February 2, 2005 | By: Ellen Brightwell

Inspecting your home to correct potential hazards can prevent much distress, danger and damage should a disaster occur.

"Any household item that can move, fall, break or cause a fire becomes a home hazard during or following a disaster," said Larry Piercy, Extension safety and health specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "To prevent problems, identify electrical, chemical or fire dangers, check fire safety equipment, secure items that could shift or fall and check utilities."

Replace frayed or cracked extension and appliance cords, loose prongs and plugs and cover exposed outlets and wiring. If an extension cord is absolutely necessary, use one that is rated for the electrical load and that is no longer than needed.

Put flammable liquids such as gasoline, acetone and lacquer thinner in tightly closed, approved safety cans that are kept in a well-ventilated storage area located away from the home. Secure the containers to prevent spills.

"If you must store flammable liquids in the home, use storage cans approved by Underwriter's Laboratories (UL) or Factory Mutual (FM)," Piercy said. "Keep these materials away from heat sources, open flames, gas appliances and children. Also, keep combustible materials like paint thinner, charcoal lighter fluid and turpentine away from sources of heat. Do not store more than one gallon of flammable liquids or one-pound cylinders of LP gas in the home or attached garage."

He also strongly advised to never use gasoline for indoor cleaning. Always store oily waste and polishing cloths in covered metal cans. Also, never use flammable liquids to start fires in a fireplace or wood stove.

Piercy gave this advice when checking for fire hazards.

Clear out combustible materials such as old cloths, papers, mattresses and broken furniture. Keep clothes, curtains, cloths and paper goods away from electrical equipment and gas appliances. Heaters should be at least three feet away from combustible materials like furniture, fabrics and paper materials. Also keep candles away from curtains and other combustible materials.

Clean and repair chimneys, flue pipes, vent connectors and gas vents.

When using portable heaters, always put them on level surfaces and away from high-traffic areas. Always buy portable heaters equipped with automatic shutoff switches.

"Install at least one smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near the bedrooms," Piercy said. "Test each detector every month and change the batteries at least once a year, preferably on an annual holiday. Keep at least one ABC-type fire extinguishes on hand. Maintain and recharge the extinguisher according to the manufacturer's instructions. Be sure family members know where it is kept and how to use it."

Since items in the home can shift or fall, put large or heavy objects on lower shelves; install clips, latches or other locking devices on cabinet doors; provide strong support and flexible connections on gas appliances, including the water heater; and repair deep cracks in ceilings or foundations.

Locate the main electric fuse or circuit-breaker box, water service shutoff and natural gas main shutoff and contact the local utilities companies for instructions on how to turn these off. Teach family members when and how to turn off utilities. Clear the
area around shutoff switches for easy access and paint shutoff valves with white or fluorescent paint to increase visibility.

"To increase your family's home safety, plan an escape route in the event of an emergency with at least two exits from each room," Piercy said. "Remove obstructions from doors, hallways and stairs. Conduct emergency escape drills during the daytime and nighttime. Be sure everyone knows the location of a safe meeting place outside the home."


Writer: Ellen Brightwell 859-257-4736, ext. 257
Sources: Larry Piercy 859-257-3000, ext. 107