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Guest Blogger Eric Stevenson is passionate about restoring old homes.  He’s graciously allowed us to post this great article about the dangers that can lurk in these sorts of projects, and the precautions that can be taken to keep your family safe.

You picked the color pallet, watched countless hours of home improvement television and located the nearest home improvement retailer. Unfortunately, if you live in an older home, you have tougher decisions to make than which color to put on the bathroom floor. Especially if you live in a house 30 years or older, prying off those crusty tiles or old cabinets might expose problems you now have to deal with.

Older wiring is an unavoidable issue in older homes. Because newer appliances demand a higher electrical current, outdated systems often struggle to provide the required power, which can tax your system to failure. Frequent breaker trips can indicate this system weakness. In addition, many homes contain ungrounded, two-pronged outlets which need to be replaced with the three-pronged, grounded variety. Removing these electrical hazards that can lead to dangerous fires should be a major concern when families commit to updating their homes.

Heavy metals are another continued risk to homeowners, with one of the most widely-known of these chemicals, lead, continuing to pose a major threat today. Although it’s been recognized as a serious threat in older, deteriorating paints since 1991, it continues to be hazardous because it was also used in a variety of common household products. Gasoline, furniture and water-carrying pipes all historically contained lead, making its recognition difficult because it was such a common component. Devastating impacts to mental, physical and behavioral health are common with exposure to this chemical, especially in children because it’s more easily absorbed into growing skin. Arsenic, cadmium and mercury are other common substances found abundantly in older homes that can lead to serious effects like organ failure and neurological degeneration.

Another toxic chemical presenting serious risk during renovation is the historically-popular mineral, asbestos. Now an infamous carcinogen, asbestos was used frequently because of its high degree of insulation against heat, chemicals and electricity. However, asbestos continues to be found in older homes even after its ban, which makes this chemical another constant threat in the U.S. Unfortunately, without proper identification, families risk continued exposure to this chemical, leading to mesothelioma, which is the chemical’s specific form of cancer. Mesothelioma symptoms can take 20 to 50 years to appear and often mimic other diseases, meaning early detection and treatment of this condition is often impossible.  

Unfortunately, in a frenzy of motivation and excitement, homeowners will inadvertently intensify the risks they face from these materials. Asbestos is particularly dangerous to homeowners when improperly handled because it poses a health risk when it’s been damaged and released into the air they breathe. While you can live in a home for decades without receiving exposure to this material, beginning renovation projects without properly understanding the potential risks can have serious consequences.

Luckily, many private companies and licensed professionals now exist for owners of homes built before federal bans on these chemicals. These professionals can safely identify, remove and dispose of this material without risk to your family. While you can try to remove these chemicals yourself, the lack of professional experience and required equipment make it unadvisable if you’re an average homeowner. By having patience and investing extra time during the beginning of a project, you can ensure the final success of your renovation project and the safety of your family as you update, add value to and improve the efficiency of your home.     

Thanks Eric!

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If you have granite countertops, are they dangerous to own? Do they cause lung cancer? Some scientists say they might emit radiation.

^ This is a granite countertop.

Average Rating: 5 out of 5 based on 223 user reviews.

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I’ve found a page detailing fire risks in the bedroom. It talks about kids, appliances, and general safety. (Read the PDF on the page for even more information.)

Here’s a good rule of thumb about remembering to change the fire alarm batteries in your house: always make sure you put in new batteries when you change your clock at Daylight Savings Time.

Average Rating: 4.8 out of 5 based on 204 user reviews.

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This article shows one of the dangers of renovating your home – asbestos. According to the article: “If asbestos-containing materials are found, don’t panic – they can be safely removed and disposed of by trained and qualified workers. If the materials are found during work, stop work immediately and have qualified professionals remove the material before resuming the project.”

http://www.chiff.com/a/asbestos-renovations.htm

Average Rating: 4.7 out of 5 based on 280 user reviews.

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Recently, we linked to a discussion of dangers for children in the home. This time, we’d like to present some ways of making your home safer.

1. Cribs – make sure to buy a new model when your child is born. If you’re using a crib from a previous child – call the manufacturer to make sure it hasn’t been recalled or had any problems. Buy a new firm mattress for each child and follow The American Academy of Pediatrics standards.

2. Window Cords – I made sure not to have window treatments with cords since they’re a strangulation hazard. If you already have cords on your windows, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you, “Tie cords high and out of reach. Do not knot cords together.”

3. Bathroom – I put an eye and hook lock on the outside of the bathroom door so my kids couldn’t go in without me knowing about it.

  • Never leave your child unattended in the bath tub.
  • Hot water – you can have a plumber set your hot water so that it doesn’t get hotter than 120°F (as recommended by the AAP).
  • Chemicals – keep all household chemicals on a high shelf out of reach of children. We keep all of our cleaning supplies on the top shelf of the hallway closet. I put an eye and hook lock high up on the outside of the hallway closet with the chemicals so the kids couldn’t get into it. If your child does eat something that could be poisonous, call the Poison Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.
  • An Eye and Hook Lock

    An Eye and Hook Lock

  • Medicines – keep all medicines high and out of reach of children. I keep medicines that aren’t used often in the hallway closet, locked with an eye and hook lock high up.

4. Kitchens – I put a gate to the kitchen so that my children couldn’t go in, without me letting them.

  • Stoves – If you’re buying a new stove, try to purchase one with controls at the back so little kids can’t reach them. If the controls are in the front you can remove the handles when you’re not cooking.
  • Highchairs – Get a highchair with a large base that won’t tip over easily. Also, buckle your child into the highchair and keep the tray on so they can’t get out without your knowledge.
  • Knives – Store them in a high place, out of reach of children.
Keep Knives Out of Reach of Children

Keep Knives Out of Reach of Children

5. Keep plastic bags locked in the hallway closet or somewhere high up where your child can’t get to them.

6. Have working smoke detectors on every floor including the basement, furnace room and especially the sleeping areas. Check the batteries every year.

7. Baby gates – don’t put gates at the top of stairs. We put ours at the bottom of the stairs so our children couldn’t go upstairs without our knowing about it. Lock the doors to dangerous areas like garages and basements. Basically, we established a very safe area for our children to play in during the day on the first floor (especially when they were under 3 years old).

8. Put window guards on windows above the first floor. Be careful about young children climbing furniture and chairs. Anchor heavy furniture into the wall. We anchored our dressers and large bookcases (small kids can try to climb up opened dresser drawers and the shelves of bookcases).

A Dresser Anchored To The Wall

A Dresser Anchored To The Wall

9. Electrical Outlets – cover all electrical outlets in your house. Install GFCI outlets in the bathroom, kitchen and outdoors (anywhere near water and within 6 feet of a sink).

Cover Your Outlets

Cover Your Outlets

10. Choking Hazards – be especially careful about small objects like deflated balloons, raw carrots, popcorn, grapes, peanuts and small toys. Always cut your small child’s food into little pieces.

11. If you have a swimming pool, install a fence that separates the house from the pool. Fence the pool in on all four sides. The AAP says that “Most children drown because they fall into a pool that is not fenced off from the house.”

Lastly, here’s one more message from the AAP:

Remember Car Safety!

Car crashes are still a great danger to your child’s life and health. Most injuries and deaths caused by car crashes can be prevented by the use of car safety seats EVERY TIME your child is in the car. An infant must always ride in a rear-facing car safety seat in the back seat until he or she is at least 1 year of age and at least 20 pounds. A rear-facing car safety seat should NEVER be placed in front of a passenger air bag. Your child, besides being much safer in a car safety seat, will behave better so you can pay attention to your driving. The safest place for all infants and children to ride is in the back seat.

AAP – Family Health Topics

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Homes should be a place of refuge – the one area where we feel completely safe.  But there are hidden dangers everywhere, particularly for little ones.

Watch out for mattresses in cribs that are too soft – they could cause suffocation in infants.  Be careful with loose window cords and uncovered electrical outlets.  And there are many other potential hazards.  If you have kids, be sure to read this summary of dangers to young children in our homes.

Update: 8/10/08
This post inspired us to write a full fledged guide to keeping your home safe for kids. Check it out!

Average Rating: 4.4 out of 5 based on 181 user reviews.

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As if we all didn’t have enough to worry about! Radon, a dangerous radioactive element, has been found in some granite countertops.

From the New York Times:

Where to Find Tests and Testers

To find a certified technician to determine whether radiation or radon is emanating from a granite countertop, homeowners can contact the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (aarst.org). Testing costs between $100 to $300.

Information on certified technicians and do-it-yourself radon testing kits is available from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Web site at epa.gov/radon, as well as from state or regional indoor air environment offices, which can be found at epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html. Kits test for radon, not radiation, and cost $20 to $30. They are sold at hardware stores and online.

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