November 16, 2014 8:00 am
Updated: December 5, 2014 11:40 am

Make your home safer with these 5 tips

Properly storing paint and other dangerous chemicals is one way you can make your home safer.

Brian McKechnie, Global News
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TORONTO – Now that we’re midway into fall you’re probably exhausted of hearing about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. You’ve changed your batteries, tested each unit and have replaced expired units with new ones. You feel safe. But smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are just one (very important) way to keep your home safe. Here are five other ways you can make your home even safer.

Install emergency lights

There is nothing worse than fumbling around during a power outage. Not only is it annoying, but it’s also potentially dangerous (and can be scary for children). Installing emergency lighting throughout your home helps solve this issue.

Emergency or safety lighting runs off battery power and turns on when a break in line power is detected. While some higher-end models need to be hardwired, most units only need to be plugged into a regular wall outlet.

For lighting one main room, Ideal’s SK636 Emergency Blackout & Power Failure Light ($51 at Lowe’s) gives off a good amount of light and can last up to 40 hours on a full charge (if only running one of the two LED lights on the unit).

A better solution for the whole house is Mr. Beams’ ReadyBright system which allows you to add lights to multiple rooms, hallways and staircases. The main control unit is the size of a large night light and also acts as a flashlight and remote when engaged. The ceiling and hallway lights are about the size of a small smoke detector. The system is easy to install, can last up to 40 hours, and will turn off in order to save battery life if the house is empty during a power outage. While the main unit has a built-in battery that recharges when plugged in, the other units require AA batteries to run.

The ReadyBright starter kit (includes main unit, one hallway/stair light and a ceiling light) goes for US$49.99 with additional hallway/stair lights at US$19.99 each and ceiling lights at US$29.99 each.

WATCH: How the ReadyBright system works

Check and clean your dryer vent

Lint is highly flammable and when a dryer vent is full of it, it becomes a giant fire hazard. A full vent also has the potential to disconnect from the dryer — allowing humidity and dangerous dryer fumes to fill your house. Maintaining your dryer is one of the most important routines you should be doing to make your home safer.

According to 2010 stats from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the U.S., washer and dryer fires accounted for 4.5 per cent of all reported home structure fires, 1.9 per cent of associated civilian deaths, 2.8 per cent of associated civilian injuries, and 3.1 per cent of associated direct property damage.

WATCH: How to protect your home and family from fire

Cleaning out your dryer’s lint trap before each load of laundry should be common practice (not only for safety reasons, but to help your dryer run more efficiently), but cleaning and checking your dryer’s exhaust vent might not be something you do regularly, if ever.

Start from inside and unplug and pull your dryer away from the wall (for a gas dryer turn the gas off and be cautious of the gas line when moving the dryer). Detach the vent from the dryer and vacuum around and inside the dryer and vent openings. From outside, open or remove the vent cover and vacuum the vent out.

NOTE: Hire a professional to do this if you are not comfortable or unable to do this job yourself. 

Gently running a long flexible hose or a special dryer vent cleaning tool through one end of the vent to the other will help dislodge caked on lint. The blower function of a shop-vac (or a battery-operated or electric leaf blower) can then be used from inside to blow out any loose debris. Running your dryer empty for a few minutes after reconnecting the vent will also help blow out any lint you loosened.

When done cleaning, replace the exterior vent cover if removed, reconnect the dryer to the vent and move it back in place. It’s a good idea to check that the dryer is still level once back. Reconnect the power (if you have a gas dryer check your manual on how to ignite the pilot before turning the gas back on). Run the dryer on empty while checking that the vent is connected and exhausting outside properly. Once done, empty your vacuum cleaner to dispose of any lint you sucked up.

It’s a good habit to do this cleaning once in the spring and again in the fall.

Have your home tested for radon gas

Radon is a radioactive gas that forms when uranium in soil, rock and water breaks down. The “silent killer”, as Lung Cancer Canada calls it, can enter a home or building through cracks and holes in floors and foundations, as well as sump pumps, old pipes and windows. Radon becomes a health risk when large amounts of the gas build up inside a home. As we seal doors and windows for winter, radon levels can increase, raising the risks associated with it even higher.

According to Health Canada, radon gas — which is colourless, odourless and tasteless — is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada (smoking being the first). An estimated 1,900 lung cancer deaths in 2006 were due to radon gas exposure. A lifelong smoker’s risk of lung cancer jumps from a 1 in 10 chance to a 1 in 3 chance when exposed to radon gas.

Radon is measured in becquerels. Health Canada has set a level of 200 becquerels per cubic metre (200 Bq/m3) as an acceptable level of radon in Canadian homes. The World Health Organization’s recommended level is 100 Bq/m3, with a maximum of 300 Bq/m3.

WATCH: Radon levels in Canadian homes

Radon test kits can be purchased at most home improvement stores or through organizations like the Ontario Lung Association. While cost effective (a good kit will only run you about $29.99), tests require very specific conditions in order to check your home and can be difficult to get a solid reading.

READ MORE: Why you should test your home for radon gas

If you’re concerned about testing for radon yourself, or get a very high reading with a home test kit, call a certified professional to run a more in-depth test. A professional will also be able to give you recommendations on what to do to keep radon out of your home.

Install a whole home surge protector

Power surges can be extremely costly and dangerous. Even if you have power bars with built-in surge protection, appliances like washing machines, refrigerators and dryers are not commonly connected to one. If your home is hit by lightning or there is a surge after a power outage and you don’t have proper protection, you could potentially have every device plugged into a power outlet fried.

If a person in your house is using a device or appliance plugged in during a massive power surge, they could be seriously injured. Certain devices could even be a fire hazard if the surge is large enough.

WATCH: HGTV’s Mike Holmes explains how Eaton’s whole home surge protector works

Adding a whole home surge protector is a fairly low-cost upgrade that will give your home an extra layer of protection. HGTV host Mike Holmes (who had his house hit by lightning a few years ago) endorses the Eaton brand of whole home surge protectors. Their units easily connect to any brand electrical panel and their base model can be purchased for under $100 at most home improvement stores. Higher end units are available but must be purchased and installed by a qualified professional (the base model should be installed by a licensed electrician as well).

Even with a whole home surge protector you should still use surge-protected power bars on home entertainment and computer equipment.

Safely store chemicals, paint and other dangerous goods

It is never a good idea to store harsh chemicals or paint indoors. Besides being dangerous to children and pets, the fumes these products release can be a fire hazard, especially around the open flame of a gas furnace or hot water heater.

Cans of paint (including spray paint), stain, turpentine and mineral spirits should be stored outside in a garage or shed. Keeping them off the ground in a ventilated, insulated storage box will prevent them from freezing during the winter months. Gasoline, oil and oil covered rags should only be kept in a detached structure (such as a shed) away from your home. Expired paint and empty containers can be recycled at most home improvement stores or municipal hazardous waste drop-off centres.

READ MORE: Health Canada monitoring child injuries from detergent pod poisonings

Flammable cleaning supplies, such as bleach, floor, carpet and toilet cleaners should be kept away from areas with open flames. These include furnace rooms and laundry rooms and kitchens with gas appliances. These products, along with laundry supplies like detergent pods, Borax and fabric sheets, should be stored in a latched or locked cabinet off the floor in homes with children or pets.

SOUND OFF: Have a tip you’d like to share with us or a home-related question? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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