Liz Weston: Small household repairs can have a big impact on safety

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If it’s not broken, maybe you should fix it anyway.

This is the message consumer advocates and insurance experts want you to hear about the hidden dangers in your home. Too often, they say, people put off relatively inexpensive repairs or improvements that could prevent major damage, injury or even death. While you can’t eliminate every potential hazard, some small moves can have a huge impact on your home security.

The following patches usually cost $200 or less.

REDUCE YOUR RISK OF FIRE

Fires cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage in the United States each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating fire-related losses. Climate change has also increased the risk of wildfires in many places.

Especially in areas prone to wildfires, you can reduce the chances of a wandering ember igniting your home by installing a screen over vents and other openings, says Amy Bach, executive director of the consumer advocacy group United Policyholders insurance. Clear gutters and the area under decks of fallen leaves and other combustible materials and create a “defensible space” by moving landscaping and other flammable objects at least 5 feet from your foundation. If you have a fence that attaches to your house, the last 5 feet should be metal rather than wood, Bach recommends.

“You shouldn’t have wooden fences attached to your house at any time because they can act as a wick,” Bach says.

A roll of 1/8-inch galvanized mesh costs about $30 at home improvement stores, while metal fence panels cost about $100 to $200 each.

Inside your home, install and regularly test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. Prices vary depending on features, but a three-pack of combo alarms often costs between $50 and $100. You should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (expect to spend around $50), but don’t store it under the sink where it could be damaged by water leaks, says Ashita Kapoor, associate director of security products for Consumer Reports, a non-profit organization. product testing organization. Instead, place the fire extinguisher near the stove, but not so close that you cannot reach it in the event of a fire.

Also clean your dryer’s filter and vents; lint buildup can cause fires. Vent cleaning kits cost around $30.

WATCH FOR FALLING THREATS

Falls are a leading cause of injuries treated in emergency rooms, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. To reduce your risk of falling, install non-slip mats in showers and bathtubs. Elsewhere, secure or eliminate loose rugs and other tripping hazards. Practice good safety habits, such as wiping up spills immediately, closing the dishwasher door (it’s a tripping hazard), and using a sturdy stepladder rather than a chair to reach anything stored high up.

Dangerous too: the things that fall on us. “Tipover” incidents — where heavy furniture, televisions or appliances fall on people — resulted in an estimated annual average of 22,500 injuries treated in emergency rooms from 2018 to 2020, according to Consumer Product Safety. Commission. From 2000 to 2020, 581 people are believed to have been killed, 81% of them under the age of 18. Anchors to prevent overturning usually only cost a few dollars and connect the heavy piece to a stud in the wall with a strap or tie-wrap. If you’re a renter and aren’t supposed to punch holes in the wall, talk to your property manager about your safety concerns, especially if you have young children.

ADDRESS OTHER RISKS AROUND THE HOME

Another small but useful purchase recommended by Kapoor: thermometers for your fridge and freezer. Foods that aren’t kept at the correct temperature — 37 degrees Fahrenheit for the fridge, 0 degrees for the freezer — can spoil faster and lead to food poisoning. Thermometers don’t have to be expensive: a two-pack can cost less than $6.

Consider placing water sensors, which often cost around $50 each, near washing machines, water heaters and other potential leak sites. Some sensors can detect temperature drops and warn you of frozen pipes. The savings could be significant: According to the Insurance Information Institute, insurance claims for water and frost damage average around $11,000.

Finally, get into the habit of fixing small problems before they become big ones. For example, a glass shower door that no longer closes properly or has been nicked or scratched can suddenly break and injure someone, Kapoor notes. In fact, a Consumer Reports analysis of SaferProducts.gov, the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s public database, found hundreds of injuries related to shower and tub doors; numerous reports said the doors had “exploded” without warning. Replacing a glass door typically costs around $200, Kapoor says.

“Be a little more proactive rather than reactive,” Kapoor says. “We shouldn’t wait for something to explode on us.”

Liz Weston

FILE – This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for the personal finance website. (NerdWallet via AP, File) {Taken from column 7.12.21}

This column was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Contact Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner and Columnist at NerdWallet, at [email protected] or @lizweston.



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