When it comes to safety, especially safety in the home, I fear too many people are content with only a certain level of safety. Their reasons range from being indifferent (simply not caring; after all, a broken arm is part of growing up), to being uninformed (or unaware).
Regardless of your reason or reasons for being satisfied with your level of safety, it is my goal in this article and in this Website to help you see how a little effort on your part can go a long way in helping provide increased safety for you and your family. You can have a safer home now.
10 Areas Needing Your Attention
Perhaps you think your home is already safe. You have smoke alarms, your water heater is set at 120 degrees, you have locks on your cabinet doors, you have a burglar alarm – oh, and you have a gun. How much safer can your home be, right?
Listed here are ten areas that I recommend you assess to help improve the level of safety in your home. If you’ve already done some, great! Move on to the next one. If you’ve already done all of them, excellent! Please keep reading. You may have overlooked or forgotten something.
1. Smoke alarms help save lives
As a general rule, the safety recommendations for smoke alarms also apply to carbon monoxide alarms.
- Get smoke alarms if you don’t already have them.
- If you do not have a smoke alarm in every sleeping area, outside every sleeping area, and on every level, you don’t have enough smoke alarms installed in your home. Buy and install as many as you need to accomplish this.
- Stand alone smoke alarms are fine, but it would be much safer if they were interconnected, meaning that when one sounds they all sound. If you sleep with the bedroom door or doors closed as is recommended by safety experts, your chances of hearing an alarm outside the room in which you are sleeping is diminished. It will be worth your money to hire a licensed plumbing.
- If the alarms do not have a label indicating they’ve been tested and approved by an independent laboratory, replace them with new ones that have been approved and are labeled as such.
- Change the batteries in your smoke alarms at least yearly, begin doing so now (don’t wait for them to “chirp”).
- Replace old smoke alarms with new ones that are approved, as noted above.
- Smoke alarms should be mounted on a ceiling or within 12 inches from the ceiling. Re-mount them if necessary.
- Replace smoke alarms that are painted over.
- Test your smoke alarms every month.
- If you’re receiving what is known as “nuisance” alarms, you might have the alarm too close to the kitchen. Rather than removing the battery to avoid these annoying alarms, move the alarm. Never remove batteries and never disconnect an alarm.
2. Don’t forget the “rocket”, I mean water heater
Yes, a water heater that is not properly maintained can explode and shoot through the ceiling and roof like a rocket.
Gas and Electric water heaters
- The temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve is a safety device on a water heater designed to protect against pressure build-up inside the tank. If you haven’t checked it lately, you probably have never checked it. Check it two to four times a year, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If water does not flow freely when you open the valve, have it replaced immediately. If water is dripping or trickling from the drain pipe before or after opening the valve, have it replaced by a licensed plumbing contractor immediately.
- The TPR valve should have a drain pipe attached that would allow water to flow freely downhill. If there is no pipe, or if the pipe has any upward or uphill slope, have it corrected by a qualified plumbing contractor. Know where the drain pipe terminates. It should go to the exterior in a conspicuous place. Be in the habit of visually checking for dripping or trickling water every time you pass by.
- If you had a recent home inspection, don’t take it for granted that the home inspector tested the TPR valve.
- The thermostat should be set at 120-125 degrees Fahrenheit. A higher setting can result in scalding or burns
- Check for gas leaks around the supply pipe connections using your sense of smell. If you smell gas, call a licensed plumbing contractor for correction. Call the gas company or 9-1-1 if the odor is more than a mild odor or if you’re in doubt, and get out of the house.
- If there is no gas shut-off valve near the water heater or if the shut-off valve is hard to reach or cannot be completely turned off due to an obstruction, have it corrected.
- Make sure the exhaust flue is properly connected in its entire length. You might need to look in the attic. An improper connection can result in dangerous gases being emitted into your home. Gases going into the attic can end up in the living area of your home.
- Make sure the exhaust flue is not in contact or near-contact (closer than one inch) with combustible materials such as wood framing or drywall (drywall has paper on it). Be sure to check in the attic as well to make sure nothing, such as personal items, is in contact with the flue.
- Make sure heating element safety covers are in place and properly secured to the unit.
- Make sure the cover plate is in place and properly secured over the electrical connections, usually found on top of the unit.
3. Cabinets and junk drawers – toy boxes for your children
- If you do not have safety locks on cabinet doors and drawers, install them to help keep toddlers and young children from accessing chemicals, poisons and dangerous items.
- Do not operate the locks when toddlers are watching. They will quickly learn from you how they work.
- Periodically check locks. Promptly adjust or replace faulty or broken ones.
- Be sure to keep dangerous items in secured cabinets. At the time of this writing, the number one cause of death is unintentional poisoning. Experts recommend NOT storing any type of chemical under the kitchen sink.
4. Garage door opener remotes – a criminal’s key to your home
- Do not leave a garage door opener remote in any vehicle that is not secured in your garage. A criminal can break into your car and open your garage door. Perhaps all he would do is steal things from your garage. Or, worse, perhaps he would close himself inside your garage, then easily enter your home through the door. The door probably doesn’t have a good deadbolt on it, and it probably doesn’t have added security hardware to help deter entry.
- Note: I realize if a criminal wants to get into your home he will do it, but don’t make it easy for him.
- Measure the safety sensors for your garage door opener. They’re usually mounted on the overhead door rails. Some safety standards recommend the safety sensor be no more than 12 inches from the ground, but the Texas Real Estate Commission’s Standards of Practice require inspectors to note as a deficiency sensors that are more than six inches from the ground. Personally, I prefer the 6-inch rule.
5. Door locks – pick good ones cuz burglars “pick” bad ones
There are many types of locks you can install on the exterior doors of your home. The most common is probably the deadbolt.
- The deadbolt should be at least one inch long.
- The deadbolt should extend fully into the door jamb. To check, engage the deadbolt and listen carefully. You should be able to hear a light “click” indicating the deadbolt extended fully. If the hole is too shallow, you should be able to hear the deadbolt striking the wood (“thunk”). If the deadbolt does not extend fully, use a spade drill bit to bore the hole in the door jamb deep enough to allow the deadbolt to extend fully.
- Help strengthen exterior doors by installing additional hardware around the door locks and strike plates. Use 3-inch screws to secure strike plates. Be sure to follow instructions that come with the hardware, otherwise you might strip out the door and the screws won’t hold properly.
- For added security, consider installing a security type storm door, a monitored burglar alarm system, and a video doorbell camera. I’ve had the storm door and alarm system for quite some time, and I recently installed a video doorbell camera. I’ll soon be installing at least one more security camera.
6. Fire extinguisher – be careful, you’re not a firefighter
If you find yourself using a fire extinguisher in your home, you could end up trapped with no way out. Please be careful. Hopefully you’ll never need to use it.
- Learn when to use a fire extinguisher and learn when to get out! Always pay attention to your surroundings. A fire can quickly surround you.
- Learn how to use a fire extinguisher properly.
- When in doubt, GET OUT!
- Quick thinking and good judgment are essential.
- This is important, so I’m going to repeat it: Please note that a fire extinguisher has limitations. If you have a fire in your home, know when to use a fire extinguisher and know when to GET OUT!
- Do not teach children how to use a fire extinguisher. No, no, no! Teach them to follow the emergency escape plan and get out of the house quickly.
7. Clothes dryer – a big metal candle waiting to be lit
In 2010-2014, fire departments in the U.S. responded to nearly 16,000 home structure fires each year involving clothes dryers or washing machines. Most of these fires involved clothes dryers, and the majority of these fires were the result of lint ignition. The average number of yearly civilian deaths was 13. The average number of civilian injuries was 444. (National Fire Protection Association)
During my five-plus years as a home inspector, I regularly observed dirty dryer ducts and/or dryer duct covers. Maintaining a clean dryer duct system should be high on your list of things to do yearly.
- Clean your dryer, clean around your dryer, and clean the dryer exhaust system at least once a year.
- Your dryer duct cover should have a back-draft damper and NO screen. A screen will trap the lint.
- DIY cleaning kits are available for about $30.
- A professional might charge $125 or higher, but it would be well worth the cost if you’re not a DIYer. Make sure you know what is included in his fee before you hire him.
8. Fireplace – an even bigger candle waiting to be lit
- Hire a qualified chimney sweep to inspect your wood burning fireplace and/or wood burning stove every year (before cold weather arrives).
- If you’re buying a home, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends having a Level II inspection (I recommend having this inspection prior to the end of your option period).
- During my home inspection training, I was instructed by a licensed chimney sweep that creosote sweeping logs should never be used in a fireplace. Over time, such use will begin closing off the diameter of the exhaust flue, creating a fire hazard.
9. A stairway is not a playground
Interior and exterior stairways are a common source of falls resulting in injuries and deaths. There are building codes that apply to stairways, but they are not always adhered to. Of course, problems cannot always be blamed on the stairways – humans contribute to falls as well.
- Keep steps clear of clutter
- Use the handrail while ascending or descending the stairs.
- Ensure the hand rail is properly secured.
- Use extreme care when carrying items up and down the stairs.
- Maintain the steps. Make needed repairs promptly.
- Keep the stairway well lighted. There should be one light switch at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom of the stairs.
10. Pools, spas, bathtubs and toilets – toilets?
Drowning is the Number 5 cause of unintentional-injury-related deaths in all age ranges. Drowning is the Number 1 cause of death for children ages 1 to 4, usually because children fall into pools or are left alone in bathtubs. (National Safety Council)
Please, please, please do not take any shortcuts on safety when it comes to having children near water. There are many safety factors to have in place for swimming pools and spas, and the risk is far too great to be negligent in any of them.
- Swimming pools and spas
- Inspect all safety barriers and make corrections as needed.
- If necessary, learn what safety barriers should be in place, then install any that are lacking.
- Hire a qualified electrical contractor who is knowledgeable about codes around swimming pools. Have him make any necessary corrections.
- If lacking, install an audible alarm on any door that leads to the pool area.
- Educate yourself about the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s guidelines – Safety Barrier Guidelines for Residential Pools
- Never leave a child alone in the bathtub – or in the bathroom if there’s water in the tub.
- Note: a child should never be left alone in a bathroom at any time – too many things for him to get into.
- On a separate safety matter, to help prevent scalds and burns on children, test the bath water temperature before placing a child into the water.
- Always leave the toilet seat lid down to help prevent the possibility of a small child from falling into it and drowning.
A Way of Life
Keeping your home safe should be a way of life. While you may not be able to completely “childproof” your home, you can have peace of mind knowing you’re making it as safe as possible. As you encounter new situations, handle them right away.
And don’t let anyone tell you you’re being “too careful”.
As your desire to create and maintain a safe environment in your home increases, you will begin noticing unsafe conditions wherever you go. Be alert!
As always, please post any questions or comments below. I will answer them as soon as possible. If you have an experience you would like to share that would be helpful to others, please do so but refrain from using specific names of people or companies unless it’s in a positive light.