Monday, July 22
Regularly Check These Items in Your Home to Stay Safe

Regularly Check These Items in Your Home to Stay Safe


Fire extinguisher on kitchen counter

Photo: Jason Finn (Shutterstock)

Existence is precarious. There are so many ways the universe can ruin your day that it’s actually incredible any of us make it from morning to bedtime in one piece. At least we have agency and sentience, the ability to identify threats and take steps to avoid problems. Our houses, being inanimate collections of lumber, nails, and tasteful decorations, have no such ability.

That means it’s up to us. You can’t go through your days assuming that if nothing is actively burning your house is doing just fine; threats to your well-being and your pocketbook often brew for a long time in silence and darkness, waiting to ruin your day at the precise moment when it can do the most harm. Your best defense is to go on offense and inspect crucial aspects of your house on a regular basis, identifying potential problems before they manifest and ensuring everything is working as designed. Here are the 10 things you’re probably not checking regularly that you absolutely should be.

How often to check: Monthly

Your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms can save your life—if their batteries are fresh and they’re in good working order. Test your alarms monthly by pressing the TEST button, and change the batteries at least once a year (every six months is better), even if they appear to be working just fine. And be aware of when your alarms need to be replaced entirely—at a minimum they should be replaced every 10 years, but more frequently is probably a good idea.

How often to check: Monthly

You might have been gifted a small fire extinguisher when you bought your house, or you picked one up in that initial rush of moving in. And it probably hasn’t moved since. But fire extinguishers can break down and lose pressure, making them absolutely useless when you have a fire. Check them every month to ensure they still have a charge, aren’t hidden away or difficult to grab, and have no visible signs of corrosion.

How often to check: Annually

Sure, “use-by” dates are more like guidelines than rules, and you probably don’t have to throw everything in your fridge and pantry away the moment they “expire.” But that doesn’t mean you can keep using stuff indefinitely—condiments, medications, even bottled water will all go bad eventually. Using rancid ketchup is one thing, but having a first aid kit filled with old medicines and an emergency pantry filled with stale rations and water that tastes like plastic might be the difference between riding out an emergency comfortably and riding one out uncomfortably.

How often to check: Every three months.

Flashlights are a crucial aspect of emergency preparedness, but we tend to forget about them. Leaving batteries in your flashlights can result in corrosion that can render the device unusable—but leaving the batteries outside the flashlight can make using them in an emergency a lot more difficult. Changing the batteries in your flashlights every few months will keep them in good working order.

How often to check: Monthly

If you have natural gas piped into your home, it’s easy to forget that you’ve got an incredibly dangerous flammable substance being piped into your home—and a gas pipeline “incident” occurs every 40 hours or so. While natural gas has an additive that gives it the unpleasant smell of rotten eggs that acts as a warning sign, you should still inspect your gas pipes and gas-fueled appliances every month. Aside from the smell, listen for hissing sounds, monitor your gas bill and investigate unusually high usage, and invest in a gas leak detector.

How often to check: Annually

We hide away the pipes and drains because they’re not the most attractive parts of our homes, but in the darkness under your sink a slow, steady leak can rot away your cabinetry and your floor, corrode and ruin anything you have stored under there, and generate mold. Once a year (at minimum) you should poke your head under the sinks in your home to ensure that you don’t have an invisible leak causing damage.

How often to check: Every three months

A lot of us have gas cans in the garage or shed for use in lawnmowers and other appliances, or propane tanks for generators or outdoor kitchens. Gasoline goes bad, however, so checking on those gas cans every few months is a good idea so you can ensure your supply is fresh, as old gas can harm your engines and fail you just when you need to fire up that emergency generator. And propane tanks can develop leaks that will have propane collecting at the low points of your home, a potentially deadly outcome. Checking them every few months can save you a lot of headaches and potential hospital bills.

How often to check: Annually

Attics, crawlspaces, and unfinished basements have one thing in common: We often don’t think about them for months or even years at a time. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say—but you should make sure you crawl up or down there once a year. In an attic, look for signs of a roof leak, mold growth, or pest infestation. In a crawlspace or basement, look for pipe leaks, mold and pests, and foundation cracks that might augur a very, very expensive repair.

How often to check: Annually

If your windows are relatively modern, they’re probably dual-pane windows with inert gas sealed between. This makes them better insulators, but if the seal fails, you not only lose the protective gas, your windows will start to fail. Once a year, check for the obvious signs that this has happened: Dirt you can’t clean off, condensation or water droplets inside the window, or strange distortions in the surface of the glass. You can’t put the genie (or, um, inert gas) back in the bottle, but you can prevent further damage by repairing the windows—or replacing them altogether if they’re old.

How often to check: Annually

Your dryer vent is a ticking time bomb of fire hazard—lint is incredibly flammable. You should clean your lint traps regularly, but once a year you should also check and clean the dryer vent line, which will get clogged with lint over time, slowly evolving into a time bomb that could spark a deadly fire in your home.



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