Monthly Archives: November 2016
Childproofing your house can be difficult! The process is an ongoing one to ensure a baby, toddler, and child safety at home or to keep kids safe while visiting a friend or relative’s home.
Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, reminds adults to consider a child’s developmental stage when childproofing a home.
- Infants are barely mobile, but even young babies can roll or otherwise move considerable distances.
- Crawlers and early walkers can get into trouble anywhere.
- Older toddlers can be extremely curious and resourceful about climbing, opening doors, and getting into places that may surprise adults.
A good approach to childproofing your home is to see each room through eyes of a child. Get down on the floor and look around. Ask yourself questions like, “What’s that? Can I put it in my mouth? What would happen if I crawl in there?”
A Childproofing Safety Check for the Whole House
Once you start childproofing, you’ll probably notice safety hazards throughout the house, from the laundry room to the linen closet. Be methodical during your childproofing “tour” of your home. Count the number of electrical outlets within a child’s reach, including those behind furniture. You’ll need a plastic electrical outlet safety cover for each one.
Next, pay special attention to choking hazards. Make sure that cords hanging from drapes or appliances are tied up and out of reach of curious hands. Babies and young children can also choke on balloons, jewelry, toys, coins, rubber bands, decorative rocks or marbles in potted plants, and hundreds of other things.
Sharp objects like knives, cooking utensils, and gardening implements should be kept out of sight and, ideally, out of a child’s reach or locked up. That goes for cleaning supplies too – kids shouldn’t be able to get to them. Poisoning is a common, but preventable occurrence. If you don’t actually use a particular chemical or cleaning agent in your house, don’t keep it; if you do need it, lock it up. Just in case, keep the number to the 24-hour nationwide poison-control center handy: 1-800-222-1222.
If you have guns in the house, keep them unloaded, out of sight, and locked away from children and teens of all ages.
Room-Specific Childproofing Safety Check
Make sure each room in your home is checked for its unique hazards:
- In the bathroom. Keep all medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, out of sight, and use safety latches on medicine cabinets. Keep scissors, tweezers, and other sharp objects out of reach. To avoid burns, set the hot water heater no higher than 120 degrees. Never leave your child unattended in the tub, and place toilet lid locks to keep small children from playing in the toilet bowl and possibly drowning. Store buckets upside down to prevent any water accumulation; remember that small children can drown in just a few inches of water.
- In the bedroom. A crib should be a safe haven for babies to sleep, so remove all toys, comforters, pillows, and other items that pose a risk of suffocation. As babies begin to sit up on their own, move mobiles out of their reach. Maintain smoke alarms in or near each bedroom and test them to make sure they actually work. If not, replace older devices with new smoke detectors.
- In the kitchen. When cooking on the stove top, use rear burners, keep handles turned toward the back of the stove, and don’t leave the room when the stove is on.
- In the basement and garage. Hang tools and ladders out of reach, and store any gasoline, lighter fluid, paints, pesticides, or other chemicals in a locked cabinet.
- At windows. Windows are an often-overlooked aspect of home safety. Remember, screens are designed to keep insects out, not to keep kids in. Don’t place furniture under windows, which creates an invitation to climb and explore. If you do open your windows to let a breeze in, be sure the windows are out of children’s reach.Install safety locks on windows throughout the house. Windows should still provide a viable escape in case of fire, however, so make sure they’re not painted shut. Also, if you have window fans or air conditioning units, make sure at least one window in each room is not blocked.
- In the backyard and around decks. If you have a pool, maintain a tall fence around it (usually determined by local building codes) and keep it locked when not in use. Never allow your children to swim unsupervised. Be sure that doors leading to the yard, deck, and any balcony also have childproof locks.
- On the stairs. Safety gates should be positioned at the top and bottom of each flight of stairs.
Childproofing your entire house probably isn’t necessary if children are there only as guests, but focus on the area or rooms where visiting children will spend the most time. And keep in mind that young children should be supervised at all times, so everyone can remain safe and sound.
Homes built today must adhere to strict safety codes. Older homes, while offering plenty of charm and character, are more likely to have safety issues — potential problems can range from lead paint and asbestos to faulty wiring and wobbly stairs.
But you can make an older home a safe home. Educate yourself about some of the dangers associated with old homes and take any necessary action to transform your older house into one that’s as safe as possible.
The Dangers of Lead Paint and Asbestos in Older Homes
Certain materials used to build and remodel older homes are no longer used today because of safety concerns associated with them. These materials include:
- Asbestos.Asbestos was used in insulation, shingling, millboard, textured paints, and floor tiles in older homes to make them resistant to fire. But when asbestos becomes airborne, it can be inhaled and can accumulate in your lungs, potentially leading to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and fatal scarring of the lungs. Since asbestos-containing materials are usually not dangerous when they are in good condition, it is usually best to leave these materials alone. But if you’re planning on remodeling your home and removing them, you will need to contact local environmental health officials to find out how to have these materials properly removed and, equally important, properly disposed of. If you aren’t sure if you have asbestos-containing materials in your home, a professional asbestos inspector can do an assessment and advise you.
- Lead paint.Lead-based paint was once commonly used to paint homes, but health professionals now know that airborne lead can lead to serious health problems, such as damage to the brain, nervous system, blood cells, and kidneys. Exposure to high levels of lead can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. If your home was built prior to 1960, there is a good chance it contains lead paint. Like asbestos-containing materials, surfaces with lead-based paint are usually not dangerous if they are in good condition. But lead paint that is chipping or disturbed by friction or remodeling can cause lead poisoning. You can hire a professional who has been trained in dealing with lead paint problems to test your home and help you remove it or make your home safer. If you have children and you suspect your home contains lead-based paint, have them tested for lead exposure.
If you are considering purchasing an older home, you should first determine if asbestos or lead is a problem, especially if you are planning on renovating or restoring the home. Always make sure qualified professionals inspect the house and determine the extent of the problem.
Fire Safety Hazards in Older Homes
Another potential problem that can keep an older home from being a safe home is an outdated electrical system. While older electrical systems had no problems supplying enough power in previous years, many have trouble keeping up with today’s increased power demands. This can result in electrical fires — in fact, electrical fires are three times more likely to happen in homes that are more than 40 years old compared to homes that are only 11 to 20 years old.
Signs that your home’s electrical system may be outdated include:
- Your circuit breakers trip often
- You need to replace fuses frequently
- Your lights are dim or flickering
- You have seen sparks in your electrical system
- There are unusual sounds coming from your electrical system, such as buzzing or sizzling
- There is an unusual burning smell, which could be a sign of a hot wire inside your wall
- Your switch plates or electrical covers are hot
- You have experienced a mild shock from your electrical system
If you suspect your electrical system may be outdated, have a licensed electrician inspect it. This is especially important when you are deciding whether to buy an older home, since updating an electrical system can be costly and may affect your decision. The following electrical upgrades often need to be made in older homes:
- Two-hole outlets should be replaced with three-hole outlets
- Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets need to be installed in kitchens and bathrooms
- Add extra outlets to eliminate the need for extension cords
- Circuit breakers should be replaced with an arc fault system
These changes do not usually need to be made all at once. For budgeting purposes, fix the most dangerous elements first and the others over time.
4 Musts for Maintaining Your Older Home
The longer you live in your home, the more likely you’ll need repairs and renovations to make it safer. Consider the following:
- Make sure your stairs are stable and secure
- Ensure that your stair handrails, treads, and risers are up to code
- Install good lighting throughout your home
- Change smoke alarm batteries every year and replace the alarms every 10 years
It’s important to keep your home in good repair and to make safety updates over time. Keep a log of all improvements and create a schedule to help you stay on track.
By the time flames are roaring through a house, it may be too late to stop the fire. Even worse, it may be too late to safely get your family out of your burning home. Fires can start and spread quickly, often while you’re asleep. So to protect yourself and your family from fires, install a smoke alarm in every crucial area of your home.
Buying a Smoke Alarm
A smoke alarm, also called a smoke detector, can sense a fire early on and warn a family of impending danger before tragedy strikes.
Smoke alarms are sold at hardware and home improvement stores, and even some supermarkets. You might even be able to get a free smoke alarm from your local fire department.
You can buy a smoke alarm that runs only on battery power or one that is wired into the electrical system of your house and runs on electricity with a battery backup. Above all, each smoke alarm you buy must carry the UL (Underwriters Laboratories) label on it.
There are three types of smoke alarms on the market:
- Ionization smoke alarm. This alarm detects big, open flames.
- Photoelectric smoke alarm. This alarm detects a smoky fire that’s smoldering, before any big flames get started.
- Dual sensor smoke alarm. This is a combination smoke alarm that detects both types of fires.
You should have both an ionization and a photoelectric smoke alarm, or a dual sensor smoke alarm. And, remember, you will need smoke alarms at multiple sites throughout your home.
Installing a Smoke Alarm
A smoke alarm tucked in a far corner of your home might not detect smoke from the opposite end of the house until it’s too late. So it’s important to install a smoke alarm on each floor of your home — don’t forget your basement — and at strategic areas on each level if you have a lot of square footage. Install a smoke detector near sleeping areas, even inside the bedroom of any household member who is difficult to arouse from sleep, and put another one in your kitchen. Install them high up on walls, near the ceiling, since smoke will rise quickly.
Don’t install your fire alarm:
- Near a window
- Just above the stove where steam is likely to set it off
- Near a fireplace
- On the ceiling right next to a wall
- On the wall right next to the ceiling
- Above doors or heating and cooling ducts
You will need an electrician to install a hard-wired smoke detector that runs on electricity, but installing a battery-powered smoke alarm is pretty simple. Most battery-operated smoke alarms can be attached to the wall using a regular screwdriver. Some even come with an adhesive pad that affixes the smoke alarm to the wall for you.
Maintaining a Smoke Alarm
Once your smoke alarms are properly installed, you need to test them regularly to make sure they’re working. Here are some tips to test and maintain each smoke alarm:
- Each month, test your smoke alarms by pushing the test button — make sure you hear the alarm sound; always test the batteries in your wired smoke alarms, too, to know that they’re working as a backup.
- Replace the batteries in your smoke alarm if it makes a light beeping noise — this signals that the batteries are running out.
- Keep smoke alarms clean and free of dust, dirt, and debris with regular dusting or a light vacuum with the hose attachment. This will allow air to circulate in the device, providing you with better results, earlier detection, and superior fire safety.
- Replace the smoke alarm unit every 8 to 10 years.
- If your smoke alarm goes off while cooking dinner, fan smoke away from the device; don’t disable it.
You’ll need to change the batteries in your smoke alarm at least once each year. Pick a time that’s easy for you to remember and stick to it. Many people like to change the batteries in their smoke alarms when daylight savings ends each fall. You could also choose a holiday or a birthday.