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10 sneaky home hazards you may not know about -- and what to do about them to keep your family safe.
You've changed the batteries in your smoke alarms and locked up the cleaning supplies, but don't sit down yet. Throughout your home there may be other not-so-obvious dangers lurking. Whether they're environmental or just some bad habits you don't even know you have, we can help. Check out our list of 12 hidden hazards and easy and affordable solutions to fix them.
If you're one of those people who is always doing 10 things at once, and that includes in the kitchen, you could be an accident waiting to happen. That's because cooking mishaps are the number-one cause of fires, says Meri-K Appy, president of The Home Safety Council in Washington, D.C. "Most cooking fires happen when the cook leaves the stove unattended or becomes distracted," she says.
What happens if a pan on your stove does catch on fire? The best way to keep a stovetop fire from spreading is to slap on the pan lid. Baking soda is another good way to extinguish the flames (both a lid and baking soda deprive a fire of oxygen). So, new rule of thumb: Along with your handy oven mitts, keep a pan lid or cookie sheet (which serves the same purpose) and a box of baking soda close at hand while cooking. And pay attention.
If the fire has spread beyond the pan, the best thing to do is get everyone out safely and call 911. "The Home Safety Council does not recommend using a fire extinguisher in the event of a pan fire," says Appy. "Unless you are experienced in using one, the force of the spray may cause the pan to move or flip and cause the fire to spread."
When you think of a fireplace, does it conjure up warm and cozy nights with your loved ones? That's great, but if your fireplace isn't well maintained, it could be putting you at risk. In fact, Rebecca Morley, executive director of The National Center for Healthy Housing in Columbia, Maryland, says fireplaces are one of the biggest dangers in a home. "There are approximately 200 deaths per year known to be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning." Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that is invisible and odorless and created when burning fuel. It can be found in chimneys but it is also created when using gas-powered appliances indoors. At low levels, CO poisoning can cause reactions similar to flu or allergy symptoms.
How can you protect yourself? Morley suggests putting a CO detector on each level of your home (average cost is only about $40) and have your chimney and any gas-burning appliances like heating units and water heaters inspected annually.
Who knew your bathroom could be so dangerous? But when you think about the potential for slips or falls, drowning, electrocution, and little people getting their hands on chemicals or medicines they shouldn't, it makes sense. Some easy fixes: The Home Safety Council suggests keeping all appliances unplugged and put away when not in use. Install toilet locks to prevent drowning accidents for little ones. Install a shower bar and use a slip-proof bath mat.
Meri-K Appy stresses the importance of locking up cleaners, medicines, and cosmetics: "Look for the words 'caution,' 'danger,' or 'keep out of reach of children' on all labels in the bathroom." Anything with such a warning should be kept in a safe place away from a child's eye level, and behind doors with child-safety latches installed. And don't forget to post the number for the Poison Help Hotline, 1-800-222-1222, in your bathrooms as well as in the kitchen, she says.
Mold isn't just lurking in your fridge; it can grow anywhere in your home where moisture is present. Mold spores can wreak havoc on the lungs and worsen symptoms of asthma. Coughing, wheezing, watery eyes, and inflamed sinuses are common allergic reactions.
Bathrooms, basements, and attics are the most common areas for mold to grow—sometimes where you can't even see it—behind shower walls, for instance. If your bathroom is a problem area, Carter Oosterhouse, homebuilding expert and host of HGTV's Carter Can, has these suggestions: "Install backer board in the bathroom as a moisture-resistant alternative to drywall. And use moisture-resistant paints."
Rebecca Morley also recommends checking your grout lines around the tub and tile areas to make sure water isn't escaping behind the walls. "Also check to make sure your fans are ventilating to the outside of your home, not into your attic," she says.
When you come home after a hard day's work, do you toss your purse on the nearest surface available? Before you do that today, consider what's in your purse that may be tempting to the young and curious. What you keep in your handbag may be a danger to children and pets. Pepper spray, cosmetics, medicines, and even coins can be risks. The solution: Hang your purse up high or place it on a closet shelf away from curious hands and paws. Clean the bottom of your purse (and backpacks and briefcases) regularly, too. It can bring germs into the house (from that public restroom floor to your kitchen counter, for instance).
Windows in upper-floor bedrooms are a hot spot for danger. Even if your child isn't yet tall enough to reach the windows, install window stops or guards. Make sure they have a quick-release mechanism in case of fire. Drapery and blind cords can also be a strangulation danger. Wrap the cords and keep them out of reach.
The second-leading cause of lung cancer could be lurking in your basement. Radon gas is dangerous to your family and could exist in any home, no matter the age or condition. The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. Radon test kits are available at your local hardware store for only about $10 and are easy to use. Once you perform the test, mail it to a test lab (address and envelope are included in the kit). If your home tests positive, don't panic. Local radon experts can help you install a mitigation system that directs the gas outside.
Your dryer's vent carries the heat from your dryer to the outside, but lint and hair can build up in it over time. Check these vents regularly, says celeb handyman Carter Oosterhouse: "Vents pose a potential fire hazard. Keeping the vent unblocked will also help the efficiency of your dryer."
Children's play equipment is a leading cause of broken bones and head injuries in the backyard. One way to prevent accidents (or soften the falls) is with appropriate padding. Pads should be one foot deep and at least six feet out from all sides of the structure, says Appy: "The pad can be filled with wood chips, rubber mulch, or even pea gravel. Any of these will absorb the impact and minimize injuries when playing outdoors." One of the biggest causes of injury is a trampoline, which The Home Safety Council does not recommend.
Homeowners with a pool know to keep their gated fence protecting the swim area locked at all times so that children and others won't accidentally fall into the water. But they may not be aware of another danger: the powerful suction in the swimming-pool drain that can keep even strong adults underwater. Hair and bathing suits on children can get caught in the drain causing them to be pulled under. To prevent a tragedy, make sure all drain covers are intact and in place every time you use your pool. If a cover is broken or missing, replace it before allowing anyone in.