Safety improvements on the forecast

Q: What are the most important safety improvements I should make to my home, especially as winter approaches?

A: Every year nearly 20,000 Americans die from accidents that take place where they live, making our homes the second-most-common location — behind only cars on the road — of such fatalities, according to the Home Safety Council.  Home injuries account for nearly 21 million doctor and hospital visits as well each year.

Accidental falls, fires, poisoning and toxic leaks (e.g., gas, carbon monoxide) are the leading causes of home injuries and deaths. And, thanks to the diverse weather factors of Colorado winters, there are even higher risks of injury and death associated with the use of furnaces, temporary indoor heating units and fireplaces.  In many cases these serious dangers can be avoided through careful planning and proper care of your home. 

Experts recommend that homes have both fire/smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  These should be placed on each level of a home, outside of bedrooms and nearby areas where fires or leaks might originate.  An easy way to remember how to make sure your detectors are working is to change the batteries and test them when you change your clocks each year.

Your utilities – electrical, heat, air conditioning, water – are primary sources of danger if not properly maintained.  Boilers and furnaces require maintenance and should be checked and cleaned regularly by a professional.  Hot water heaters set higher than 120 degrees produce water that can easily burn the skin and should be checked for temperature settings.  Electrical systems in your home should be checked and repaired by qualified professionals.

The National Fire Protection Association estimates that U.S. fire departments respond to an average of more than 370,000 reported home fires per year.  These fires caused an estimated average of 2,650 deaths, 12,890 injuries, and $7.1 billion in direct property damage per year.  The most frequent location of home fires is in the kitchen.

Fire extinguishers are a required part of providing a safe home.  Check your fire extinguishers regularly to make sure they are fully charged and place them close to where they are most likely to be needed – the kitchen and the furnace room.  If your home is multi-story, have a fire escape ladder available on the second floor and create an evacuation plan that everyone who lives in the house knows about.

If your home is equipped with a wood-burning fireplace, the chimney may need to be cleaned.  Be sure there is nothing lodged in the chimney and that the flu is open when making a fire.  A screen to protect carpeting and wood around the fireplace may also be recommended.

Cold weather leads some people to warm their cars inside their garages.  This dangerous habit produces high levels of carbon monoxide, an invisible and odorless deadly gas, both in the garage and possibly in the house if the garage is not completely sealed off from the living areas. 

Many of the accidental falls that take place in homes occur due to poor lighting.  Make sure stairwells, especially, are well lit and that the outside of your home has adequate lighting to help avoid tripping over items or slipping on icy surfaces.

To protect young children, make sure that any cleaning supplies, paints or other potentially toxic materials are out of reach or locked away.  Loose paint, especially in older homes, could be a source of poisoning for young children and should be scraped and covered with non-toxic new paint.

This article was provided by the Colorado Association of REALTORS. Additional information about buying and selling real estate is available at

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