October 2004 Edition

 Home Safety Check 

Will you give us a list of safety items recommended in a home and how to maintain them? 
Home safety is the most important part of home ownership. It is very important to make sure all safety items are working properly and will protect your family in case of an accident. It is a good idea to choose one day a year to perform a safety check, then mark it on your calendar. The following is a list of items that will insure your family's safety. 
In newer homes, all smoke detectors are hard wired into the electrical system and are all connected together. If one detector goes off, all will.
This is very convenient if, in the middle of the night, you have a fire in the basement, and you are sleeping on the second floor. All smoke detectors also have a battery backup in case the power goes out. Unscrew the detectors and replace the batteries once a year. Be sure to test them after you reinstall them. 
All newer homes are required to have ground fault circuit interrupter electrical outlets in the kitchen, bathrooms, unfinished basements, garages and outside.
GFCI's are safety outlets that prevent you from being electrocuted. They are the funny looking outlets with the buttons on them. Let's say you are washing dishes and have your hands in the water. Someone accidentally knocks the electric can opener into the sink. You will feel a jolt of electricity, but a GFCI will trip the circuit in 1/40th of a second and prevent you from being electrocuted. How do you know if the ground fault safety device is working? There is a "Test" button and a "Reset" button on the outlet. Push the test button in and make sure the reset button pops out. When it does, the outlet and every outlet connected to it will be dead. You must push the reset button back in to reactivate the outlet. If you push the test button and nothing happens, the GFCI has burned out, and the outlet will need replacing. If your home does not have GFCI outlets, it is a very good idea to have them installed. You can purchase them from Lowe's or Home Depot for around $15.00 each. 
What happens if you're upstairs sleeping and have a fire that blocks the bottom of the stairs? Being trapped with no way of escaping can be avoided.
The solution is purchasing a chain or rope ladder that can be installed on a window sill. This will allow your family to safely escape and wait for the fire department on the outside of your home. 
Home escape ladders come in two standard lengths - 15 feet and 25 feet. The shorter length is adequate for most two story bedrooms, while the longer is used for three story rooms. Make sure that the ladder is easily deployed by the person who is meant to use it. Also check for the load limit. Ladders should be rated for at least 1,000 pounds. The cost of a home escape ladder ranges from $30 to $150. 
There is not a large selection of places to find them locally. Try stores like Sam's Club or go online. You might try these websites: 
After purchasing a ladder, make sure that it fits the specific window for which it's intended. If the ladder is for a child’s room, have the child practice putting the ladder out the window. Then have them practice climbing out of a first floor window. Do this as part of a family fire drill.  
Every home should have an escape plan in case of a fire. All family members should be included in the planning process. Draw a picture of your home floor plan. Mark the location of exits (two from every room, if possible), an outside meeting place and the closest telephone. Make plans for anyone with special needs, such as a baby, toddler or older person. Check the exits from each bedroom. If the second exit is a window, can it be opened? Can someone safely make it to the ground? Is an escape ladder needed? Tell your plan to the entire family. Have a family fire drill to practice the plan. Start with family members in their bedroom with the door closed. An adult should push the button on the smoke detector to sound the alarm. Each person should test the door before opening it, then follow the way out to the meeting place. Everyone should meet there. Then one person can pretend to go call 911. Evaluate the drill and make any changes needed. Review and practice your plan at least once a year. 
Each level of your home should have a fire extinguisher installed and readily accessible. This is your first line of defense in case of fire.
The two most common areas to have a fire is the kitchen and the garage. Make sure you have one in each location. We recommend installing ABC types that are good on all types of fires. ABC type dry chemical fire extinguishers utilize a nontoxic monoammonium phosphate dry chemical agent, which is highly effective against A, B and C class fires. These can be purchased from Home Depot or Lowe's. 
All water heaters have thermostats that cut off the heating source when the water is heated to the desired temperature. Gas water heaters have thermostats located on the outside of the heaters, and electric water heaters have thermostats that are normally located inside.
What happens when the thermostats go bad? The burner or heating element will continue to heat the water and can build up enough pressure for the water heater to explode. That is why every water heater must have a temperature and pressure relief (T&P) valve installed on the outside of the heater. A T&P valve works on the same principle as a pressure cooker pop off valve.  
If the water reaches 210 degrees or if the pressure inside the tank reaches 150 pounds, the valve opens and allows the water to safely run to the outside of the home. How do you test the valve? Each valve comes with a test lever that can be raised, and you can hear water running through the valve. What happens if the valve is frozen and can no longer be raised? The valve is considered defective and should be replace immediately by a licensed plumber. 
Furnaces over 15 years old can have a problem in the burn chamber or heat exchanger. When the heat exchanger rusts out, and all eventually will, carbon monoxide will leak into the supply air and be distributed throughout the house.
Every older furnace should be inspected annually. To protect from carbon monoxide poisoning, install a carbon monoxide detector on each sleeping floor of your house. They make detectors that plug into electrical outlets, and they make combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. These may be purchased from Lowe's or Home Depot.

If you have a question, change of address, comment, home tip or would like to send Home Tips to your clients, send your letter to Home Tips, Christian Building Inspectors, Inc., 3697 Habersham Lane, Duluth, Georgia 30096. You can E-Mail your questions to us at rodharrison@christianbuildinginspectors.com. We reserve the right to edit questions for length.