When most of us hear the word “home” the word association centers in our brains think of certain words: comfort, peace, food, shelter, safety, family—or maybe even some thoughts of pasta, pierogies, cookies, puzzles, or other favorite meals and activities that take place at home.
We don’t usually consider the negatives of home, but the home has a number of not so pleasant words associated with it: danger, injury, accident, emergency, broken—words that describe the hazards and obstacles that are present in everyday life.
While we don’t intend to alarm you and have you walking on eggshells, it’s important to be aware of all of the variables that present themselves in a home and can cause dangerous situations. These variables are especially worthy of consideration if you have newborn or young children.
Remember: Preparation first, peace of mind second.
Here’s the crash course of all the dangers in a home:
Where Do We Get Started?
Good question. There are a number of places in the home that are important. It might be the garage, stairs, bedrooms, and the kitchen that present a challenge for you. Trouble spots may vary depending on size of the home, number of children or pets, and other variables. Don’t worry, we’ll cover it all.
But where is the main culprit? Where is the most dangerous place in the home?
In the United States, injury is the leading cause of death for children and young adults, and almost half of those incidents occur in the home. Of all places in the home, the majority of these injuries occur in…
Bathrooms: The Most Dangerous Place in a House
Ah, the bathroom. The crème de la crème of home danger. It is the booby trap on a treasure hunt. The bathroom is where the majority of injuries occur. According to TLC Home Improvement, 70% of all home accidents happen in the bathroom. This also includes falls, deadly hazards, and accidents for older adults.
What gives? How come?
- Slips and falls on wet surfaces, in showers and bathtubs
- Scalding water causing severe burns and injuries
- Electrocution from appliances that are improperly placed and get wet
- Bathtub drowning, most notably with toddlers
- Accidental chemical poisoning, most common with toddlers
That’s the skinny, but how do you foolproof the bathroom? What’s the solution?
- Have products that reduce slipperiness, like grab bars, non-slip stickers or mats, tub rails, and similar devices. Walk in tubs can be installed or built, or even walk in showers, which are the safest solutions.
- Always keep an eye on kids. Never leave a child in a bathroom unattended, especially a shower or bathtub. Remember that bath seats for children can tip over and cause a drowning incident, no matter how sturdy they appear.
- Turn hot water on and wait for a shower or bath to cool down before getting in. Water heaters should be set no higher than 120° F (49° C).
- Check tubs frequently for malfunctions. Placing a soft, insulated cover over bathtub faucets will safeguard against accidental bumps or burns.
- Never leave electrical appliances close to water or a water source. Always make sure that appliances are far enough away from a bathtub so that cords can’t fall in water.
- Place all bath necessities within reach before you start a shower or bath so they are readily available once you get in.
- All medicines and cleaning products should be out of the reach of children. This is true for any part of home, whether it’s the bedroom, laundry room, or kitchen.
Keeping the Kitchen Safe
It isn’t a wonder that the most common place to cause a fire in the home is a kitchen. This is where all cooking takes place, which oftentimes includes cooking materials that might deal with hazardous grease, or pose danger due to product size, like cooking a turkey during Thanksgiving—which is a rather dangerous task.
Outside of cooking hazards, the kitchen stores sharp objects, knives, cooking devices, cleaning chemicals, and a number of other items that pose threats.
Keep these kitchen tips in mind:
- Never allow children to play in the kitchen.
- Always keep kids away from stoves and ovens.
- Never leave open flames and cooking unattended.
- Pan handles should always be turned away from the front of the stove where they could. be knocked over or kids could grab them.
How to handle a grease fire?
Grease fires are common in the kitchen—especially if you’re getting your Bobby Flay on and seeing what kind of mean meal you can cook—but many people aren’t familiar with how to actually put out a grease fire.
If you have a fire extinguisher—don’t use it on a grease fire. Using a fire extinguisher or water on grease fire that is in a pan can cause the fire to leave the pan and end up on floors and walls. The best approach is to use a lid or a cooking sheet to put out the flames, but only after burners have been turned off. Never lift or carry a burning pan because you may send the fire onto other surfaces.
Salmonella and E.Coli are forms of bacteria that affect the intestinal tract, and they’re the most likely to be found in your kitchen. These two bacteria cause symptoms ranging from life-threatening dehydration to diarrhea.
Salmonella results from handling, eating, or contaminating food with other raw food. This can happen while a meal is being prepared or eaten. An E. Coli infection usually occurs from consuming foods that weren’t properly cooked or cleaned.
How to avoid these dangers:
- Always wash hands thoroughly.
- Use a different cutting board for fruits and veggies than the one used for raw meat.
- Make sure that raw meat, seafood, and poultry are separated from one another in the fridge.
- Clean all kitchen tools with hot soapy water before using again—especially tools that were used for raw meats and veggies.
- Fish, poultry, pork, and other meats should be cooked at proper and safe temperatures according to the food and safety inspection service.
Careful with the Clothes
The kitchen may be the most common place for a fire to occur, but one of the most common appliances to cause a fire is a clothes dryer—though many fires start because of cigarettes and careless smoking.
Clothes dryers fires happen because of unkept machines that accumulate lint in a lint trap. The accumulated lint ignites and causes a fire.
- Clean lint traps in machines before every load. This improves performance and keeps machines from overheating.
- Frequently check on dryer’s duct work. If clothes are taking a long time, there may be lint blockage in machines that can cause ductwork to overheat. Removing and cleaning ductwork is not a difficult task.
- Make sure there is enough space between the dryer unit and the wall so the vent is not restricted in any way.
- Only run the dryer whenever you are home and wide awake.
The last risk that a dryer or washing machine poses is the threat of trapping a kid. Curious and adventurous kids might think it’s a good idea to explore inside of these appliances. Remind them that household items and appliances aren’t meant to ever be played with.
Stairs pose the risk of falling down, tripping up, or falling off—but wooden stairs are especially dangerous due to the ability to slip and fall from slippery socks or a wet surface. If you have wooden stairs, always place down treads or a well-anchored runner.
- All stairs should be equipped with sturdy handrails, which should always be used.
- Never let children play on stairs or run up and down them.
- Don’t allow toys or other devices to accumulate on stairs.
- Make sure that children and older adults always use handrails.
Proper Pool Procedures
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children aged 1-4, and most often, these are avoidable situations. The Center for Disease Control reports that from 2005 – 2014, on average there were 10 unintentional drowning deaths per day.
The most important tip to remember is to never leave children unattended. Many drownings occur while parents, babysitters, or other caregivers are present. They simply lose sight of their children and a devastating accident occurs.
Never allow children to swim alone without supervision. Use security fences around pools that prohibit access from the area when kids shouldn’t be swimming. Pool doors should be able self-close and self-latch, and you can even attach home security sensors to these doors to receive alerts if they are opened. All doors leading outside of a home should have motion sensors as well. The standard height of a pool fence is around four feet.
When the pool is not in use, all toys, float devices, and other products from the pool and surrounding decks should be removed to reduce any temptation for children.
Pro-tip: Small kiddie pools also present a lot of danger. People often assume that kiddie pools are exempt from causing an accident because there isn’t much water, but this is not true. Young children can drown in as little as an inch of water. Empty your kiddie pools after every use so that they can not be accessed after the fact.
See our summer pool safety guide for more information:
Fire Safety Situations
Cooking, candles, heaters, and any other open flame in the home can be a source of a fire safety hazard. Simple steps for cooking and candles are to never leave them unattended and cigarettes should only be smoked outside.
When grilling outdoors, do so away from guests, children, and the home. Keep grills a safe distance from trees, buildings, and any material that burns.
If your grill doesn’t start or the flame goes out for any reason, wait at least 15 minutes for propane to dissipate. Propane is heavier than air, and lighting the grill will light everything in proximity.
If a charcoal grill is being used, don’t ever squirt lighter fluid on burning coals. When disposing of burning coals, never place them in the corner of a yard, always properly dispose of them. This is a hazard for your yard—it could catch on fire—and children or animals that may come in contact with coals.
Space heaters and electric heaters are common alternatives for heating a home, but they also cause their fair share of fires. All space heaters that are purchased should be UL certified and safety tested. They should always meet the UL certification safety standards.
These heaters should also have emergency tip-over shut off features and heating element guards. Never allow children to play around these devices.
Candles, Cooking, and Other Open Flames
Never leave candles, stove tops, or any other open flame unattended, no matter the period of time. It isn’t a good idea to step away for a phone call while dinner is cooking—even if you think everything will be fine.
This is especially important if you have children or animals that are prone to knocking over open flames.
Extension cords aren’t commonly thought of as fire hazards, but they pose a risk—especially when tacked or nailed to walls and door frames—which causes a fire or shock hazard.
Fires are also possible when cords are under rugs, due to the wear and tear of wiring from people constantly walking over them. This can cause a heat build-up, and worse case scenario, the carpet degrades until it catches on fire.
Place outlets in convenient places so that you aren’t running extension cords all over the place.
Quick Tips: Cover the Basics
- Don’t allow children or animals to play near or with electrical sockets. Cover these with guards.
- Seal off doors that lead to terraces and balconies so children can’t wander to these locations.
- If a child is upstairs, install a guard door so they can’t wander downstairs and fall—but keep them downstairs until they are of appropriate age.
- Be aware of small and hazardous items in the home that can be choked on, like pins, needles, screws, et cetera.
- Don’t let children play near garden equipment that has thorns that are prickly to the touch like cactus and roses.
- To a young child, everything looks like food. This includes decorative flowers, incense sticks, and other decorations and devices. Tell them not to eat random objects.
- Don’t leave behind jewelry, scarves, belts, or other items of clothing in the home that might be taken off and left lying around causing hazards.
- Remove plastic bags, large shower curtains, or similar items as safety precaution for children.
Additional Tip #1: If you use cleaning pesticides, store them properly and don’t let them get on mothballs, wallpaper, or pressure-treated wood. Keep pesticides locked away and out of the way of children. Never eat or drink while using them, and get away from direct exposure. Always wash hands after use and follow instructions when using.
Additional Tip #2: A dirty humidifier causes more harm than good. If water sits at the bottom of a humidifier for a long period of time, it can harbor mold spores, fungus, and bacteria. That means a dirty humidifier that is being used ends up sending all of these dirty germs all over the air you’re breathing.
Always clean and empty the humidifier after every single use. Make sure to only fill the humidifier with distilled water.
Home Materials You Need to Know About
Home Material #1 – Lead
Many homeowners don’t know that it wasn’t until 1978 when regulatory standards from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) minimized or eliminated lead from consumer products, but that does not mean that all homes have been updated.
Many older homes are still outfitted with lead-based paint, household sut, and even drinking water that can be contaminated with lead if it’s traveling through lead pipes. Contaminated soil is another common area for lead exposure.
What can you do?
The home can be tested for lead—especially if the structure was built before 1978. This can be done by buying a home test kit that tests specifically for lead, consulting with an environmental lab or organization, or hiring a professional licensed risk assessor. It’s possible to remove lead-paint via a certified removing company or professional.
Pro-Tip: If your pipes are lead, hot water should never be used from the tap to drink or make baby formula. Hot water causes even more lead to seep from pipes. If you have already done this, have your children tested for lead exposure.
Home Material #2 – Pressed Wood
Pressed wood is a dangerous material in the home because it often has formaldehyde—a substance known to cause watery eyes, a burning sensation in the eyes and throat, and it triggers asthma attacks for those with asthma. Evidence has shown that the substance causes cancer in animals, so it’s also possible to cause cancer in humans if they are faced with prolonged exposure.
Pressed wood is most often present in hardwood, plywood, wall paneling, particleboards, fiberboards, and furniture that is made with these products.
If your home has pressed wood and you are experiencing any of these symptoms, speak with a doctor or medical professional. The best solution is to avoid pressed wood altogether, especially if you have the option in the event that you are in the middle of a move or buying wood products.
Home Material #3 – Carpet
As common as carpet is in the home, it’s also the likeliest place you’ll find VOC (volatile organic compounds) that accumulate from glues and dyes in the carpet, and pollutants like dust mites, pet dander, mold, dirt, and others that get trapped in the carpet. These substances all interfere with respiratory health.
To combat some of the issues with carpet, you should open windows and keep them open for a few days after new carpet is installed so that chemicals can escape, and vacuum floors regularly to get rid of the fibers of potential pollutants. You can also avoid these issues entirely by simply not purchasing carpet.
Home Issues You Need to Know About
Home Issue #1 – Mold
Mold will grow anywhere there’s moisture, oxygen, and organic materials. It can be found in just about any damp area in the house that has poor ventilation. Exposure to mold spores can cause nasal and sinus congestion, chronic cough, and eye irritation. Mold will also trigger asthma attacks and lung infections in people with chronic respiratory diseases.
The best solution to remove mold is using non-ammonia cleaners, dishwashing soaps and water. If you’re cleaning mold, wear gloves, long sleeves, pants, eye protectors, and a respirator to protect yourself from spores.
After you clean the mold, use a HEPA (high efficiency particulate absorbing) vacuum or air cleaner to eliminate mold spores from the air. If the area is very large, hire a professional cleaner. Always discard carpet, drywall, insulation, and any item that has been wet for more than two days.
Home Issue #2 – Mothballs
Mothballs are tiny orbs of pesticides that are used when storing clothing or other items that are susceptible to damage from moths or mold. They aren’t as common as they once were, but if you find them in your home, they pose some threats.
The main substance found in a mothball is naphthalene. This is a substance that causes a breakdown of red blood cells in children with a genetic condition called G6PD deficiency. The other common substance you’ll find in a mothball is paradichlorobenzene. Exposure to this chemical causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, eye and nasal irritations in humans, and kidney and liver damage in pets.
If moths are a problem and you want an alternate solution to using a mothball, washing and drying clothing, followed by shaking them before putting them away is the best solution. Always vacuum drawers and closets to clean areas of potential larvae.
Variables will Vary
Depending on your home, how many pets or animals you have, and other variables, there may be different or added dangers in your home. For further research, see the resources we used in this guide, as well as our fire safety guide, pool safety guide, and hazards in the home for toddlers guide.
Consulting a professional to inspect the home will give you a better idea on where your trouble spots lie. As many variables as there seem to be, safety is as simple as doing research and putting in the work. As long as you’re willing to explore the needs of your home, you too will have a safe and secure environment.