23 Small Ways You're Making Your Home More Dangerous
It's time to ditch these bad habits before someone gets hurt in your house.
Whether you're paying down a mortgage or writing rent checks, your home is likely among your biggest monthly expenses. Unfortunately, for many people, those big bills aren't the only sources of home-related stress. In many cases, there are potential threats lurking throughout that supposed sanctuary, turning it into a dangerous home that can affect not only your bank account, but your health.
With the help of experts, we've rounded up the ways you're inadvertently making your home a more dangerous place—and how to stop.
Not cleaning your lint trap and dryer vents frequently
A little fuzz on your lint trap may seem like no big deal, but leaving it there could lead to some serious problems.
In addition to allowing moisture buildup, which can cause mold, "the buildup of lint or other debris blocking the vent can cause bacteria growth or harmful gasses to form like carbon monoxide," says Jason Kapica, president of Dryer Vent Wizard.
In fact, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are 2,900 dryer fires each year that cause approximately five deaths and $35 million in property damage.
Not having your HVAC system professionally serviced
Don't let a faulty A/C unit pose a risk to you or someone else. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, air conditioners were responsible for 7,400 fires in 2010 and claimed 29 lives. Improperly installed window units can also cause serious trauma or even death to people walking under them should they come loose and fall.
Putting your appliances too close to one another
If you don't have much countertop space, you're better off putting away your appliances when they're not in use instead of crowding your kitchen.
"It's important to leave a bit of unoccupied space around [appliances] so they can properly ventilate and you can avoid a potential fire hazard," says Frontpoint home security specialist Krysten Holland.
Running extension cords under rugs
While extension cords left out in the open may present a trip hazard, running them under a rug as a way of concealing them from view is not the best solution.
"Hidden under a rug, they become a menace that can both trip you and set your house on fire," Holland says. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, extension cords cause approximately 3,300 house fires each year that result in 50 deaths and some 270 injuries.
Relying on extension cords as a permanent solution
Extension cords provide a convenient way to power multiple appliances at once, but doing so also comes with an increased risk of potentially dangerous electrical problems.
"A heavy reliance on extension cords is an indication that you have too few outlets to address your needs," says Brianne Deerwester of the Electrical Safety Foundation International, who recommends having a licensed electrician add outlets instead.
Plugging extension cords into one another
Think your extension cord can handle having another one plugged into it? Think again. While they're typically rated to handle appliances, piggybacking extension cords mean they "could overheat and cause a fire," Deerwester says.
Replacing two-pronged outlets with three-pronged ones
Having three-pronged outlets may make it easier to plug in your large appliances, but replacing your two-pronged ones with three-pronged ones isn't such a simple swap. In fact, it could be a dangerous one.
Doing so "is a danger for the occupants who now believe the plugs are grounded," explains home inspector Andrew Watlon, owner of Common Concerns Home Inspections. However, without a ground wire, an overloaded outlet has the potential to shock and cause an electrical fire.
Permanently sealing off vents
Sure, those unused vents may make your home draftier and noisier than you'd like, but sealing them off completely could actually put you in harm's way.
Covering vents "means condensation issues down the road," which can eventually lead to the growth of toxic mold or rot that can cause structural issues, says Stephany Smith, part of the handyman crew at U.K.-based home improvement company Fantastic Handyman.
Stripping lead paint from your walls
Yes, lead paint can present a serious health danger to everyone in your home, but the solution to this problem isn't as simple as stripping it away.
If you attempt to sand or chemically strip lead paint from your walls, "you will only spread the toxic particles in the air and pollute your home," Smith says. Instead, hire a professional to do any testing and abatement work for you to limit contamination.
You may be eager to open up the sight lines in your home by telling those bulky banisters that run alongside the stairs to hit the road, but doing so can be a dangerous proposition.
"Whether it be for kids, seniors, or whoever, a staircase railing is incredibly important for the safety of your home," says Tonya Bruin, CEO of Ottawa-based home improvement company To Do-Done, who notes that this can increase the risk of a serious—even deadly—fall. In fact, one 2018 study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found that from 1990 to 2012, nearly 25 million patients were treated for stair-related injuries.
Using oven cleaner
Since oven cleaner is meant to get rid of food that's been baked onto your oven for weeks, it's pretty caustic and corrosive—getting it on your skin can easily cause chemical burns. And using your oven's self-clean mode after spraying oven cleaner in it can fill your home with ultra-hot chemical fumes, causing respiratory distress and other serious health issues, according to 1995 research published in the Journal of Accident and Emergency Medicine.
Cleaning with bleach
Bleach is a powerful product that can cause chemical burns, and, if accidentally ingested, serious internal bleeding and even death. Just cleaning with bleach can present some real dangers, too. According to the CDC, bleach is a major cause of inhalation injuries and is known to damage the lungs and cause long-term health issues.
Using a dirty sponge to wash your dishes
Though you use it to clean your dishes, your kitchen sponge is one of the dirtiest and most dangerous things in your home. One 2006 study published in Saint Martin's University Biology Journal notes that the bacteria found on sponges includes E.coli, Salmonella, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Enterobacter cloacae.
Not washing your pillows
The pillow that you rest your head on every night is likely teeming with germs that could make you sick. In one 2005 study published in the European Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers swabbed 10 pillows and found various species of bacteria, the most common being Aspergillus fumigatus, which causes fungal infections; Aureobasidium pullulans, a common allergen; and Rhodotorula mucilaginosa, which can infect everything from your skin to your lungs. To make sure you're able to sleep peacefully and safely, be sure to wash your pillowcase at least once a week.
Or your kids' stuffed animals
If you aren't washing your child's stuffed animals on a regular basis, you're about to start. Per a 2007 research paper titled "Home Environmental Health Risks" published in The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, pesticides in the home can settle on children's stuffed animals and toys, which, when absorbed, can cause everything from nausea to seizures.
Leaving candles unattended
The National Fire Protection Association reports that from 2012 to 2016, an average of 23 candle-related fires occurred on any given day. Keep your home safe by making sure candles are completely snuffed, matches are properly disposed of, and that you never leave a candle burning in a room you're not in or when you're sleeping.
Not securing your television
Even if you consider yourself pretty handy with a stud finder, you might want to double-check the installation on that flat screen TV you have mounted on your living room wall. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) notes that from 2014 to 2016, approximately 30,700 people went to the emergency room to be treated for tip-over incidents. When in doubt, use special TV straps when hanging your television, and make sure your wall bracket is securely anchored.
Leaving your pool easily accessible when it's unsupervised
Having a pool at home may seem like the ultimate luxury, but in some ways it's also the ultimate responsibility when it comes to home safety.
According to a 2018 report prepared by the CPSC, 45 percent of the estimated nonfatal drowning injuries sustained at a pool or spa between 2015 and 2017, involving children younger than 15 years old, occurred at a residence.
The good news is that there are easy fixes to this potential hazard. Install protective fencing around your pool, and use a pool cover when you're not swimming.
And doing the same with your bathtub
Don't let that bubble bath relax you so much that you decide to take a snooze in it. According to the CDC, bathtub drownings accounted for approximately 10 percent of both fatal and non-fatal drownings from 2005 to 2009. What's more, children under the age of 5 are most likely to suffer from a serious drowning incident, so never leave your children unattended during bath time and make sure to drain the tub when you get out.
Using a wood stove
Though a wood stove can make your space feel like a charming rustic cabin, it may not be worth it in the long run. Improperly vented stoves can put you at risk for a house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning, and the American Lung Association lists exposure to wood smoke as a potential risk factor for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Using a space heater
Don't let your pursuit of coziness land you in the hospital. A 2018 report from the National Fire Protection Association notes that a staggering 86 percent of home heating fire deaths and 78 percent of injuries were caused by space heaters from 2012 to 2016. So if you own one, make sure it's far away from flammable materials, clean it regularly, and unplug it when you leave the room or go to bed.
Grilling too close to your house
Before you fire up the BBQ this summer, make sure you have these safety rules committed to memory: Always make sure your grill is far from your home or you could accidentally warp your siding or start a fire, ensure that the coals are fully out when you pack it up for the night, turn off the propane once you're done grilling, and never grill inside or you could risk carbon monoxide poisoning. If you forget, you could be one of the nearly 19,000 people injured or killed by grills each year.
Spraying air freshener
According to the American Lung Association, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful substances that are emitted into the air, causing everything from cancer to pollution. Believe it or not, several of the aerosol spray products you have at home—including your cleaning supplies and air fresheners—contain these toxic VOCs. When possible, the American Lung Association recommends opting for aerosol sprays that don't contain these or other harmful ingredients.