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Home, Safe Home... Top 10 Things Every Homeowner Should Know

Baltimore County Building Engineer Donald Brand offers his top ten most important home safety and maintenance tips.

Donald Brand, P.E., Building Engineer, Baltimore County Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections

 

1.  INSTALL & MAINTAIN CARBON MONOXIDE ALARMS.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas. Products and equipment powered by internal combustion engines such as portable generators, cars, lawn mowers, and power washers also produce CO.  County law requires CO alarms to be installed in rental properties and newly constructed dwelling units relying on fossil fuel for heating, hot water, clothes drying, etc. or with an attached garage, in the common area outside of, and audible in, each sleeping area.  For dwellings constructed on and after January 1, 2008, State law requires AC powered battery back-up CO alarms to be installed.

2.  INSTALL & MAINTAIN SMOKE ALARMS. Smoke alarms are the single most important means of preventing house and apartment fire fatalities. Older homes require a minimum of one smoke alarm outside each sleeping area. They may be either battery powered or powered by normal AC house power. A single detector may not provide sufficient notification for a family to escape a dwelling using their primary means of escape. As a result, newer Building Codes require one smoke alarm to be installed in each bedroom, in each area outside each separate sleeping area in the immediate vicinity of the bedrooms and in each additional story of the dwelling including the basement and any habitable attics. These smoke detectors are required to be powered by a primary power source such as the normal house power as well as be provided with a secondary battery back up source of power. Where more then one smoke alarm is required, then these detectors must be inner-connected so that all detectors sound an alarm at once.
3.  REDUCE AIR LEAKAGE.   Use weather-stripping in your home to seal air leaks around movable building components, such as doors or operable windows.  For stationary components, caulk is the appropriate material for filling cracks and gaps.  Also, if you have a fireplace, you have a hole in your roof.  That hole, your chimney's flue, sucks the warm air from your furnace, fireplace, or woodstove right out of your house. Dampers are notorious for letting heat leak out of homes.   Dampers in older homes have likely deteriorated, warped, or rusted allowing heat to gush out of your home.  If you don’t use your fireplace, close off the fireplace flue or install a new, tight sealing energy efficient damper.

4.  CHANGE FURNACES AND AC FILTERS REGULARLY. Know the sizes (length & width in inches), and change them on a regular basis, at least quarterly.  Buy your filters by the case (usually 6 to 12) and store them near the furnace. This will lessen the tendency to procrastinate your air filter change. Buying by the case can also reduce the cost of each filter change. If you have pets you’ll probably need to change your filter twice as often. Not only are pet dander and pet hair leading allergens, they also clog filters very fast! Always turn off your furnace and AC before replacing your filter as often there is electrical wiring close to the filter location which could shock you if the power is not disconnected first.

5.  LEARN ABOUT YOUR ELECTRICAL SYSTEM.  Map out your electrical system to determine which circuits serve which outlets, and then label the breakers in the electrical panel. Unless your home is brand new, do not assume the circuits in your home are correctly labeled.
Make sure that receptacles are within reach of sinks and that those outlets located outdoors are GFCI protected to prevent electrocution. A tripped breaker indicates that something is wrong. You may have overloaded the circuit with too many devices, a device may be defective, or the circuit wiring has been damaged. Try removing devices from the circuit.  If this does not correct the problem, contact an electrician licensed in Baltimore County. Know the location of all the electrical disconnecting means in your home including utility, solar, and generator shut offs. If you see or smell smoke coming from an electrical device or outlet, call 911.

Lights that flicker, dim or get brighter may indicate a serious problem. If you notice this happening in your home, contact an electrician licensed in Baltimore County. Remember, as useful as it is, electricity can be very dangerous if installed improperly. Contact an electrician licensed in Baltimore County for all new installations.


(Check back, we will post Home, Safe Home tips # 6 through #10 next time at Baltimore County Now)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

M. Sullivan February 28, 2013 at 04:08 PM
Good advise. Keep in mind that CO detectors should be replaced after 5-7 years and smoke alarms after 10 years. The manufacturers manual may have more accurate guidance. Simply testing the alarm will not tell you the effectiveness of the sensor. Also, it helps to write the date on your furnace filter so you can better remember when it needs changing.

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