3 tips to make sure your rental home is safe from carbon monoxide and fire

The death of a family of fourfrom Iowa at a property in Mexico has illustrated the potentially lethal hazards when renting a home or condominium for vacation.

Authorities say Kevin and Amy Sharp and their two children were found dead on March 23 after they inhaled a toxic gas in their vacation rental in Tulum.

Websites like Vacation Rentals By Owner (VRBO), which rented the condo to the Sharp family, indicate that the company is not responsible for the condition of the property.

So how do you know if a vacation rental property is safe for your family?

TODAY national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen spoke with an expert who provided three things you should do the moment you first arrive at your vacation rental in order to protect your family.

Experts believe the toxic gas that killed the Sharp family was most likely carbon monoxide, which is tasteless, odorless and invisible.

Dave Hamilton with the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy in New Jersey noted to Rossen how it’s not possible to tell that a hot water heater is leaking gas even by standing right next to it. So there is a crucial item to bring on vacation – a carbon monoxide detector.

Hamilton suggests mounting a battery-operated or plug-in carbon monoxide detector, which can be purchased for under $30, right outside the room that contains the furnace and water heater. Those are usually the common generation points for carbon monoxide.

In many popular vacation destinations in foreign countries, carbon monoxide detectors are not necessarily required by law.

“One of the best things you can do is take one, and put it in your suitcase,” Hamilton told Rossen. “Travel with it. They’re going to protect you.”

Another potential danger in vacation rentals is fire, as you would have no idea if the home you rented is up to code.

Hamilton suggests immediately learning where the fire extinguisher in the rental is located and double-checking so that you know how to get to it quickly in case of an emergency.

Hamilton’s third tip is making sure you know where all the exits to the home are located so that you have a fire escape plan.

“Not just the front door, you need to know where the secondary exits are,” he said. “For example, there’s a doorway hidden behind this curtain and there’s also another doorway half way down the stairs that you would not be able to find in thick black smoke.”

Three simple steps – bringing carbon monoxide detector, locating the fire extinguisher and knowing all the exits – can make sure your family can fully relax on vacation.