How to Avoid Common Winter Home Safety Hazards
As a homeowner, it pays to recognize potential hazards that occur around a house during the winter season. Cold weather, holiday decorations and snow-cover all play a role in increasing safety risks this time of year. From fire hazards to air quality, it’s wise to take preventative steps to protect your investment and your family from danger.
Here are some common hazards you should know about:
Too many holiday lights in one outlet: Too many lights on one circuit can pop some breakers and possibly create a fire hazard. Don't overload outlets and adapters by plugging in too many light strings. You can easily fry an adapter, and the massive bulk of cord connectors protruding from the outlet itself becomes a shock and fire hazard. When the weight of the plugs draws the plugs away from the outlet, it often exposes the blades of the plugs while they're still energized. Electrical fires can occur without much warning, and if they begin within a wall, fire can spread faster to other areas of the house.
Winter clothing can produce dangerous lint buildup in your dryer: Lint traps must be cleaned after each use, especially in the winter when you may be drying fluffier, lint-producing clothing and blankets. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that more than 15,600 dryer fires occur annually, causing more than $75.4 million in property damage, injuring 370 people, and killing 20. Missing or damaged lint screens are also a fire danger. Dryer fires start because of buildup of lint in the ducts, or underneath the machine. Clean the dryer vent and exhaust duct periodically, and clean under the dryer as well.
Cozy fires mean dirty chimneys: If you have a wood stove or fireplace, it is very important to get your chimney cleaned before each season of use. Build up can cause a chimney fire without warning.
Baby it’s cold outside, so the furnace is running: Heating systems, such as your furnace, should also be cleaned each season to ensure safe operation. Don’t risk the chance that an undiscovered defect could turn into an expensive repair.
Snow on the roof: It seems harmless, but it’s not. An excessive amount of snow on your roof can cause structural damage to your home or result in a total roof collapse. Snow is frozen water, and liquid water weighs 62.42 pounds per cubic foot. Your roof is probably designed for a snow load of about 12 inches. Older and flatter roofs may be more vulnerable and could easily succumb to the weight of the snow. If you are going to clear snow off of your roof yourself, purchase a roof “snow rake” at the hardware store and remove three inches or so at a time, keeping in mind you are trying to lighten the load, not clear the roof completely.
- Keep fuel burning vents clear of snow and ice: Newer furnaces and water heaters can often vent out the side of a home instead of the top. If this is the case with your house, you need to make sure sidewall vents are clear of snow piles and ice. Blockage of a vent puts your family at risk of dangerous levels carbon monoxide (CO) backing up into the home. The risk of illness or death from carbon monoxide increases in the winter. Have CO detectors on each floor of your home, and make sure their batteries are new.
With a few precautions, you can limit winter’s safety hazards and lower the risk of damage to your home and potential injury to you and/or your family. It is worth the time and effort to educate yourself and take preventive action.
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