This is default featured slide 1 title
This is default featured slide 2 title
This is default featured slide 3 title
This is default featured slide 4 title
This is default featured slide 5 title
 

Category Archives: home and garden

Tips for Growing Your Own Home Garden

Keeping a garden cultivates more than just flowers — the activity of gardening is an excellent way to exercise, clear your mind, grow your own healthy foods, and transform your outdoor space into a more beautiful one. So slip on your gardening gloves, head outside, and start growing your own lush plants and vegetables.

Don’t know how to get started? First consider a few factors that go into the planning and design of a garden:

  • Your climate. Your climate determines the types of plants that will grow best in your garden and the steps needed to take care of them. Do some research or speak with a professional landscaper to find out what plants are native to your area and any others hardy enough to survive the winter. If your region of the country has distinctive seasonal changes, choose plants that will peak at various seasons, so that your garden will be attractive all year long. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map can help you determine which plants are best suited for your climate.
  • Your taste. Not everyone’s idea of a dream garden is the same. Some people prefer flowering plants, while others get more satisfaction from a vegetable garden. Looking through gardening magazines or going on garden tours might help you define your vision.
  • Your property. The size and shape of your garden will depend on the space you have to work with. Consider various areas around your yard and how much sun and shade they get. You can plant a garden in a shady area, but you will be limited to shade-loving plants. If your outdoor space is small, a container garden should work well.

After you have assessed your gardening needs and desires, consult professionals at a local nursery who can help you finalize your plan, sell you the plants you need, and instruct you on planting them.

4 Garden-Maintenance Musts

You will need to regularly maintain your garden to help it grow. Basic garden maintenance involves:

  • Watering. Water is essential to the health of your garden. Find out the specific watering needs of your plants and establish a routine so that your garden will get the right amount.
  • Weeding. Weeds are not only unpleasant to look at, but they can also zap moisture and nutrients from your plants. To control weed growth, you need to regularly weed your garden, making sure to remove the entire weed, especially the roots.
  • Pruning and dead-heading. These steps involve removing dead branches and past-bloom flowers to encourage more blooms and keep your plants healthy for years to come. When you choose your plants, make sure you understand how to prune and dead-head them since improper maintenance can harm plants.
  • Fertilizing. Depending on the quality of the soil in your garden, you might need to apply fertilizers. Consider having your soil tested by a professional who can recommend the right fertilizers and pesticides for your plants.

How to Stay Healthy and Safe in the Garden

Gardening is an enjoyable way to exercise your body and clear your mind, but there are also some health and safety issues you should address for a safe home garden:

  • Tetanus booster shot. Check with your doctor to see if you need a tetanus booster shot. Tetanus is a risk if you cut or scratch yourself while working around soil.
  • Protective gear. When you are working in your garden, you will need to protect yourself from sharp-edged equipment, chemicals such as pesticides, sun exposure, and insects. You should have a pair of gardening gloves, sunglasses, a broad brimmed hat, protective shoes, and knee pads if you will be bending a lot. If you plan on doing heavy lifting, a back brace can help protect your back. Also wear DEET-containing insect repellant and a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher to protect against mosquitoes, ticks, and the harmful rays of the sun.
  • Use chemicals properly. When using pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals in your garden, be sure to read instructions and warning labels so that you will use them safely. Wear gloves when handling chemicals.
  • Stay cool in the heat. When working in hot conditions, make sure to drink plenty of water, take breaks in shady areas, and watch for warning signs of heat-related illness, such as high temperature, headache, rapid heart rate, dizziness, nausea, and confusion. On hot, sunny days, do your gardening before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
  • Consider allergies or asthma. Have allergies or asthma? Avoid plants that trigger your condition when designing your garden. Consider wearing a face mask to reduce your contact with allergens. Gardening in the evening can also help reduce allergy or asthma symptoms, since pollen concentration is generally lower in cooler, less sunny conditions.

One you start to experience the joy of gardening, it will be hard to resist the temptation to work outside whenever possible. Be sure to take the time to step back and appreciate the beautiful results of your labor, too.

Rules for a Clean Refrigerator

Having a healthy home means doing what you can to keep your family well and safe. One simple way to do that is to maintain and clean your refrigerator regularly — it will save energy and money and reduce your family’s risk of food-borne illness.

Smart fridge maintenance involves keeping the refrigerator temperature in the recommended range, properly organizing your fridge food, and cleaning it up. Here’s how to get started.

The Right Refrigerator Temperature

Monitoring and maintaining your refrigerator temperature is one of the best ways to prevent food-borne illness, since keeping foods properly chilled can help prevent or slow the growth of microorganisms, like Salmonella and E. coli, that cause these illnesses. You should keep your refrigerator at or below 40ºF and your freezer at or below 0ºF. Consult the appliance manual to find out how to make these adjustments.

Since your refrigerator’s efficiency can change over time, it is important to check your refrigerator temperature regularly. The best way to do this is to buy and use an appliance thermometer.

You can also help your refrigerator work at its best by positioning it in a relatively cool location, out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources, like the oven or a heat vent. This will help it run more efficiently, which can save energy and money.

Tips for Handling Fridge Food

Refrigerators allow us to keep fresh foods fresh longer, but just because a food is in the fridge doesn’t mean you can keep it indefinitely. Below are some tips for keeping your fridge food safe:

  • Avoid crowding. Allow enough space between items so that air can circulate and keep foods at the proper temperature.
  • Read labels. Follow the directions on food packaging and be sure to promptly refrigerate all foods that require it. Discard any food that may have been mistakenly left out of the fridge for too long.
  • Throw out tainted foods. If food has visible mold on it, a foul odor, or other signs of spoilage — or if you just suspect it might have gone bad — discard it right away.
  • Separate high-risk foods. Keep the foods that are most likely to contaminate other foods — raw meat, poultry, and fish — in plastic bags, bowls, or pans on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator, where drips will not contaminate produce or any other foods.
  • Eat fridge foods promptly. The longer foods are stored in your refrigerator, the more likely microorganisms will grow on them. So regularly go through the contents of your fridge and throw out any foods that are past their prime. Follow these use-by guidelines; for foods that can be frozen, freeze them as soon as you get them home if you’re not sure you will eat them within these time frames:
    • Uncooked ground meat: 1 to 2 days
    • Poultry, fish, or shellfish: 1 to 2 days
    • Uncooked steak, veal, lamb, or pork: 3 to 5 days
    • Meat-based leftovers: 3 to 4 days
    • Ready-made foods, like deli meats and macaroni salad: 3 to 5 days
    • Uncooked eggs (in shell): 4 to 5 weeks
    • Mayonnaise (opened): 2 months
  • Watch the clock. Once out of the fridge, never let foods sit at room temperature for more than two hours — eat them or toss them.

The Best Way to Clean Your Refrigerator

Keep your refrigerator clean to keep food safe. This involves immediately wiping up any spills or leakages that occur in your refrigerator. Liquids that drip from the foods in your fridge can harbor bacteria and spread it to other foods.

In addition, plan to thoroughly clean your refrigerator once a month. Do this by taking items off each shelf and out of each drawer and wiping down the shelves and drawers. Then vacuum or sweep out the metal coils that are behind and underneath your refrigerator. If these coils become covered with dust and grime, your refrigerator will become less efficient.

Tips to Survive a Hurricane

Hurricane season arrives every year toward the end of summer, and the first storm of the 2011 season — Irene — is threatening the U.S. East Coast. Though it’s too early to determine exactly where the storm will hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that if you live along the Atlantic coast, you should start preparing well before the storm comes to your area.

While many who live in hurricane-prone areas already consider themselves pros at hurricane prep, it’s a good idea to review these safety precautions before a storm rolls in.

Before the Hurricane:

A joint report from FEMA, the American Red Cross, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that you plot out the safest and most effective evacuation routes before a storm strikes. Once you have an evacuation strategy in place that will keep you, your family, and your pets safe, don’t neglect these important, but easy-to-forget steps.

“Remodel” your home. Purchase plywood and other materials to board up your windows, and install straps to fasten your roof to the frame structure — this should help minimize roof damage. And don’t forget to trim those trees and bushes; doing so can cut down on the amount of post-hurricane debris you’ll have to clear.

Fill up your tank with gas. In the event of an evacuation, the last thing you’ll want to do is wait in line at a gas station — that’s why you should fill up before a storm gets close and keep your tank filled throughout hurricane season. Also, if the gas stations in your area become inoperable, filling up in advance will ensure that you still have enough gasoline to get out of town.

Stock your pantry with good-for-you foods. Once a hurricane hits your town, you can expect power outages and limited access to grocery stores — which means you need to prepare a healthy meal plan in advance — one that includes foods with a relatively long shelf life. For protein, stock up on canned tuna, chicken, or salmon, as well as beans and nuts. Keep fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes on hand; frozen fruits and veggies will keep in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours after power goes out. Stock up on healthy snacks, such as high-fiber, low-sugar cereals, rice cakes, and energy bars (which offer a lot of healthy calories in a small package). Most important: Don’t forget about hydration. The National Hurricane Center recommends storing enough drinking water — one gallon per person per day for three to seven days.

Have a pet plan. Do you know what to do with Fido and Fluffy in the event of a hurricane? The National Hurricane Center suggests keeping a current photograph of your pet on hand and ensuring that your pets have collars with identification (in case you get separated). And don’t forget to consider your furry friends in your evacuation strategy — if you’re planning on staying in a hotel along your evacuation route, locatepet-friendly hotels or pet shelters nearby before you leave.

Keep your documents dry. Important documents — such as birth certificates, insurance information, and social security cards — should be kept in a safe, dry place (even if that means taking them along with you in an evacuation).

Insure yourself. Make an inventory of the contents in your home (consider documenting them in a video diary), in case you need to file an insurance claim after the storm. Be sure to include your most valuable and expensive assets, such as electronics. Also, review your homeowners’ insurance plan. In a press release, Weather Channel’s hurricane expert Dr. Rick Knabb noted that flooding is not covered under most policies.

Create a hurricane supply kit. Stock up on emergency food, water, and equipment, and don’t forget to test everything to make sure it works. According to the National Hurricane Center, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water (1 gallon per day per person for 3 to 7 days)
  • Food (non-perishable packaged and foods, baby food, utensils, and healthy snack options) — don’t forget the non-electric can opener!
  • Prescription medications
  • A first aid kit
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Battery-powered cell phones
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Clothing and rain gear
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Toiletries
  • Pet food, pet medications, a pet carrier or cage, and a leash
  • Tool set
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Toys, books, and games

During the Hurricane

If you’re in a “watch area” or a “warning area,” stick by your radio or television for official weather bulletins — and leave immediately if officials instruct you to evacuate. If you live in a mobile home, high-rise building, or on the ocean, you should strongly consider leaving — people and property in these areas are most at risk. Be sure to unplug all small appliances like toaster ovens and alarm clocks; you may be directed to turn off utilities and your propane tank as well.

If you choose to stay at home, go to a small interior room — away from windows and doors. During the “eye” of the storm — the period of calm found at the center of the hurricane — remember that the storm is not over. Winds will pick back up as soon as the eye passes.

After the Hurricane

Steer clear of closed roads, bridges, and areas with downed power lines — and don’t reenter an evacuated area until it’s declared safe. When inspecting your home, check your gas, water, and electrical appliances for damage (and be sure to use a flashlight during your inspection — not a candle, which could easily start an accidential debris fire and lead to even more damage). Also, stay away from tap water until you hear from health officials that it’s safe.

Make a No-Smoking Zome in Your Home

There’s really no debating it: All homes should be smoke-free spaces. Not only does cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke expose other people in your home to the dangers of secondhand (and third-hand) smoke, it sharply increases the chances of a house fire and makes your home less desirable to live in and visit.

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is more dangerous than it sounds. Declared a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke exhaled by the smoker and the smoke coming from the tobacco product itself. This double whammy increases the risk of serious health complications and death.

A smoker in your home compromises his life and the life of everyone around him. And that includes pets: Cats exposed to secondhand smoke have double the risk of developing malignant lymphoma.

Many state governments are taking the health risks of secondhand smoke and indoor air pollution so seriously that they have banned smoking in most public areas, including restaurants, workplaces, and bars. More than half the states and the District of Columbia have put comprehensive smoke-free laws into place.

Some of the specific potential health effects of secondhand smoke include increased risk of:

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Coughing
  • Excess phlegm production
  • Wheezing
  • Ear infection
  • Reduced lung function
  • Severe asthma symptoms

Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to infants and young children, since their developing bodies are especially sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke.

A Smoking Ban Should Be Part of Your Fire Safety Plan

Another way smoking in the home can endanger your family is by increasing the chances for a house fire. Smoking-related fires are the leading cause of house fire deaths — just one more excellent reason to ban cigarettes and smoking of any kind in the home.

If that’s not possible, be sure to never allow smoking in bed and carefully dispose of each cigarette that is smoked in and around your home.

What About Third-Hand Smoke?

The smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe not only seeps into hair and clothing, but can also get into rugs, upholstered furniture, curtains, and other fabric surfaces. Once these particles settle in, they stay long after the smoker has finished smoking. This type of long-term effect is now sometimes referred to as “third-hand smoke” — years later, people who were not even acquainted with the original smoker are still breathing in the smoke residue.

If you smoke or spend a lot of time around a smoker, you might not notice the unpleasant odor of stale tobacco smoke, but any guests you have certainly will. So resolve to stop smoking in your home, remove ashtrays, and ask that others refrain from smoking when they visit — politely ask that he or she smoke outside if they must.

A smoke-free environment will make your home a safer, healthier, more pleasant place for you, your friends, and your family.

Keeping Your Home’s Air Clean and Safe

Indoor air quality may be invisible, but it still has an impact on your family’s health and your home safety. Levels of many pollutants can be far higher indoors than they are outdoors — and indoor pollutants can seriously affect your health. Major factors impacting indoor air quality and home safety are air circulation and moisture levels.

Ted Schettler, MD, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says that air filters, which help capture particulate pollution, play a major part in home air quality.

Clean, efficient fans and filters on dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, and other appliances allow them to function efficiently and can also reduce moisture in the air and minimize particulate pollution in your house.

Similarly, for home safety, it’s important to vacuum or dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors frequently, as spider webs and dust can limit their effectiveness. While you’re dusting, take a moment to test them and make sure the batteries are still working.

Take these steps throughout the year to improve the air quality inside your home:

  • Be sure air vents between the indoors and the outside aren’t blocked by snow, leaves, dirt, or other debris, depending on the season.
  • Vacuum rear grills on refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean drip trays to prevent mold growth.
  • Be diligent about fixing any plumbing leaks — even small drips can create favorable conditions for mold growth and affect air quality.
  • Clean clothes dryer exhaust ducts and vents.

What’s in Your Garage?

In general, air circulation inside a home should be encouraged, but air shouldn’tcirculate freely between an attached garage and your family’s living space. Car exhaust and other pollutants found in garages can have a serious, negative effect on the air quality inside your home and on your home safety. Make sure the door between the garage and your home seals completely, and keep weather stripping in good repair.

Tips for Year-Round Home Health

These seasonal tasks can help improve your home’s “health:”

Spring

  • Clean your air conditioner and have it serviced as necessary, at least every two years; clean and replace the filters as necessary.
  • Turn off the gas furnace and fireplace pilot light if applicable.
  • Check your home’s sump pump to ensure it’s functioning properly before the spring thaw.
  • Clean ceiling fans so they don’t spread accumulated dust particles throughout the house.

Summer

  • Inspect and repair vermin screens on chimney flues.
  • Inspect chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures for bird nests, which can prevent ventilation of combustible gases, decreasing air quality and posing potential fire hazards. Repeat this task in the fall.
  • Inspect the outside perimeter and trim shrubs and bushes away from the house, foundation, and roof, as growth that’s too close to the house can promote algae and mold.

Fall

  • Clean humidifiers in preparation for seasonal use.
  • Remove screens from windows where they might trap condensation on glass, promoting mold growth.
  • Sweep the chimney to remove creosote buildup and inspect for necessary repairs.
  • Seal any openings on the exterior of the house to prevent rodents and other pests from entering.

Winter

  • Test for carbon monoxide and radon levels.
  • Clean humidifier(s) regularly when in use.
  • Clean air vents on heating systems and space heaters, and be sure to service your furnace/heating system at least every other year.

Strategies for Preventing House Fires

Of the thousands of people who perish each year in fires, the overwhelming majority – 84 percent – succumb in their own homes. House fires can flare for many reasons, including electrical problems, outdoor fires, and unattended candles. The most common cause of death from house fires, however, is from cigarettes that have been left carelessly lit.

Keeping Your Home Safe From Fire

Many house fires start because of carelessness and can be prevented by taking simple fire safety measures to protect your home. Follow these fire safety tips to reduce the risk of house fires:

  • Be careful in the kitchen. Fire safety and prevention is especially important in the kitchen, so keep kitchen appliances unplugged when you’re not using them (of course, that goes for appliances elsewhere in the house, too). Never leave the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop, and keep flammable items away from the stovetop.
  • Use heaters wisely. Have your furnace or heating system inspected annually, and avoid potentially dangerous causes of fire like kerosene heaters. Always use a screen in front of an indoor fireplace to keep flames away from furniture and drapes, and be cautious when using space heaters — follow all directions to the letter.
  • Be vigilant about cigarettes. If you or a guest in your home is a smoker, watch those butts. Always use a deep, sturdy ashtray. For fire safety, never smoke cigarettes in bed. And before bed or heading out the door, do a quick scan around and under the furniture and linens to make sure there are no still-lit cigarette butts.
  • Clear up the clutter. Don’t let highly flammable materials clutter up your home. Regularly clean out old newspapers, magazines, and other things likely to quickly catch and spread a fire.
  • Go easy on electrical outlets. Never plug too many appliances into one outlet, and don’t use extension cords permanently. Don’t use light bulbs that are too powerful for the lamp or fixture.
  • Blow out the candles. Only light candles in a room where you can keep an eye on them, and never leave a room with a candle burning. Blow out all candles before bed or leaving the house, and use candles with a sturdy base that aren’t likely to fall over.

Preventing Outdoor Fires

Fires that happen outside the home can quickly become house fires if you don’t take care to stop the spread and protect your home:

  • Practice safe grilling:
    • Always keep a fire extinguisher or a hose near the grill.
    • Never grill indoors, not even in your garage.
    • Don’t use gasoline to get a fire going.
    • Always store and use a barbeque grill at least 15 feet away from your home, car, garage, trees, and shrubs.
    • Keep propane gas tanks away from the home.
    • Never spray lighter fluid onto an existing fire.
  • Practice fire-safe landscaping:
    • Keep the landscaping around your home thin to prevent fueling any fires.
    • Don’t store firewood near your home.
    • Landscape with fire-resistant shrubs and plants.
    • Avoid small shrubs and trees beneath or near larger trees.
    • Clear any dead trees, shrubs, leaves, and plants away from your home.
    • Keep grass and trees near your home watered, especially if you live in a dry area.
    • In addition to all these tips, take extra precautions if you live in an area prone to wildfires; get in touch with your local fire department for specific advice.

Fire Extinguishers and Other Fire Safety Equipment

Protecting yourself by being prepared for a fire emergency in your home is one of the best fire prevention steps you can take. Stock up on this basic fire safety equipment to protect yourself in the event of a fire:

  • Working smoke detectors on every level of your house and in crucial areas, like the kitchen and near bedrooms
  • Fire extinguishers throughout the house (always one in the kitchen)
  • A safety ladder to help your family get out of the house from floors above ground level
  • A sprinkler system installed in your home
  • Easy-to-open windows and screens

You can’t always prevent house fires, but so many of the tragedies that occur each year could have been prevented with a little care and preparation. Protect your home, your life, and your family by being fire-safety savvy and reducing your risk of house fires.

Childproofing Essentials for a Safe Home

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.

Tips to Make Your Older Home a Safe Home

 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.

7 Container Garden Tips For Beginners

How Smoke Alarms Can Save Lives

 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.