Buyers & Sellers

BUYERS & SELLERS

What Really Matters

Buying a home? The process can be stressful. A home inspection is supposed to give you peace of mind, but often has the opposite effect. You will be asked to absorb a lot of information in a short time. This often includes a written report, checklist, photographs, environmental reports and what the inspector himself says during the inspection. All this combined with the seller’s disclosure and what you notice yourself makes the experience even more overwhelming. What should you do?

BUYERS & SELLERS

What Really Matters

12 Safety Devices to Protect Your Children

About 2-1/2 million children are injured or killed by hazards in the home each year. The good news is that many of these incidents can be prevented by using simple child safety devices on the market today.

Any safety device you buy should be sturdy enough to prevent injury to your child, yet easy for you to use. It's important to follow installation instructions carefully. In addition, if you have older children in the house, be sure they re-secure safety devices. Remember, too, that no device is completely childproof; determined youngsters have been known to disable them.

You can childproof your home for a fraction of what it would cost to have a professional do it. And safety devices are easy to find. You can buy them at hardware stores, baby equipment shops, supermarkets, drug stores, home and linen stores, and through mail order catalogues.

Here are some child safety devices that can help prevent many injuries to young children.

1 Use Safety Latches and Locks for cabinets and drawers in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas to help prevent poisonings and other injuries. Safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers can help prevent children from gaining access to medicines and household cleaners, as well as knives and other sharp objects.

Look for safety latches and locks that adults can easily install and use, but are sturdy enough to withstand pulls and tugs from children. Safety latches are not a guarantee of protection, but they can make it more difficult for children to reach dangerous substances. Even products with child-resistant packaging should be locked away, out of reach; this packaging is not childproof.

Typical cost of a safety latch or lock: less than $2.

2 Use Safety Gates to help prevent falls down stairs and to keep children away from dangerous areas. Safety gates can help keep children away from stairs or rooms that have hazards in them. Look for safety gates that children cannot dislodge easily, but that adults can open and close without difficulty. For the top of stairs, gates that screw to the wall are more secure than "pressure gates."

New safety gates that meet safety standards display a certification seal from the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). If you have an older safety gate, be sure it doesn't have "V" shapes that are large enough for a child's head and neck to fit into.

Typical cost of a safety gate: $13 to $40.

3 Use Door Knob Covers and Door Locks to help prevent children from entering rooms and other areas with possible dangers. Door knob covers and door locks can help keep children away from places with hazards, including swimming pools.

Be sure the door knob cover is sturdy enough not to break, but allows a door to be opened quickly by an adult in case of emergency. By restricting access to potentially hazardous rooms in the home, door knob covers could help prevent many kinds of injuries. To prevent access to swimming pools, door locks should be placed high out of reach of young children. Locks should be used in addition to fences and door alarms. Sliding glass doors, with locks that must be re-secured after each use, are often not an effective barrier to pools.

Typical cost of a door knob cover: $1 and door lock: $5 and up.

4 Use Anti-Scald Devices for faucets and shower heads and set your water heater temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to help prevent burns from hot water. Anti-scald devices for regulating water temperature can help prevent burns.

Consider using anti-scald devices for faucets and showerheads. A plumber may need to install these. In addition, if you live in your own home, set water heater temperature to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to help prevent burns from hot water.

Typical cost of an anti-scald device: $6 to $30.

5 Use Smoke Detectors on every level of your home and near bedrooms to alert you to fires. Smoke detectors are essential safety devices for protection against fire deaths and injuries.

Check smoke detectors once a month to make sure they're working.  If detectors are battery-operated, change batteries at least once a year or consider using 10-year batteries. Typical cost of a smoke detector: less than $10.

6 Use Window Guards and Safety Netting to help prevent falls from windows, balconies, decks, and landings. Window guards and safety netting for balconies and decks can help prevent serious falls.

Check these safety devices frequently to make sure they are secure and properly installed and maintained. There should be no more than four inches between the bars of the window guard. If you have window guards, be sure at least one window in each room can be easily used for escape in a fire. Window screens are not effective for preventing children from falling out of windows.

Typical cost of a window guard or safety netting: $8 to $16.

7 Use Corner and Edge Bumpers to help prevent injuries from falls against sharp edges of furniture and fireplaces. Corner and edge bumpers can be used with furniture and fireplace hearths to help prevent injuries from falls or to soften falls against sharp or rough edges.

Be sure to look for bumpers that stay securely on furniture or hearth edges.

Typical cost of a corner and edge bumper: $1 and up.

8 Use Outlet Covers and Outlet Plates to help prevent electrocution. Outlet covers and outlet plates can help protect children from electrical shock and possible electrocution.

Be sure the outlet protectors cannot be easily removed by children and are large enough so that children cannot choke on them.

Typical cost of an outlet cover: less than $2.

9 Use a Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector outside bedrooms to help prevent CO poisoning. A carbon monoxide (CO) detector can help prevent CO poisoning. Consumers should install CO detectors near sleeping areas in their homes. Households that should use CO detectors include those with gas or oil heat or with attached garages.

Typical cost of a carbon monoxide (CO) detector: $30 to $70.

10 Cut Window Blind Cords; use Safety Tassels and Inner Cord Stops to help prevent children from strangling in blind cord loops. Window blind cord safety tassels on miniblinds and tension devices on vertical blinds and drapery cords can help prevent deaths and injuries from strangulation in the loops of cords. Inner cord stops can help prevent strangulation in the inner cords of window blinds.

For older miniblinds, cut the cord loop, remove the buckle, and put safety tassels on each cord. Be sure that older vertical blinds and drapery cords have tension or tie-down devices to hold the cords tight. When buying new miniblinds, verticals, and draperies, ask for safety features to prevent child strangulation.

11 Use Door Stops and Door Holders to help prevent injuries to fingers and hands. Door stops and door holders on doors and door hinges can help prevent small fingers and hands from being pinched or crushed in doors and door hinges.

Be sure any safety device for doors is easy to use and is not likely to break into small parts, which could be a choking hazard for young children.

Typical cost of a door stop and door holder: less than $4.

12 Use a Cordless Phone to make it easier to continuously watch young children, especially when they're in bathtubs, swimming pools, or other potentially dangerous areas.

Cordless phones help you watch your child continuously, without leaving the vicinity to answer a phone call. Cordless phones are especially helpful when children are in or near water, whether it's the bathtub, the swimming pool, or the beach.

Typical cost of a cordless phone: $30 and up.

Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon

home buyer's and seller's guide

 

EPA Recommends:

  • If you are buying a home or selling your home, have it tested for radon.
  • For a new home, ask if radon-resistant construction features were used and if the home has been tested.
  • Fix the home if the radon level is 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.
  • Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases, may be reduced.
  • Take steps to prevent device interference when conducting a radon test.

EPA estimates that radon causes thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.

* Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year.

The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2002 National Safety Council Reports

Radon Is a Cancer-Causing, Radioactive Gas

You cannot see, smell, or taste radon. But it still may be a problem in your home. When you breathe air containing radon, you increase your risk of getting lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General of the United States has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

You Should Test for Radon

Testing is the only way to find out your home's radon levels. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.

radon risk bar chartYou Can Fix a Radon Problem

If you find that you have high radon levels, there are ways to fix a radon problem. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels.

If You Are Selling a Home...

EPA recommends that you test your home before putting it on the market and, if necessary, lower your radon levels. Save the test results and all information you have about steps that were taken to fix any problems. This could be a positive selling point.

If You Are Buying a Home...

EPA recommends that you know what the indoor radon level is in any home you consider buying. Ask the seller for their radon test results. If the home has a radon-reduction system, ask the seller for information they have about the system.

If the home has not yet been tested, you should have the housed tested.

If you are having a new home built, there are features that can be incorporated into your home during construction to reduce radon levels.

The radon testing guidelines in this Guide have been developed specifically to deal with the time-sensitive nature of home purchases and sales, and the potential for radon device interference. These guidelines are slightly different from the guidelines in other EPA publications which provide radon testing and reduction information for non-real estate situations.

This Guide recommends three short-term testing options for real estate transactions. EPA also recommends testing a home in the lowest level which is currently suitable for occupancy, since a buyer may choose to live in a lower area of the home than that used by the seller.

1. Why Do You Need to Test for Radon?

a. radon foundRadon Has Been Found In Homes All Over the U.S.

Radon is a radioactive gas that has been found in homes all over the United States. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon can also enter your home through well water. Your home can trap radon inside.

Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. In fact, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home. That is where you spend most of your time.

Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more). Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in your state.

b. EPA and the Surgeon General Recommend That You Test Your Home

Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.

fixedYou cannot predict radon levels based on state, local, and neighborhood radon measurements. Do not rely on radon test results taken in other homes in the neighborhood to estimate the radon level in your home. Homes which are next to each other can have different radon levels. Testing is the only way to find out what your home's radon level is.

In some areas, companies may offer different types of radon service agreements. Some agreements let you pay a one-time fee that covers both testing and radon mitigation, if needed.

U.S. Surgeon General Health Advisory

"Indoor radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques." January 2005

2. I'm Selling a Home. What Should I Do?

for sale

a. If Your Home Has Already Been Tested for Radon...

If you are thinking of selling your home and you have already tested your home for radon, review the Radon Testing Checklist to make sure that the test was done correctly. If so, provide your test results to the buyer.

No matter what kind of test you took, a potential buyer may ask for a new test especially if:

  • The Radon Testing Checklist items were not met;
  • The last test is not recent, e.g., within two years;
  • You have renovated or altered your home since you tested; or
  • The buyer plans to live in a lower level of the house than was tested, such as a basement suitable for occupancy but not currently lived in.

A buyer may also ask for a new test if your state or local government requires disclosure of radon information to buyers.

b. If Your Home Has Not Yet Been Tested for Radon...

Have a test taken as soon as possible. If you can, test your home before putting it on the market. You should test in the lowest level of the home which is suitable for occupancy. This means testing in the lowest level that you currently live in or a lower level not currently used, but which a buyer could use for living space without renovations.

tested for radonThe radon test result is important information about your home's radon level. Some states require radon measurement testers to follow a specific testing protocol. If you do the test yourself, you should carefully follow the testing protocol for your area or EPA's Radon Testing Checklist. If you hire a contractor to test your residence, protect yourself by hiring a qualified individual or company.

You can determine a service provider's qualifications to perform radon measurements or to mitigate your home in several ways. Many states require radon professionals to be licensed, certified, or registered. Most states can provide you with a list of knowledgeable radon service providers doing business in the state. In states that don't regulate radon services, ask the contractor if they hold a professional proficiency or certification credential.Such programs usually provide members with a photo-ID card, which indicates their qualification(s) and its expiration date. If in doubt, you should check with their credentialing organization. Alternatively, ask the contractor if they've successfully completed formal training appropriate for testing or mitigation, e.g., a course in radon measurement or radon mitigation.

3. I'm Buying a Home. What Should I Do?

a. If the Home Has Already Been Tested for Radon...

If you are thinking of buying a home, you may decide to accept an earlier test result from the seller, or ask the seller for a new test to be conducted by a qualified radon tester. Before you accept the seller's test, you should determinethe results of previous testing;

  • Who conducted the previous test: the homeowner, a radon professional, or some other person

  • Where in the home the previous test was taken, especially if you may plan to live in a lower level of the home. For example, the test may have been taken on the first floor. However, if you want to use the basement as living space, test there...

  • What, if any, structural changes, alterations, or changes in the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system have been made to the house since the test was done. Such changes may affect radon levels.

If you accept the seller's test, make sure that the test followed the Radon Testing Checklist.

If you decide that a new test is needed, discuss it with the seller as soon as possible.

b. If the Home Has Not Yet Been Tested for Radon...

Make sure that a radon test is done as soon as possible. Consider including provisions in the contract specifying:

  • Where the test will be located?
  • Who should conduct the test?
  • What type of test to do?
  • When to do the test ?
  • How the seller and the buyer will share the test results and test costs (if necessary)
  • When radon mitigation measures will be taken and who will pay for them.

Make sure that the test is done in the lowest level of the home suitable for occupancy. This means the lowest level that you are going to use as living space which is finished or does not require renovations prior to use. A state or local radon official or qualified radon tester can help you make some of these decisions.If you decide to finish or renovate an unfinished area of the home in the future, a radon test should be taken before starting the project and after the project is finished. Generally, it is less expensive to install a radon-reduction system before (or during) renovations rather than afterwards.

4. I'm Buying or Building a New Home. How Can I Protect My Family?

a. Why Should I Buy a Radon-Resistant Home?

Radon-resistant techniques work. When installed properly and completely, these simple and inexpensive passive techniques can help to reduce radon levels. In addition, installing them at the time of construction makes it easier to reduce radon levels further if the passive techniques don't reduce radon levels below 4 pCi/L. Radon-resistant techniques may also help to lower moisture levels and those of other soil-gases. Radon-resistant techniques:

Making Upgrading Easy: Even if built to be radon-resistant, every new home should be tested for radon after occupancy. If you have a test result of 4 pCi/L or more, a vent fan can easily be added to the passive system to make it an active system and further reduce radon levels.

Are Cost-Effective: Building radon-resistant features into the house during construction is easier and cheaper than fixing a radon problem from scratch later. Let your builder know that radon-resistant features are easy to install using common building materials.

Save Money: When installed properly and completely, radon-resistant techniques can also make your home more energy efficient and help you save on your energy costs.

In a new home, the cost to install passive radon-resistant features during construction is usually between $350 and $500. In some areas, the cost may be as low as $100. A qualified mitigator will charge about $300 to add a vent fan to a passive system, making it an active system and further reducing radon levels. In an existing home, it usually costs between $800 and $2,500 to install a radon mitigation system.

radon cutawayb. What Are Radon-Resistant Features?

Radon-resistant techniques (features) may vary for different foundations and site requirements. If you're having a house built, you can learn about EPA's Model Standards (and architectural drawings) and explain the techniques to your builder. If your new house was built (or will be built) to be radon-resistant, it will include these basic elements:

  1. Gas-Permeable Layer: This layer is placed beneath the slab or flooring system to allow the soil gas to move freely underneath the house. In many cases, the material used is a 4-inch layer of clean gravel. This gas-permeable layer is used only in homes with basement and slab-on-grade foundations; it is not used in homes with crawlspace foundations.

  2. Plastic Sheeting: Plastic sheeting is placed on top of the gas-permeable layer and under the slab to help prevent the soil gas from entering the home. In crawl spaces, the sheeting (with seams sealed) is placed directly over the crawlspace floor.

  3. Sealing and Caulking: All below-grade openings in the foundation and walls are sealed to reduce soil gas entry into the home.

  4. Vent Pipe: A 3- or 4-inch PVC pipe (or other gas-tight pipe) runs from the gas-permeable layer through the house to the roof, to safely vent radon and other soil gases to the outside.

  5. Junction Boxes: An electrical junction box is included in the attic to make the wiring and installation of a vent fan easier. For example, you decide to activate the passive system because your test result showed an elevated radon level (4 pCi/L or more). A separate junction box is placed in the living space to power the vent fan alarm. An alarm is installed along with the vent fan to indicate when the vent fan is not operating properly.

5. How Can I Get Reliable Radon Test Results?

Radon testing is easy and the only way to find out if you have a radon problem in your home.

a. Types of Radon Devices

Since you cannot see or smell radon, special equipment is needed to detect it. When you're ready to test your home, you can order a radon test kit by mail from a qualified radon measurement services provider or laboratory. You can also hire a qualified radon tester, very often a home inspector, who will use a radon device(s) suitable to your situation. The most common types of radon testing devices are listed below.

Passive Devices

Passive radon testing devices do not need power to function. These include charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors, charcoal liquid scintillation devices, and electret ion chamber detectors which are available in hardware, drug, and other stores; they can also be ordered by mail or phone. These devices are exposed to the air in the home for a specified period of time and then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Both short-term and long-term passive devices are generally inexpensive. Some of these devices may have features that offer more resistance to test interference or disturbance than other passive devices. Qualified radon testers may use any of these devices to measure the home's radon level.

Active Devices

Active radon testing devices require power to function. These include continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors. They continuously measure and record the amount of radon or its decay products in the air. Many of these devices provide a report of this information which can reveal any unusual or abnormal swings in the radon level during the test period. A qualified tester can explain this report to you. In addition, some of these devices are specifically designed to deter and detect test interference. Some technically advanced active devices offer anti-interference features. Although these tests may cost more, they may ensure a more reliable result.

b. General Information for All Devices

A state or local radon official can explain the differences between devices and recommend the ones which are most appropriate for your needs and expected testing conditions.

Make sure to use a radon measurement device from a qualified laboratory. Certain precautions should be followed to avoid interference during the test period. See the Radon Testing Checklist for more information on how to get a reliable test result.

Radon Test Device Placement

EPA recommends that testing device(s) be placed in the lowest level of the home suitable for occupancy. This means testing in the lowest level (such as a basement), which a buyer could use for living space without renovations. The test should be conducted in a room to be used regularly (like a family room, living room, playroom, den or bedroom); do not test in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room or hallway. Usually, the buyer decides where to locate the radon test, based on their expected use of the home. A buyer and seller should explicitly discuss and agree on the test location to avoid any misunderstanding. Their decision should be clearly communicated to the person performing the test.

c. Preventing or Detecting Test Interference

There is a potential for test interference in real estate transactions. There are several ways to prevent or detect test interference:

  • Use a test device that frequently records radon or decay product levels to detect unusual swings
  • Employ a motion detector to determine whether the test device has been moved or testing conditions have changed
  • Use a proximity detector to reveal the presence of people in the room which may correlate to possible changes in radon levels during the test
  • Record the barometric pressure to identify weather conditions which may have affected the test
  • Record the temperature record to help assess whether doors and windows have been opened
  • Apply tamper-proof seals to windows to ensure closed house conditions
  • Have the seller/occupant sign a non-interference agreement

Home buyers and sellers should consult a qualified radon test provider about the use of these precautions.

d. Length of Time to Test

There Are Two General Ways To Test Your Home for Radon:

Because radon levels vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. However, if you need results quickly, a short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix the home.

Short-Term Testing

The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home from two days to 90 days, depending on the device. There are two groups of devices which are more commonly used for short-term testing. The passive device group includes alpha track detectors, charcoal canisters, charcoal liquid scintillation detectors, and electret ion chambers. The active device group consists of different types of continuous monitors.

Whether you test for radon yourself or hire a state-certified tester or a privately certified tester, all radon tests should be taken for a minimum of 48 hours. A longer period of testing is required for some devices.
Long-Term Testing

Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. Alpha track, and electret ion chamber detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home's year-round average radon level than a short-term test. If time permits (more than 90 days) long-term tests can be used to confirm initial short-term results. When long-term test results are 4 pCi/L or higher, EPA recommends fixing the home.

e. Doing a Short-Term Test...

If you are testing in a real estate transaction and you need results quickly, any of the following three options for short-term Tests are acceptable in determining whether the home should be fixed. Any real estate test for radon should include steps to prevent or detect device interference with the test device.

When Choosing a Short-Term Testing Option...

There are trade-offs among the short-term testing options. Two tests taken at the same time (simultaneous) would improve the precision of this radon test. One test followed by another test (sequential) would most likely give a better representation of the seasonal average. Both active and passive devices may have features which help to prevent test interference. Your state radon office can help you decide which option is best.

Short-Term Testing OptionsWhat to do Next

Passive:
Take two short-term tests at the same time in the same location for at least 48 hours.

or

Take an initial short-term test for at least 48 hours. Immediately upon completing the first test, do a second test using an identical device in the same location as the first test.

Fix the home if the average of two tests is 4 pCi/L or more.

Fix the home if the average of the two tests is 4 pCi/L or more.

Active:
Test the home with a continuous monitor for at least 48 hours.

Fix the home if the average radon level is 4 pCi/L or more.

f. Using Testing Devices Properly for Reliable Results

If You Do the Test Yourself...

using test devices properlyWhen you are taking a short-term test, close windows and doors and keep them closed, except for normal entry and exit. If you are taking a short-term test lasting less than four days, be sure to:

  • Close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours before beginning the test;
  • Do not conduct short-term tests lasting less than four days during severe storms or periods of high winds;
  • Follow the testing instructions and record the start time and date;
  • Place the test device at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it will not be disturbed and where it will be away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls;
  • Leave the test kit in place for as long as the test instructions say; and
  • Once you have finished the test, record the stop time and date, reseal the package and return it immediately to the lab specified on the package for analysis.

You should receive your test results within a few weeks. If you need results quickly, you should find out how long results will take and, if necessary, request expedited service.

If You Hire a Qualified Radon Tester

In many cases, home buyers and sellers may decide to have the radon test done by a qualified radon tester who knows the proper conditions, test devices, and guidelines for obtaining a reliable radon test result. They can also:

  • Evaluate the home and recommend a testing approach designed to make sure you get reliable results;
  • Explain how proper conditions can be maintained during the radon test;
  • Emphasize to occupants of a home that a reliable test result depends on their cooperation. Interference with, or disturbance of, the test or closed-house conditions will invalidate the test result;
  • Analyze the data and report measurement results; and
  • Provide an independent test.

g. Interpreting Radon Test Results

The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L; roughly 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable for all homes, radon levels in many homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.

Radon Test Results Reported in Two Ways

Your radon test results may be reported in either picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L) or working levels (WL). If your test result is in pCi/L, EPA recommends you fix your home if your radon level is 4 pCi/L or higher. If the test result is in WL, EPA recommends you fix the home if the working level is 0.02 WL or higher. Some states require WL results to be converted to pCi/L to minimize confusion.

Sometimes short-term tests are less definitive about whether the home is at or above 4 pCi/L; particularly when the results are close to 4 pCi/L. For example, if the average of two short-term tests is 4.1 pCi/L, there is about a 50% chance that the year-round average is somewhat below 4 pCi/L.

However, EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk; no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk. You can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.

As with other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because estimates of radon risks are based on data from human studies (underground miners). Additional studies on more typical populations are under way.

Your radon measurement will give you an idea of your risk of getting lung cancer from radon. Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:

  • Your home's radon level;
  • The amount of time you spend in your home; and
  • Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked.

Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk. If you smoke or are a former smoker, the presence of radon greatly increases your risk of lung cancer. If you stop smoking now and lower the radon level in your house, you will reduce your lung cancer risk.

Based on information contained in the National Academy of Sciences 1998 report, The Health Effects of Exposure to Indoor Radon, your radon risk may be somewhat higher than shown; especially if you have never smoked. It's never too late to reduce your risk to lung cancer. Don't wait to test and fix a radon problem. If you are a smoker, stop smoking.

radon checklistRadon Testing Checklist

For reliable test results, follow this Radon Testing Checklist carefully. Testing for radon is not complicated. Improper testing may yield inaccurate results and require another test. Disturbing or interfering with the test device, or with closed-house conditions, may invalidate the test results and is illegal in some states. If the seller or qualified tester cannot confirm that all items have been completed, take another test.

Before Conducting a Radon Test:
  • Notify the occupants of the importance of proper testing conditions. Give the occupants written instructions or a copy of this Guide and explain the directions carefully.

  • Conduct the radon test for a minimum of 48 hours; some test devices have a minimum exposure time greater than 48 hours.

  • When doing a short-term test ranging from 2-4 days, it is important to maintain closed-house conditions for at least 12 hours before the beginning of the test and during the entire test period.

  • When doing a short-term test ranging from 4-7 days, EPA recommends that closed-house conditions be maintained.

  • If you conduct the test yourself, use a qualified radon measurement device and follow the laboratory's instructions. Your state may be able to provide you with a list of do-it-yourself test devices available from qualified laboratories.

  • If you hire someone to do the test, hire only a qualified individual. Some states issue photo identification (ID) cards; ask to see it. The tester's ID number, if available, should be included or noted in the test report.

  • The test should include method(s) to prevent or detect interference with testing conditions or with the testing device itself.

  • If the house has an active radon-reduction system, make sure the vent fan is operating properly. If the fan is not operating properly, have it (or ask to have it) repaired and then test.

Closed-house conditions means keeping all windows closed, keeping doors closed except for normal entry and exit, and not operating fans or other machines which bring in air from outside. Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating for only short periods of time may run during the test.
During a Radon Test:
  • Maintain closed-house conditions during he entire time of a short term test, especially for tests shorter than one week in length.

  • Operate the home's heating and cooling systems normally during the test. For tests lasting less than one week, operate only air-conditioning units which recirculate interior air.

  • Do not disturb the test device at any time during the test.

  • If a radon-reduction system is in place, make sure the system is working properly and will be in operation during the entire radon test.

After a Radon Test:
  • If you conduct the test yourself, be sure to promptly return the test device to the laboratory. Be sure to complete the required information, including start and stop times, test location, etc.

  • If an elevated level is found, fix the home. Contact a qualified radon-reduction contractor about lowering the radon level. EPA recommends that you fix the home when the radon level is 4 pCi/L or more.

  • Be sure that you or the radon tester can demonstrate or provide information to ensure that the testing conditions were not violated during the testing period.

6. What Should I Do If the Radon Level is High?

a. High Radon Levels Can be Reduced

EPA recommends that you take action to reduce your home's indoor radon levels if your radon test result is 4 pCi/L or higher. It is better to correct a radon problem before placing your home on the market because then you have more time to address a radon problem.

If elevated levels are found during the real estate transaction, the buyer and seller should discuss the timing and costs of the radon reduction. The cost of making repairs to reduce radon levels depends on how your home was built and other factors. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs, like painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average cost for a contractor to lower radon levels in a home can range from $800 to about $2,500.

house cutawayb. How To Lower The Radon Level In Your Home

A variety of methods can be used to reduce radon in homes. Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to limit radon entry. Sealing alone has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently.

In most cases, a system with a vent pipe(s) and fan(s) is used to reduce radon. These "sub-slab depressurization" systems do not require major changes to your home. Similar systems can also be installed in homes with crawl space. These systems prevent radon gas from entering the home from below the concrete floor and from outside the foundation. Radon mitigation contractors may use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

Radon and home renovations

If you are planning any major renovations, such as converting an unfinished basement area into living space, it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin.

If your test results indicate an elevated radon level, radon-resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation. Major renovations can change the level of radon in any home. Test again after the work is completed.

You should also test your home again after it is fixed to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level. In addition, it is a good idea to retest your home sometime in the future to be sure radon levels remain low.

selecting a radon mitigatorc. Selecting a Radon-Reduction (Mitigation) Contractor

Select a qualified radon-reduction contractor to reduce the radon levels in your home. Any mitigation measures taken or system installed in your home must conform to your state's regulations.

EPA recommends that the mitigation contractor review the radon measurement results before beginning and radon-reduction work. Test again after the radon mitigation work has been completed to confirm that previous elevated levels have been reduced.

d. What Can a Qualified Radon-Reduction Contractor Do for You?

A qualified radon-reduction (mitigation) contractor should be able to:

  • Review testing guidelines and measurement results, and determine if additional measurements are needed;
  • Evaluate the radon problem and provide you with a detailed, written proposal on how radon levels will be lowered;
  • Design a radon-reduction system;
  • Install the system according to EPA standards, or state or local codes; and
  • Make sure the finished system effectively reduces radon levels to acceptable levels.

Choose a radon mitigation contractor to fix your radon problem just as you would for any other home repair. You may want to get more than one estimate, ask for and check their references. Make sure the person you hire is qualified to install a mitigation system. Some states regulate or certify radon mitigation services providers.

Be aware that a potential conflict of interest exists if the same person or firm performs the testing and installs the mitigation system. Some states may require the homeowner to sign a waiver in such cases. Contact your state radon office for more information.

e. Radon in Water

The radon in your home's indoor air can come from two sources, the soil or your water supply. Compared to radon entering your home through water, radon entering your home through soil is a much larger risk. If you've tested for radon in air and have elevated radon levels and your water comes from a private well, have your water tested. The devices and procedures for testing your home's water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in air.

The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it. Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.

Radon in your home's water in not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g., a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. Some public water systems treat their water to reduce radon levels before it is delivered to your home. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.

radon in waterIf you've tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be fixed. Your home's water supply can be treated in one of two ways. Point-of-entry treatment can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home. Point-of-entry treatment usually employs either granular activated carbon (GAC) filters or aeration devices. While GAC filters usually cost less than aeration devices, filters can collect radioactivity and may require a special method of disposal. Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use, e.g., the water you drink. Point-of-use devices are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home.

For information on radon in water, testing and treatment, and existing or planned radon in drinking water standards, or for general help, call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791. If your water comes from a private well, you can also contact your state radon office.

f. Radon Hotlines (Toll-Free)

EPA supports the following hotlines to best serve consumers with radon-related questions and concerns.

  • 1-800-SOS-RADON (767-7236). Radon Hotline, operated by the National Safety Council (NSC) in partnership with EPA. Order radon test kits by phone.

  • 1-800-55RADON (557-2366). For live help with your radon questions. Operated by the National Safety Council (NSC) in partnership with EPA.

  • 1-800-438-4318. The Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Information Clearinghouse is privately operated under contract to EPA. You can order copies of EPA consumer-oriented radon publications and get general information on radon and indoor air quality issues.

  • 1-800-426-4791. Safe Drinking Water Hotline, privately operated under contract to EPA. For general information on drinking water, radon in water, testing and treatment, and radon drinking water standards.

U.S. Surgeon General Health Advisory

"Indoor radon gas is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques." January 2005

Termite Control in the Home

Wood destroying insects and other organisms can cause serious problems in the wood structural components of a house and may go undetected for a long period of time.

New Construction

All chemical soil treatments, bait systems, and chemical wood treatment must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and applied in accordance with the EPA label instructions. In some cases it is not feasible for a builder to arrange for soil treatment. In this regard, the International Residential Code (IRC) by the International Code council allows a builder to utilize pressure treated wood as a measure of termite protection. If pressure treated wood is used, however, it must be used in all framing members up to and including the top plate of the first floor level wall. This includes the subfloor and floor joists of the first floor. The use of pressure treated wood in only the sill plate is not acceptable. In such cases, the builder must provide the lender with a letter stating that the house is protected from termites by the use of pressure treated wood. The builder must also provide the home buyer with a one year warranty against termites. The use of post-construction soil treatment where the chemicals are applied only around the perimeter of the foundation is NOT acceptable in new construction.

Appraiser's Observations

Appraisers are to observe all areas of the house and other structures/areas within the legal boundaries of the property that have potential for infestation by termites and other wood destroying organisms, including the bottoms of exterior doors and frames, wood siding in contact with the ground and crawl spaces. Mud tunnels running from the ground up the side of the house may indicate termite infestation. Observe the eave and gable vents and wood window sills for indication of the entrance of swarming termites and note excessive dampness or large areas where the vegetation is dead. Evidence of active termite infestation must be noted.

Termites

Subterranean termites are the most damaging insects of wood. Their presence is hard to notice and damage usually is found before the termites are seen. Prevent infestations because if they occur they will almost always need professional pest control service.

Signs of Infestation

Generally, the first sign of infestation is the presence of swarming termites on the window or near indoor light. If they are found inside the house, it almost always means that they have infested. Other signs that may be found are termite wings on window sills or in cobwebs, and shelter tubes which are tunnels constructed by the termites from soil or wood and debris. Usually, wood damage is not found at first, but when it is found it definitely reveals a termite infestation. Anywhere wood touches soil is a possible entry into a home for termites. Examine wood which sounds dull or hollow when struck by a screwdriver or hammer. Inspect suspected areas with a sharp, pointed tool such as an ice pick to find termite galleries or their damage.

Control

Control measures include reducing the potential infestation, preventing termite entry and applying chemicals for remedial treatment.

Inspection

Inspect thoroughly to determine if there is an infestation, damage, and/or conditions that could invite a termite attack or the need fo remedial control measures. The tools and equipment needed for an inspection include a flashlight, ice pick or sharp-pointed screwdriver, ladder and protective clothing.

Outdoors

Check the foundation of the house, garage and other buildings for shelter tubes coming from the soil. Look closely around porches, connecting patios, sidewalks, areas near kitchens or bathrooms and hard-to-see places. Check window and door frames and where utility services enter the house for termite infestation or wood decay. Also look behind shrubbery or plants near walls. Pay special attention to areas where earth and wood meet such as fences, stair carriages or trellises. Open and check any exterior electrical meter or fuse box set into the wall, a common point of infestation. Indoors Carefully check all doors, window facings, baseboards and hardwood flooring. Discoloration or stains on walls or ceilings may mean that water is leaking and can decay wood and aid termite infestation. It is very important to inspect where plumbing or utility pipes enter the foundation or flooring. Also examine the attic for shelter tubes, water leakage, and wood damage.

Prevention

Many termite problems can be prevented. The most important thing to do is deny termites access to food (wood), moisture and shelter.Follow the sugestions below.

  • have at least a 2-inch clearance between the house and planter boxes or soil-filled porches
  • elimiate all wood-to-soil contacts such as trellises, fence posts, stair casings and doorfacings (they can be put on masonary blocks or on treated wood)
  • separate shrubbery from the house to help make it easier to inspect the foundation line
  • use wolmanized wood (pressure-treated wood) so that rain will not rot it
  • seal openings through the foundation
  • remove wood scraps or stumps from around foundations
  • have at least 12"-18" clearance between floor beams and the soil underneath


Chemical Treatment

Termite treatment often requires specialized equipment. Therefore, it is recommended that you always use the services of a pest control operator because he is familiar with construction principles and practices, has the necessary equipment and knows about subterranean termites.

Exterminating Termites

If you think you have a termite infestation in your house, you need to call a structural pest control company to conduct a professional inspection. To find a company, ask friends or coworkers for recommendations, or check the yellow pages. If the inspection finds evidence of drywood termites, you have several options, depending on the degree of infestation. Fumigation and heating of the entire house are the only options that ensure eradication in the entire structure. If the infestation is contained in a small area, local or spot control may be effective. However, hidden infestations in other part of the structure will not be eredicated.

Total (Whole-House) Eradication

For the heat method, pets, plants, and other items that might be damaged by high temperatures must be removed. The house is then covered with tarps, and hot air is blown into the tarp until the inside temperature reaches 140 to 150F and the temperature of the structural timbers reaches 120F. The time to complete this procedure varies greatly from one structure to another, depending on factors such as the building's construction and the weather conditions. The procedure may not be practical for structures that cannot be heated evenly.

Local or Spot Control

Local or spot control methods include the use of pesticides, electric current, extreme cold, localized heat, microwave energy, or any combination of these methods. Local or spot control also includes the removal and replacement of infested structural timber. These methods are intended to remove or kill termites only within the specific targeted area, leaving open the possibility of other undetected infestations within the structure. These treatments are NOT designed for whole-house eradication. Any pest control company that claims whole-house results with local or spot control methods is guilty of false advertising and should be reported. Local or spot treatment with pesticides involves drilling and injecting pesticides into infested timbers, as well as the topical application of toxic chemicals. The electric current method involves delivering electric energy to targeted infestations. For the extreme cold method, liquid nitrogen is pumped into wall voids adjacent to suspected infestation sites, reducing the area to -20F. The localized heat method involves heating infested structural timbers to 120F. The microwave method kills termites by directing microwaves into termite-infested wood.

If you see the following signs in your house, you might have termites: 

  • Sawdust-like droppings
  • Dirt or mud-like tubes or trails on the structure
  • Damaged wood members (like window sills)
  • Swarming winged insects within the structure, especially in the spring or fall

Septic Systems

Septic systems treat and disperse relatively small volumes of wastewater from individual or small numbers of homes and commercial buildings. Septic system regulation is usually a state, tribal, and local responsibility. EPA provides information to homeowners and assistance to state and local governments to improve the management of septic systems to prevent failures that could harm human health and water quality. 

Information for Homeowners

If your septic tank failed, or you know someone whose did, you are not alone. As a homeowner, you are responsible for maintaining your septic system. Proper septic system maintenance will help keep your system from failing and will help maintain your investment in your home. Failing septic systems can contaminate the ground water that you or your neighbors drink and can pollute nearby rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

Ten simple steps you can take to keep your septic system working properly.

  1. Locate your septic tank and drainfield. Keep a drawing of these locations in your records.
  2. Have your septic system inspected at least every three years.
  3. Pump your septic tank as needed (generally every three to five years).
  4. Don't dispose of household hazardous wastes in sinks or toilets.
  5. Keep other household items, such as dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, and cat litter out of your system.
  6. Use water efficiently.
  7. Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the system. Also, do not apply manure or fertilizers over the drainfield.
  8. Keep vehicles and livestock off your septic system. The weight can damage the pipes and tank, and your system may not drain properly under compacted soil.
  9. Keep gutters and basement sump pumps from draining into or near your septic system.
  10. Check with your local health department before using additives. Commercial septic tank additives do not eliminate the need for periodic pumping and can be harmful to your system.

How does it work?

A typical septic system has four main components: a pipe from the home, a septic tank, a drainfield, and the soil. Microbes in the soil digest or remove most contaminants from wastewater before it eventually reaches groundwater. The septic tank is a buried, watertight container typically made of concrete, fiberglass, or polyethylene. It holds the wastewater long enough to allow solids to settle out (forming sludge) and oil and grease to float to the surface (as scum). It also allows partial decomposition of the solid materials. Compartments and a T-shaped outlet in the septic tank prevent the sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling into the drainfield area. Screens are also recommended to keep solids from entering the drainfield. The wastewater exits the septic tank and is discharged into the drainfield for further treatment by the soil. Microorganisms in the soil provide final treatment by removing harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients.

Your septic system is your responsibility!

Did you know that as a homeowner youre responsible for maintaining your septic system? Did you know that maintaining your septic system protects your investment in your home? Did you know that you should periodically inspect your system and pump out your septic tank? If properly designed, constructed, and maintained, your septic system can provide long-term, effective treatment of household wastewater. If your septic system isnt maintained, you might need to replace it, costing you thousands of dollars. A malfunctioning system can contaminate groundwater that might be a source of drinking water. And if you sell your home, your septic system must be in good working order.

Pump frequently...
You should have your septic system inspected at least every 3 years by a professional and your tank pumped as necessary (generally every 3 to 5 years).

Use water efficiently...
Average indoor water use in the typical single-family home is almost 70 gallons per person per day. Dripping faucets can waste about 2,000 gallons of water each year. Leaky toilets can waste as much as 200 gallons each day. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system.

Flush responsibly...
Dental floss, feminine hygiene products, condoms, diapers, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, coffee grounds, cat litter, paper towels, and other kitchen and bathroom items can clog and potentially damage septic system components. Flushing household chemicals, gasoline, oil, pesticides, antifreeze and paint can stress or destroy the biological treatmen taking place in the system or might contaminate surface waters and groundwater.

How do I maintain my septic system?

  • Plant only grass over and near your septic system. Roots from nearby trees or shrubs might clog and damage the drainfield.
  • Dont drive or park vehicles on any part of your septic system. Doing so can compact the soil in your drainfield or damage the pipes, tank, or other septic system components.
  • Keep roof drains, basement sump pump drains, and other rainwater or surface water drainage systems away from the drainfield. Flooding the drainfield with excessive water slows down or stops treatment processes and can cause plumbing fixtures to back up.

Why should I maintain my septic system?

A key reason to maintain your septic system is to save money! Failing septic systems are expensive to repair or replace, and poor maintenance is often the culprit. Having your septic system inspected (at least every 3 years) is a bargain when you consider the cost of replacing the entire system. Your system will need pumping every 3 to 5 years, depending on how many people live in the house and the size of the system. An unusable septic system or one in disrepair will lower your propertys value and could pose a legal liability. Other good reasons for safe treatment of sewage include preventing the spread of infection an disease and protecting water resources. Typical pollutants in household wastewater are nitrogen phosphorus, and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Nitrogen and phosphorus are aquati plant nutrients that can cause unsightly algae blooms. Excessive nitrate-nitrogen in drinking wate can cause pregnancy complications, as well as methemoglobinemia (also known as blue baby syndrome) in infancy. Pathogens can cause communicable diseases through direct or indirect body contact or ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish. If a septic system is working properly, it will effectively remove most of these pollutants.

Drinking Water

The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world. However, national statistics don't tell you specifically about the quality and safety of the water coming out of your tap. That's because drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn and the treatment it receives. Now you have a new way to find information about your drinking water, if it comes from a public water supplier (EPA doesn't regulate private wells, but recommends that well owners have their water tested annually). Starting in 1999, every community water supplier must provide an annual report (sometimes called a consumer confidence report) to its customers. The report provides information on your local drinking water quality, including the water's source, the contaminants found in the water, and how consumers can get involved in protecting drinking water. You may want more information, or have more questions. One place you can go is to your water supplier, who is best equipped to answer questions about your specific water supply.

What contaminants may be found in drinking water?

There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches. Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels, minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe. Some contaminants come from erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away. Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems hav established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells. Similarly, some surface water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination. Right now, states and water suppliers are working systematically to assess every source of drinking water and to identify potential sources of contaminants. This process will help communities to protect their drinking water supplies from contamination.

Where does drinking water come from?

A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Sometimes these sources are close to the community. Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it's important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake, or reservoir. In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers, the natural reservoirs under the earth's surface, that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many states. As with surface water, it is important to remember that activities many miles away from you may affect the quality of ground water. Your annual drinking water quality report will tell you where your water supplier gets your water.

The imageHow is drinking water treated?

When a water supplier takes untreated water from a river or reservoir, the water often contains dirt and tiny pieces of leaves and other organic matter, as well as trace amounts of certain contaminants. When it gets to the treatment plant, water suppliers often add chemicals called coagulants to the water. These act on the water as it flows very slowly through tanks so that the dirt and other contaminants form clumps that settle to the bottom. Usually, this water then flows through a filter for removal of the smallest contaminants like viruses and Giardia. Most ground water is naturally filtered as it passes through layers of the earth into underground reservoirs known as aquifers. Water that suppliers pump from wells generally contains less organic material than surface water and may not need to go through any or all of the treatments described in the previous paragraph. The quality of the water will depend on local conditions. The most common drinking water treatment, considered by many to be one of the most important scientific advances of the 20th century, is disinfection. Most water suppliers add chlorine or another disinfectant to kill bacteria and other germs. Water suppliers use other treatments as needed, according to the quality of their source water. For example, systems whose water is contaminated with organic chemicals can treat their water with activated carbon, which adsorbs or attracts the chemicals dissolved in the water.

What if I have special health needs?

People who have HIV/AIDS, are undergoing chemotherapy, take steroids, or for another reason have a weakened immune system may be more susceptible to microbial contaminants, including Cryptosporidium, in drinking water. If you or someone you know fall into one of these categories, talk to your health care provider to find out if you need to take special precautions, such as boiling your water. Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of high levels of certain contaminants, including nitrate and lead. To avoid exposure to lead, use water from the cold tap for making baby formula, drinking, and cooking, and let the water run for a minute or more if the water hasn't been turned on for six or more hours. If your water supplier alerts you that your water does not meet EPA's standard for nitrates and you have children less than six months old, consult your health care provider. You may want to find an alternate source of water that contains lower levels of nitrates for your child.

What are the health effects of contaminants in drinking water?

EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. EPA sets these standards to protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. The contaminants fall into two groups according to the health effects that they cause. Your local water supplier will alert you through the local media, direct mail, or other means if there is a potential acute or chronic health effect from compounds in the drinking water. You may want to contact them for additional information specific to your area. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water,microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people's bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically don't have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weak due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, steroid use, or another reason. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over EPA's safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection by-products, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of these chronic effects include cancer, liver or kidney problems,or reproductive difficulties.

Who is responsible for drinking water quality?

The Safe Drinking Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the responsibility for setting national drinking water standards that protect the health of the 250 million people who get their water from public water systems. Other people get their water from private wells which are not subject to federal regulations. Since 1974, EPA has set national standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water. While EPA and state governments set and enforce standards, local governments and private water suppliers have direct responsibility for the quality of the water that flows to your tap. Water systems test and treat their water, maintain the distribution systems that deliver water to consumers, and report on their water quality to the state. States and EPA provide technical assistance to water suppliers and can take legal action against systems that fail to provide water that meets state and EPA standards.

What is a violation of a drinking water standard?

Drinking water suppliers are required to monitor and test their water many times, for many things, before sending it to consumers. These tests determine whether and how the water needs to be treated, as well as the effectiveness of the treatment process. If a water system consistently sends to consumers water that contains a contaminant at a level higher than EPA or state health standards or if the system fails to monitor for a contaminant, the system is violating regulations, and is subject to fines and other penalties. When a water system violates a drinking water regulation, it must notify the people who drink its water about the violation, what it means, and how they should respond. In cases where the water presents an immediate health threat, such as when people need to boil water before drinking it, the system must use television, radio, and newspapers to get the word out as quickly as possible. Other notices may be sent by mail, or delivered with the water bill. Each water suppliers annual water quality report must include a summary of all the violations that occurred during the previous year. For more information call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

How can I help protect drinking water?

Using the new information that is now available about drinking water, citizens can both be aware of the challenges of keeping drinking water safe and take an active role in protecting drinking water. There are lots of ways that individuals can get involved. Some people will help clean up the watershed that is the source of their community's water. Other people might get involved in wellhead protection activities to prevent the contamination of the ground water source that provides water to their community. These people will be able to make use of the information that states and water systems are gathering as they assess their sources of water. Other people will want to attend public meetings to ensure that the community's need for safe drinking water is considered in making decisions about land use. You may wish to participate as your state and water system make funding decisions. And all consumers can do their part to conserve water and to dispose properly of household chemicals.

 

Roofs play a key role in protecting building occupants and interiors from outside weather conditions, primarily moisture. The roof, insulation, and ventilation must all work together to keep the building free of moisture. Roofs also provide protection from the sun. In fact, if designed correctly, roof overhangs can protect the buildings exterior walls from moisture and sun.The concerns regarding moisture, standing water, durability and appearance are different, reflected in the choices of roofing materials.

Maintaining Your Roof

Homeowner maintenance includes cleaning the leaves and debris from the roof's valleys and gutters. Debris in the valleys can cause water to wick under the shingles and cause damage to the interior of the roof. Clogged rain gutters can cause water to flow back under the shingles on the eaves and cause damage. Whatever the roofing material may be including composition shingle, wood shake, tile or metal. The best way to preserve your roof is to stay off it. Also, seasonal changes in the weather are usually the most destructive forces.

There are two types of roofs flat and pitched (sloped). Most commercial, industrial, and apartment buildings have flat or slightly sloping roofs. Most houses have pitched roofs. Some roofers work on both types; others specialize. Most flat roofs are covered with several layers of materials. Roofers first put a layer of insulation on the roof deck. Over the insulation, they then spread a coat of molten bitumen, a tarlike substance. Next, they install partially overlapping layers of roofing felt, a fabric saturated in bitumen, over the surface. Roofers use a mop to spread hot bitumen over the surface and under the next layer. This seals the seams and makes the surface watertight. Roofers repeat these steps to build up the desired number of layers, called "plies". The top layer either is glazed to make a smooth finish or has gravel embedded in the hot bitumen to create a rough surface. An increasing number of flat roofs are covered with a single-ply membrane of waterproof rubber or thermoplastic compounds. Roofers roll these sheets over the roof's insulation and seal the seams. Adhesive, mechanical fasteners, or stone ballast hold the sheets in place. The building must be of sufficient strength to hold the ballast.

Most residential roofs are covered with shingles. To apply shingles, roofers first lay, cut, and tack 3-foot strips of roofing felt lengthwise over the entire roof. Then, starting from the bottom edge, they staple or nail overlapping rows of shingles to the roof. Workers measure and cut the felt and shingles to fit intersecting roof surfaces and to fit around vent pipes and chimneys. Wherever two roof surfaces intersect, or shingles reach a vent pipe or chimney, roofers cement or nail flashing-strips of metal or shingle over the joints to make them watertight. Finally, roofers cover exposed nailheads with roofing cement or caulking to prevent water leakage. Roofers who use tile, metal shingles, or shakes follow a similar process. Some roofers also waterproof and dampproof masonry and concrete walls and floors. To prepare surfaces for waterproofing, they hammer and chisel away rough spots, or remove them with a rubbing brick, before applying a coat of liquid waterproofing compound. They also may paint or spray surfaces with a waterproofing material, or attach waterproofing membrane to surfaces. When dampproofing, they usually spray a bitumen-based coating on interior or exterior surfaces.

A number of roofing materials are available...

Asphalt
Asphalt is the most commonly used roofing material. Asphalt products include shingles, roll-roofing, built-up roofing, and modified bitumen membranes. Asphalt shingles are typically the most common and economical choice for residential roofing. They come in a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. There are four different types: strip, laminated, interlocking, and large individual shingles. Laminated shingles consist of more than one layer of tabs to provide extra thickness. Interlocking shingles are used to provide greater wind resistance. And large individual shingles generally come in rectangular and hexagonal shapes. Roll-roofing products are generally used in residential applications, mostly for underlayments and flashings. They come in four different types of material: smooth-surfaced, saturated felt, specialty-eaves flashings, and mineral-surfaced. Only mineral surfaced is used alone as a primary roof covering for small buildings like sheds. Smooth-surfaced products are used primarily as flashing to seal the roof at intersections and protrusions, and for providing extra deck protection at the roof's eaves and valleys. Saturated felt is used as an underlayment between the roof deck and the roofing material. Specialty-eaves flashings are typically used in climates where ice dams and water backups are common. Built-up roofing (or BUR) is the most popular choice of roofing used on commercial, industrial and institutional buildings. BUR is used on flat or low-sloped roofs and consists of multiple layers of bitumen and ply sheets. Components of a BUR system include the roof deck, a vapor retarder, insulation, membrane and surfacing material. A modified bitumen membrane assembly consists of continuous plies of saturated felts, coated felts, fabrics or mats between which alternate layers of bitumen are applied, either surfaced or unsurfaced. Factory surfacing, if applied, includes mineral granules, slag, aluminum or copper. The bitumen determines the membrane's physical characteristics and provides primary waterproofing protection, while the reinforcement adds strength, puncture resistance and overall system integrity.

Metal
Most metal roofing products consist of steel or aluminum, although some consist of copper and other metals. Steel is invariably galvanized by the application of a zinc or zinc/aluminum coating, which greatly reduces the rate of corrosion. Metal roofing is available as traditional seam and batten, tiles, shingles, and shakes. Products also come in a variety of styles and colors. Metal roofs with solid sheathing control noise from rain, hail, and bad weather just as well as any other roofing material. Metal roofing can also help eliminate ice damming at the eves. And in wildfire-prone areas, metal roofing helps protect buildings from fire should burning embers land on the roof. Metal roofing costs more than asphalt, but it typically lasts 2 to 3 times longer than asphalt or wood shingles.

Wood
Wood shakes offer a natural look with a lot of character. Because of variations like color, width, thickness, or cut of the wood, no two shake roofs will ever be the same. Wood offers some energy benefits, too. It helps to insulate the attic, and it allows the house to breathe, circulating air through the small openings under the felt rows on which wooden shingles are laid. A wood shake roof, however, demands proper maintenance and repair, or it will not last as long as other products. Mold, rot, and insects can be a problem. The life cycle cost of a shake roof may be high, and old shakes can't be recycled. Most wood shakes are unrated by fire safety codes. Many use wipe or spray-on fire retardants, which offer less protection and are only effective for a few years. Some pressure-treated shakes are impregnated with fire retardant and meet national fire safety standards. Installing wood shakes is more complicated than roofing with composite shingles, and the quality of the finished roof depends on the experience of the contractor as well as the caliber of the shakes you use. The best shakes come from the heartwood of large old cedar trees, which are difficult to find. Some contractors maintain that shakes made from the outer wood of smaller cedars, the usual source today, are less uniform, more subject to twisting and warping, and don't last as long.

Concrete and Tile
Concrete tiles are made of extruded concrete that is colored. Traditional roofing tiles are made from clay. Concrete and clay tile roofing systems are durable, aesthetically appealing, and low in maintenance. They also provide energy savings and are environmentally friendly. Although material and installation costs are higher for concrete and clay tile roofs, when evaluated on a price versus performance basis, they may out perform other roofing materials. Tile adorns the roofs of many historic buildings as well as modern structures. In fact, because of its extreme durability, longevity, and safety, roof tile is the most prevalent roofing material in the world. Tested over centuries, roof tile can successfully withstand the most extreme weather conditions including hail, high wind, earthquakes, scorching heat, and harsh freeze-thaw cycles. Concrete and clay roof tiles also have unconditional Class A fire ratings, which means that, when installed according to building code, roof tile is non-combustible and maintains that quality throughout its lifetime. In recent years, manufacturers have developed new water-shedding techniques and, for high-wind situations, new adhesives and mechanical fasteners. Because the ultimate longevity of a tile roof also depends on the quality of the sub-roof, roof tile manufacturers are also working to improve flashings and other aspects of the underlayment system. Under normal circumstances, properly installed tile roofs are virtually maintenance free. Unlike other roofing materials, roof tiles actually become stronger over time. Because of roof tile's superior quality and minimal maintenance requirements, most roof tile manufacturers offer warranties that range from 50 years to the lifetime of the structure. Concrete and clay tile roofing systems are also energy efficient, helping to maintain livable interior temperatures (in both cold and warm climates) at a lower cost than other roofing systems. Because of the thermal capacity of roof tiles and the ventilated air space that their placement on the roof surface creates, a tile roof can lower air conditioning costs in hotter climates and produce more constant temperatures in colder regions, which reduces potential ice accumulation. Tile roofing systems are made from naturally occurring materials and can be easily recycled into new tiles or other useful products. They are produced without the use of chemical preservatives, and do not deplete limited natural resources.

Single-Ply
Single-ply membranes are flexible sheets of compounded synthetic materials that are manufactured in a factory. There are three types of membranes: thermosets, thermoplastics, and modified bitumens. These materials provide strength, flexibility, and long-lasting durability. The advantages of pre-fabricated sheets are the consistency of the product quality, the versatility in their attachment methods, and therefore, their broader applicability. They are inherently flexible, used in a variety of attachment systems, and compounded for long lasting durability and watertight integrity for years of roof life. Thermoset membranes are compounded from rubber polymers. The most commonly used polymer is EPDM (often referred to as "rubber roofing"). Thermoset membranes make successful roofing materials because they can withstand the potentially damaging effects of sunlight and most common chemicals generally found on roofs. The easiest way to identify a thermoset membrane is by its seams, it requires the use of adhesive, either liquid or tape, to form a watertight seal at the overlaps. Thermoplastic membranes are based on plastic polymers. The most common thermoplastic is PVC (polyvinyl chloride) which has been made flexible through the inclusion of certain ingredients called plasticizers. Thermoplastic membranes are identified by seams that are formed using either heat or chemical welding. These seams are as strong or stronger than the membrane itself. Most thermoplastic membranes are manufactured to include a reinforcement layer, usually polyester or fiberglass, which provides increased strength and dimensional stability. Modified bitumen membranes are hybrids that incorporate the high tech formulation and prefabrication advantages of single-ply with some of the traditional installation techniques used in built-up roofing. These materials are factory-fabricated layers of asphalt, "modified" using a rubber or plastic ingredient for increased flexibility, and combined with reinforcement for added strength and stability. There are two primary modifiers used today: aPP (atactic polypropylene) and SBS (styrene butadiene styrene). The type of modifier used may determine the method of sheet installation. Some are mopped down using hot asphalt and some use torches to melt the asphalt so that it flows onto the substrate. The seams are sealed by the same technique.

Are You at Risk?

If you aren't sure whether your house is at risk from natural disasters, check with your local fire marshall, building official, city engineer, or planning and zoning administrator. They can tell you whether you are in a hazard area. Also, they usually can tell you how to protect yourself and your house and property from damage. Protection can involve a variety of changes to your house and property, changes that can vary in complexity and cost. You may be able to make some types of changes yourself. But complicated or large-scale changes and those that affect the structure of your house or its electrical wiring and plumbing should be carried out only by a professional contractor licensed to work in your state, county, or city. One example is fire protection, by replacing flammable roofing materials with fire-resistant materials. This is something that most homeowners would probably hire a contractor to do.

Replacing Your Roof

The age of your roof is usually the major factor in determining when to replace it. Most roofs last many years if properly installed and often can be repaired rather than replaced. An isolated leak usually can be repaired. The average life expectancy of a typical residential roof is 15 to 20 years. Water damage to a home's interior or overhangs is commonly caused by leaks from a single weathered portion of the roof, poorly installed flashing, or from around chimneys and skylights. These problems do not necessarily mean you need a new roof.

Fire-Resistant Materials

Some roofing materials, including asphalt shingles and especially wood shakes, are less resistant to fire than others. When wildfires and brush fires spread to houses, it is often because burning branches, leaves, and other debris buoyed by the heated air and carried by the wind fall on roofs. If the roof of your house is covered with wood or asphalt shingles, you should consider replacing them with fire-resistant materials. You can replace your existing roofing materials with slate, terra cotta or other types of tile, or standing-seam metal roofing. Replacing roofing materials is difficult and dangerous work. Unless you are skilled in roofing and have all the necessary tools and equipment, you will probably want to hire a roofing contractor to do the work. Also a roofing contractor can advise you on the relative advantages and disadvantages of various fire-resistant roofing materials.

Hiring a Licensed Contractor

One of the best ways to select a roofing contractor is to ask friends or relatives for recommendations. You may also contact a professional roofers association for referrals. Professional associations have stringent guidelines for their members to follow. The roofers association in your area will provide you with a list of available contractors. Follow these guidlines when selecting a contractor...

  • Get three references and review past work
  • Get at least three bids.
  • Get a written contract and don't sign anything until you completely understand the terms.
  • Pay 10 percent down or $1,000 whichever is less.
  • Don't let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Don't pay cash.
  • Don't make final payment until you're satisfied with the job.
  • Don't rush into repairs or be pressured into making an immediate decision

You've Chosen the Contractor... What About the Contract?

Make sure everything is in writing. The contract is one of the best ways to prevent problems before you begin. The contract protects you and the contractor by including everything you have both agreed upon. Get all promises in writing and spell out exactly what the contractor will and will not do.

...and Permits?
Your contract should call for all work to be performed in accordance with all applicable building codes. The building codes set minimum safety standards for construction. Generally, a building permit is require whenever structural work is involved. The contractor should obtain all necessary building permits. If this is not specified in the contract, you may be held legally responsible for failure to obtain the required permit. The building department will inspect your roof when the project has reached a certain stage and again whe the roof is completed

...and Insurance?
Make sure the contractor carries worker's compensation insurance and general liability insurance in case of accidents on the job. Ask to have copies of these policies for your job file. You should protect yourself from mechanics lien against your home in the event the contractor does no pay subcontractors or material suppliers. You may be able to protect yourself by having a release of lien clause in your contract. A release of lien clause requires the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers to furnish a certificate of waiver of lien. If you are financing your project, the bank or lending institution may require that the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers verify that they have been paid, before releasing funds for subsequent phases of the project. A leaky roof can damage ceilings, walls, and furnishings. To protect buildings and their contents from water damage, roofers repair and install roofs made of tar or asphalt and gravel; rubber or thermoplastic; metal; or shingles made of asphalt, slate, fiberglass, wood, tile, or other material. Roofers also may waterproof foundation walls and floors. Keep these points in mind if you plan to have your existing roofing materials replaced:

  • Tile, metal, and slate are more expensive roofing materials, but if you need to replace your roofing anyway, it may be worthwhile to pay a little more for the added protection these materials provide.
  • Slate and tile can be much heavier than asphalt shingles or wood shingles. If you are considering switching to one of these heavier coverings, your roofing contractor should determine whether the framing of your roof is strong enough to support them.
  • If you live in an area where snow loads are a problem, consider switching to a modern standing-seam metal roof, which will usually shed snow efficiently.

Electricity is an essential part of our lives. However, it has the potential to cause great harm. Electrical systems will function almost indefinitely if properly installed and not overloaded or physically abused. Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 485 Americans each year and injure 2,305 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures and appliance defects, but many more are caused by the misuse and poor maintenance of electrical appliances, incorrectly installed wiring, and overloaded circuits and extension cords.

  • Never use anything but the proper fuse to protect a circuit.
  • Find and correct overloaded circuits.
  • Never place extension cords under rugs.
  • Outlets near water should be GFI-type outlets.
  • Don't allow trees near power lines to be climbed.
  • Keep ladders, kites, equipment and anything else away from overhead power lines.

Electrical Panels

Electricity enters the home through a control panel and a main switch where one can shut off all the power in an emergency. These panels are usually in the basement. Control panels use either fuses or circuit breakers. Install the correct fuses for the panel. Never use a greater numbered fuse or a metallic item such as a penny. If fuses are used and there is a stoppage in power, look for the broken metal strip in the top of a blown fuse. Replace the fuse with a new one marked with the correct amperage. Reset circuit breakers from off to on. Be sure to check why the fuse or circuit blew. Possible causes are frayed wires, overloaded outlets or defective appliances. Never overload a circuit with high wattage appliances. Check the wattage on appliance labels. If there is frayed insulation or a broken wire, a dangerous short circuit may result and cause a fire. If power stoppages continue or if a frayed or broken wire is found, contact an electrician.

Outlets and Extension Cords

Make sure all electrical outlets are three-hole, grounded outlets. If there is water in the area, there should be a GFI or Ground Fault Interrupter outlet. All outdoor outlets should be GFIs. There should be ample electrical capacity to run equipment without tripping circuit breakers or blowing fuses. Minimize extension cord use. Never place them under rugs. Use extension cords sparingly and check them periodically. Use the proper electrical cord for the job, and put safety plugs in unused outlets.

Electrical Appliances

Appliances need to be treated with respect and care. They need room to breathe. Avoid enclosing them in a cabinet without proper openings and do not store papers around them. Level appliances so they do not tip. Washers and dryers should be checked often. Their movement can put undue stress on electrical connections. If any appliance or device gives off a tingling shock, turn it off, unplug it and have a qualified person correct the problem. Shocks can be fatal. Never insert metal objects into appliances without unplugging them. Check appliances periodically to spot worn or cracked insulation, loose terminals, corroded wires, defective parts and any other components that might not work correctly. Replace these appliances or have them repaired by a person qualified to do so.

Electrical Heating Equipment

Portable electrical heating equipment may be used in the home as a supplement to the home heating system. Caution must be taken when using these heating supplements. Keep them away from combustibles and make sure they cannot be tipped over. Keep electrical heating equipment in good working condition. Do not use them in bathrooms because of the risk of contact with water and electrocution. Many people use electric blankets in their homes. They will work well if they are kept in good condition. Look for cracks or breaks in the wiring, plugs and connectors. Look for charred spots on both sides. Many things can cause electric blankets to overheat. They include other bedding placed on top of them, pets sleeping on top of them, and putting things on top of the blanket when it is in use. Folding the blankets can also bend the coils and cause overheating.

Children

Electricity is important to the workings of the home, but can be dangerous, especially to children. Electrical safety needs to be taught to children early on. Safety plugs should be inserted in unused outlets when toddlers are in the home. Make sure all outlets in the home have face plates. Teach children not to put things into electrical outlets and not to chew on electrical cords. Keep electrical wiring boxes locked. Do not allow children to come in contact with power lines outside. Never allow them to climb trees near power lines, utility poles or high tension towers.

Electricity and Water

A body can act like a lightning rod and carry the current to the ground. People are good conductors of electricity, particularly when standing in water or on a damp floor. A body can act like a lightning rod and carry the current to the ground. Never use any electric appliance in the tub or shower. Never touch an electric cord or appliance with wet hands. Do not use electrical appliances in damp areas or while standing on damp floors. In areas where water is present, use outlets with "ground fault interrupters" or GFIs. Shocks can be fatal.

Animal Hazards

Mice and other rodents can chew on electrical wires and damage them. If rodents are suspected or known to be in the home, be aware of the damage they may cause and take measures to get rid of them.

Outside Hazards

There are several electrical hazards outside the home. Be aware of overhead and underground power lines. People have been electrocuted when an object they are moving has come in contact with the overhead power lines. Keep ladders, antennas, kites and poles away from power lines leading to the house and other buildings. Do not plant trees, shrubs, or bushes under power lines or near underground power lines. Never build a swimming pool or other structure under the power line leading to your house. Before digging, learn the location of underground power lines.

Do not climb power poles or transmission towers. Never let anyone shoot or throw stones at insulators. If you have an animal trapped in a tree or on the roof near electric lines, phone your utility company. Do not take a chance of electrocuting yourself. Be aware of weather conditions when installing and working with electrical appliances. Never use electrical power tools or appliances with rain overhead or water underfoot. Use only outdoor lights, fixtures and extension cords. Plug into outlets with a ground fault interrupter. Downed power lines are extremely dangerous. If you see a downed power line, call the electric company, and warn others away. If a power line hits your car while you are in it, stay inside unless the car catches fire. If the car catches fire, jump clear without touching metal and the ground at the same time.

Safety Precautions

  • Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring.
  • Frayed wires can cause fires. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately.
  • Use electrical extension cords wisely and don't overload them.
  • Keep electrical appliances away from wet floors and counters; pay special care to electrical appliances in the bathroom and kitchen.
  • Don't allow children to play with or around electrical appliances like space heaters, irons and hair dryers.
  • Keep clothes, curtains and other potentially combustible items at least three feet from all heaters.
  • If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
  • Never overload extension cords or wall sockets. Immediately shut off, then professionally replace, light switches that are hot to the touch and lights that flicker. Use safety closures to "child-proof" electrical outlets
  • Check your electrical tools regularly for signs of wear. If the cords are frayed or cracked, replace them. Replace any tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.

Why You Need Homeowner's Insurance


Home Insurance Tips:


The largest single investment most consumers make is in their home. The consumer can protect their home, possessions, and liability with a homeowners's insurance policy. The Homeowner's insurance policy is a package policy that combines more than one type of insurance coverage in a single policy. There are four types of coverages that are contained in the homeowner's policy: dwelling and personal property, personal liability, medical payments, and additional living expenses.

Property Damage Coverage

Property damage coverage helps pay for damage to your home and personal property. Other structures such as a detached garage, a tool shed, or any other building on your property are usually covered for 10% of the amount of coverage on your house.

Personal property coverage will pay for personal property including household furniture, clothing, and other personal belongings. The amount of insurance coverage is usually 50% of the policy limit on your dwelling. The coverage is also limited by the types of loss listed in the policy. The coverage only pays the current cash value of the item destroyed, unless you purchase replacement cost coverage. Your homeowner's policy also provides off-premises coverage. This means that the policy covers your belongings against theft even when they are not inside your home.

Personal Liability Coverage

Homeowner's policies provide personal liability coverage that applies to non-auto accidents on and off your property if the injury or damage is cased by you, a member of your family, or your pet. The liability coverage in your policy pays both for the cost of defending you and paying for any damages the court rules you must pay. Liability insurance does not have a deductable that you must meet before your insurer begins to pay losses. The basic liability coverage is usually $100,000 for each occurance. You can request higher limits that are available for an additional cost.

Medical Payments Coverage

Medical payment coverage pays if someone outside your family is injured at your home regardless of fault. This includes payment for reasonable medical expenses incurred within one year from the date of loss for a person who is injured in an accident in your home. The coverage does not apply to ypu and members of your household. The medical payments portion of your homeowner's policy will also pay if you are involved in the injury of another person away from your home in some limited circumstances. Medical payments coverage limits are generally $1,000 for each person.

Additional Living Expenses

If it is necessary for you to move into a motel or apartment temporarily because of damage caused by a peril covered in your policy, your insurance company will pay an amount up to 20% of the policy limit on your dwelling for these expenses. If you move in temporarily with a friend or relative and do not have any extra expenses, you will not be paid any addditional living expenses by your insurance company.

Home Business

If you operate a home business full or part time you might be uninsured and not realize it. Many home business owners believe that their homeowner's insurance policy covers all of their home business needs. You should not assume that your homeowner's insurance policy will cover your home business. Your homeowner's policy may provide coverage but probably only a maximum of $2,500 for business equipment in the home and $250 away from the premises.

The price you pay for your homeowners insurance can vary by hundreds of dollars, depending on the insurance company you buy your policy from. Here are some things to consider when buying homeowners insurance.

1. Shop around

It will take some time, but could save you a good sum of money. Ask your friends, check the Yellow Pages or contact your state insurance department. National Association of Insurance Commissioners (www.naic.org) has information to help you choose an insurer in your state, including complaints. States often make information available on typical rates charged by major insurers and many states provide the frequency of consumer complaints by company. Also check consumer guides, insurance agents, companies and online insurance quote services. This will give you an idea of price ranges and tell you which companies have the lowest prices. But don't consider price alone. The insurer you select should offer a fair price and deliver the quality service you would expect if you needed assistance in filing a claim. So in assessing service quality, use the complaint information cited above and talk to a number of insurers to get a feeling for the type of service they give. Ask them what they would do to lower your costs. Check the financial stability of the companies you are considering with rating companies such as A.M. Best (www.ambest.com) and Standard & Poors (www.standardandpoors.com) and consult consumer magazines. When you've narrowed the field to three insurers, get price quotes.

2. Raise your deductible

Deductibles are the amount of money you have to pay toward a loss before your insurance company starts to pay a claim, according to the terms of your policy. The higher your deductible, the more money you can save on your premiums. Nowadays, most insurance companies recommend a deductible of at least $500. If you can afford to raise your deductible to $1,000, you may save as much as 25 percent. Remember, if you live in a disaster-prone area, your insurance policy may have a separate deductible for certain kinds of damage. If you live near the coast in the East, you may have a separate windstorm deductible; if you live in a state vulnerable to hail storms, you may have a separate deductible for hail; and if you live in an earthquake-prone area, your earthquake policy has a deductible.

3. Dont confuse what you paid for your house with rebuilding costs

The land under your house isn't at risk from theft, windstorm, fire and the other perils covered in your homeowners policy. So don't include its value in deciding how much homeowners insurance to buy. If you do, you will pay a higher premium than you should.

4. Buy your home and auto policies from the same insurer

Some companies that sell homeowners, auto and liability coverage will take 5 to 15 percent off your premium if you buy two or more policies from them. But make certain this combined price is lower than buying the different coverages from different companies.

5. Make your home more disaster resistant

Find out from your insurance agent or company representative what steps you can take to make your home more resistant to windstorms and other natural disasters. You may be able to save on your premiums by adding storm shutters, reinforcing your roof or buying stronger roofing materials. Older homes can be retrofitted to make them better able to withstand earthquakes. In addition, consider modernizing your heating, plumbing and electrical systems to reduce the risk of fire and water damage.

6. Improve your home security

You can usually get discounts of at least 5 percent for a smoke detector, burglar alarm or dead-bolt locks. Some companies offer to cut your premium by as much as 15 or 20 percent if you install a sophisticated sprinkler system and a fire and burglar alarm that rings at the police, fire or other monitoring stations. These systems aren't cheap and not every system qualifies for a discount. Before you buy such a system, find out what kind your insurer recommends, how much the device would cost and how much you'd save on premiums.

7. Seek out other discounts

Companies offer several types of discounts, but they don't all offer the same discount or the same amount of discount in all states. For example, since retired people stay at home more than working people they are less likely to be burglarized and may spot fires sooner, too. Retired people also have more time for maintaining their homes. If you're at least 55 years old and retired, you may qualify for a discount of up to 10 percent at some companies. Some employers and professional associations administer group insurance programs that may offer a better deal than you can get elsewhere.

8. Maintain a good credit record

Establishing a solid credit history can cut your insurance costs. Insurers are increasingly using credit information to price homeowners insurance policies. In most states, your insurer must advise you of any adverse action, such as a higher rate, at which time you should verify the accuracy of the information on which the insurer relied. To protect your credit standing, pay your bills on time, don't obtain more credit than you need and keep your credit balances as low as possible. Check your credit record on a regular basis and have any errors corrected promptly so that your record remains accurate.

9. Stay with the same insurer

If you've kept your coverage with a company for several years, you may receive a special discount for being a long-term policyholder. Some insurers will reduce their premiums by 5 percent if you stay with them for three to five years and by 10 percent if you remain a policyholder for six years or more. But make certain to periodically compare this price with that of other policies.

10. Review the limits in your policy and the value of your possessions at least once a year

You want your policy to cover any major purchases or additions to your home. But you don't want to spend money for coverage you don't need. If your five-year-old fur coat is no longer worth the $5,000 you paid for it, you'll want to reduce or cancel your floater (extra insurance for items whose full value is not covered by standard homeowners policies such as expensive jewelry, high-end computers and valuable art work) and pocket the difference.

11. Look for private insurance if you are in a government plan

If you live in a high-risk area -- say, one that is especially vulnerable to coastal storms, fires, or crime -- and have been buying your homeowners insurance through a government plan, you should check with an insurance agent or company representative or contact your state department of insurance for the names of companies that might be interested in your business. You may find that there are steps you can take that would allow you to buy insurance at a lower price in the private market.

12. When youre buying a home, consider the cost of homeowners insurance

You may pay less for insurance if you buy a house close to a fire hydrant or in a community that has a professional rather than a volunteer fire department. It may also be cheaper if your homes electrical, heating and plumbing systems are less than 10 years old. If you live in the East, consider a brick home because it's more wind resistant. If you live in an earthquake-prone area, look for a wooden frame house because it is more likely to withstand this type of disaster. Choosing wisely could cut your premiums by 5 to 15 percent.

Check the CLUE (Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange) report of the home you are thinking of buying. These reports contain the insurance claim history of the property and can help you judge some of the problems the house may have. Remember that flood insurance and earthquake damage are not covered by a standard homeowners policy. If you buy a house in a flood-prone area, you'll have to pay for a flood insurance policy that costs an average of $400 a year. The Federal Emergency Management Agency provides useful information on flood insurance on its Web site at www.fema.gov/nfip. A separate earthquake policy is available from most insurance companies. The cost of the coverage will depend on the likelihood of earthquakes in your area.

If you have questions about insurance for any of your possessions, be sure to ask your agent or company representative when you're shopping around for a policy. For example, if you run a business out of your home, be sure to discuss coverage for that business. Most homeowners policies cover business equipment in the home, but only up to $2,500 and they offer no business liability insurance. Although you want to lower your homeowners insurance cost, you also want to make certain you have all the coverage you need.

Common Questions Asked by Homeowners about Insurance

If a fire, flood, earthquake, or some other natural disaster were to destroy or damage your home, would you have the right insurance coverage to rebuild your house?

Based on the questions consumers most frequently ask, this explains what is covered in a standard homeowners policy and what is not. Where gaps in coverage exist, it tells you how to fill them. To simplify explanations, assume that you have a policy known as Homeowners-3 (HO-3), the most common homeowners policy in the United States. Find out what type of homeowners policy you have. If you have a different policy, you should review your options in question #17.

# 1: Am I covered for direct losses due to fire, lightning, tornadoes, wind storms, hail, explosions, smoke, vandalism and theft?

Yes. The HO-3 provides broad coverage for these and other disasters or perils, as they are called in the policy, including all those listed in the question. You should check the dollar limits of insurance in your policy and make sure you are comfortable with the amount of insurance you have for specific items. Also, if you live near the Atlantic or Gulf coasts there may be some restrictions on your coverage for wind damage. Ask your agent about windstorm/hurricane deductibles. In areas prone to hailstorms, you may have a specific hail damage deductible.

# 2: Are my jewelry and other valuables covered?

The standard policy provides only from $1,000 to $2,000 for theft of jewelry. If your jewelry is worth a lot more, you should purchase higher limits. You may wish to add a floater to your policy to cover specific pieces of jewelry and other expensive possessions such as paintings, electronic equipment, stamp collections or silverware, for example. The floater will provide both higher limits and protect you from additional risks, not covered in your normal policy.

# 3: If my house is totally destroyed in a fire and I have $150,000 worth of insurance to cover the structure, will this be enough to rebuild my home?

If the cost of rebuilding your home is equal to or less than $150,000 you would have enough coverage. The HO-3 policy pays for structural damage on a replacement cost basis. If the cost of replacing your home is, say, $120,000, then that is all the insurance you need. On the other hand if the cost of rebuilding your home is $180,000, then you will be short $30,000.

If you live in an area that is frequently hit by major storms, ask you insurance company about an extended or guaranteed replacement cost policy. This will provide a certain amount over the policy limit to rebuild your home so that if building costs go up unexpectedly, due to high demand for contractors and materials, you will have extra funds to cover the bill.

If you choose not to rebuild your home, you will receive the replacement cost of your home, less depreciation. This is called actual cash value. You should make sure that the amount of insurance you have will cover the cost of rebuilding your house. You can find out what this cost is by talking to your real estate agent or builders in your area.

Do not use the price of your house as the basis for the amount of insurance you purchase. The market price of your house includes the value of the land on which the house is situated. In almost all cases, the land will still be there after a disaster, so you do not need to insure it. You only need to insure the structure.

# 4: Am I covered for flood damage?

No. If you live in a flood-prone area it may be wise to purchase flood insurance. Flood insurance is provided by the federal government, under a program run by the Federal Insurance Administration. In some parts of the country, homes can be damaged or destroyed by mudslides. This risk is also covered under flood policies. Contact your agent or company representative to get this insurance or call the Federal Emergency Management Agency at 1-800-427-4661 or visit its Web site at www.fema.gov.

# 5: A pipe bursts and water flows all over my floors. Am I covered?

Yes. The HO-3 covers you for accidental discharge of water from a plumbing system. You should check your plumbing and heating systems once a year. While you are covered for damage, who needs the mess and hassle?

# 6: What if water seeps into my basement from the ground, am I covered?

No. Water seepage is excluded under the HO-3. And if the water seepage is not due to a flood you will not be covered under a flood policy. Seepage is viewed as a maintenance issue and is not covered by insurance. You should see a contractor about waterproofing your basement.

# 7: Am I covered for earthquake damage?

No. Earthquake coverage is sold as additional coverage to the homeowners policy. To find out whether you should buy this insurance, talk to your agent or company representative. The cost of this coverage can vary significantly from one area to another, depending on the likelihood of a major earthquake.

# 8: A neighbor slips on my sidewalk or falls down my porch steps and threatens to take me to court for damages. Does my policy protect me?

Yes. The policy will pay for damages, if a fall or other accident on your property is the result of your negligence. It will also pay for the legal costs of defending you against a claim. Also, the medical payments part of your homeowners policy will cover medical expenses, if a neighbor or guest is injured on your property. You should check to see how much liability protection you have. The standard amount is $100,000. If you feel you need more, consider purchasing higher limits.

# 9: A tree falls and damages my roof during a storm. Am I covered?

Yes. You are covered for the damage to your roof. You are also covered for the removal of the tree, generally up to a $500 limit. You should cut down dead or dying trees close to your house and prune branches that are near your house. It's true that your insurance covers damage, but falling trees and branches can also injure your family.

# 10: During a storm, a tree falls but does no damage to my property. Am I covered for the cost of removing the tree?

Your trees and shrubs are covered for losses due to risks like vandalism, theft and fire, but not wind damage. However, if a fallen tree blocks access to your home you may be covered for its removal. Decide if you need extra insurance for the trees, plants and shrubs on your property. You may be able to purchase extra insurance, which will not only cover the cost of removing fallen trees, but will also cover the cost of replacing trees, and other plants.

# 11: If a storm causes a power outage and all the food in my refrigerator or freezer is spoiled and must be thrown out, can I make a claim?

The general answer is no. However, there are a number of exceptions. In some states, food spoilage is covered under the homeowners policy. In addition, if the power loss is due to a break in a power line on or close to your property, you may be covered. You should check with your agent to find out whether you are covered for food spoilage in your state. If not, you can add food spoilage coverage to your policy for an additional premium.

# 12: I have children away at college. Are they covered by my homeowners insurance?

If theyre full-time college students and part of your household, your insurance generally provides some coverage in a dorm, typically 10 percent of the contents limit. If they live off campus, some companies may not provide this limited coverage if the apartment is rented in the students name.

# 13: My golf clubs are stolen from the trunk of my car. Does my homeowners policy cover the loss?

Yes. The HO-3 covers your personal property while it is anywhere in the world. However, if your golf clubs are old, you will only get their current value, which may not be enough to purchase a new set. Consider buying a replacement cost endorsement for your personal property. This way you will get what it costs to replace the golf clubs, less the applicable deductible.

# 14: I have a small power boat. If it is stolen, am I covered? What if there is a boating accident and I get sued? Am I covered for that?

Whether or not you are covered for either theft or liability depends on the size of the boat, the horsepower of the engine and your insurance company. Coverage for small boats under homeowners policies varies significantly. Ask your insurance representative whether you need a Boat owners policy.

# 15: My house is close to the ocean. Ive heard that if it is destroyed by the wind, the town's new building code requires me to rebuild the house on stilts. This will add $30,000 to the cost of rebuilding my house. Am I covered for this extra cost?

No. The HO-3 excludes costs caused by ordinances or laws that regulate the construction of buildings. You can purchase an Ordinance or Law endorsement. This will cover the extra costs involved in meeting new building codes.

# 16: Am I covered for Acts of God?

Sometimes. The term Acts of God is not specifically mentioned in homeowners insurance policies. It usually refers to natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, as opposed to man-made acts, like theft and auto accidents. Some natural disasters, such as damage from windstorms, hail, lightning and volcanic eruptions, are covered under homeowners insurance. Damage from floods and earthquakes is not.

# 17: What should I do if my policy provides less coverage than the HO-3?

Review your coverage with your agent. Some older policies provide less coverage than the HO-3. They may not provide coverage for water damage, theft, or liability. They may also provide coverage for the house on an actual cash value basis, rather than a replacement cost basis.

Actual Cash Value means replacement cost less depreciation. For example, if your roof is destroyed in a storm, the insurance will only pay for the cost of a new roof less the amount of depreciation of the old roof. If your roof was in great shape, this deduction will not be large. However, if the roof was old and worn out, the deduction for depreciation may be significant. You should try to get an HO-3.

Lead in Paint, Dust, and Soil

Did you know the following facts about lead?

FACT: Lead exposure can harm young children and babies even before they are born.

FACT: Even children who seem healthy can have high levels of lead in their bodies.

FACT: You can get lead in your body by breathing or swallowing lead dust, or by eating soil or paint chips containing lead.

FACT: You have many options for reducing lead hazards. In most cases, lead-based paint that is in good condition is not a hazard.

FACT: Removing lead-based paint improperly can increase the danger to your family.

If you think your home might have lead hazards, read on to learn about lead and some simple steps to protect your family.

Health Effects of Lead

*Childhood lead poisoning remains a major environmental health problem in the U.S.

*Even children who appear healthy can have dangerous levels of lead in their bodies.

  • People can get lead in their body if they:
    • Put their hands or other objects covered with lead dust in their mouths.
    • Eat paint chips or soil that contains lead.
    • Breathe in lead dust (especially during renovations that disturb painted surfaces).
  • Lead is even more dangerous to children than adults because:
    • Babies and young children often put their hands and other objects in their mouths. These objects can have lead dust on them.
    • Children's growing bodies absorb more lead.
    • Children's brains and nervous systems are more sensitive to the damaging effects of lead.
  • If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from:
    • Damage to the brain and nervous system
    • Behavior and learning problems (such as hyperactivity)
    • Slowed growth
    • Hearing problems
    • Headaches
  • Lead is also harmful to adults. Adults can suffer from:
    • Difficulties during pregnancy
    • Other reproductive problems (in both men and women)
    • High blood pressure
    • Digestive problems
    • Nerve disorders
    • Memory and concentration problems
    • Muscle and joint pain

Where Lead is Found

*In general, the older your home, the more likely it has lead-based paint. *

  • Paint. Many homes built before 1978 have lead-based paint. The federal government banned lead-based paint from housing in 1978. Some states stopped its use even earlier. Lead can be found:
    • In homes in the city, country, or suburbs.
    • In apartments, single-family homes, and both private and public housing.
    • Inside and outside of the house.
  • In soil around a home. (Soil can pick up lead from exterior paint, or other sources such as past use of leaded gas in cars.)
  • Household dust. (Dust can pick up lead from deteriorating lead-based paint or from soil tracked into a home.)
  • Drinking water. Your home might have plumbing with lead or lead solder. Call your local health department or water supplier to find out about testing your water. You cannot see, smell, or taste lead, and boiling your water will not get rid of lead. If you think your plumbing might have lead in it:
    • Use only cold water for drinking and cooking.
    • Run water for 15 to 30 seconds before drinking it, especially if you have not used your water for a few hours.
  • The job. If you work with lead, you could bring it home on your hands or clothes. Shower and change clothes before coming home. Launder your work clothes separately from the rest of your family's clothes.
  • Old painted toys and furniture.
  • Food and liquids stored in lead crystal or lead-glazed pottery or porcelain.
  • Lead smelters or other industries that release lead into the air.
  • Hobbies that use lead, such as making pottery or stained glass, or refinishing furniture.
  • Folk remedies that contain lead, such as "greta" and "azarcon" used to treat an upset stomach.

Where Lead is Likely to be a Hazard

*Lead from paint chips, which you can see, and lead dust, which you can't always see, can be serious hazards.*

  • Peeling, chipping, chalking, or cracking lead-based paint is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
  • Lead-based paint may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear. These areas include:
    • Windows and window sills.
    • Doors and door frames.
    • Stairs, railings, and banisters.
    • Porches and fences.

Note: Lead-based paint that is in good condition is usually not a hazard.

  • Lead dust can form when lead-based paint is dry scraped, dry sanded, or heated. Dust also forms when painted surfaces bump or rub together. Lead chips and dust can get on surfaces and objects that people touch. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air when people vacuum, sweep, or walk through it.
  • Lead in soil can be a hazard when children play in bare soil or when people bring soil into the house on their shoes.

Checking Your Family and Home for Lead

*Get your children and home tested if you think your home has high levels of lead.*

*Just knowing that a home has lead-based paint may not tell you if there is a hazard.*

To reduce your childs exposure to lead, get your child checked, have your home tested (especially if your home has paint in poor condition and was built before 1978), and fix any hazards you may have.

  • Your Family
    • Childrens blood lead levels tend to increase rapidly from 6 to 12 months of age, and tend to peak at 18 to 24 months of age.
    • Consult your doctor for advice on testing your children. A simple blood test can detect high levels of lead. Blood tests are important for:
      • Children at ages 1 and 2.
      • Children and other family members who have been exposed to high levels of lead.
      • Children who should be tested under your state or local health screening plan.
    • Your doctor can explain what the test results mean and if more testing will be needed.
  • Your Home
    • You can get your home checked in one of two ways, or both:
      • A paint inspection tells you the lead content of every different type of painted surface in your home. It won't tell you whether the paint is a hazard or how you should deal with it.
      • A risk assessment tells you if there are any sources of serious lead exposure (such as peeling paint and lead dust). It also tells you what actions to take to address these hazards.
    • Have qualified professionals do the work. There are standards in place for certifying lead-based paint professionals to ensure the work is done safely, reliably, and effectively. Contact the National Lead Information Center (NLIC) for a list of contacts in your area.
    • Trained professionals use a range of methods when checking your home, including:
      • Visual inspection of paint condition and location.
      • A portable x-ray fluorescence (XRF) machine.
      • Lab tests of paint samples.
      • Surface dust tests.

Note: Home test kits for lead are available, but studies suggest that they are not always accurate. Consumers should not rely on these tests before doing renovations or to assure safety.

What You Can do to Protect Your Family

  • If you suspect that your house has lead hazards, you can take some immediate steps to reduce your family's risk:
    • If you rent, notify your landlord of peeling or chipping paint.
    • Clean up paint chips immediately.
    • Clean floors, window frames, window sills, and other surfaces weekly. Use a mop, sponge, or paper towel with warm water and a general all-purpose cleaner or a cleaner made specifically for lead. REMEMBER: NEVER MIX AMMONIA AND BLEACH PRODUCTS TOGETHER SINCE THEY CAN FORM A DANGEROUS GAS.
    • Thoroughly rinse sponges and mop heads after cleaning dirty or dusty areas.
    • Wash children's hands often, especially before they eat and before nap time and bed time.
    • Keep play areas clean. Wash bottles, pacifiers, toys, and stuffed animals regularly.
    • Keep children from chewing window sills or other painted surfaces.
    • Clean or remove shoes before entering your home to avoid tracking in lead from soil.
    • Make sure children eat nutritious, low-fat meals high in iron and calcium, such as spinach and dairy products. Children with good diets absorb less lead.
  • In addition to day-to-day cleaning and good nutrition:
    • You can temporarily reduce lead hazards by taking actions such as repairing damaged painted surfaces and planting grass to cover soil with high lead levels. These actions (called "interim controls") are not permanent solutions and will need ongoing attention.
    • To permanently remove lead hazards, you must hire a certified lead "abatement" contractor. Abatement (or permanent hazard elimination) methods include removing, sealing, or enclosing lead-based paint with special materials. Just painting over the hazard with regular paint is not enough.
    • Always hire a person with special training for correcting lead problems--someone who knows how to do this work safely and has the proper equipment to clean up thoroughly. Certified contractors will employ qualified workers and follow strict safety rules set by their state or the federal government.
    • Contact the National Lead Information Center(NLIC) for help with locating certified contractors in your area and to see if financial assistance is available.


Are You Planning to Buy or Rent a Home Built Before 1978?

Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly.

Federal law requires that individuals receive certain information before renting or buying a pre-1978 housing:

  • Residential Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Program
    • LANDLORDS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before leases take effect. Leases must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint.
    • SELLERS have to disclose known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before selling a house. Sales contracts must include a disclosure form about lead-based paint. Buyers have up to 10 days to check for lead hazards.
    • More information on the disclosure program.


Remodeling or Renovating a Home with Lead-Based Paint

*If not conducted properly, certain types of renovations can release lead from paint and dust into the air.*

Many houses and apartments built before 1978 have paint that contains lead (called lead-based paint). Lead from paint, chips, and dust can pose serious health hazards if not taken care of properly.

  • Federal law requires that contractors provide lead information to residents before renovating a pre-1978 housing:
    • Pre-Renovation Education Program (PRE)
      • RENOVATORS have to give you a pamphlet titled Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home, before starting work.
      • More information on the Pre-Renovation Education Program.
  • Take precautions before your contractor or you begin remodeling or renovations that disturb painted surfaces (such as scraping off paint or tearing out walls):
    • Have the area tested for lead-based paint.
    • Do not use a belt-sander, propane torch, heat gun, dry scraper, or dry sandpaper to remove lead-based paint. These actions create large amounts of lead dust and fumes.
    • Lead dust can remain in your home long after the work is done.
    • Temporarily move your family (especially children and pregnant women) out of the apartment or house until the work is done and the area is properly cleaned. If you can't move your family, at least completely seal off the work area.
    • If you have already completed renovations or remodeling that could have released lead-based paint or dust, get your young children tested and follow the steps outlined to protect your family.

Home Maintenance Tips

Upon Taking Ownership

  • After taking possession of your new home or property you should consider doing the following improvements:
  • Change the locks on all exterior doors, for security purposes.
  • Install smoke detectors on each level of the home; install carbon monoxide detectors where any fossil fuels may be burned. I.e. near heater, gas range, near garage entry's, near fireplaces, etc.  If these devices are already present, change the batteries and make a note of when you did to schedule future battery replacements the same time next year.
  • Install fire extinguishers near stoves, in garages, and keep one handy near fireplaces and woodstoves.
  • Create a fire exit plan to evacuate your home or business in the event of fire or other emergency.
  • Make repairs of any trip hazards that were not repaired prior to settlement to avoid possible injury. (Both inside and Out).
  • Review your inspection report for any main shutoff location of water, gas, and electrical systems. (These locations will be pointed out to you if you joined your inspector during inspection.)

Monthly

  • Check that your fire extinguishers are fully charged. Remove and replace heating and cooling filter elements.  If they are the reusable type just clean and replace.
  • Inspect and clean electronic air cleaners and humidifiers.
  • Bleed the radiator valves if you have hydronic heating systems in the home.
  • Clean your gutters and downspouts to ensure proper water flow.
  • Check plumbing fixtures for leaks, these are used many times daily and a leak can happen quickly.
  • Check your water bill, sewer bill and energy bills for excessive costs.  Often times these can point to a leak or even a failing electrical device, such as your refrigerator.  

Spring and Fall

  • Check your roof and flashings for signs of damage.
  • Check in your attic for evidence of leaks, make sure vents are not clogged, and level out the insulation if necessary.  Often times when windy the insulation around your vents will move around. Trim back trees and shrubs away from the home.
  • Check the basement for evidence of leaks.
  • Check all walks for movement and repair any trip hazards that may develop.
  • Clean and operate all windows and doors.
  • Test all GFCI and AFCI devices installed for proper working condition.
  • Shut off exterior hose bibs in the fall; turn back on in the spring.
  • Test your TRP (temperature pressure relief) valve on your hot water heater. Inspect for the evidence of vermin, termites and insects, treat as needed. Test your garage doors and clean and lubricate all moving parts.
  • Clean or replace exhaust fan filters.
  • Service, clean or inspect all major appliances in your home per manufacturers recommendations.

Annually

  • Replace all smoke detector batteries and carbon monoxide detector batteries.
  • Have all heating, cooling and water systems serviced and cleaned. Inspect chimneys and clean them.
  • Examine all electrical panels and operate breakers to ensure they are not sticking.
  • DO NOT TAKE THE COVER OFF THE PANEL!!
  • If you have well water, have your well tested and have your pump and service tank inspected for leaks or evidence of wear.
  • All homes are suspect of wood destroying insects (termites, carpenter bees, carpenter ants, etc.), have your home inspected annually by a professional and treated if necessary.

Your home is your single largest investment of your lifetime. Take these measures to protect your investment. For more home maintenance tips and energy saving advice contact your home inspector.

Mold Basics

  • The key to mold control is moisture control.
  • If mold is a problem in your home, you should clean up the mold promptly and fix the water problem.
  • It is important to dry water-damaged areas and items within 24-48 hours to prevent mold growth.

Why is mold growing in my home?

Molds are part of the natural environment. Outdoors, molds play a part in nature by breaking down dead organic matter such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but indoors, mold growth should be avoided. Molds reproduce by means of tiny spores; the spores are invisible to the naked eye and float through outdoor and indoor air. Mold may begin growing indoors when mold spores land on surfaces that are wet. There are many types of mold, and none of them will grow without water or moisture.

Can mold cause health problems?

Molds are usually not a problem indoors, unless mold spores land on a wet or damp spot and begin growing. Molds have the potential to cause health problems. Molds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants, and in some cases, potentially toxic substances (mycotoxins). Inhaling or touching mold or mold spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms, such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis). Allergic reactions to mold are common. They can be immediate or delayed. Molds can also cause asthma attacks in people with asthma who are allergic to mold. In addition, mold exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mold-allergic and non-allergic people. Symptoms other than the allergic and irritant types are not commonly reported as a result of inhaling mold. Research on mold and health effects is ongoing. This brochure provides a brief overview; it does not describe all potential health effects related to mold exposure. For more detailed information consult a health professional. You may also wish to consult your state or local health department.

magnified mold spores

How do I get rid of mold?

It is impossible to get rid of all mold and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. The mold spores will not grow if moisture is not present. Indoor mold growth can and should be prevented or controlled by controlling moisture indoors. If there is mold growth in your home, you must clean up the mold and fix the water problem. If you clean up the mold, but don't fix the water problem, then, most likely, the mold problem will come back.

Who Should do the Cleanup

Who should do the cleanup depends on a number of factors. One consideration is the size of the mold problem. If the moldy area is less than about 10 square feet (less than roughly a 3 ft. by 3 ft. patch), in most cases, you can handle the job yourself, following the guidelines below.

  • If there has been a lot of water damage, and/or mold growth covers more than 10 square feet, consult the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guide: Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings. Although focused on schools and commercial buildings, this document is applicable to other building types. It is available free by calling the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse at (800) 438-4318.
  • If you choose to hire a contractor (or other professional service provider) to do the cleanup, make sure the contractor has experience cleaning up mold. Check references and ask the contractor to follow the recommendations of the EPA, the guidelines of the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygenists (ACGIH), or other guidelines from professional or government organizations.
  • If you suspect that the heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC) system may be contaminated with mold (it is part of an identified moisture problem, for instance, or there is mold near the intake to the system), consult EPA's guide Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?before taking further action. Do not run the HVAC system if you know or suspect that it is contaminated with mold - it could spread mold throughout the building. Call (800) 438-4318 for a free copy.
  • If the water and/or mold damage was caused by sewage or other contaminated water, then call in a professional who has experience cleaning and fixing buildings damaged by contaminated water.
  • If you have health concerns, consult a health professional before starting cleanup.

bathroom tips

Tips and Techniques

The tips and techniques presented in this section will help you clean up your mold problem. Professional cleaners or remediators may use methods not covered in this publication. Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage. It may not be possible to clean an item so that its original appearance is restored.

  • Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.
  • Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water, and dry completely.
  • Absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Mold can grow on or fill in the empty spaces and crevices of porous materials, so the mold may be difficult or impossible to remove completely.
  • Avoid exposing yourself or others to mold.
  • Do not paint or caulk moldy surfaces. Clean up the mold and dry the surfaces before painting. Paint applied over moldy surfaces is likely to peel.
  • If you are unsure about how to clean an item, or if the item is expensive or of sentimental value, you may wish to consult a specialist. Specialists in furniture repair, restoration, painting, art restoration and conservation, carpet and rug cleaning, water damage, and fire or water restoration are commonly listed in phone books. Be sure to ask for and check references. Look for specialists who are affiliated with professional organizations.

mold growing on a piece of ceiling tile

What to Wear when Cleaning Moldy Areas

  • Avoid breathing in mold or mold spores. In order to limit your exposure to airborne mold, you may want to wear an N-95 respirator, available at many hardware stores and from companies that advertise on the Internet. (They cost about $12 to $25.) Some N-95 respirators resemble a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, others are made primarily of plastic or rubber and have removable cartridges that trap most of the mold spores from entering. In order to be effective, the respirator or mask must fit properly, so carefully follow the instructions supplied with the respirator. Please note that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that respirators fit properly (fit testing) when used in an occupational setting; consult OSHA for more information (800-321-OSHA).

cleaning mold

  • Wear gloves. Long gloves that extend to the middle of the forearm are recommended. When working with water and a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves may be used. If you are using a disinfectant, a biocide such as chlorine bleach, or a strong cleaning solution, you should select gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC. Avoid touching mold or moldy items with your bare hands.
  • Wear goggles. To avoid getting mold or mold spores in your eyes, safety goggles that do not have ventilation holes are recommended.

How Do I Know When the Remediation or Cleanup is Finished?

You must have completely fixed the water or moisture problem before the cleanup or remediation can be considered finished.

  • You should have completed mold removal. Visible mold and moldy odors should not be present. Please note that mold may cause staining and cosmetic damage.
  • You should have revisited the site(s) shortly after cleanup and it should show no signs of water damage or mold growth.
  • People should have been able to occupy or re-occupy the area without health complaints or physical symptoms.
  • Ultimately, this is a judgment call; there is no easy answer. If you have concerns or questions call the EPA Indoor Air Quality Information Clearinghouse IAQ INFO at (800) 438-4318.

Moisture and Mold Prevention and Control Tips

  • Moisture control is the key to mold control, so when water leaks or spills occur indoors - ACT QUICKLY. If wet or damp materials or areas are dried 24-48 hours after a leak or spill happens, in most cases mold will not grow.
  • Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
  • Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
  • Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
  • Keep indoor humidity low. If possible, keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity. Relative humidity can be measured with a moisture or humidity meter, a small, inexpensive ($10-$50) instrument available at many hardware stores.
  • If you see condensation or moisture collecting on windows, walls or pipes ACT QUICKLY to dry the wet surface and reduce the moisture/water source. Condensation can be a sign of high humidity.

condensation on the inside of a windowpane

Actions that will help to reduce humidity:

  • Vent appliances that produce moisture, such as clothes dryers, stoves, and kerosene heaters to the outside where possible. (Combustion appliances such as stoves and kerosene heaters produce water vapor and will increase the humidity unless vented to the outside.)
  • Use air conditioners and/or de-humidifiers when needed.
  • Run the bathroom fan or open the window when showering. Use exhaust fans or open windows whenever cooking, running the dishwasher or washing dishes, etc.

Actions that will help prevent condensation:

  • Reduce the humidity (see above).
  • Increase ventilation or air movement by opening doors and/or windows, when practical. Use fans as needed.
  • Cover cold surfaces, such as cold water pipes, with insulation.
  • Increase air temperature.

Testing or Sampling for Mold

Is sampling for mold needed? In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building's compliance with federal mold standards. Surface sampling may be useful to determine if an area has been adequately cleaned or remediated. Sampling for mold should be conducted by professionals who have specific experience in designing mold sampling protocols, sampling methods, and interpreting results. Sample analysis should follow analytical methods recommended by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), or other professional organizations.

Suspicion of hidden mold

You may suspect hidden mold if a building smells moldy, but you cannot see the source, or if you know there has been water damage and residents are reporting health problems. Mold may be hidden in places such as the back side of dry wall, wallpaper, or paneling, the top side of ceiling tiles, the underside of carpets and pads, etc. Other possible locations of hidden mold include areas inside walls around pipes (with leaking or condensing pipes), the surface of walls behind furniture (where condensation forms), inside ductwork, and in roof materials above ceiling tiles (due to roof leaks or insufficient insulation).

Investigating hidden mold problems

Investigating hidden mold problems may be difficult and will require caution when the investigation involves disturbing potential sites of mold growth. For example, removal of wallpaper can lead to a massive release of spores if there is mold growing on the underside of the paper. If you believe that you may have a hidden mold problem, consider hiring an experienced professional.

Cleanup and Biocides

Biocides are substances that can destroy living organisms. The use of a chemical or biocide that kills organisms such as mold (chlorine bleach, for example) is not recommended as a routine practice during mold cleanup. There may be instances, however, when professional judgment may indicate its use (for example, when immune-compromised individuals are present). In most cases, it is not possible or desirable to sterilize an area; a background level of mold spores will remain - these spores will not grow if the moisture problem has been resolved. If you choose to use disinfectants or biocides, always ventilate the area and exhaust the air to the outdoors. Never mix chlorine bleach solution with other cleaning solutions or detergents that contain ammonia because toxic fumes could be produced.

water stain on a basement wall

Please note:Dead mold may still cause allergic reactions in some people, so it is not enough to simply kill the mold, it must also be removed.

Home Safety Checklist

Each year, according to estimates by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), nearly one million people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries associated with the products they live with and use everyday.

CPSC recommends the use of grab-bars and non-slip mats in the bathtub, handrails on both sides of the stairs, and slip-resistant carpets and rugs. Burns occur from hot tap water and from open flame. CPSC recommends that consumers turn down the temperature of their water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to help prevent scalds. CPSC also recommends the installation and maintenance of at least one smoke detector on every floor of the home. Older consumers should consider purchasing nightwear that is flame resistant and choose garments made of tightly woven fabrics such as 100% polyester, 100% nylon, or 100% wool.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) believes that many of these injuries result from hazards that are easy to overlook, but also easy to fix. By spotting these hazards and taking some simple steps to correct them, many injuries might be prevented. Use this checklist to spot possible safety problems which may be present in your home. Keep this checklist as a reminder of safe practices, and use it periodically to re-check your home. This checklist is organized by areas in the home. However, there are some potential hazards that need to be checked in more than just one area of your home.

ALL AREAS OF THE HOME In all areas of your home, check all electrical and telephone cords; rugs, runners and mats; telephone areas; smoke detectors; electrical outlets and switches; light bulbs; space heaters; woodburning stoves; and your emergency exit plan.

CHECK ALL CORDS
QUESTION: Are lamp, extension, and telephone cords placed out of the flow of traffic?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Cords stretched across walkways may cause someone to trip.

  • Arrange furniture so that outlets are available for lamps and appliances without the use of extension cords.
  • If you must use an extension cord, place it on the floor against a wall where people can not trip over it.
  • Move the phone so that telephone cords will not lie where people walk.

QUESTION: Are cords out from beneath furniture and rugs or carpeting?

YES ___ No ___

RECOMMENDATION: Furniture resting on cords can damage them, creating fire and shock hazards. Electric cords which run under carpeting may cause a fire.

  • Remove cords from under furniture or carpeting.
  • Replace damaged or frayed cords.

QUESTION: Are cords attached to the walls, baseboards, etc., with nails or staples?

YES ___ NO ___

Nails or staples can damage cords, presenting fire and shock hazards.

  • Remove nails, staples, etc.
  • Check wiring for damage.
  • Use tape to attach cords to walls or floors.

QUESTION: Are electrical cords in good condition, not frayed or cracked?

YES ___ NO ___

Damaged cords may cause a shock or fire.

  • Replace frayed or cracked cords.

QUESTION: Do extension cords carry more than their proper load, as indicated by the ratings labeled on the cord and the appliance?

YES ___ NO ___

Overloaded extension cords may cause fires. Standard 18 gauge extension cords can carry 1250 watts.

  • If the rating on the cord is exceeded because of the power requirements of one or more appliances being used on the cord, change the cord to a higher rated one or unplug some appliances.
  • If an extension cord is needed, use one having a sufficient amp or wattage rating.

CHECK ALL RUGS, RUNNERS AND MATS

QUESTION: Are all small rugs and runners slip-resistant?

YES ___ No ___

CPSC estimates that in 1982, over 2,500 people 65 and over were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries that resulted from tripping over rugs and runners. Falls are also the most common cause of fatal injury for older people.

  • Remove rugs and runners that tend to slide.
  • Apply double-faced adhesive carpet tape or rubber matting to the backs of rugs and runners.
  • Purchase rugs with slip-resistant backing.
  • Check rugs and mats periodically to see if backing needs to be replaced.
  • Place rubber matting under rugs. (Rubber matting that can be cut to size is available.)
  • Purchase new rugs with slip-resistant backing.

NOTE: Over time, adhesive on tape can wear away. Rugs with slip- resistant backing also become less effective as they are washed. Periodically, check rugs and mats to see if new tape or backing is needed.

QUESTION: Are emergency numbers posted on or near the telephone?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: In case of emergency, telephone numbers for the Police, Fire Department, and local Poison Control Center, along with a neighbor's number, should be readily available.

  • Write the numbers in large print and tape them to the phone, or place them near the phone where they can be seen easily.

QUESTION: Do you have access to a telephone if you fall (or experience some other emergency which prevents you from standing and reaching a wall phone)?

YES ___ NO ___

  • Have at least one telephone located where it would be accessible in the event of an accident which leaves you unable to stand.

CHECK SMOKE DETECTORS
QUESTION: Are smoke detectors properly located?
YES ___ NO___

RECOMMENDATION: At least one smoke detector should be placed on every floor of your home.

  • Read the instructions that come with the smoke detector for advice on the best place to install it.
  • Make sure detectors are placed near bedrooms, either on the ceiling or 6-12 inches below the ceiling on the wall.
  • Locate smoke detectors away from air vents.

QUESTION: Do you have properly working smoke detectors?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Many home fire injuries and deaths are caused by smoke and toxic gases, rather than the fire itself. Smoke detectors provide an early warning and can wake you in the event of a fire.

  • Purchase a smoke detector if you do not have one.
  • Check and replace batteries and bulbs according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Vacuum the grillwork of your smoke detector.
  • Replace any smoke detectors which can not be repaired.

NOTE: Some fire departments or local governments will provide assistance in acquiring or installing smoke detectors.

CHECK ELECTRICAL OUTLETS AND SWITCHES
QUESTION: Are any outlets and switches unusually warm or hot to the touch?
YES ___ NO ___

Unusually warm or hot outlets or switches may indicate that an unsafe wiring condition exists.

  • Unplug cords from outlets and do not use the switches.
  • Have an electrician check the wiring as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Do all outlets and switches have cover plates, so that no wiring is exposed?
YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Exposed wiring presents a shock hazard.

  • Add a cover plate.

QUESTION: Are light bulbs the appropriate size and type for the lamp or fixture?  YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: A bulb of too high wattage or the wrong type may lead to fire through overheating. Ceiling fixtures, recessed lights, and "hooded" lamps will trap heat. 

  • Replace with a bulb of the correct type and wattage. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)

CHECK SPACE HEATERS

QUESTION: Are heaters which come with a 3-prong plug being used in a 3-hole outlet or with a properly attached adapter?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: The grounding feature provided by a 3-hole receptacle or an adapter for a 2-hole receptacle is a safety feature designed to lessen the risk of shock.

  • Never defeat the grounding feature.
  • If you do not have a 3-hole outlet, use an adapter to connect the heater's 3-prong plug. Make sure the adapter ground wire or tab is attached to the outlet.

QUESTION: Are small stoves and heaters placed where they can not be knocked over, and away from furnishings and flammable materials, such as curtains or rugs?  YES ___ NO ___ RECOMMENDATION: Heaters can cause fires or serious burns if they cause you to trip or if they are knocked over.

  • Relocate heaters away from passageways and flammable materials such as curtains, rugs, furniture, etc.

QUESTION: If your home has space heating equipment, such as a kerosene heater, a gas heater or an LP gas heater, do you understand the installation and operating instructions thoroughly? 
YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Unvented heaters should be used with room doors open or window slightly open to provide ventilation. The correct fuel, as recommended by the manufacturer, should always be used. Vented heaters should have proper venting, and the venting system should be checked frequently. Improper venting is the most frequent cause of carbon monoxide poisoning, and older consumers are at special risk.

  • Review the installation and operating instructions.
  • Call your local fire department if you have additional questions.

    CHECK WOODBURNING HEATING EQUIPMENT

QUESTION: Is woodburning equipment installed properly?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Woodburning stoves should be installed by a qualified person according to local building codes.

  • Local building code officials or fire marshals can provide requirements and recommendations for installation.
    NOTE: Some insurance companies will not cover fire losses if wood stoves are not installed according to local codes.

    CHECK THE EMERGENCY EXIT PLAN

QUESTION: Do you have an emergency exit plan and an alternate emergency exit plan in case of a fire?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Once a fire starts, it spreads rapidly. Since you may not have much time to get out and there may be a lot of confusion, it is important that everyone knows what to do.

  • Develop an emergency exit plan.
  • Choose a meeting place outside your home so you can be sure that everyone is capable of escape quickly and safely.
  • Practice the plan from time to time to make sure everyone is capable of escape quickly and safely.

Remember periodically to re-check your home.

KITCHEN
In the kitchen, check the range area, all electrical cords, lighting, the stool, all throw rugs and mats, and the telephone area.

CHECK THE RANGE AREA
QUESTION: Are towels, curtains, and other things that might catch fire located away from the range?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Placing or storing non-cooking equipment like potholders, dish towels, or plastic utensils on or near the range man result in fires or burns.

  • Store flammable and combustible items away from range and oven.
  • Remove any towels hanging on oven handles. If towels hang close to a burner, change the location of the towel rack.
  • If necessary, shorten or remove curtains which could brush against heat sources.

QUESTION: Do you wear clothing with short or close-fitting sleeves while you are cooking?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: CPSC estimates that 70% of all people who die from clothing fires are over 65 years of age. Long sleeves are more likely to catch fire than are short sleeves. Long sleeves are also more apt to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds.

  • Roll back long, loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.

QUESTION: Are kitchen ventilation systems or range exhausts functioning properly and are they in use while you are cooking?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthful levels in a kitchen where gas or kerosene-fire appliances are in use.

  • Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear air of vapors and smoke.

QUESTION: Are all extension cords and appliance cords located away from the sink or range areas?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Electrical appliances and power cords can cause shock or electrocution if they come in contact with water. Cords can also be damaged by excess heat.

  • Move cords and appliances away from sink areas and hot surfaces.
  • Move appliances closer to wall outlets or to different outlets so you won't need extension cords.
  • If extension cords must be used, install wiring guides so that cords will not hang near sink, range, or working areas.
  • Consider adding new outlets for convenience and safety; ask your electrician to install outlets equipped with ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. A GFCI is a shock-protection device that will detect electrical fault and shut off electricity before serious injury or death occurs. (illustration is in ).

For more information on cords, refer to the beginning of the checklist (pages 1 and 2).

QUESTION: Does good, even lighting exist over the stove, sink, and countertop work areas, especially where food is sliced or cut?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Low lighting and glare can contribute to burns or cuts. Improve lighting by:

  • Opening curtains and blinds (unless this causes to much glare).
  • Using the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage for the fixture, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Reducing glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing the blinds or curtains.
  • Installing additional light fixtures, e.g. under cabinet/over countertop lighting.

(Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.)

QUESTION: Do you have a step stool which is stable and in good repair?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Standing on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. CPSC estimates that in 1982, 1500 people over 65 were treated in hospital emergency rooms when they fell from chairs on which they were standing.

  • If you don't have a step stool, consider buying one. Choose one with a handrail that you can hold onto while standing on the top step.
  • Before climbing on any step stool, make sure it is fully opened and stable.
  • Tighten screws and braces on the step stool.
  • Discard step stools with broken parts.

Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

LIVING ROOM/FAMILY ROOM
In the living room/family room, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, lighting, the fireplace and chimney, the telephone area, and all passageways.

QUESTION: Are chimneys clear from accumulations of leaves, and other debris that can clog them?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: A clogged chimney can cause a poorly-burning fire to result in poisonous fumes and smoke coming back into the house.

  • Do not use the chimney until the blockage has been removed.
  • Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.

QUESTION: Has the chimney been cleaned within the past year?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Burning wood can cause a build up of a tarry substance (creosote) inside the chimney. This material can ignite and result in a serious chimney fire.

  • Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.

CHECK THE TELEPHONE AREA
For information on the telephone area, refer to the beginning of the checklist.

CHECK PASSAGEWAYS
QUESTION: Are hallways, passageways between rooms, and other heavy traffic areas well lit?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards.

  • Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Install night lights.
  • Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds or curtains.
  • Consider using additional lamps or light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

QUESTION: Are exits and passageways kept clear?

YES ___ NO ___

Furniture, boxes, or other items could be an obstruction or tripping hazard, especially in the event of an emergency or fire.

  • Rearrange furniture to open passageways and walkways.
  • Remove boxes and clutter.

Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

BATHROOM
In the bathroom, check bathtub and shower areas, water temperature, rugs and mats, lighting, small electrical appliances, and storage areas for medications.

CHECK BATHTUB AND SHOWER AREAS
QUESTION: Are bathtubs and showers equipped with non-skid mats, abrasive strips, or surfaces that are not slippery?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Wet soapy tile or porcelain surfaces are especially slippery and may contribute to falls.

  • Apply textured strips or appliques on the floors of tubs and showers.
  • Use non-skid mats in the tub and shower, and on the bathroom floor.

QUESTION: Do bathtubs and showers have at least one (preferably two) grab bars?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Grab bars can help you get into and out of your tub or shower, and can help prevent falls.

  • Check existing bars for strength and stability, and repair if necessary.
  • Attach grab bars, through the tile, to structural supports in the wall, or install bars specifically designed to attach to the sides of the bathtub. If you are not sure how it is done, get someone who is qualified to assist you.

QUESTION: Is the temperature 120 degrees or lower?

YES ___ NO ___

Water temperature above 120 degrees can cause tap water scalds.

  • Lower the setting on your hot water heater to "Low" or 120 degrees. If you are unfamiliar with the controls of your water heater, ask a qualified person to adjust it for you. If your hot water system is controlled by the landlord, ask the landlord to consider lowering the setting.

NOTE: If the water heater does not have a temperature setting, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water at the tap.

  • Always check water temperature by hand before entering bath or shower.
  • Taking baths, rather than showers, reduces the risk of a scald from suddenly changing water temperatures.

CHECK LIGHTING
QUESTION: Is a light switch located near the entrance to the bathroom?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATIONS: A light switch near the door will prevent you from walking through a dark area.

  • Install a night light. Inexpensive lights that plug into outlets are available.
  • Consider replacing the existing switch with a "glow switch" that can be seen in the dark.

CHECK SMALL ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES
QUESTION: Are small electrical appliances such as hair dryers, shavers, curling irons, etc., unplugged when not in use?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Even an appliance that is not turned on, such as a hairdryer, can be potentially hazardous if it is left plugged in. If it falls into water in a sink or bathtub while plugged in, it could cause a lethal shock.

  • Unplug all small appliances when not in use.
  • Never reach into water to retrieve an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged.
  • Install a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your bathroom outlet to protect against electric shock.

CHECK MEDICATIONS
QUESTION: Are all medicines stored in the containers that they came in and are they clearly marked?

YES ___ No ___

RECOMMENDATION: Medications that are not clearly and accurately labeled can be easily mixed up. Taking he wrong medicine or missing a dosage of medicine you need can be dangerous.

  • Be sure that all containers are clearly marked with the contents, doctor's instructions, expiration date, and patient's name.
  • Dispose of outdated medicines properly.
  • Request non-child-resistant closures from your pharmacist only when you cannot use child-resistant closures.

NOTE: Many poisonings occur when children visiting grandparents go through the medicine cabinet or grandmother's purse. In homes where grandchildren or other youngsters are frequent visitors, medicines should be purchased in containers with child-resistant caps, and the caps properly closed after each use. Store medicines beyond the reach of children.

Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

BEDROOMS
In the bedroom, check all rugs and runners, electrical and telephone cords, and areas around beds.

CHECK AREAS AROUND BEDS
QUESTION: Are lamps or light switches within reach of each bed?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Lamps or switches located close to each bed will enable people getting up at night to see where they are going.

  • Rearrange furniture closer to switches or move lamps closer to beds.
  • Install night lights.

QUESTION: Are ash trays, smoking materials, or other fire sources (heaters, hot plates, teapots, etc.) located away from beds or bedding?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Burns are a leading cause of accidental death among seniors. Smoking in bed is a major contributor to this problem. Among mattress and bedding fire related deaths in a recent year, 42% were to persons 65 or older.

  • Remove sources of heat or flame from areas around beds.
  • Don't smoke in bed.

QUESTION: Is anything covering your electric blanket when in use?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: "Tucking in" electric blankets, or placing additional coverings on top of them can cause excessive heat buildup which can start a fire.

QUESTION: Do you avoid "tucking in" the sides or ends of your electric blanket?

RECOMMENDATION:

  • Use electric blankets according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Don't allow anything on top of the blanket while it is in use. (This includes other blankets or comforters, even pets sleeping on top of the blanket.)
  • Don't set electric blankets so high that they could burn someone who falls asleep while they are on.

QUESTION: Do you ever go to sleep with a heating pad which is turned on?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Never go to sleep with a heating pad if it is turned on because it can cause serious burns even at relatively low settings.

QUESTION: Is there a telephone close to your bed?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: In case of an emergency, it is important to be able to reach the telephone without getting out of bed.

Remember: Check all of the product areas mentioned at the beginning of the checklist.

BASEMENT/GARAGE/WORKSHOP/STORAGE AREAS
In the basement, garage, workshop, and storage areas, check lighting, fuse boxes or circuit breakers, appliances and power tools, electrical cords, and flammable liquids.

CHECK LIGHTING
QUESTION: Are work areas, especially areas where power tools are used, well lit?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Power tools were involved in over 5,200 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms to people 65 and over in 1982. Three fourths of these were finger injuries. Good lighting can reduce the chance that you will accidentally cut your finger.

  • Either install additional light, or avoid working with power tools in the area.

QUESTION: Can you turn on the lights without first having to walk through a dark area?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Basement, garages, and storage areas can contain many tripping hazards and sharp or pointed tools that can make a fall even more hazardous.

  • Keep an operating flashlight handy.
  • Have an electrician install switches at each entrance to a dark area.

    CHECK THE FUSE BOX OR CIRCUIT BREAKERS

QUESTION: If fuses are used, are they the correct size for the circuit?  YES ___ NO ___
RECOMMENDATION: Replacing a correct size fuse with a larger size fuse can present a serious fire hazard. If the fuse in the box is rater higher than that intended for the circuit, excessive current will be allowed to flow and possibly overload the outlet and house wiring to the point that a fire can begin.

  • Be certain that correct-size fuses are used. (If you do not know the correct sizes, consider having an electrician identify and label the sizes to be used.)

NOTE: If all, or nearly all, fuses used are 30-amp fuses, there is a chance that some of the fuses are rated too high for the circuit.

CHECK APPLIANCES AND POWER TOOLS
QUESTION: Are power tools equipped with a 3-prong plug or marked to show that they are double insulated?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: These safety features reduce the risk of an electric shock.

  • Use a properly connected 3-prong adapter for connecting a 3- prong plug to a 2-hole receptacle.
  • Consider replacing old tools that have neither a 3-prong plug nor are double insulated.

QUESTION: Are power tools guards in place?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Power tools used with guards removed pose a serious risk of injury from sharp edges or moving parts.

  • Replace guards that have been removed from power tools.

QUESTION: Has the grounding feature on any 3-prong plug been defeated by removal of the grounding pin or by improperly using an adapter?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Improperly grounded appliances can lead to electric shock.

  • Check with your service person or an electrician if you are in doubt.

CHECK FLAMMABLE AND VOLATILE LIQUIDS
QUESTION: Are containers of volatile liquids tightly capped?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: If not tightly closed, vapors may escape that may be toxic when inhaled.

  • Check containers periodically to make sure they are tightly closed.

NOTE: CPSC has reports of several cases in which gasoline, stored as much as 10 feet from a gas water heater, exploded. Many people are unaware that gas fumes can travel that far.

QUESTION: Are gasoline, paints, solvents, or other products that give off vapors or fumes stored away from ignition sources?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Gasoline, kerosene, and other flammable liquids should be stored out of living areas in properly labeled, non- glass safety containers.

  • Remove these products from the areas near heat or flame such as heaters, furnaces, water heaters, ranges, and other gas appliances.

STAIRS
For all stairways, check lighting, handrails, and the condition of the steps and coverings.

CHECK LIGHTING
QUESTION: Are stairs well lighted?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Stairs should be lighted so that each step, particularly the step edges, can be clearly seen while going up and down stairs. The lighting should not produce glare or shadows along the stairway.

  • Use the maximum wattage bulb allowed by the light fixture. (If you do not know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.)
  • Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, shades or globes on light fixtures, or partially closing blinds and curtains.
  • Have a qualified person add additional light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

QUESTION: Are light switches located at both the top and bottom of the stairs.

RECOMMENDATION: Even if you are very familiar with the stairs, lighting is an important factor in preventing falls. You should be able to turn on the lights before you use the stairway from either end.

  • If no other light is available, keep an operating flashlight in a convenient location at the top and bottom of the stairs.
  • Install night lights at nearby outlets.
  • Consider installing switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.

QUESTION: Do the steps allow secure footing?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Worn treads or worn or loose carpeting can lead to insecure footing, resulting in slips or falls.

  • Try to avoid wearing only socks or smooth-soled shoes or slippers when using stairs.
  • Make certain the carpet is firmly attached to the steps all along the stairs.
  • Consider refinishing or replacing worn treads, or replacing worn carpeting.
  • Paint outside steps with paint that has a rough texture, or use abrasive strips.

QUESTION: Are steps even and of the same size and height?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Even a small difference in step surfaces or riser heights can lead to falls.

  • Mark any steps which are especially narrow or have risers that are higher or lower than the others. Be especially careful of these steps when using the stairs.

QUESTION: Are the coverings on the steps in good condition?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Worn or torn coverings or nails sticking out from coverings could snag your foot or cause you to trip.

  • Repair coverings.
  • Remove coverings.
  • Replace coverings.

QUESTION: Can you clearly see the edges of the steps?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: Falls may occur if the edges of the steps are blurred or hard to see.

  • Paint edges of outdoor steps white to see them better at night.
  • Add extra lighting.
  • If you plan to carpet your stairs, avoid deep pile carpeting or patterned or dark colored carpeting that can make it difficult to see the edges of the steps clearly.

QUESTION: Is anything stored on the stairway, even temporarily?

YES ___ NO ___

RECOMMENDATION: People can trip over objects left on stairs, particularly in the event of an emergency or fire.

  • Remove all objects from the stairway.

REMEMBER PERIODICALLY TO RE-CHECK YOUR HOME.

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