22 Dec Homeowner’s Safety Guide: Tips for New Parents, Seniors, First-Time Homeowners, and Families in Disaster-Prone Areas
Whether you’re a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned homeowner who has purchased multiple homes or has lived in the same residence for decades, home safety is a top priority. There are many potential mishaps and hidden dangers lurking in and around your home that can spell disaster if you’re not prepared and don’t take safety precautions.
We’ve put together this comprehensive guide for all types of homeowners to make their homes safer and more comfortable for the whole family. If you’re a new parent or have an elderly loved one moving in or downsizing, we’ve compiled the resources and need-to-know tips for maximizing the safety of your home.
Table of Contents:
- Home Safety Tips for First-Time Homeowners
- Home Safety Tips for New Parents
- Home Safety Tips for Seniors and People with Disabilities
- Home Safety Tips for Residents of Disaster-Prone Areas
First-time homebuyers are often so excited at the prospect of realizing the American Dream that they neglect some basic safety measures. Of course, if you’ve taken out a mortgage, your lender may have required a home inspection (or, at minimum, a wood-destroying insect report) – so you can be reasonably sure that your subfloor won’t be collapsing from rot or insect damage anytime in the near future.
What Does a Home Inspection Include?
A home inspection generally includes professional inspection of structural components such as the foundation, roof, plumbing, wiring, and heating systems, and it’s certainly a good thing to have a professional opinion on the condition of these areas of the home. Most are costly to repair or replace, and if damage or malfunctions are discovered, you have the opportunity to reduce your offer or request that the seller either make repairs or put money in escrow towards the repairs. That said, there are plenty of other safety tips to consider to make your home safe.
Securing homeowner’s insurance coverage is the first and most important step in keeping your home safe. You might have to provide proof of insurance to your lender before you can close on the purchase of your home, so this is a step you can’t skip.
Homeowner’s insurance can be a significant annual, bi-annual, or monthly cost, depending on the coverage you choose and the value of your property, but it’s an investment that’s well worth it when your property is damaged by unforeseen circumstances, such as hail or a fallen tree.
Check the Basic Essentials
When you first gain access to your newly purchased home, check the following items:
- Smoke alarms
- Carbon monoxide detectors
- Outside lights
- Window locks
Replacing the batteries and light bulbs is a good idea (both on move-in and every six months or more often thereafter), or you may decide to upgrade smoke and carbon monoxide detectors or lighting altogether. If the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are more than 10 years old, it’s time for a replacement.
You should also purchase several fire extinguishers and place them in key areas throughout the home, particularly in fire-prone areas like the kitchen or near a fireplace or furnace. Make sure that they’re easily accessible, because every second counts in a fire. Finally, make sure all family members who are old enough to use an extinguisher know how to do so.
Changing the locks is also a good idea. While you may not have any reason not to trust the previous owners, you don’t really know who they may have given keys to over the years, and you should know precisely who has a key to your home at all times. It’s a general rule of thumb that any time a home changes hands, the locks should be changed by the new owners, even if the previous owners gave you all known copies of keys.
A home security system can also be a worthy investment for first-time homebuyers, and installing one might lower your homeowner’s insurance premiums. Many new wireless home security systems do more than just protecting your home from intruders but also alert you to flooding, fires, carbon monoxide, and more.
Monitored systems can help you get medical attention in an emergency, and you can even monitor your own home remotely via your smartphone or tablet. Sophisticated home monitoring systems may even allow you to control your lights, other electronics, and heating and cooling systems remotely, which can cut down on your energy costs. Finally, a home security system can increase the value of your property (something your neighbors will probably be happy about, too), meaning you can make a bigger profit should you decide to sell in the future.
Use Caution When Decorating
If you’re making any changes to your new home, use caution. It may be tempting to start drilling away and hanging your favorite wall décor, but you must be careful not to drill into sensitive components behind the wall such as pipes, wires, or duct work.
If you’re a new parent, childproofing may be on your mind, especially after your child begins to become more mobile. Toddlers are clumsy, and bruises, cuts, and scrapes are common as they learn to navigate your home and the world at large. These tips will help you make your home a safe and nurturing environment for your child.
Regulations and Standards Compliance
When purchasing products for your child’s bedroom or throughout the home, always check to ensure that the products you’re considering meet safety standards and regulations. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) provides information on regulations, laws, and standards for a plethora of consumer products, including products for babies and children. The CPSC is also a valuable resource to bookmark to check for product safety recalls and safety alerts as well as to find information on how to obtain a refund or replacement for recalled products.
Note that there are both mandatory and voluntary standards, and they’re often changing as new safety risks are identified and new products introduced, requiring regular standardization updates. Mandatory standards are required by law, while voluntary standards are generally considered as measures that enhance the safety of products, but products may be sold in the U.S. that do not meet these standards. As a general rule of thumb, products meeting both mandatory and voluntary standards are safer than those that comply only with mandatory requirements.
Baby Gate Safety
As your child begins to crawl and walk, stairs and fireplaces become a big danger. Position secure baby safety gates at the top and bottom of any staircases in your home, or if you have a door that leads to your basement, keep it securely closed to avoid falls. However, baby gates are ineffective and can actually increase the risk of injury if they’re not properly installed.
There are a variety of safety gates available for various purposes (such as specialty gates that connect to form a barrier around a fireplace or Christmas tree), so consider all the options to choose the best safety gates for each area of your home. Read the installation instructions thoroughly and take care to install them securely. In addition to safety gates, you can purchase guards for windows above ground level.
Safe Electrical Receptacles
You’ll also want to invest in some tamper-resistant electrical receptacles. You’re probably familiar with the plastic safety covers that plug into electrical sockets to prevent kids from attempting to shove other objects into the socket, but some experts consider them outdated today. Kids are pretty savvy, and many can eventually work the plastic covers off, exposing the outlet.
Instead, consider replacing your outlet plates with spring-loaded plates, which have a hard plastic cover that springs back into place immediately after a plug is removed from the outlet, or sliding plate covers. These are more difficult for children to operate, and there’s no risk of forgetting to put the safety cover back on after you’re done using an outlet. There are other options for child-proof outlets as well, so choose the option that makes the most sense for your family. Finally, look for safety products that can keep cords and wires out of reach for kids as well.
Mitigate Dangers in the Bathroom
The bathroom is one of the most dangerous places in the home for young children. The biggest risk, of course, is the risk of drowning, but there are other dangers as well. If you keep medication in the bathroom, make sure it’s out of reach and inaccessible. Certain types of pills can look like candy to young kids, posing a very real risk of illness or overdose.
Falling is also a prominent risk in the bathroom, as wet floors create a slippery surface, and the hard corners and edges common in most bathrooms can cause injury if your child falls onto the edge of the bathtub, counter, or sink. There are a variety of bathroom safety products that can help to reduce these risks in the bathroom, such as non-slip mats for the bathtub, cushioned covers for the faucet, and temperature-reading products to eliminate the risk of scalding. Finally, you can even find products that attach to the shower wall that provide a handle to grab onto for easily getting in and out of the tub.
Use child safety latches or locks on cabinets and drawers, and store medications, soaps, and similar products out of reach so that even if your child manages to get a drawer open, there are no harmful products easily accessible.
It’s crucial to make sure that electronics are safe in the bathroom, as a hair dryer or curling iron that falls into a tub full of water can cause electrocution. Use tamper-resistant outlet covers and unplug any electronics when not in use.
Of course, your child should never be in the bathroom unsupervised until they’re old enough to be able to identify dangers and stay out of harm’s way. Taking your eyes off of a young child for a few seconds is enough time for a devastating accident to occur.
Kitchen Safety Tips for Parents
Like the bathroom, the kitchen is filled with potential dangers for kids. In fact, the kitchen has so many opportunities for health and safety risks that some experts recommend simply keeping young children out of the kitchen altogether for several years. This is impractical, of course, in some circumstances, such as when you’re preparing dinner and there’s no one else home to watch your child or if the family is having dinner at the kitchen table. It’s a good idea to restrict kitchen access anytime there are no adults in the room, however.
There are many things that seem ordinary to you that pose a real risk to toddlers and young children. Your dishwasher, for instance, probably seems harmless enough, but consider the fact that it provides easy access to knives, forks, and other sharp objects when it’s loaded. Plus, detergent can be harmful if ingested or if it gets into your child’s eyes, so be sure to keep the dishwasher locked or empty and make sure that detergent is safely out of reach.
You can minimize the risks associated with cleaners and other chemicals commonly found in the kitchen by using all-natural products, or at least non-toxic products, whenever possible. Even when you choose the least-toxic products available, you should always store them in their original containers. Storing cleaning solutions in an old food container might seem like a space-saving solution, but it makes it hard for children to recognize potentially harmful products.
Get your hands on some Mr. Yuk stickers and put them to use while your children are young. Mr. Yuk has been around for decades, but these stickers still serve as one of the easiest and most effective ways to teach children how to distinguish safe from non-safe household products.
You’ll also want to practice some other smart storage and safety habits in the kitchen to keep your child safe, including:
- Unplug appliances when not in use.
- Choose a well-insulated oven to prevent burns from touching the exterior of the appliance when it’s on – but do teach your child to steer clear of the oven and stovetop when in use.
- Store knives, forks, scissors, and any other sharp objects out of reach.
- Use child safety latches to keep your children from accessing cabinets and drawers.
- Consider allowing one “safe” cabinet, filled with pots and pans with no sharp edges or glass, that your child is free to explore. It’s a good way to satisfy your child’s curiosity (so they’re less likely to attempt to explore other cabinets and drawers) and keep them entertained with harmless objects while you cook or clean in the kitchen.
- Remove the dials from your stove when not in use if possible to prevent your child from accidentally turning the stove or oven on.
- When your child is old enough, start teaching simple cooking basics. Your child will learn valuable life skills as well as gain an understanding of food and kitchen safety Plus, when they’re helping you crack eggs and stir the cake mix, you can be sure they’re not getting into danger anywhere else in the house.
Home Energy Audits for a Healthy Environment
Aside from the obvious childproofing steps, you might also consider getting a home energy audit. Home energy checkups are conducted by qualified technicians who inspect your home for problems such as air leaks and inadequate insulation that may be costing you money by making your home heating and cooling systems work harder to maintain desired ambient temperatures. And as most new parents quickly realize, kids are expensive, so every dollar counts.
Beyond identifying issues that lead to energy waste, a home energy audit can identify potential health and safety concerns. For instance, a home energy audit can pinpoint moisture buildup, carbon monoxide infiltration, gas leaks, or leaking or contaminated air ducts. Moisture buildup can lead to mold and mildew, which can be detrimental to your family’s health and well-being. Likewise, contamination in your air duct system means that potentially harmful substances are circulating through the air in your home.
Seniors and people with disabilities have some unique home safety considerations, which may vary depending on the person’s age or type of disability. You might have an aging loved one who lives home alone, you may be moving an aging loved one into your home, or trying to make your home safer for a child or family member who has a disability. In any case, there are some home safety measures that can keep your loved one safe at home.
The first step is evaluating your needs on a room-by-room basis. If you live in a two-story home but require single-level living due to mobility issues, you might consider turning a dining room or family room into a first-floor bedroom. Once you’ve determined the modifications and safety measures you need to implement, you can begin to prioritize projects and investments to tackle the most critical safety needs first.
Funding Home Safety Modifications
Additionally, you may qualify for financial assistance or other programs that can help you cover the cost of necessary modifications. Rebuilding Together, for instance, offers information on programs for low-income homeowners for improving the health and safety of their homes. If home energy costs are exceeding what you can afford, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) offers programs and services that can help to make home energy costs affordable.
There’s also a Weatherization Assistance Program offered by the U.S. Department of Energy that aids homeowners with weatherization projects to improve the energy-efficiency of their homes. A searchable database of rebates, incentives, and other savings opportunities is available at Energy.gov.
Fall Prevention Tips
Some seniors are at risk of falling, which can lead to serious injury resulting in a further decline in mobility. Make sure that all hallways, stairways, bathrooms, bedrooms, and other areas of the home are well-lit for good visibility, and remove any clutter from hallways and other areas of the home where there isn’t clear, open space for freely navigating throughout the home. If your loved one uses a walker, cane, or wheelchair, make sure that halls and doorways are wide enough for easy entry.
While slips are more common on hard, smooth floors, carpeting can be dangerous as well. Throw rugs, for instance, should be avoided as shoes, walkers, or canes can catch on an uplifted edge or wrinkle, resulting in a fall. If you do have carpeting, make sure it’s secured to the floor. If you’re unsure whether your loved one is at risk, there are a number of fall risk assessments that a healthcare provider can use to evaluate their level of risk so that you can plan to implement the appropriate safety measures.
Bathroom Safety Tips for Seniors and People with Disabilities
The bathroom is an area in which seniors are at particular risk of falling. Slips and falls can easily occur on wet floors, while getting in or out of the bathtub, or even in the process of sitting on the toilet. Fortunately, there are several affordable tools you can use to enhance bathroom safety, such as non-skid mats for the bathtub or shower floor, shower chairs allowing a person to sit while bathing, and grab bars that are easily installed to help seniors or people with disabilities transfer in or out of the bathtub.
If you have the budget for more substantial renovations, installing a walk-in shower can be a safer option for some seniors and people with disabilities. There are also specialty bathtubs known as walk-in bathtubs with a swing-open door to allow for easier entry and exit.
Kitchen Safety Tips
The kitchen is home to many potential risks for seniors and people living with disabilities. For people who are wheelchair-bound, it can be difficult to retrieve objects from upper cabinets. Like the bathroom, there’s also the likelihood of slips and falls on the hard flooring surfaces often used in kitchens, especially if there’s been a spill.
The same general home safety rules regarding ensuring that any rugs or carpets are securely attached to the floor apply here as well, and if possible, consider installing a better, non-slip flooring surface. Cork flooring is one option that provides a softer surface with more natural grip so seniors are less likely to slip and fall, but the downside is that it’s harder to clean and more susceptible to damage from water or other spills. If you’re feeling innovative, there are some really creative ways to utilize rubber flooring to get the best of both worlds – safety and aesthetic appeal.
Kitchens also pose danger to seniors and people with disabilities who have memory or cognitive impairment. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, for example, may turn on the stove to prepare a meal and forget that they have done so, posing a fire risk. It’s a good idea to keep appliances unplugged when they’re not in use, or even remove small appliances such as toasters, blenders, and coffee makers to eliminate the risk of appliance-related accidents. Don’t store flammable liquids in the kitchen, or if you must, make sure that they are stored out of reach and as far away from stoves and toaster ovens as possible.
Cooking fires are among the most common kitchen accidents overall, so depending on your loved one’s needs and abilities, you might consider removing the knobs from the kitchen stove so that it can’t inadvertently be turned on. For gas-powered stoves, install a gas shutoff valve. Make sure your loved one never leaves the kitchen unattended while cooking is in progress. Keep drawers and cabinets closed when you’re not using them, and store knives and other sharp utensils securely and out of reach if necessary for your loved one’s safety.
If your loved one uses a wheelchair, you might also consider more extensive kitchen renovations to lower the countertops and keep the counters free of clutter other than frequently used items. If the home is shared by several people, install counters of various heights so that it’s possible to use the kitchen either sitting or standing. Easily-reachable cabinets with pull-down shelves will make kitchen items more accessible to people who rely on a wheelchair for mobility.
Certain types of appliances are more accessible for people with disabilities, as well, such as side-by-side or drawer-style refrigerators. You can also elevate a dishwasher so that less bending is required to load and unload dishes. Likewise, front-loading washing machines make laundry an easier chore, and you’ll also want to place both the washer and dryer at a convenient height, along with any shelving or work surfaces in the laundry area.
Other Potential Home Safety Hazards
If you know what to look for and can evaluate your home from your loved one’s perspective for usability, most of these home safety measures are easily recognizable. However, there are also dangers lurking in non-visible areas of the home. Having a qualified technician perform a home energy audit will identify some hidden dangers such as areas in which moisture builds up, contributing to the growth of mold and mildew, checking for air leaks and contamination in your home’s duct work, gas leaks, carbon monoxide, and other concerns.
A home energy checkup will reveal not only some potential health hazards but also ways to make your home more energy-efficient. When you cut down on energy costs, you’ll have more funds to spend on essential home modifications to help your loved one thrive at home.
Finally, fires are a risk for every home, but seniors or people with disabilities are at greater risk from death or injury in a fire. One of the most important things you can do for your loved one’s safety at home is to develop and practice a fire escape route and emergency response plan, with a means to contact emergency services and loved ones and a way to safely exit the home in case of fire from any room or area of the residence.
People who live in disaster-prone areas, such as areas commonly hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, or tornadoes, have to take special safety precautions to maintain the integrity of their homes and ensure the safety of their family members.
Determining Your Level of Risk
The first step is determining your level of risk, based largely on where you live in the U.S., and ensuring that you have adequate insurance coverage to ensure that you won’t be facing financial devastation in the event of a disaster.
Then, you’ll want to create an emergency response plan and practice escape routes and other emergency procedures with the whole family. You might set a meeting place that all family members can get to that’s a safe distance away from the structure for escaping from fires. Or, designate the safest place inside the home for the family to meet in the event of an earthquake or tornado. It’s also wise to create an emergency kit with a supply of medications, medical supplies, clean water, and non-perishable foods to get your family through a few days until you’re able to access rescue or emergency services.
Planning for Disaster: Design Decisions
The safety measures and structural considerations may vary depending on the types of natural disasters your home is most susceptible to. For instance, those with homes in flood-prone areas may make different design decisions to reduce the amount of costly damages that would occur in a worst-case scenario. Homes in beach areas are often raised, protecting what would otherwise be the first floor from mass destruction in several feet of flood waters. In fact, some insurance plans require certain design decisions specifically to reduce the amount of damage in certain areas of the country.
Some building materials are more durable and able to withstand strong winds and rain, flooding, and other disaster consequences. Concrete, for instance, is considered one of the most resistant building materials and is often used to construct wall systems for homes that are likely to be hit by earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes.
Structures without a strong foundation are at greater risk during earthquakes. Unreinforced masonry walls, structures that are not anchored to their foundations, unbraced pier-and-post foundations, and similar design shortcomings are just a few examples that make a home structure less capable of withstanding earthquakes and other disasters.
If you’re building a new home or purchasing an existing home, know the disaster risks in your area and talk to a contractor experienced in building structures with the same risk profile. If there are shortcomings in an existing structure, you may be able to request modifications from the seller before closing on the sale or funds placed in escrow for modifications needed to enhance the integrity of the building. At minimum, you should plan to make any changes necessary to meet the basic accepted standards in your area. Without taking this step, you’ll probably end up paying higher insurance premiums due to the increased risk of damage.
Other Safety Measures to Protect Your Home and Family
Technology advancements have made it possible to know sooner when weather threats are imminent, but predictions are still imperfect. Still, it’s a good idea to understand exactly what you can do to protect your home if a disaster is likely to strike.
For instance, many homeowners in the projected path of a hurricane will board their doors and windows before evacuating to protect against high winds. If a tornado is likely, move furniture and other objects away from windows. It’s also a good idea to cut the power to your home to avoid the risk of electrical fires if a tornado is imminent.
If you live in an earthquake-prone zone, you can plan ahead at any time by securing furniture to the floor to avoid injuries and damage from sliding tables, couches, and other objects. Anchor bookshelves and stands to the wall to prevent them from tipping over and causing injury. If an earthquake strikes nearby or in your area, shut off the gas to your home to reduce the risk of fire.
For imminent flooding dangers, make sure that any electrical components or small appliances are raised off the floor to avoid water damage and electrocution dangers, in addition to cutting off the electrical supply to your home as soon as you’re prepared to cope without it or evacuate.
Finally, when a disaster is likely, you should follow all recommendations from emergency management agencies. There are many steps you can take to secure your home and the belongings in it if you have time to do so before you must evacuate, depending on the type of natural disaster you’re dealing with. Educate yourself on the most effective ways to secure your property and how to access emergency notifications so that you’re aware of evacuation plans and procedures and can stay up-to-date on weather events.
Whether you’re a first-time homeowner, a new parent, an older adult, a family caring for an aging loved one or a person with a disability, or a family living in an area prone to natural disasters, there are special safety considerations that apply to your circumstances. Education is the best defense against all potential home dangers. When in doubt about the best approaches to home modifications or safety measures, seek the help of a professional to identify potential hazards and recommend the best solutions for reducing safety risks in the home.
Other Valuable Home Safety Resources:
- Home Safety Alerts – Consumer Product Safety Commission
- Home Safety – Safe Kids Worldwide
- The Safe Living Guide—A Guide to Home Safety for Seniors
- Interactive Home Safety Guide – Caregiver Stress
- The Safe Living Guide
- A Guide to Home Safety – How Stuff Works
- Home Safety Guide: An Easy Checklist To Make Sure Your House Is Stress-Free
- Home Security, Crime Prevention and Safety Center for Kids
- Home Safety Resources: An Online Guide
- In-Home Safety Guide: Buying Advice to Keep Your Loved Ones Safe
- Home Safety: A Comprehensive Guide
- Fire Safety – ConsumerSafety.org
- Safety at Home – National Safety Council