Owning a home is a privilege, but it’s an ongoing commitment. You want your home to be a safe, comfortable place for your family, and that means taking care of proper home maintenance, taking safety precautions for young children, older adults, and people with disabilities, and ensuring that your home is as prepared as possible to withstand any hazardous conditions or disasters that are common in your area.
Where should you begin, and what should you prioritize? We’ve created this guide to outline essential safety tips for homeowners in all sorts of situations from being first-time homeowners to new parents, moving an aging loved one into your home, seniors living independently, and more.
What You’ll Find in This Guide:
- Childproofing and Home Safety Advice for New Parents
- Home Safety Tips and Disaster Planning for Families
- Home Safety Tips for Seniors and People with Disabilities
Childproofing and Home Safety Advice for New Parents
As a new parent, safety is one of your top priorities. The best time to childproof your home is before your baby arrives, or at least before she becomes independently mobile. Never wait until your child encounters a potentially dangerous situation before taking steps to make your home safe.
Most babies begin to roll over around four months, and in a few short months, many begin to crawl. But every baby is different, so some babies start crawling months before others of the same age, while others are later bloomers. Still other babies won’t bother with the crawling stage at all, relying on scooting or simply moving straight to walking. In any case, you want to prepare your home well in advance before your child surprises you by meeting this important developmental milestone early.
Childproofing is pretty intimidating for first-time parents. The potential dangers lurk in every corner of the home, including:
- Electrical cords and outlets
- Knives and other sharp objects
- Sources of water such as bathtubs and swimming pools
- Breakable glass or ceramic décor
- Anything enabling your child to climb and explore otherwise out-of-reach areas
- The stove, oven, and any hot appliances or fixtures
- Anything small enough for your child to choke on
- Hard or sharp edges on furniture
These are, of course, only a few of many, many examples of potential dangers in the home for children. That’s why it’s important to look around your home with a child’s eyes and try to imagine the various areas and objects your child may find intriguing. Often, childproofing is an ongoing process simply because toddlers and young children are constantly finding new, exciting ways to explore their surroundings, which often means getting into something that they shouldn’t. There are, however, some essential safety measures you should take before your child begins to crawl or walk.
One of the easiest ways to get started with childproofing is to identify rooms or areas in the home where many dangers exist and simply restrict access to them. Blocking off the kitchen with a baby gate, for instance, saves you from having to store all the tools and gadgets you use on a regular basis in a really inconvenient location. Remember, though, that there will be times when your child will be with you in the kitchen. Just be sure that you have a plan B, such as a full enclosure that your child can play in without being able to access the cabinets or anything else that poses a risk.
Some parents find it useful to use baby gates as a means to prevent exiting a room, which keeps your child in the same room with you so that you’re better able to monitor their every move. Additionally, you should always place safety gates at both the top and bottom of any stairways in your home. There are a variety of types of baby gates and potential configurations you can use to restrict your child to the safest areas of the home.
Even in the safer areas of your home, there are probably at least a few electrical cords. Not only do cords pose the risk of electrical shock, but they can also be pulled, potentially knocking over a heavy television set or other furnishing that could fall on your child. Additionally, some kids are intrigued by electrical outlets and may attempt to place foreign objects in exposed outlets. Cover outlets with safety covers, and use cord holders to keep longer electrical cords fastened to walls so that they can’t be pulled.
Damaged or faulty wires can also cause a fire, introducing yet another serious risk for children in the home. Damaged wiring isn’t the only thing that can cause a house fire, though, making it all the more critical to equip your home with up-to-date smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Place them strategically around the home. There are many options among smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, including interconnected systems that result in all alarms sounding when one detects an issue, which ensures that wherever you are in the home, you’ll be aware. Some states, like Vermont, have specific regulations on pediatric smoke alarms, so be sure to familiarize yourself with any state or local requirements.
You’ll also want to evaluate room-by-room safety concerns. In the kitchen, for instance, make sure that:
- All knives and other sharp objects are safely out of reach.
- You have child safety latches on all cabinet doors and drawers.
- Cleaning supplies, chemicals, and other hazardous products are stores out of reach and not under the sink.
- You have a working fire extinguisher conveniently located for emergencies.
- Your dishwasher has a lock, preventing your child from opening it to access knives and other sharp utensils.
- You’re making use of a stove lock and knob protectors and stools and chairs, which can be climbed on to access higher areas, aren’t located near the stove.
- Appliances are unplugged when not in use.
The bathroom is another dangerous room for young children. More than half of all bathroom injuries happen to children under the age of 5, with the largest number of injuries impacting children just 2 years old. To keep your child safe, do the following:
- Install child safety latches on any drawers and cabinets, as well as the toilet lid.
- Store prescription and over-the-counter medications, plus any cleaning supplies, cosmetics, or other potentially toxic products, out of reach and well secured.
- Make sure that your bathtub faucet has an anti-scald device. Some devices come with both temperature and pressure monitoring sensors, providing an added layer of protection.
- Place non-slip mats in the bathtub and on the floor, if you have a smooth flooring surface that can become slippery when it gets wet.
- Install grab bars next to the toilet, bathtub, and shower (if separate) to give your child something to grab to help steady herself.
- Store any electrical appliances, such as hair dryers and curling irons, far away from the sink and bathtub. If possible, don’t keep them in the bathroom at all.
While the bedrooms and living room may seem like a pretty safe space, plenty of risks exist in these rooms as well. These tips will help you make the other living areas in your home safer for your child:
- Use safe window coverings. Blinds and other coverings with long cords or strings pose a strangulation risk.
- Keep the floors clean and free of toys and clutter to reduce the risk of trips and falls.
- Don’t use elaborate crib bedding. Some bedding items, such as crib bumpers, may create a risk of entrapment or strangulation. Less is generally more when it comes to crib bedding.
- Make sure the mattress is at an appropriate height and that your crib meets current safety standards.
- When your child graduates to a bed, use safety rails. Safety rails should always be used on the top bunk for bunk beds, regardless of your child’s age.
- Use low-VOC paint. VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be toxic, and some paints continue to release VOCs for years after it’s been applied.
- Cover sharp corners with padded bumpers that reduce the risk of injury if your child falls and bumps his head on the edge. You can buy soft, cushiony edge protectors, or you can make your own if you’re on a budget.
There are dozens of other safety precautions to take in and around the home, but covering these essentials will give you a start and get you thinking about other potential risks that exist throughout your home. Remember, too, that like carbon monoxide, some dangers in your home are invisible.
One way to detect some of these home hazards is by enlisting the help of a professional to perform a home energy audit. In a home energy audit, a qualified technician inspects your home to detect potential issues including:
- Moisture buildup
- Ventilation problems
- Water quality
- Indoor air quality
- Inefficient insulation
- Inefficient appliances
- Gas leaks
- Defective air ducts
Not only can some of these problems contribute to health concerns, such as enabling the development of toxic mold and mildew, but identifying ways to make your home more energy efficient can save you a lot of money over the years by lowering your home energy costs, meaning you’ll have more money to devote to home improvements and other essentials for your family.
Home Safety Tips and Disaster Planning for Families
When your children are older, you don’t have to worry quite as much about injuries from mishaps like falling off of the kitchen counter, bumping their heads on the edge of your coffee table, or getting cut from playing with knives or broken, sharp objects, but that doesn’t mean your family is safe from home hazards.
If your kids are at an age at which they’re able to stay home alone, you’re probably still worried about their well-being while you’re away. Educating your kids about the importance of not answering the door to people they don’t know is a worthwhile step, but installing a monitored home security system (if you don’t already have one) will offer even more peace of mind.
Monitored home security systems include remote monitoring services that alert you to potential emergencies in your home and alert emergency rescue services on your behalf. Not only do these security systems deter criminals, but they save lives when family members aren’t able to contact authorities on their own.
Additionally, your family should have a planned fire escape route that you’ve practiced regularly. According to the American Red Cross, only 26 percent of families have a planned and practiced escape route. Some essential tips for creating a fire escape plan include:
- Identify two established routes out of your home, as well as two ways out of each room, allowing for an alternate route if one escape path is blocked by fire.
- Map out your escape route on a map, and practicing it with the whole family regularly. There are free tools, such as SmartDraw, that make mapping your floor plan easy.
- Establish a safe meeting place that’s far enough away from the property that you’ll be safe from smoke and flames, but not so far away that family members may get lost on the way.
- Make sure windows are easy to open, and if second-story bedrooms don’t have a rooftop that can be safely climbed out on, consider getting fire escape ladders that you can store in an accessible location for emergencies.
- Don’t forget to include your family pets in your escape plan, and place stickers on windows and doors that convey to firemen and other rescue professionals how many children, adults, and pets are in your home.
Fires aren’t the only potential disasters that could impact your home. If you live in an area prone to flooding, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, or even winter storms, blizzards, and severe thunderstorms, your home is at risk anytime these events take place. Having an established escape route and safety plans for various types of natural disasters is a wise step for all families. Keeping an emergency survival kit in your car is also crucial for families, providing medications, first aid supplies, and fresh water to get you through a few days if you need to evacuate. Finally, keep a radio on hand that will allow you to listen to weather reports and public safety alerts in the event of a disaster.
Home energy audits aren’t only valuable when your children are small, either. You should have a home energy checkup performed every few years or annually to identify developing health hazards and energy efficiency issues early before they become major and expensive problems to rectify.
Home Safety Tips for Seniors and People with Disabilities
Some families have aging loved ones move in with them when they become unable to care for themselves at home or have family members with disabilities residing with them. In other cases, older adults continue to live in their own homes independently later in life, even if they are living with certain disabilities. In any such situations, there are some home safety concerns that should be addressed to ensure the safety of your loved ones.
Falls are one of the most common causes of injury among older adults, making fall prevention one of the most crucial things you can do to keep your senior loved ones safe at home. The National Council on Aging has developed a helpful fall prevention checklist that walks you through each room of the home to identify potential hazards, including (but not limited to):
- Furniture that obstructs the walking path
- Throw rugs that can wrinkle or curl on the edges or slip on hard flooring surfaces
- Newspapers, boxes, and other objects on the floor
- Cords, such as extension cords and lamp cords, that cross walkways
- Damaged or cluttered stairs
- Poor lighting in areas such as hallways, stairways, or living areas
- Broken or missing handrails
- Commonly used kitchen objects placed out of reach
- Slippery bathtubs
- Smooth, hard flooring surfaces in kitchens and bathrooms that may become slippery when wet
The good news is that most of these safety hazards are easily remedied and are inexpensive to fix. For instance, you can install brighter lighting options in dimly lit areas, rearrange furniture to provide clear walking paths through commonly used areas in the home, and eliminate clutter from the floors and stairways. To improve bathroom safety, install a few grab bars near the toilet and bathtub to provide something to grip to help your loved one enter and exit the bathtub or shower or use the toilet. Place non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower, or purchase a shower chair so that your loved one can sit safely while bathing.
You can also use non-slip rugs to make areas with hard flooring surfaces easier to navigate, but if your loved one uses a walker or wheelchair, choose rugs carefully to ensure that wheels on assistive devices won’t get caught on the edge. Wall-to-wall, low-pile carpeting is generally best.
In some cases, more extensive renovations may be either helpful or necessary to ensure your loved one’s safety. If a person is wheelchair-bound, for instance, modifying the kitchen to ensure that all counters are at an accessible height makes the kitchen more functional and safer. Incorporating open space below a cooktop stove to accommodate a wheelchair makes cooking simpler, and peninsulas with accessible drawers and cabinets are often a workable solution for making kitchen gadgets and other items easy to access without sacrificing the open floor space needed for navigating the area. There are a variety of specialty products designed to make the kitchen more functional for people with disabilities.
Safety matters outside the home, too. If you have a loved one who relies on a wheelchair, you’ll need to install a wheelchair ramp and ensure that all doorways are wheelchair-accessible to make entering and leaving the home possible with ease. If you’re handy with tools, you can build your own ramp by following specifications and guidelines, or you can enlist the help of a contractor or handyman to build a ramp that’s compliant with all current regulations. You should also have a plan for dealing with ice and snow, making sure that all sidewalks and walkways are clear of snow and using ice melt to remove slippery ice.
For families living with older adults or family members with disabilities, planning for fire and natural disaster safety is also crucial, but proper planning means taking additional steps to ensure that loved ones with mobility or cognitive impairments can safely escape. Some older adults or people with certain types of disabilities or mobility challenges will require the assistance of another family member or rescue professional to safely escape the home.
Fires are a common safety hazard for older adults, often arising from cooking mishaps. If you’re helping an older adult configure a safe living environment or making improvements to your own home to make living more functional for an elderly relative, education is key. Make sure your aging loved one knows and follows safe cooking practices, some of which may vary depending on their specific health conditions. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, for example, shouldn’t have access to knives and other sharp objects in the kitchen, and you may want to take added precautions such as unplugging appliances when they’re not in use.
There are many additional safety risks that exist in and around the home for people with different types of disabilities or special needs. Children with autism, for instance, may be at risk for elopement, requiring the use of securely locked doors and windows to make escaping impossible. If your home requires extensive renovations to improve accessibility for a loved one, you may qualify for financial help from one or more organizations that aim to promote accessible, functional living for people with disabilities. As many situations are unique, you should evaluate the safety of your home with your loved one’s specific needs in mind, and seek the help of a professional if in doubt.
Maintaining a safe and functional home can be a lot of work, but you can keep your family safe by taking the right steps to improve the safety of your living environment. Whether you’re a new parent, a family with older children, an older adult, or a family with an older loved one or disabled family member who resides in your home, there are specific safety precautions you can take to make your home safer for every family member.
For more information on home safety in every situation, visit the following resources:
- Keeping your autistic child safe: Practical tips for parents
- Be Ready: Big Red Safety Toolkit
- Tips for Keeping Your Child with Special Needs Safe in Your House
- Top 10 Home Safety Tips Every Senior And Caregiver Should Know
- Home Safety for the Elderly
- Medical Alert Systems – Safety for Seniors
- Home Safety for the Elderly
- HomeSAFE: Fall Prevention Center of Excellence
- 10 Essential Safety Tips For New Parents
- 10 Baby Safety Tips All New Parents Should Know About
- Home Fire Safety Tips For New Parents
- Baby Safety: Top Baby Proofing Tips for New Parents