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

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