Home Safety: 13 Tips To Prevent Common Household Hazards

Molly GraceMay 05, 2020

We don’t generally think of the place we live in as a component of our health, but it is. Every day, we breathe its air, interact with its materials and components, climb its stairs. If our homes aren’t up to code – literally and figuratively – it can pose a lot of serious risks to our health, in the short- and long term.

Most Common Household Safety Hazards

Anything with the potential to cause injury or illness can be considered a safety threat, but there are a few common hazards that every homeowner needs to recognize and be prepared for.

Fire

House fires can arise and spread rapidly, and they have the potential to cause massive structural damage to your home as well as cause significant injury and psychological distress to you and your family.

While fires can have a number of causes, from electrical wiring to cooking, most of these can be prevented with some simple safety precautions. When prevention isn't possible, being well prepared and having a solid fire safety plan in place is critical.

Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide (CO), sometimes called the “silent killer” because it is odorless and colorless, is a gas that comes from fuel-burning appliances in your home, such as furnaces, water heaters and stoves.

CO interferes with your body’s ability to transport oxygen through your bloodstream. Symptoms of exposure include headaches, fatigue, nausea and other flu-like symptoms. At high enough concentrations, CO exposure can be fatal, so taking preemptive measures like monitoring and setting up alarms is essential.

Injury

Accidental injury, like the kind encountered in the home, is the fourth most common cause of death, according to the CDC.

Common household injuries are falls, burns, cuts, poisonings, chokings and drownings. Falls typically take place in bathrooms and on stairways, while burns and cuts are most likely to occur in the kitchen when cooking on a stovetop or using knives. Poisoning, choking and drowning are especially important to watch out for in households that include children. Poisoning often results from consumption of substances like cleaning products or medicines.

Mold

Mold can grow in a variety of places within your home, but most often it will occur in damp areas and is often accompanied by other signs of water damage or a musty odor.

Mold can cause significant property damage, but exposure also comes with serious health risks, especially for young children or those with respiratory issues such as asthma.

If you can’t find any visual evidence of mold growth but you’re experiencing unexplained symptoms similar to those caused by mold, consider hiring a professional inspector and consulting a doctor. Symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Coughing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy eyes, nose or throat
  • Exacerbated asthma symptoms

Lead

Lead poisoning is mainly a concern for households with children under the age of 6, in whom lead exposure can affect IQ, development and bone and muscle growth. However, according to the CDC, high levels of lead exposure can have adverse effects in adults as well, such as high blood pressure, kidney damage and reduced fertility.

If your home was built before 1978 (when lead-based paint was first banned) or if your plumbing was installed before 1986, you need to have your home tested by a certified inspector to ensure you're taking the proper safety precautions.

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral fiber that has been used in building construction materials for its strength and resistance to heat. When these materials become damaged or worn, the microscopic asbestos fibers are released into the environment.

When a person inhales these fibers, they get trapped in the lungs, where they don’t break down. Continued exposure allows these fibers to accumulate and cause scarring. As a known carcinogen, asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Many homes built before 1980 have components that are made of asbestos-containing materials.  If you’re planning on doing any sort of renovation that involves disturbing the materials in your home in any way, have the area tested for asbestos before you begin.

Radon

Radon is a gas that occurs with the breakdown of naturally occurring radioactive elements, such as uranium, in rock and soil. When the uranium in the rock and soil your house is built on starts to break down, radon gas can seep into your house through any openings that exist, such as cracks in the foundation. While radon is present to some degree in all the air we breathe, long-term exposure at higher concentrations is a problem.

According to EPA estimates, one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has elevated radon levels. This is concerning because radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Because it’s an odorless, invisible gas with no immediate side effects, it can go undetected in your home for years.

VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are found in many common household products, including paints, varnishes, pesticides and cleaning supplies. They’re chemicals that are emitted from these products in the form of gases, and they can be harmful to your home's air quality and family’s health.

VOCs can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, and cause liver, kidney and central nervous system damage. Some VOCs are also suspected or known to cause cancer, according to the EPA.

Pests

Pests, including mice, rats, cockroaches and bedbugs, are more than just an unwanted nuisance. Various pests can:

  • Trigger allergies and asthma attacks
  • Contaminate food with bacteria
  • Spread disease and infection
  • Lead to anxiety and insomnia

With a pest infestation, your best bet is probably to leave it to the professionals. If you plan on using pesticides, take extreme care and only use the product as designated on the label. According to the EPA, not only can misuse of pesticides be illegal, but it can also very easily create a toxic environment in your home. When possible, use non-chemical methods to deal with your pest problem.

13 Home Safety Tips To Follow

You know what problems to be aware of in your home, but how do you prevent these issues from arising? Here are 13 strategies for keeping your home and family safe and sound.

Regularly Service Your Major Appliances

The best strategy to deal with CO or fire is to prevent it from ever becoming a problem. Make sure all your gas appliances and your fireplace are properly maintained. Have your furnace and water heater serviced by a qualified professional every year. Have your chimney checked out yearly, too.

Buy A Fire Extinguisher

A small fire can quickly become devastating if not dealt with quickly. While you should prioritize evacuation when necessary, some major disasters can be averted with the use of a fire extinguisher. Make sure you and everyone in your household knows where to find the extinguisher and how to use it. You'll also need to regularly check the meter on your extinguisher to make sure it is in proper working order.

Monitor Flame Sources

Don't leave a lit fireplace, candle or stove unattended, especially not for prolonged periods of time or if you plan to leave the house. Even if you plan to be present the entire time a flame is lit, make sure you're consciously monitoring the fire. This can be especially important while cooking on a stove. Be careful not to knock over boiling pots and pans and never leave a dish towel hanging near your lit stove.

Install And Maintain CO Detectors And Fire Alarms

Install CO detectors and fire alarms on all levels of your home, in places where they will wake your home’s inhabitants if they go off or in locations where fire is most likely to occur, such as the kitchen. Make sure the detectors you purchase are battery-powered or have a battery backup. Test the alarm at least twice a year, replacing batteries when needed. When you first buy your detectors, make note of how often they need to be replaced. Most detectors will need to be replaced every 5 – 7 years.

Be Careful With Wires And Cords

Wires and cords are a major source of both electrical fires and strangulation. Make sure unused appliances are not needlessly plugged in, and take extra care with where you hang and store electrical cables. If you're using string lights or Christmas lights in your home, make sure you know how to use them safely.

Secure Your Stairways

Make sure railings are securely installed on staircases and anywhere else falls are likely to occur, such as the bathroom. While it's important to keep the floor clean in every room of the house, it's especially crucial to keep stairways free of obstacles. Pay attention to any cleaning products you use on uncarpeted stairs to make sure they do not create slippery surfaces and ensure that carpeting around staircases is held flat and cannot bunch to create a tripping hazard.

Store Tools And Substances Properly

All kitchen utensils and appliances, yard tools and other sharp objects need to be kept out of reach of children and stored so that they cannot accidentally cause harm. For example, knives should be stowed so that their blades are not sticking out. Substances like medications, alcohol and cleaning products should similarly be stored in places that will be difficult for children to access.

Eliminate Sources Of Moisture

If you find mold in your home, you not only want to clean up the mold growth but also work to eliminate the sources of moisture as well. If you don’t do this, the mold will just keep growing back. Try some of the following tricks:

  • Get plumbing leaks fixed as soon as possible
  • Keep humidity levels low with the help of an air conditioner or dehumidifier
  • Run the fan in your bathroom or open a window after you shower.
  • Clean and dry affected areas after flooding
  • Watch out for spots where rainwater may be seeping inside

Keep Lead Paint Flakes Out Of The Air

If you find sources of lead in your home, take action to limit exposure. The worry with lead-based paint comes when it starts to deteriorate and flake. If you have lead in your home, take the following precautions:

  • Use a wet cleaning method rather than dry to prevent particles from getting into the air
  • Use disposable cleaning products
  • Regularly wash your child's hands
  • Clean toys regularly
  • Take extra care before renovating
  • Wet surfaces before sanding
  • Consider having a professional remove or encapsulate lead paint from your home
  • Test children for lead poisoning
  • Test your water
  • Use a water filter
  • Flush pipes before using water
  • Only use cold water

Consult A Professional Before Dealing With Asbestos

Do you think you're dealing with asbestos in your home? You can visually inspect, but don’t touch it. Never try to deal with asbestos on your own.

If the asbestos-containing material is …

  • Not damaged/in good condition: Leave it alone.
  • Damaged/worn: Contact an accredited asbestos professional.

According to the EPA, asbestos-containing materials generally won’t release fibers if they’re in good condition and are left undisturbed. Your asbestos professional may find that complete removal of the asbestos-containing material isn’t necessary. Instead, they may seal or enclose the material.

Regularly Test For Radon

There are two types of radon tests, available as do-it-yourself kits or from a professional tester:

  • Short-term tests give you quick results, usually after a testing period of two to 90 days
  • Long-term tests give you a reading that is more accurate to your home's average radon levels year-round, usually taking over 90 days

The EPA recommends the following testing procedure:

  • Start with a short-term test
  • If you show a level higher than 8 pCi/L, immediately perform another short-term test
  • If your levels are closer to 4 pCi/L, use a long-term test

If you find that your home has elevated radon levels, contact your state’s radon office to obtain a list of qualified contractors who can install a radon reduction system for your home.

Ventilate Properly When Cleaning

Limit your exposure to VOCs by keeping the area properly ventilated when using these products. Keep doors and windows open to ensure that fresh air can flow through the room. When storing them, make sure their containers are properly sealed and kept away from children and pets. Always follow the instructions on the label to avoid misuse.

Remember that even if paint or another product doesn’t contain VOCs, you should still take precautions and never paint in an enclosed area without ventilation.

Keep Food Contained

If you have a pest problem or are trying to prevent one, make sure there’s no food lying around for them to feed on. Here are a few tricks you can try:

  • Sweep up crumbs
  • Clean up spilled food
  • Take the garbage out regularly
  • Try to limit eating to the kitchen or dining room
  • Take particular care when cleaning areas where food is consumed or prepared
  • Store food in sealed containers
  • Don't leave dirty dishes stacked by the sink

If you take regular care of your countertops and pantry, you'll not only lessen the chance of mice, but you'll also be able to spot the signs of them as soon as they appear.

The Bottom Line: Your Home Should Be Your Sanctuary

While it might seem like there's a world of potential hazards in your home, the reality is that a few simple safety precautions can remove many of those sources of harm and keep your household happy, healthy and safe.

The most important thing to do is be prepared and stay on top of regular maintenance responsibilities. For more tips on keeping your home safe, visit our Homeowner Resource Guide.

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    Molly Grace

    Molly Grace is a staff writer focusing on mortgages, personal finance and homeownership. She has a B.A. in journalism from Indiana University. You can follow her on Twitter @themollygrace.