You spend a lot of time searching for the right home for you and your family. And you probably debate everything from space and convenience to budget, before agreeing on your favorite place. But the most important part of building a healthy home occurs after the lease has been signed or the mortgage agreed upon. Studies show that most accidents and injuries at home. "So many injuries and issues can be avoided if the right preventative measures are taken," says Susan Polan, PhD, associate executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Luckily, certain items and precautions can keep you and everyone under your roof in good health. "People could avoid losing their home or getting sick or falling or injuring themselves with a few simple things," says Polan. Read on to see 10 items that can keep you healthy and possibly even save your life.
A Fire Extinguisher
About 85 percent of US fire deaths occurred at home in 2009. [CDC] The primary cause of residential fires? Cooking. That's why it's important and essential to have a fire extinguisher present in your home, preferably near your kitchen. There are five different types of fire extinguishers: Class A is for cloth, wood, rubber, paper and plastic; Class B is for flammable liquids; Class C is for electrical appliances; Class D is for flammable metals; and Class K is for fires involving vegetable oil or other fats in kitchen appliances. Though K seems like an optimal choice, these are primarily for commercial kitchens. It may be best to buy a multipurpose extinguisher to cover your bases.
Almost two-thirds of home fire deaths resulted from fires in places without working smoke alarms. [US Fire Administration] For anywhere from $6-40, you can sleep knowing that you're keeping you and your family safe. And one smoke detector may not cut it. In fact, the US Fire Administration suggests installing one on every level of your home as well as the basement. But installing them doesn't mean you're 100 percent safe. Maintaining them is just as important -- the number one reason existing fire alarms fail is because of missing or disconnected batteries. So test your batteries each month, and if you have a 9-volt battery, replace it once a year. If you have lithium battery, read the manufacturer's instructions on replacing the entire smoke detector, since you cannot change a lithium battery. If the alarm is hardwired into your home's electrical system, it should be switched out every eight to 10 years.
Polan recommends this simple trick: "Check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors when you change your clocks, twice a year. It will keep you from forgetting," she says.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Carbon monoxide (CO), the tasteless, odorless, invisible gas, can be a threat in any home. Furnaces, room heaters, fireplaces, stoves, grills, or even cars left running in garages may cause unsafe levels of carbon monoxide. Luckily, there are relatively inexpensive alarms that measure CO in the home and alert you if your home contains unsafe levels. But these shouldn't be a substitute for keeping all appliances in good shape. If your alarm beeps, even if you believe it may be a mistake, open all windows, and if the beeping continues, call your local fire department.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but if there are staircases in your home without railings (or with partial railings), those in your home may be at risk. According to one Cornell Study, lack of handrails accounted for 22.4 percent of falls that resulted in injuries. Especially if you have an older parent or in-law living in your home, keeping staircases safe is key. In older adults, falls are the leading cause of both fatal and nonfatal injuries.
Clutter, says Polan, is another major hazard. Keep toys, laundry and other items away from the stairs!
Written Family Evacuation Plan and Emergency Kit
You never know when disaster will strike, so it's always better to be safe than sorry. Especially if you live in an area prone to natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, it's essential to have a worst-case scenario plan in place. Questions to ask include: "How will I escape my home?" and "Do you have an emergency contact who lives outside the area?"
Too busy to talk about your emergency plan? "It's hard to take the time and bring everyone together, but pick a time when you are going to be together anyway, and take 15 minutes to begin the process," says Polan. Acknowledging that it's not the most fun family conversation, she suggests broaching the topics often, in small doses, to make sure every family member feels comfortable performing certain emergency-only duties, like hiding in the basement during a tornado. "Periodically, when I'm sitting at dinner with my son, I'll ask, 'Do you know how to do this?' so that it's a more natural part of conversation," she says.
An emergency kit containing cleansing agents, medication, flashlights, whistles, matches, water bottles, nonperishable foods and extra clothing (among many other things) is also essential. "Be aware of any special dietary needs," says Polan. "If a family member has high blood pressure, don't fill your kit with sodium-filled foods." She also recommends making copies of passports and drivers' licenses, and, if you have pets, make sure you have food and any other items that they'll need, too.
For more information, check out the CDC's Family Emergency Checklist.
Night lights may seem like they're for kids, but they can also help prevent falls and things (aka you) that go bump in the night. In fact, the CDC recommends putting them in your hallways to ensure safety and prevent falls. With many designs and models, you should be able to find something that suits your home. And if you're worried about the light disrupting your or a family member's sleep, there are motion sensor-activated models.
"Make sure, no matter where you are in your house, that you have light to help you see where you are and where you're going," says Polan. This is especially important in stairwells!
One of the most secure locks, deadbolts offer you home safety (and, sometimes, a discount on home insurance). However, it may be worthwhile to get a locksmith to install one. Up to 10 percent of deadbolts are installed incorrectly, putting you at risk for break-ins. [CBS Chicago] Make sure your deadbolt is A-OK by closing and locking your door. Draw a line to mark the point on the lock. Now, open the door and extend your lock. Compare it to the line you drew to make sure your lock is fully extended when you bolt your doors. If they don't match up, it's time for a new lock.
No-Slip Shower or Tub Mats
No matter who uses your tub or shower, these mats can be the perfect defense against slippery, soapy tiles. The tub is a common location for falls, and the appliances in bathrooms don’t make for a soft landing. "The bathroom can be dangerous, and it's important to have mats or protection against slipping," says Polan. Patterson Medical makes an entire line of no-slip mats that are affordable and well-reviewed. If possible, install grab bars, too, as another precautionary measure.
Especially if you have young children in your home, window guards and stops are must-haves. Each year, more than 4,000 children are treated in the ER for injuries received from falling from a window, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Screwing into the frame of your windows, these guards are easy to install and budget-friendly (you can pick them up at Home Depot). If you don't want to install guards, window stops allow you to prevent window from opening more than four inches. And screens won't cut it! With enough force, a child can pop them out.
Radon Detection Kit
Besides cigarettes, radon is the top cause of lung cancer in the US, and exposure in the home is responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Though certain areas are more prone to radon exposure, every home should get checked. Both Lowe's and Walmart carry at-home kits, and there are state radon contacts that can also help you with radon detection.