emergency kit! Especially if you are located in an area that endures hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, wildfires, winter storms and other treats from Mother Nature.
A good emergency kit should include enough supplies to get your guests through a few days without electricity and sheltering in place.
You don’t have to buy pre-packaged kits, which tend to be more expensive and include items you don’t need (and leave out items you do!). Check out this handy website from the US government with recommendations on what to include in your emergency kit.
Approximate Cost: $100 – $150
A typical kit will include:
- Emergency radio
- Emergency USB charger
- Canned food for 3 days
- Water for 3 days (one gallon per person per day)
- Emergency whistle
- Local maps
10. Emergency Safety Card
An emergency safety card is critical to display prominently in every rental (like on the refrigerator), and NOT just in your guidebook. Your emergency safety card should include:
- 911 and/or your local equivalent for emergency services
- Your contact information and explicit instructions for emergencies
- Information for a local contact (if you are a remote host)
- The address and phone number of your local hospital and urgent care clinic
- Power company (just in case)
- Gas and water shut off valve location
- Electrical panel location
- Local vet if you are dog friendly
11. Safety Inspection
As we mentioned in the intro, simply buying safety items for your rental is not sufficient to ensure a safe experience for guests. Most of the time we don’t even realize that our homes may be potentially harboring a dangerous environment! Things to look out for include:
- Missing handrails on stairs
- Placing your grill too close to the house
- No safety gates around the pool (treacherous for families with toddlers)
- Bunk beds without safety rails 5 inches above the top bunk mattress
- Locating bunk beds near fans
- Area rugs that create tripping hazards
- Slippery tubs and showers
- And the list goes on….
Even the above is only a fraction of the potential liabilities at your rental. For this reason, I highly recommend that each and every host asks a third party to inspect your home for any potential safety concerns. This allows you to:
- Provide a safe environment for your guests (and sleep sound at night yourself!)
- Prove you took a proactive role in making your accommodation safe by having a third party inspection.
Luckily, the Breezeway safety app does just this. Through their smartphone app, you can access a 48 point checklist and add photos of your property to ensure you pass inspection. It’s a simple process and takes around an hour to complete. I guarantee you are likely missing something on this list!
Want to certify all the hard work you put into making your rental safe now that you have completed this checklist? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them “Alanna sent me to get my rental safety certified”.
My tip: don’t don’t get too overwhelmed. After you have stocked the list of important safety features mentioned above, you can address the reset of the items one at a time, until you know that your rental is as safe as it can possibly be.
12. Bonus Tip: Check the Consumer Product Safety Commission Recall List
The Consumer Product Safety Commission—a federal regulatory agency—provides a searchable online database of consumer products that have been recalled for safety issues. Be sure to check the recall status of all of the safety products mentioned in the list above, as well as toys, cribs, and other household items that may pose a risk to your guests.