A Room-by-Room Guide to Making Your Home Safer
How to prevent the leading causes of home injuries, from slips and falls to smoke and fires.
- Schedule a yearly chimney and fireplace inspection to see if you need a cleaning. You can find a certified chimney sweep in your area by going to the Chimney Safety Institute of America's website (csia.org). Make sure that your chimney is fitted with a spark arrestor (also called a chimney cap) and your fireplace has a screen.
- Don't run electrical cords under rugs or carpeting. This is a fire hazard, and the hidden bump can trip you. Run cords along walls instead.
- Clean the dryer's lint filter before each use. Accumulated dust and lint are a fire hazard. Don't operate the dryer without a lint filter.
- Clean your dryer hose once or twice a year to prevent dangerous buildup. (Use a long-handled brush.)
- Don't overload outlets. Make sure the dryer is plugged into an outlet suitable for its electrical needs.
- Don't leave the dryer running when you're not home.
Slips, Trips, Falls
- Install light switches at the top and bottom of stairwells.
- All stairwells should have handrails, preferably on both sides and firmly bolted to the floor or wall.
- Paint the bottom basement step white so it's more visible and you're less likely to mistake it for the floor.
- Place some reflective tape at the front edge of basement steps to increase visibility.
- Check stairs for frayed or loose carpeting; make necessary repairs.
- Don't put throw rugs at the top or bottom of staircases; they can easily slide and the edges often curl. If you want a rug in one of those spots, make sure it's weighty, and use a rug-gripping pad underneath (Miracle Hold Plus Rug Pad, $11 to $119, crateandbarrel.com).
- Have your heating system checked annually for carbon monoxide leaks. Install a carbon monoxide alarm in the basement and outside bedrooms.a
- Use hardware-mounted safety gates in front of stairs.
All Over the House
Slips, Trips, Falls
- When you need to reach an item on a top cabinet shelf, balancing on a kitchen chair is not a safe solution. Keep a sturdy step stool accessible for when you need a boost. The Leifheit Top-Case three-step ladder ($100, williams-sonoma.com) folds out easily, providing a stable platform to stand on, with a rail to keep you balanced.
- Night-lights are not just for kids. Midnight snackers and overnight guests can also benefit from a little light near stairwells, bathrooms, and bedrooms. If you don't want to leave a light on, replace regular light switches with glow-in-the-dark dimmers so you're not stumbling to find switches at night. The Faedra Smart Dimmer from Lutron ($30, lutron.com for store locations) has five LED lights that glow green when the lights are off, calling attention to the power button.
- Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCI) prevent electrical fires that can occur when there's a loose connection at an outlet or when wires or cords have been damaged. AFCI installation in bedrooms is required for new homes. Contact a qualified electrician if you need these devices installed.
- Replace smoke-alarm batteries once a year (schedule it for a date you'll remember, like your birthday or daylight saving time).
- Install multiple smoke alarms―in the kitchen, in or near all bedrooms and sleeping areas, at the top of second-floor stairs, and at the bottom of basement stairs. Mount them high on walls or ceilings. Don't put alarms near windows or air ducts, where drafts can interfere with their proper functioning.
- Get one or more all-purpose dry-chemical ABC extinguishers ($60, smokesign.com) to handle liquid, electrical, and combustion fires. Keep one each in the kitchen, the garage, and the basement. Learn how to use it before a fire. Put out fires with your back against a door, so you can get out if necessary. If a fire persists after the extinguisher is emptied, leave your house immediately and contact the fire department.
- Plan ahead. Know two ways to get out of every room (ideally, one door and one window leading to a porch or a roof), and designate a meeting spot that's a safe distance from your house. Practice your escape route twice a year with the whole family. Remind children never to hide if there's a fire.
- If you're not in a 911 area, have everyone memorize the fire-department emergency phone number. Make sure children can recite their address and phone number.
- Never leave candles burning unattended. Keep them one foot away from anything flammable.
- Consider installing a heat-triggered sprinkler system, especially if you're building or buying a new house. "It's like having firefighters protecting your home 24 hours a day," says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council.
- Use the right wattage. Make sure lightbulbs are the appropriate wattage for the fixtures they're in (a label on each fixture will tell you the maximum safe wattage).
- To prevent scaldings in the shower, make sure your water-heater temperature is set no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Mount a carbon monoxide alarm outside all bedroom areas (and in the basement). The Kidde battery-operated voice-alert CO and smoke alarm ($37, homedepot.com) alerts you to both dangers. Have your heating system checked annually for carbon monoxide leaks.
- Replace loose or frayed cords on electrical devices.
- Install ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) in bathrooms, the laundry room, and the kitchen. These devices instantly shut off the electrical flow if anything (like a curling iron dropped in a sink) causes an electrical imbalance, protecting you against electric shock and electrocution.
- Scout your home for potential dangers by getting down to your kids' level and looking for any small items that children could choke on. Stow away plastic dry-cleaning bags, produce bags, and trash bags. Be careful that refrigerator magnets and loose change don't wind up on the floor. Store matches and lighters out of kids' reach.
- Place outlet covers over unused ports. Sliding covers are best; the push-in ones can be pulled out or forgotten on the floor.
- Make sure blinds have safety cords, so kids can't get entangled. Hunter Douglas's Break-Thru Safety Tassel breaks under pressure (prices vary; hunterdouglas.com for store locations). Or attach cord protectors to each set of blinds.
- Post a list of all emergency phone numbers by every phone, including doctors, police and fire departments, and the national poison-control center (800-222-1222).