Home Safety Tips

Are Hazards Hiding in Plain Sight?

It can be all too easy to overlook unsafe conditions that are right under your nose. Use the info on this page to give your house a safety once-over.

Switches, Outlets, and Cord Hazards

  • If you have small children or pets, make sure unused wall outlets have safety coverings.
  • Check that outlets and wall switches are cool to the touch. Unusual warmth may indicate an unsafe wiring connection and should be checked by an electrician. You may want to consider turning off the breaker feeding that circuit until the issue can be inspected by a licensed electrician.
  • Make sure all outlets and switches are working properly. Faulty equipment may indicate unsafe wiring.
  • All outlets and switches should have faceplates. Exposed wiring is a shock hazard. Household current can kill quickly.
  • Check that extension cords are correctly rated for the amount of electricity they are to carry and are Underwriter Laboratory (UL) approved.
  • Check all electric cords for visible damage. Cracked or frayed cords can be dangerous.
  • Make sure extension and lamp cords are not strung through areas where people will be walking. Cords can create tripping hazards and may be damaged if you walk on them. Ensure that cords don’t run under rugs or have furniture resting on them.
  • Make sure electric cords are not nailed or stapled in place. Cord damage can result in a fire and shock hazard.
  • Make sure you’re using the correct wattage and proper kind of light bulb in an overhead or ceiling fixture. The wrong type of bulb can lead to overheating and fire. If you don’t know the correct wattage, use a bulb no larger than 60 watts.

Kitchen and Bathroom Safety

  • Teach all family members to avoid touching electrical devices when they are wet, in water, or standing on a wet surface.
  • Unplug small appliances when not in use. Unattended, connected appliances create an unnecessary electrical risk.
  • Keep all appliance cords away from hot surfaces, such as toasters, range tops, or ovens. Cords can be damaged by excessive heat.
  • Check that all appliances and electric equipment are located away from the sink and bath.
  • Replace outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, and near swimming pools with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs). GFCIs will provide shock protection by quickly cutting off the circuit in case of an imbalance of energy flow. GFCIs should be UL approved and installed by a licensed electrician.
  • Never insert any metal object, such as a knife or fork, into an appliance.
  • Never leave electric heaters and hot plates unattended when in use.

Fire Emergency Preparation

  • Keep emergency numbers for police and fire departments near your house phone, and program them into your cell phone.
  • Ensure that children know how to make a call to 911, and under what circumstances they should do so.
  • Make sure that at least one smoke detector is placed on every floor of your home. Install detectors on the ceiling away from air vents and near bedrooms. Test your detectors every few months to ensure they're working. Change the batteries when you change the clocks in spring and fall.
  • Develop an emergency exit plan for your home in case of a fire. Practice the plan to make sure everyone can escape quickly and safely.
  • Keep your chimney and vent piping clean. Have them inspected regularly and cleaned by a professional when necessary.
  • Don’t smoke in bed and keep ashtrays and other smoking materials away from beds and blankets.
  • Store flammable liquids such as paints, solvents, and gasoline away from heating sources.

Space Heater Safety

  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and heed warning labels.
  • Ensure all household members understand how to operate space heaters safely.
  • Only purchase space heaters that are equipped with a safety shutoff feature in the event of a tip-over.

Holiday Decorating

  • Be sure all indoor and outdoor holiday lights bear the mark of an independent testing laboratory. Only use approved outdoor lights and cords for use outside. Check for frayed wires, cracked sockets & excessive kinking. Tip: Run a piece of electrical tape around the plugged connections on lights, etc. plugged to electric cords exposed to the weather.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets or run extension cords under carpets, across doorways or near heaters where the insulation can be compromised.
  • Do not leave wax candles burning when you leave the house or while you are asleep. When candles are lit, be sure there is plenty of room between the candle and any combustible materials, such as curtains, furniture, and wrapping paper. Be sure to keep candles out reach of children.
  • For parties where people may be drinking and smoking, be aware of possible fire hazards both inside and outside from improperly disposed cigarettes. Be alert for those who may want drink and drive as they leave your party.
  • After holiday parties, check cushions and furniture for smoldering cigarette butts. Dispose of smoking materials in an empty coffee can with some water in the bottom. Discard the can in the trash the next day. Never empty ashtrays directly into the garbage.
  • Be sure to water your live Christmas tree to avoid combustion hazards and check the water level at least twice a day. Remove the tree promptly once the tree shows signs of drying.

Flammable Liquid Storage

  • Never place flammable products such as paper, fabric, gasoline, or paint thinner anywhere near appliances. Flammable vapors from these types of products are easily ignited and can cause severe burns that are life threatening. Vapors cannot be seen, may be heavier than air and have the ability to travel a long way across the floor in seconds.
  • All flammable liquids should be used according to manufacturers’ instructions provided on their containers. Flammable liquids like gasoline should never be used indoors.
  • Keep gasoline ONLY in an approved gasoline container. Never fill gasoline containers to the top. Allow room for vapor expansion. Make sure the container is tightly sealed. Never store gasoline in unapproved containers likeplastic milk jugs or glass containers.
  • Keep gasoline and other flammable liquids away from children.

Fuses and Circuit Breaker Replacement

If power goes out in your home but not the rest of your neighborhood, you may have a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. These are easy to fix yourself.

Every home has a box that brings electricity in from the street. This box contains fuses or circuit breakers that connect to the electrical wires inside your walls. If too much electricity runs through a wire, a fuse can blow out or a circuit breaker will shut off automatically. When this happens, you can replace the fuse or turn the circuit breaker back on and your power will be restored.

To replace a fuse:

  • Disconnect the appliance or lamp that seems to have caused the problem, then go to your fuse box.
  • Be sure your hands are dry and you are standing on a dry floor.
  • Check the fuses in the box to see whether the metal link inside the fuse has melted ("blown") or discolored the window at the top of the fuse.
  • Unscrew any blown fuse and replace it with a new one of the same type. (You can buy fuses at your local hardware store. It’s a good idea to bring the old one with you to be sure you get the kind and size you need.)

To reset a circuit breaker:

  • Disconnect the appliance or lamp that seems to have caused the problem, then go to your circuit breaker box.
  • Be sure your hands are dry and you are standing on a dry floor.
  • Locate the switch in the “off” position.
  • Push it all the way to the “off” position and then back to “on.”

Please note that if your fuses blow out or your circuit breakers trip often, the wiring in your home may not be up to modern standards, or it could have too much connected to it. Please consult a state-licensed electrical contractor for advice.