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Safety Measures

In case of emergency: things everyone in household should know

It’s a great idea for every homeowner to set up a list of "things everybody in the household should know." Your safety plan could involve maintaining a list of emergency shut-offs, information sources, and basic tools. You may need to find an expert to help locate, repair or maintain some of these valves and switches. Locating and tagging them would be a helpful exercise for any homeowner.

I suggest you put a tag on each item and take a tour with all family members explaining what these items do and how to operate the controls. In addition, develop a list of emergency numbers and an escape plan.

So, here is your homework:

  • Main electrical disconnect. This will be located at the main fuse box or breaker panel. Usually there is one main switch or fuse block, but on older systems there can be multiple disconnects.
  • Water main valve. This valve turns off all the water to your home. If the valve looks old, worn or rusty, have a plumber check it for proper operation. If you use a municipal water supply, the valve will be located in the basement on the "street side" of your home near the water meter. If your house has its own well, the valve will be near the pressure tank. In this case, to disable the system, you must turn off the valve and the electrical switch for the well pump.
  • Hot water shut-off. This valve is located on the cold water inlet at the top of the water heater. It turns off the hot water supply to your home by closing the cold supply to the water heater.
  • Natural gas main. This will be located near the meter, either outside or inside your home. Many of these valves require a wrench to operate; a quarter-turn moves the valve from on to off. When the handle is parallel to the pipe, the valve is open.
  • Local gas valves. These should be located at each gas appliance; they, too, close with a quarter-turn.
  • Furnace and air conditioning main switch. This is usually mounted on the furnace. In a modern system, it will look like a light switch. It turns off the central heating and cooling system.
  • Emergency phone numbers. Keep a list of how to reach the fire department, ambulance/rescue, police, Mom, Dad, relatives, workplace(s), and others appropriate to your household.
  • Fire extinguishers. Place fire extinguishers in your kitchen, garage and basement. Make sure everyone knows how to use them.
  • Escape plan. Have a plan for how to get out fast in case of emergency. Establish a specific location where everyone can meet just outside the house. Practice your plan.
  • Emergency release for garage door. The automatic garage door opener has an emergency release so you can open the door when there is a power failure. Show everyone how it operates. Do this with the door down, because a poorly balanced door may crash to the ground. The release is located where the door attaches to the opener track. Pull the handle to release it and remember, do this with the door down and then lift the door.
  • Emergency release for garage door–with a key (when there is no service door to the garage). In this situation, to release the garage door opener when the power is out, you must open a special lock and remove a cable. You’ll find a circular lock near the top center of the garage door. Open this lock and pull the attached cable out through the opening. Doing this will release the opener from the garage door so you can open the door manually. Always remember that the door should be down before you test the release.
  • Emergency tool box. Have a flashlight and basic tools set aside for emergencies. The flashlight should be rechargeable; keep it mounted on its charger.

This is a basic list. For more detailed information, contact your local utilities, police, and fire department. It is very important to know how to react to an emergency and to know that emergency shut-offs will work when needed.

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Ensuring safe venting of a clothes dryer

Manufacturers of clothes dryers recommend venting the dryer to the outdoors using a smooth metal vent pipe with minimal bends that can be checked and cleaned periodically. Flexible plastic vent pipes pose the greatest risk because if the bends are not smooth and uniform, lint builds up on the roughened surface. Also, plastic pipe is flammable.

If your dryer vent is made of smooth metal with smooth metal elbows and fittings, you have limited risk. I still think you should vacuum out the vent every year or so through the inlet and discharge. You can use extensions on a shop vacuum. You could also try to blow it out with a shop vacuum. If you don’t have the equipment, contact a furnace duct cleaning company.

If your dryer has a flexible plastic vent pipe, remove it and replace with a metal vent and smooth metal elbows and fittings.

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Carbon monoxide detectors

You’ve probably heard about the new carbon monoxide detectors. Are they worth the money? Do they work, and if so, what type should you buy?

I think carbon monoxide detectors are valuable, although they have had some problems with false alarms tr iggered by quick changes in temperature or pressure, air inversion, or pollution. You should have at least one detector in your home near the sleeping areas.

Your best insurance against a carbon monoxide problem is routine maintenance of gas- or fuel-burning appliances. If you maintain your stove, furnace and water heater, problems should not develop. Also, maintain your fireplace or wood-burning stove and never, never use an unvented combustion device in your home.

When you buy a detector, I suggest one with a digital readout. Place the detector in your home according to manufacturer’s instructions. One good place is in a hall near bedrooms, at a height where you will notice the reading every night. If you frequently check the reading, you can monitor the level of carbon monoxide and react before any alarm sounds. Most of the alarms don’t sound until the carbon monoxide reaches 100 parts per million, which is a dan gerous level for many people.

If you ever notice headaches, excessive drowsiness, or symptoms of a co ld while you’re at home and these problems clear up when you’re away from home, suspect carbon monoxide. If your whole family feels ill, suspect carbon monoxide. You can’t smell or see carbon monoxide, so if you suspect a problem, contact a service contractor immediately.

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Radon testing in your home

Radon is a colorless, radioactive, inert gaseous element that can accumulate in lower levels of homes where it can adversely affect human health. Radon has been found to cause lung cancer in humans.

Radon can be found all over the country and in any type of building. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing in all homes below the third floor. If a home has a high level of radon, there are simple and relatively low-cost ways to reduce the level.

The Environmental Protection Agency offers helpful publications about radon, including "A Citizen’s Guide to Radon" and "Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction."

You can call the EPA’s Indoor Quality Information Clearinghouse at 1-(800)-438-4218 for free copies of these publications. Or visit the EPA’s website at

You can also contact the National Center for Environmen tal Information at 1-(800)-490-9198 for free information.

Radon levels can vary significantly, depending on the season and how the test was performed. You may also wish to have a professional test done. If you hire a professional, make sure that EPA protocols (procedures) are followed for the testing. A professional test will cost about $100.

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Asbestos in your home-what to do

In older homes, asbestos-containing materials were often used for pipe coverings, insulation, heating-duct wraps and even floor tile and plaster. Asbestos can only be identified through professional sampling and laboratory testing.

In many cases, the best way to control exposure to asbestos in the home is to cover or "encapsulate" the material. While removal is best performed by professionals, some homeowners feel confident that they can treat surfaces properly and seal the asbestos with a special sealer.

If you think your home contains asbestos, have it tested by a professional. Also, contact the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Lung Association for the excellent information they provide on asbestos in private residences.

After testing and reviewing the reference materials, you may wish to seal the asbestos-containing materials yourself. Remember to follow all safety pr ecautions to prevent any health risk or site contamination.

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Securing slippery throw rugs

Throw rugs placed on hardwood floors can be dangerously slippery. Here are two options for keeping throw rugs in place.

At stores where throw rugs are sold, you can often find a thin, rubbery, bumpy mat that is placed beneath a throw rug. The mat, cut smaller than the rug, stops the sliding. The only problem is that the mat may bunch up or "walk" out from under the throw rug.

We have also had success with Super Grip. When this aerosol is sprayed on the back of the throw rug, it bonds to the fabric and stops it from sliding. Super Grip is non-yellowing, and the rug may be laundered after it’s applied.

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