There are many potential situations present in a home that can cause injury. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to recognize such hazards and take the necessary steps to eliminate them. The following is a list of a few of the more significant safety issues that we as engineers have identified in the more than 10,000 home and building inspections we’ve performed over the last two decades plus. While the list does not include all of the possible safety concerns that may be present in your home or building it can be used as a guide to identify those risks which are frequently and commonly encountered. In fact, if you find any additional hazards not identified here, please e-mail them to us and we will consider listing them here.
GLASS AND WINDOWS
- Any glass in any window or door that is subject to human impact must be labeled safety glass. The safety glass label is usually permanently etched into the glass surface and is located in one of the corners. If the window or door contains a dual or triple pane glass section, all of the panes must contain a permanently affixed safety glass label. If the glass has been etched or otherwise modified making the label no longer visible the glass must be replaced with labeled safety glass.
- The height of the window sill above finished floor elevation is important. If this distance is less than 18 inches above the finished floor, the majority of building codes require that such glass be labeled safety glass. Consider this……any window is a potential attractive hazard to a child. The closer the window is to the surface on which he or she stands, the easier it is to fall through that window. This can be especially dangerous if the window is on a mid-landing or upper story. Insect and shade screens should not be considered adequate safety barriers for this type of potential hazard.
STAIRS, DECKS, BALCONIES, PORCHES AND LOFTS AND THEIR ASSOCIATED GUARDRAILS AND RAILINGS
- Interior and exterior stairs should have railings on at least one side and the landings should be of adequate dimension.
- Guardrails and railings must be securely mounted.
- Stairs with tread widths greater than 36 inches should have railings on both sides.
- For residential construction the railings must be at least 36 inches in height above finished floor elevations as measured from the leading edge of the step and guardrail heights of 42 inches above the finished floor elevations of balconies, decks or other horizontal platforms. The requirement for railings in commercial construction is 42 inches in height as measured from the leading edge of the step and guardrail heights 42 inches above the finished floor elevation of balconies, decks or other horizontal platforms
- All decks, balconies, porches, lofts and tops of retaining walls with more than 30 inches of grade elevation change must have railings. All such railings and guardrails must have balusters or intermediate grillage to prevent an unwanted individual from penetrating the barrier. The space between balusters must not allow a sphere of 4 inches or larger in diameter to pass through it. The obvious connection is that this will prevent the vast majority of children from being able to bypass the railing or guardrail.
- Any furniture or integrated seating adjacent to a deck, loft, balcony or retaining wall guardrail must be removed as this would be an easy access point from which a child could fall from.
- Glass in any window or door that is adjacent to a guardrail or landing is considered to be subject to human impact and must be labeled as safety glass.
- Install hard-wired smoke alarms equipped with battery back-ups in all sleeping areas and near any combustion equipment such as furnaces, water heaters, etc.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors on any level in the home where there is a sleeping area or combustion equipment.
- In general, the distance (clearance) between any fuel burning stoves and adjacent combustible materials such as wood framing, insulation, etc., must be at least 36 inches. The hearth in front of the fireplace must be at least 24 inches in depth and span across the full width of the fireplace opening.
- Appliances that burn natural gas and that are connected to a municipal gas distribution system should be checked by the local gas utility. In the case of the Phoenix Metro area, Southwest Gas is the local gas utility. If you contact them they will generally come out to do a clock test on your municipal natural gas system. This will include an inspection of the gas meter, all gas burning appliance connections and fittings. We recommend that you have this done annually. A small fee may apply unless a transfer of ownership is involved.
- Those utilizing bottled gas systems such as propane or butane, should have all of the fittings, connections, piping, tubing, and gas-burning appliances checked by a private fuel gas technician. Because these types of systems are usually not associated with municipal gas suppliers, a private company would have to be called. Very often, the gas storage tanks are buried in the ground, especially larger tanks that serve swimming pool or spa heaters. Know where these tanks are and never dig near a buried propane tank or a buried gas line.
- All uncovered light fixtures in closets or other storage areas that could contact clothes or other stored items and cause a fire should be changed to the covered type.
- If you have any ceiling mounted recessed light fixtures in your home have a licensed electrician go into your attic to determine if they are approved for contact with insulation. In general, such fixtures will have an “IC” imprinted on them. If they are not approved for contact with insulation or if you have light fixtures that suddenly turn off and then go back on after a short while have them replaced with those that are approved for contact with insulation.
- The rooms in which gas burning appliances are installed must have a source of fresh air ventilation to support the combustion process. This requirement is based on the BTU rating of the appliance. We recommend that you contact a licensed plumber and/or a HVAC technician to check this for you.
- Install a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, mechanical closets, workshop, garage and outdoor barbecue areas. Make sure the fire extinguishers are rated for general use and that there is a gage on it to check it’s fill level.
- Attached garages must be properly separated from an adjacent living area by materials that have at least a one hour fire rating. In general, 5/8 sheetrock should line all wall and ceiling surfaces of the garage and the door leading from the house to the garage must be rated as a fire door and must self-close and self-latch. Checking with your local fire department is recommended.
- All inflammable materials (materials that will burn) should be stored properly in an outside area or in an area that is well-ventilated. This area should be inaccessible to children.
- Gas burning water heaters should be mounted at least 18 inches above the floor and must have a shut-off valve and an adequately installed temperature/pressure relief valve that is discharged to an appropriate location.
SWIMMING POOLS AND SPAS
- Please see our article on swimming pool safety.
- Children must be protected from poisonous and hazardous substance.
- A combustion air test must be performed on all forced air gas or oil burning furnaces at least annually. This test will check internal components of the furnace i.e., the heat exchanger, to determine if poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide are mixing with the air being circulated throughout the house. As heat exchangers age, deterioration can occur resulting in leaks that may cause the products of combustion to mix with the heated air resulting in a very high risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and suffocation. We recommend that heat exchangers in forced air gas or oil fired furnaces be checked at least once per year prior to the fall season.
- Laundry chute access doors or covers should be equipped with childproof latches.
- All garage door openers must have automatic safety reverse mechanisms incorporated into them to detect persons, pets, or belongings that might otherwise be impacted by the door when being closed. Older type door reverse mechanisms are triggered by contact and newer doors are equipped with infrared beam detection of object within the door closing path. Most codes require the newer systems since contact with the door is no guaranty that it will automatically reverse. If you have the contact type, check the reversing mechanism by placing a light weight cardboard box no more than 6 inches high in the closing path of the door. If the box is damaged by the contact or if the door doesn’t reverse, the door should not be used and a new safety reverse mechanism must be installed before the door is used. Check infrared detection systems regularly as wires can get cut, lenses obstructed or misaligned, etc.
- Any grade elevation changes greater than 30 inches such as at the top of a retaining wall must be equipped with a guardrail.
- On hillside lots, steep banks and steep driveways can be hazardous. In most Arizona municipalities strict rules regarding these types of conditions are applicable. Consult with a registered landscape architect, architect or engineer on this.
- Any windows that lead to an unprotected deck, balcony or roof area should be equipped with secondary locks that are childproof. If these are bedroom windows, a tertiary means of emergency egress must be provided other than from the bedroom entry door or the subject window.
Constant vigilance and pro-active correction by responsible adult homeowners are the keys to minimizing the risks associated with hazards in the home.