The Prepared Home Analysis, Part ll

In Part l, we began the analysis of your home from the outside, looking in. Before we went any deeper into the subject, I thought it would be good to first make sure you can get in and out of your home safely, and reduce or eliminate any obvious hazards to yourself, your visitors and the home itself.  In this segment, now that you’ve made it safely to your front door, we’re going to actually take a look inside.

Starting at your front door, take a look inside the door jamb at the metal catch for the door knob and/or deadbolt. Is it secure?  Loose?  Missing a screw?  All your door hardware should be fully attached and secure.  Also, do you have any secondary locks aside from the deadbolt?  Simple flip over latches are inexpensive, easy to install and while not foolproof, are difficult to bypass and can certainly slow someone down trying to gain entrance.  Again, door security is a very in-depth subject that I will address in a separate article; these are the easy to spot, easy to fix things.

How about a peep hole? Everyone should have one as I discussed in the first part of this series, but take a good look through yours and really observe what you see.  How far to the left and right can you see?  Is it dirty, causing a blurred view?  Is it at a height that is usable for you and everyone that resides with you?  If not, consider adding one either higher or lower, depending on your needs.  Are their plants or trees limiting its view?  If so, trim them back until your view is unimpeded.

Now, standing at your threshold and looking into your home, what do you see? In this instance we’re looking for anything of value that would entice someone to pay you another visit when the home is (hopefully) unoccupied so they can steal it.  TVs, video game consoles, computers, stereo equipment, gun cabinets, personal safes, purses or wallets left on a table near your front door, cell phones and tablets, etc.  While it’s true you can’t hide everything, you should at the very least try to make high value items a little less obvious to the casual observer standing at your front door.  There have been numerous stories of ne’er-do-wells posing as door-to-door sales people or handymen looking for work when what they’ve really been doing is casing your home, looking for easy pickings.  You don’t want to be on that list.

The same can be said for garages. I see people that leave their garage door open all day, every day.  Everything is on display – bicycles, tools, sporting equipment, electronics and instruments, all sorts of things.  In my opinion, this is an extremely bad practice.  If your garage is easily seen from the street, don’t keep your door open any more than you absolutely need to.  And if your garage is connected directly to your home, you absolutely do not want to keep that big door open.  That is an easy invitation to trouble.  As an example, not 2 miles from where I work – which is a very upscale town, with an extremely low crime rate – a family had left their garage door open AND the door from the garage into the house unlocked, which proved to be the perfect entrance for 3 armed criminals to sneak in, pistol-whip and tie up the family and make off with an undisclosed amount of cash and jewelry.  Fortunately the family lived to tell the tale, but it could have gone much, much worse.  A closed garage door could have prevented the entire episode.  Think about that and let it sink in a minute.

In general criminals are opportunists. They are looking for an easy payday.  By making things hard on them, there is a good chance they will move on to a softer target.

OK, now that we’ve looked at things “through the eyes of a criminal”, let’s take a look around at the more basic safety issues.

First, check your flooring. Transitions from one type of surface onto another are a common place for trips and falls.  Make sure you’ve got the lowest threshold between the two as you possibly can and that any transition pieces are solidly in place.  Next are “area rugs”.  These things are notorious for tripping people up.  Take precautions if using these in your home.  There are a few different items you can use depending on what type of floor the rug is on.  I’ve seen double-sided tapes that are made specifically for this purpose as well as rubber underlayment mats that are very thin but have a surprising grip and keep your rugs from moving under you.  I’ve also seen discreet clips that work for securing an area rug on top of carpet.  Take a look around and see what best fits your situation.

Next up on the list, look for other tripping hazards. Things like interior extension cords, lamp cords and charging cords for phones are easily tripped over because they are usually a neutral color (unlike exterior extension cords which are primarily bright orange or yellow).  Make sure you don’t have cords hanging down in the primary path of travel.  Other simple things that can ruin your day are toys on the floor (whether from the kids or the pets) or misplaced furniture that encroaches on the path of travel.  While you may be used to taking the one odd step to avoid it because it’s been there so long, a guest might not notice something that only slightly protrudes into their path.  However it only takes a slight protrusion to cause a fall.

Another thing to be aware of is open cabinet drawers or doors. Leaving a low drawer open is an invitation to a serious fall and/or injury.  Likewise, I have seen someone stand up right into the corner of an open upper kitchen cabinet door and open their scalp bad enough to need stiches.  It seems ridiculous I know, but these kinds of accidents happen all the time and more often than not, they are completely avoidable.

One last thing to consider for this part of your Prepared Home Analysis is what you have on any shelves or bookcases throughout your home or things in general hanging from your walls. If you are the proud recipient of your bowling league’s Bowler of the Year trophy, consisting of a custom engraved bowling ball and other goodies, don’t place this on a high shelf.  This is especially true if you have young children or pets in the home.  When deciding where to put things on your shelves, ask yourself “what would happen if this thing fell on someone’s head?”  If the answer is that it could possibly crush said persons head, then don’t place it high enough to do damage should it fall off.  Likewise, if you wish to hang Aunt Edna’s prized commemorative plate collection on your wall, make sure to use the appropriate hardware to do so.  There is a whole world out there of anchors and specialty screws and hangars for such things and it pays to use them.  You don’t want to trust your safety to just some scrawny nail poked into the drywall.  If you are hanging a poster or a lightweight decoration, such as a paper lantern or something I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but if there is glass involved and/or any substantial weight, you owe it to yourself and those you care about, to hand these things safely, with the correct hardware.

Alright folks, there are a few more Baby Steps for you to follow to help get yourself better prepared. Next time I’ll focus on fire safety – a BIG topic.

As always, thanks for reading!

~J

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Celebrate the small victories!

Sometimes it is the small victories in life that need celebrating. That is how I am feeling today.  A problem presented itself so I took matters into my own hands, got down to business and had a successful outcome.  I’m here to tell you that you can too!

In this particular case, it was an automotive issue. I noticed on the way to work that the ol’ truck just didn’t “feel right”.  On the commute home it had gone from not feeling right to shaking so badly I thought my fillings would come loose.  It was one of those white-knuckle rides where I was just hoping and pleading the beast would get me home and not leave me stranded on the side of the highway – which, thankfully it did.

The old me would’ve thrown my hands in the air and let loose a string of foul-mouthed insults toward my automobile. Then I would have figured out a way to get the heap across town to my mechanic and get a ride to work for however long it was in the shop, fretting over the call with the “estimate” on the repairs that I hadn’t budgeted for.  That, my friends, is a stressful situation to find yourself in.

This time however, I first thanked my ride ever so lovingly for getting me home. Then I set about diagnosing the problem.  I dug out my OBD (On Board Diagnostic) scanner tool and found some fault codes.  Then out came the repair manual to look for details – any surprises that might keep me from being able to perform the work (like a need for a specialty tool I don’t have) and for the manufactures recommendations of the replacement parts.  Then I jumped online and found the parts needed from my local auto parts chain.  I was able to order the parts and get them shipped for free by getting them sent to the parts store.  To my surprise, they actually contacted me that very night and said the parts were ready for pickup!    Unfortunately by the time I got the parts in hand, it was late and already dark so I wasn’t able to perform the actual work that night, but had I gone the mechanic route, I would still have been dead-in-the-water so that was no big deal.

The next day after work I threw on the grubby clothes, opened up the tool box and got to work. An hour and a half later everything was buttoned up and my truck was running like a top!  Total out of pocket expenses $73.86.  When was the last time you got your broken car back on the road for less than 75 bucks?

Now, I am not a mechanic. I have NO formal training in regards to automobiles.  But I do know how to read instructions and when all else fails search for You Tube videos on a particular subject.  And over the years I have invested in tools and manuals and things that allow me to do this kind of work.  But my point is, if I can do this you can too.  It’s not rocket science, its following directions.  It’s no more difficult than say following a recipe in a cookbook.  Sure, it may be grungier and possibly more physically demanding, but it isn’t any more difficult.

And let me tell you, the personal satisfaction I felt when I went for a test drive and found everything to be functioning as it was supposed to be was priceless! I honestly wish everyone could experience that same feeling, it is good for the soul.

As far as I’m concerned it was a win all the way around – I added to my personal skill level, I saved at least a hundred bucks (if not more) by not going to the mechanic, I got my automobile back on the road faster and I avoided a lot of stress by not having to deal with getting rides to and from work and to and from the mechanic’s shop and not having to pay the additional costs of having the work done for me.  And on top of it all, I got a nice confidence boost and a feeling of satisfaction.  The thing about this type of work is that once you get a few tasks under your belt, the next time your ride starts acting up your mind will turn to “what can I do to fix this” instead of “who can I find to fix this for me”, or “how am I going to afford to get this fixed”.  It all helps solidify the preparedness mindset, and it was worth every minute of it!

I’m tellin’ you folks, self reliance is a wonderful thing.  It doesn’t have to be car repairs, it can be anything.  Fixing a leaky faucet, cleaning out your rain gutters, even something as simple as painting an accent wall will bring you personal satisfaction in a way that handing over your hard-earned cash never will.  Even if it takes you twice as long and you make mistakes along the way, in the long run it will be well worth the effort you put into it.  So the next time you’ve got some trouble that needs fixin’, do yourself a favor and do it yourself!

 

Thanks for reading,

~J

Embarrassed.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but the other day I suffered from a complete lack of preparedness. As someone whose profession involves emergency preparedness and safety I should have known better.  I should have made provisions, but a seemingly mundane “oops” moment derailed my entire day and left me in a mental funk, beating myself up over my failure.  Don’t let this happen to you.

It’s easy to get caught up in the flashy stuff when you delve into preparedness, but when the S#!+ hasn’t yet hit the fan it’s the everyday stuff that is more likely to rise up and bite you in the rear. It doesn’t usually take a monumental disaster to give you a bad day, just enough of a glitch to throw your plans out of whack.  In my case, a spare truck key stashed in my satchel would have saved the day.  That’s it – an easily accessible spare key would have saved me hours of aggravation and stress.

The silver lining to all this is that it opened my eyes to some really obvious gaps in my own preparedness. By happenstance and sheer luck I was able to get myself out of this situation with nothing more than a bad mood and the loss of a couple hours of my time, but things could have gone much worse.  However you can bet this particular thing won’t happen to me again as I’ve set forth on a plan of correction – simply a spare key, a hide-a-key box and a set of jumper cables.  Will this save me from all other mishaps? Of course not.  I’m simply doing a process of elimination in an effort to do better in the future.

Really that’s the best any of us can do. No matter how prepared you are or hope to be, nobody can be prepared for all things at all times.  It’s no use beating yourself up when your preparedness efforts come up short, we must simply learn from our mistakes and adjust accordingly.

Preparedness has no finish line; it’s a lifelong journey and a mindset. Do the best you can with what you’ve got and learn from your mistakes.  If you can remember to do those two things consistently, over time the “oops” moments will be few and far between.

Thanks for reading!

~J

The Prepared Home Analysis, part 1

Today we’ll dig a little more in-depth with the safety analysis of your home. However, for today’s portion we aren’t even going to step foot inside, this is about the potential hazards that you might face before you get to your front door.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, preparedness comes in layers so let’s get started peeling back the furthermost outside layer shall we?

Let’s start at your street-side border, facing the front of your house. The idea here is to visually inspect the area looking for any potential hazards, but do you know what you are looking for?   We’ll take some baby steps…  First, look for any trip hazards.  Slips, trips, and falls constitute the majority of general accidents. This can be nearly anything – from a raised portion of sidewalk, a loose stair tread, kids’ toys, pets’ toys, and general debris such as fallen branches.  And that’s just the stuff you can trip over.  Slipping hazards are equally hazardous but even harder to find.  Puddles, oil and other automotive fluids on your driveway, wet leaves, ice spots, a forgotten ball left in the grass…  all these and more can have you on your backside faster than you can imagine.

Once you’ve made note of these hazards, fix them. Most of this stuff is easily remedied, with the possible exception of raised concrete caused by tree roots or freeze/thaw cycles although even that isn’t as big a problem as most people think it is.  Pick up any easily movable debris and get it out of the path of travel.  If you have fluid leaks on your driveway, use some cleaner and a push broom (or pressure washer if you have access to one) and clean it enough to get rid of the slickness of it.   Yes, you’ll most likely still have discoloration on the concrete but at least if you step in it you won’t have your feet slipping out from under you.

If you have seasonal hazards – an icy patch or a puddle that never seems to dry up, you can use portable barriers to encourage yourself and others to walk around the area. And by portable barriers I’m not talking about traffic cones or barricades like you see in road work, I don’t think everyone’s home needs to look like a construction zone in the name of safety.  What I mean is something you can put in that spot during the appropriate season, such as an assortment of plants in pots, exterior holiday decorations, statuary, or even lawn signs such as those you see in every election cycle.  Basically you just want something that people will walk around so they don’t walk through the hazard.

If you do have concrete that is causing problems and is potentially hazardous there are options. Not a lot of options, but they are out there.  First obviously would be to replace the concrete but in most instances this can be very expensive, even if you are a DIY’er.  At the low cost end of the spectrum, take a can of bright spray paint and just mark the raised (or sunken) area so it will grab people’s attention.  A few middle of the road “fixes” are using concrete, grout or even asphalt patch to “bridge” the different levels together.  While this is generally better than nothing, these repairs will fail.  Maybe not tomorrow or next week, but do not expect long lasting repairs from this method.  In my opinion the best thing to do if you don’t want spray painted walks and don’t want the burden or the expense to replace a walk or driveway is to have the hazards ground down.  This can be done DIY style, but it takes some pretty serious equipment to pull it off.  Many concrete contractors will do this work – especially if they are hungry for work– for a pretty low cost.  One such contractor did this type of work for one of my facilities for $12 per grind.  He was able to remediate about 30 potential trip hazards in a single day.

OK, now that we’ve dealt with trips, slips and falls the next thing to look at is basic security. Do you have a working porch light?  Do you have any other exterior lights on the front of your home?  If so, check to make sure all the bulbs are good.  There are a few easy upgrades that will make your exterior lighting even better, such as motion detectors or dust-to-dawn photocells that will turn your lights on and off automatically.  While having lights on your home will not eliminate break-ins, it will discourage many crooks which is a good thing to do no matter what type of neighborhood you live in.

Next, look at your front door.  How is your lockset?  At minimum you should have a deadbolt – a deadbolt and a standard entry lockset adds a little extra protection, as do internal door guards or flip latches, although we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves with those items…  How about a peep-hole in your door?  If you don’t have one, you should.  They are cheap and extremely easy to install.  Quite honestly, doors are a weak link, even with good locks.  Door security is a big topic and these items just scratch the surface, but I will return to doors in a stand-alone post later down the line.

Now you should look at your ground floor windows. Do they have locks?  If they don’t have locks attached to the frame, pick up some thumb-screw locks for cheap and put them on every ground floor window.  Even if you have factory locks on your windows, the extra protection of the thumb-screw locks is not a bad idea.  If you really want to ramp up the ground floor security, a security film on all the glass is relatively inexpensive added insurance but doesn’t detract from the aesthetic of your home the way bars or security shutters can.  Another area to assess is the general landscaping.  Do you have trees, bushes or shrubs that block your view into your immediate exit-zone?  Or do you have things that block, or even partially block your view of the street as you exit your driveway?  These are both potential hazards and should be dealt with immediately.  Likewise, you don’t want anything that allows a hiding place for ne’er-do-wells and allows them visual screening from the neighbors or passers-by.

It is also a good practice to look at your home through “burglar’s eyes”. In other words, what can be seen from the street that would entice someone to break into your home?  If you can see a nice big flat-screen TV mounted to the wall from the sidewalk, it is going to grab some unwanted attention.  Likewise, keeping your garage door open with bikes, golf clubs, or tools in plain site is just asking for those things to grow legs and walk away.  The idea is to keep a low profile and avoid making your home a target.

Now that you’ve looked at slip, trip & fall hazards and general, basic security precautions, we’ll check out a couple more things. The next thing you want to check for is fire hazards.  Piles of leaves, lumber and other flammable items should not be stacked up against your home, ever.  If you have rain gutters, make sure they get cleaned out regularly as they can become combustible. If you have PVC/vinyl gutters this is especially important because a debris fire can and will melt gutters and downspouts which can cause further injury.  If you are in a dry area, make sure you don’t let tree branches hang below 6’ above ground to stop a grass fire from getting into the tree canopy.  If you have a fire place or wood stove, make sure that you have a spark arrestor on your chimney and that it and the chimney itself get cleaned at least once a year if you use the fireplace.

OK, there you have it. That wasn’t so hard now, was it?  The next step once you’ve completed the above is to simply repeat it until you’ve made similar assessments to all sides of your home.  Once you’ve gone all the way around your home and followed the basic steps, you are already in better shape than you were and your home is going to be a safer place.

As I’ve said before, there is no way to completely eliminate every single possible hazard in your life, but by simply being aware of potential dangers and taking a few simple steps to eliminate those you find you’ve seriously decreased your odds of an untoward event affecting your life.

Next time, we’ll start poking around inside the house to see what danger lurks and what you can do about it.

Thanks for reading,

~J

Gotta start somewhere!

There are many hazards that exist in everyday life. Not all accidents can be avoided. The best way to decrease the potential for accidents in your home is to develop a culture of safety in your home. This includes having a system in place that addresses both personal risk and any possible environmental hazards.  It is important that you demonstrate a “professional commitment” to safety in all areas of your home to eliminate unnecessary, foreseeable hazards.

To develop a culture of safety, you must first look for hazards in and around your home. This assessment of hazards and risks should be done to identify potential hazards in both the residential environment and the immediate surrounding area(s) to minimize the risk of having an avoidable accident.  Every household/family member should be involved in observing and identifying potential hazards in their environment, with an additional focus on the abilities and vulnerabilities of each person within the home.  The more eyes you have looking into a problem, the more you are likely to see.  This approach benefits everyone in the long run, even if some of your family will grumble about more “housework” to be done.

Hazards in the environment are certainly not limited to, but may include the following:

  • Fire-rated doors that have been propped open (building codes requires fire rated doors in certain areas for particular reasons – keeping them propped open diminishes or eliminates their effectiveness!)
  • Disabled locks or latches
  • Alarms that are non-functional
  • Buckled carpets
  • Electrical cords on floors
  • Irregular walking surfaces
  • Improper storage of and access to toxic chemicals
  • Exposure to heating unit surfaces
  • Unsafe water temperatures
  • Furniture that is not appropriate (for example, chairs that are too low or are unsteady may present a fall hazard)
  • Lighting that is inadequate or creates glare.

There are many materials in the average home that can pose a potential hazard to family members and/or pets. Toxic materials can be found in the form of solids, liquids, gases, mists, dusts, fumes, and vapors. Both humans and their pets can be exposed to toxic materials by inhaling them, absorbing them through their skin, or ingesting them.  Remember though that hazards can change over time.  Sometimes it’s a new cleanser brought into the home, or for example, there may be temporary hazards in the home, such as construction, painting, and housekeeping activities, that can affect those who dwell in your home.

The whole point of this is not that it is some sort of comprehensive list of anything and everything that needs to be dealt with in your home. Consider this the “low hanging fruit” that is easy to find and easy to remediate.  The important thing is learning to train your eye to see the hazard before an accident happens.  It takes time to learn – I’ve been doing these types of assessments in commercial buildings, hotels, health care facilities and residential homes for over a decade now and I still find new hazards because I’m attuned to it in a way I never was before.  Something might reveal itself to be hazardous only because it is somehow related to something else you discovered previously to be hazardous.  Train your eye to look for these things in your home and soon you’ll be seeing them everywhere you go, whether it’s your office or the shopping mall or during your yearly pilgrimage to Aunt Edna’s for Thanksgiving.  It will become second nature if you practice it long enough, just like anything.

In the next article, I will break down different areas of your home base, in order to provide a systematic approach to assessing your environment. While there is no perfect, all-inclusive list that will keep you safe from every possible hazard, there is a method to this madness and it will greatly reduce your personal risk if you take the time to actually get hands-on with it and it all starts with a thorough assessment.  For now, look for the low hanging fruit and start training your eye.  We’re still developing the preparedness mindset, so we’re going to move slowly and systematically to make sure we cover all the bases.

Stay safe out there!

Thanks for reading,

~J