Thaumas P. Ehr, Landscape Architect

Inspecting Your Home for Potential Safety Problems

If you want your house to be a safe place for everyone from your kids to your aging parents, look hard for hidden hazards in every room.


Scout out problems that could cause:


1.Falls. Remove anything that anyone could trip over, slip on, topple off of or tumble out of. It could be spilled food on the kitchen floor, a slippery shower, an area rug that’s missing its non-slip mat or an exposed extension cord. People sometimes fall because they can’t see the steps, so think about adding bright lights—and a light switch at the top and bottom of the staircase. Add grab bars in the bathroom, and move beds away from windows.


2. Accidental poisoning. Chances are, you’re storing your poison under your kitchen sink, on the garage floor and on shelves in the pool house—where it’s too easy for anybody to touch by mistake or spill all over. Colorful liquid cleaners look a little like fruit punch—so keep them in their original, labeled containers, and don’t store them near food or drinks. The best place for chemicals and anything else you wouldn’t want your little ones to put in their mouths? A locked cabinet, far out of their reach.


3.Burns. Fire isn’t the only thing that can burn you. Hot coffee and water can burn your skin, and so can touching a hot surface. So don’t try to carry a child and a cup of coffee at the same time. And lower the temperature on the water heater to 120 degrees or replace your shower head with an anti-scald model.


4.Drowning. Your pool isn’t the only place where a child can drown. Toddlers can drown in as little as a single inch of water. Drowning happens quickly, so don’t leave a child unattended near any kind of water for even one minute. That includes open toilets, sinks, bathtubs, laundry tubs and even buckets.


5.Falling furniture. A flat-screen TV is heavy enough to seriously injure a child if it falls on one. If you hang yours, reinforce the wall first. If you set it on a cabinet, strap it to an anchor embedded in a wall stud. Likewise, use furniture anchors to secure tall, heavy book shelves to the wall. Pad the sharp edges of tables with rubber corner guards. And invest in a toy chest with a lid support that prevents the top from slamming shut on little fingers.


6.Curiosity. Lock the door to your home office, whose paper shredder, pencil sharpener and letter opener can be treacherous when mistaken for toys. Keep your children out—and also keep your pets out.


7.Electrical shocks. Now that monsoon season is behind us, it’s a good time to check your home’s electrical system. The ground-fault circuit interrupters—or GFCIs—that prevent electrocution could be damaged by power surges during storms. Test your GFCIs by pushing the “reset” button, plugging in a lamp and turning it on. Push “test,” and the lamp should turn itself off. Push “reset” again, and the lamp should turn on again. If it doesn’t call an electrician.


8.Handyman horror stories. Even experienced do-it-yourselfers—or maybe I should say especially the experienced ones—can get into trouble if they don’t pay attention to the details that will keep them safe when they’re working in the garage or around the house and yard. Don’t take safety for granted. Wear gloves and safety footwear and eyewear for every project. Keep your trigger finger away from the switch when carrying a tool. Don’t yank a cord from an outlet; grip the plug and pull. Keep work areas well lighted. And inspect your tools at least once a year for damage and wear.


9.Laundry room fires. If your clothes aren’t drying in one cycle, your dryer vent probably needs cleaning. And if you haven’t cleaned it in a year, it definitely does. Other signs your vent is clogged and could catch on fire: no lint in the lint screen; the machine stops mid-cycle; clothes smell moldy; the dryer gets extremely hot.


10.Poolside accidents. You know you have to surround your pool with a fence to keep children from wandering in. Make your pool even safer by covering it when it’s not in use; keeping rescue and first-aid equipment near the side of the pool; learning CPR; clearing away pool toys that might attract small children; installing GFCIs on all outlets that power outdoor electric equipment; and hiring an electrician whenever you are dealing with electricity anywhere near pool water.