With determination, sacrifice and hard work, you saved for your new home, searched for your new home, and finally, bought your new home. You cleaned it, decorated it, and celebrated it – the symbol of your independence and achievement. It’s yours! Then comes the reality check: The maintenance and repairs are yours too. So is the safety of all who enter your house, either momentarily or to live. Forget stubbed toes, cut fingers and minor boo-boos. Accidents inside the home can be serious, ranging from slips and falls to serious burns, poisonings and even fires.
If you’ve never inspected the safety of your home, now is the time to start. Follow with periodic home safety inspections and ongoing corrective measures to help catch problems before they catch you. Use the home safety checklist below to inspect the structure and to implement smart safety practices. These precautions will keep your house your “home sweet home” and prevent you and yours from becoming a statistic. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Another good idea is to keep a home maintenance and safety inspection record. A notebook or journal works well. Attach or insert the completed safety checklist along with receipts, details of repairs and follow-up notes as needed. This will allow you to keep better track of repairs you have made and concerns that may arise in the future, and may help boost your home’s value to future buyers if you ever decide to sell it.
Exterior Home Safety Checklist
Driveways, Walkways and Yards
- View the home from the street or driveway. Is the entry door clearly visible? Is it well lit at night? Trim back overgrown shrubs and install lighting capable of flooding the entry area to deter criminals. Spring is the best time to inspect and prune as needed.
- Look up. Do you see any dead tree tops or rotten tree limbs? Are there branches – dead or alive – hanging over the rooftop or near power lines? Cut back trees to prevent rotting roofs or downed electrical wires and eliminate dead or dying limbs to help avoid damage during a storm.
- Are the driveway and sidewalk level and in good repair? Look for cracks, buckling surfaces or holes that can cause tripping and falls, especially for the elderly or disabled.
- Walk around the property to find potential concerns. Are there any holes in the lawn? Pay attention to patches of poison ivy, bee nests, ant hills or any other problems.
- Are woodpiles, accumulated brush, garbage bins and recyclable can collections located well away from the house? Not only are termites, ants and roaches attracted to these environments – and it’s a short trip into your house when the items are stacked near your house – but snakes, mice and other pests may be as well.
Pool Areas and Outbuildings
- Look closely at decks, patios and porches. Are the steps leading to the structure solid? Bounce on them slightly to test. Walk the length of the structure, looking for rotting wood, soft flooring, buckling surfaces, cracks or other hazards.
- Is the railing surrounding the deck or porch strong? Pull on it to test the stability. If you don’t have a rail surrounding an elevated structure, install one immediately.
- Are the garage doors in proper working order? Are they solid? Do they lift easily? Change the batteries in automatic garage door openers yearly.
- Is there adequate lighting available in the garage?
- Sprinkle rock salt on porches, sidewalks, and other areas in the winter to keep ice from forming. Plow or shovel walkways as needed.
Interior Home Safety Checklist
Exterior Doors, Windows and General Safety Concerns
- Check every door leading to the outside. Do they open and close easily? Are they strong? Do the locks work smoothly? Do the doors seal well? Any gap between the door and trim provides an easy way to pry the door open from the outside.
- Is there a light switch within reach of the entry door? The ability to turn on a light immediately upon entering a dark house is an important safety feature.
- Pay close attention to the floors in the house. Repair or replace flooring that begins to warp, buckle, peel, or may cause trips and falls.
- Keep carpets and rugs flat on the floor, secured to prevent skidding and slipping. Use double-sided tape to secure loose rugs.
- Test peeling paint for lead or, as the EPA suggests, hire a certified inspector to test the entire home for lead if the home has never been inspected or you plan to remodel.
- Keep windows in good working condition, easily opened from inside. Test the locks annually. In the event of a fire, a window may be the only means to exit the home.
- Watch for evidence of mold. Musty smells, black or white powdery or fuzzy growths and excessive moisture or condensation may indicate mold. Use vinegar and water, or borax and water, to clean and disinfect naturally.
- Look for evidence of mice, rats and bugs inside your home in spring and fall. Treat as necessary.
Inspecting Stairs and Hallways
- Inspect interior stairs annually. Bounce on the steps slightly to test strength. Pull on the railing to make sure it is secure. Check the flooring for slipping, frayed edges or tears.
- Replace lighting over the stairs immediately after it burns out. Stairs can be one of the most dangerous places in the house.
- Add nightlights along stairs or in hallways for nighttime safety.
Safety in the Bathroom
- Do you have nonslip stickers or mats inside the bathtub or shower?
- Is there a grab bar in the tub or shower and near the toilet? Pull on bars to test stability. The bathroom is one of the most dangerous places in the home, even for younger people, as the New York Times reports.
- Check the floor for rotten areas, especially near the tub and toilet.
- Keep a working nightlight near the bathroom entrance.
Kitchen Safety Precautions
- Do you have lighting over the stove and sink? Replace burned-out lightbulbs immediately.
- Is the stove in good condition? Are all the knobs present? Does each burner and the oven work? Have a qualified technician or local utility service worker inspect the stove if you have any concerns.
- Clean the kitchen exhaust fan and change the filter annually, or more often as needed.
- Keep curtains and flammable furnishings away from the stove area.
- Never use any appliance that doesn’t work right. Unplug it immediately if it sparks, smokes, overheats, shocks you or alarms you in any manner. Replace the appliance or have a professional repair it before operating.
- Clean the exterior of the refrigerator and freezer at least once a year, if not more often. Check the compartment temperatures with a thermometer.
- Use child locks on cabinet doors, as needed, and keep hazardous objects out of the reach of children.
Major Home Systems Safety Checklist
Plumbing and Water Inspections
- Test well water yearly. Use a home test kit or send a sample to a commercial testing lab.
- Keep your water temperature at 120 degrees Fahrenheit or lower to prevent burns.
- Inspect your water heater every fall to maintain safe operating conditions. Consult a professional for assistance.
- Inspect septic tanks yearly and have the tank evacuated approximately every one to three years, depending on the use load. Hire a qualified professional to evaluate your septic system. They will open access caps, if provided, to verify levels; conduct soil probe tests; run water and flush toilets to absorb seepage into surrounding lawn and other steps.
Electrical Systems Inspections
- Test ground fault interrupter outlets annually. GFIs must be installed whenever you have an electrical outlet near water. Likely locations include the utility room, bathroom and kitchen.
- Replace damaged electrical appliance and extension cords. Frayed and defective wiring and cords is a major cause of fires.
- Move appliance cords and electrical extensions out of walkways. Never run them under carpets or rugs. Avoid pinching them in a door or under heavy objects.
- Unwind long cords to prevent overheating in the coiled wires.
- Many fires can be prevented with residential electrical inspections, performed every one to five years. Hire an electrician to perform one quickly and easily. They have special tools to test fuse and breaker boxes, wiring loads and spot potential problems.
Heating, Air-Conditioning and Fire Safety
- Check the furnace every fall, before operating for the heating season. Note any failure to light, maintain a pilot light, and any strange smells or sounds. Consult a professional for help as necessary.
- Test the air-conditioning system at the beginning of the cooling season. Turn off immediately if the appliance sounds, smells or operates strangely. Consult a professional for further help.
- Inspect baseboard heaters, radiators and fireplaces in the fall. Clean appropriately to begin the heating season.
- Clean or replace heating and cooling system filters at the beginning of each season.
- Place and maintain smoke detectors according to local building code. A minimum of one per floor level, situated just outside bedroom doors, is recommended. Change the batteries every year. Plan this for your birthday to maintain consistency. Tip: Use the removed batteries for other, non-critical items around the house.
- Use a carbon monoxide detector. Change the batteries yearly.
- Clean your dryer vent every spring. Clogged dryer vents can lead to fires.
- Inspect and clean your chimney every fall.