June 23, 2010

Home Safety: More than meets the eye.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 8:24 am

Whether you rent, lease, or own your home – and whether you live in a condo or a single-family home – safety is a paramount concern. Accidents happen, and they can be both personally and financially devastating. But many of them can be easily prevented by taking some basic simple steps to ensure that your home is a safe environment for you, your loved ones, and your pets.

It all starts with taking a complete inventory of any potential hazards, because by eliminating those you can quickly and easily enhance the safety and security of your property – without really spending a dime. Once you have evaluated any potential risks you can minimize them while intelligently organizing your home to make it permanently safer. That will help you sleep better at night, knowing that you’ve rooted out those problems before they happen by taking the right proactive steps.

The obvious culprits are such things as flammable substances stored indoors or in the garage where they could erupt into a fire. These include such household items as old cans of paint thinner, containers of kerosene or lawn mower fuel, and BBQ grill lighter fluid. Leftover paint stored away in buckets and cans, bottles of unused cleaning products, and stacks of old newspapers not only take up useful space but they also pose an easy-to-remedy household hazard. Check all around the house for these items and unless you’ve used them within the past 2-3 months, consider getting rid of them. The cost to replace that old bottle of lighter fluid is miniscule when compared to the cost of an accident, and freeing up extra room for storage can be a huge bonus in any home.

Keep in mind that many household items – from old batteries to cans of varnish or solvent – need to be disposed of properly to help protect the environment and to also prevent them from injuring someone who might be involved in hauling away your trash to a landfill. If you’re not sure how or where to safely dispose of something, contact your town’s municipal waste management department and they’ll be more than happy to help you.

But there are other threats to safety that can be either concealed or totally invisible to the untrained eye. These run the gamut from structural problems like rotted beams or loose brickwork to more subtle agents like toxic mold, radon gas, or carbon monoxide. Your home may have outdated electrical components, faulty wiring, inadequate circuit breakers, or a faulty chimney, stove, or furnace. While these problems sometimes show external symptoms such as scorch marks on the face plates of electrical outlets or a dimming of kitchen lights every time the refrigerator cooling systems comes on, others are virtually invisible and silent.

Each year, for example, many people are killed or hospitalized because of overexposure to carbon monoxide in the home – which is both silent and odorless. Or there may be rodents living in an out-of-the-way place like the corner of an attic or a tiny hole in the wall of the garage, and if they gnaw on electrical wiring that could cause a fire. If the wrong kinds of outlets are installed in the kitchen or bathroom they could lead to accidental electrocution, and if a gas appliance needs repair or the wiring to the hot tub is incorrect those could also have tragic consequences.

Even something as simple and benign as a bathroom vent fan can become potentially hazardous, because if the fan is not properly ventilated it will blow moisture up into the walls, ceiling, attic, or whatever other area of the house it is connected to through the fan’s ductwork system. That creates a breeding ground for mold, and many forms of household mold will make you sick – while some types of mold are potentially lethal. You won’t see the mold, and you probably won’t see that the fan isn’t working as it should, either, unless you trace the venting system all the way to the outdoors.

When in doubt, don’t risk your health and that of your family. We know that we need to keep regular appointments so that the dentist can look for potential cavities hidden under the surface and catch them in time. Otherwise we won’t notice them until they turn into a toothache that could mean a painful and expensive root canal infection. Similarly, for about the same price as getting our teeth cleaned and checked twice a year we can take advantage of the expertise and experience of a professional.

Licensed contractors, environmental inspectors, general home inspectors, or other specialists may be available to check your home or offer expert recommendations. Members of your local fire department can also be consulted, and they can help point out safety issues and do checks of items like smoke detectors to make sure they are properly working and ideally located within the areas of your home.

Staying aware of what’s going in within your domicile gives you a head’s up on any lurking problems. That helps to eliminate unnecessary fear and anxiety and enhance your safety and well-being – and it could even lower your home insurance costs over time by minimizing hazards and claims.

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