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Child Safety

12 Safety Devices to Protect Your Children

About 2.5 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 childsafety

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 resecure

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 online

and mailorder


Here are some childsafety

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 that 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 childresistant

packaging should be locked away out of reach; this packaging is

not childproof.

According to Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety

(IAFCS), "Installing an ineffective latch on a cabinet is not an answer for helping parents with

safety. It is important to understand parental habits and behavior. While a latch that loops

around cabinet knob covers is not expensive and easy to install, most parents do not

consistently relatch


Parents should be sure to purchase and install safety products that they will actually adapt to

and use.

2. Use safety gates to help prevent falls down stairs and to keep children away from dangerous

areas. 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 into 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.

3. Use door locks to help prevent children from entering rooms and other areas with possible

dangers, including swimming pools.




To prevent access to swimming pools, door locks on safety gates should be placed high, out of

reach of young children. Locks should be used in addition to fences and alarms. Sliding glass

doors with locks that must be resecured

after each use are often not an effective barrier to pool


Door knob covers, while inexpensive and recommended by some, are generally not effective for

children who are tall enough to reach the doorknob; a child's ingenuity and persistence can

usually trump the cover's effectiveness.

4. Use antiscald

devices for faucets and showerheads, and set your water heater temperature

to 120° F to help prevent burns from hot water. A plumber may need to install these.

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 them once a month to make sure they're working. If the detectors are batteryoperated,

replace the batteries at least once a year, or consider using 10year


6. Use window guards and safety netting to help prevent falls from windows, balconies, decks

and landings. These can help prevent serious injuries. Check these safety devices frequently to

make sure they are properly installed, secure and maintained. There should be no more than 4

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 case of a fire. Window screens are not

effective for preventing children from falling out of windows.

7. Use corner and edge bumpers to help prevent injuries from falls against the sharp edges of

furniture and fireplace hearths. Be sure to look for bumpers that stay securely attached.

8. Use receptacle or outlet covers and plates to help prevent electrical shocks 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 if they do manage to remove them.

9. Use a carbon monoxide (CO) detector outside bedrooms to 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 and those with attached garages.

10. Cut window blind cords to help prevent children from strangling in blindcord

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 the cords. Inner cord

stops can help prevent strangulation in the inner cords of window blinds.

However, the IAFCS's Ms. Driscoll states, "Cordless is best. Although not all families are able to

replace all products, it is important that parents understand that any corded blind or window

treatment can still be a hazard. Unfortunately, children are still becoming entrapped in

dangerous blind cords despite advances in safety in recent years."

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 tiedown

devices to hold the

cords tight. When buying new miniblinds, vertical blinds 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 not likely to break into small parts, which

could be a choking hazard for young children.

12. Use a cell or 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 without leaving the vicinity to answer a phone call.

Cordless phones are especially helpful when children are in or near water, whether it's in the

bathtub, the swimming pool, or at the beach.

In summary, there are a number of different safety devices that can be purchased to ensure the

safety of children in the home. Homeowners can ask their Certified Master Inspector about

these and other safety measures during their next inspection. Parents should be sure to do their

own consumer research to find the most effective safety devices for their home that are


for their children's protection, as well as affordable and compatible with their

household habits and lifestyles.

Crib Safety

Baby cribs, especially handmedown

and homemade models, can pose serious hazards to

young children, including strangulation, entrapment, and overheating. Government

manufacturing standards set in 1973 have greatly improved crib safety, yet defective cribs

continue to be responsible for the highest child injury rates of any nursery item. In fact,

approximately 50 infants each year are killed and another 9,000 are injured in cribrelated

accidents in the U.S. To prevent an avoidable tragedy, parents should check their child’s crib to

ensure against the following defects:

Screws, bolts and hardware should not be missing, broken or loose.

Slats cannot be more than 23/

8 inches apart, which is about the width of a soda can, and none

of them should be loose or broken. Older cribs are especially prone to this defect.

The corner posts cannot extend more than 1/16inch

above the headboard and footboard.

The mattress must be firm, and it should fit snugly inside the crib so that it does not easily

release from the posts. This prevents the baby from getting stuck between the mattress and the




Mobiles are for looking at, not touching. Their parts present a choking hazard and can cause the

baby to become entangled. Make sure your baby cannot reach the mobile, and when he is old

enough to crawl, the mobile should be removed from the crib. While newer mobiles are

designed so that they cannot be reached, the risks still exist for older mobiles, homemade

mobiles, and mobiles not specifically designed for cribs.

Crib Recalls

Cribs that were manufactured between 2000 and 2009 may be included in a voluntary recall

issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in June 2010. Seven firms

will provide consumers with free repair kits to remedy more than 2 million defective cribs, and

they advise consumers not to attempt to fix these cribs using homemade remedies. Consumers

should contact manufacturers directly to learn the appropriate remedy. These manufacturers are

listed below, along with the number of cribs they recalled:

40,000 to 50,000 Child CraftTM brand (now Foundations Worldwide, Inc.) stationaryside


and an unknown number of dropside


In summary, parents should ensure a safe sleeping environment for their young children by

learning about defective conditions commonly found with cribs.

Check the crib’s overall condition. Look for any sharp points or edges (such as those on

protruding rivets, nuts, bolts and knobs), and any wood surfaces that have splits, splinters or


Lead paint was outlawed in the United States in 1978, so painted cribs made before this year

should be tested for lead, or avoided altogether.

There should be no decorative cutouts in the headboard or footboard in which the baby's head

or limbs could get trapped.

Decorative knobs and corner posts should not be higher than 1/16inch

so that a baby's clothing

cannot catch on them.

The baby should sleep in a sleeper, as opposed to a blanket. Soft bedding and blankets are

suffocation hazards. They may also cause the baby to overheat, so it’s best to remove all

pillows, comforters and quilts from the crib.

If the crib has ribbons or bows, make sure they are tightly fastened, and no longer than 8


750,000 Jenny Lind dropside

cribs distributed by Evenflo, Inc.;

747,000 Delta dropside

cribs. Delta is also urging parents to check all fixed and dropside


that use wooden stabilizer bars to support the mattress. The company says that the bars can be

inadvertently installed upsidedown,

causing the mattress platform to collapse;

306,000 Bonavita, Babi Italia, and ISSI dropside

cribs manufactured by LaJobi, Inc.;

130,000 Jardine dropside

cribs imported and sold by ToysRUs®;

156,000 Million Dollar Baby dropside



50,000 Simmons® dropside

cribs; and



Furniture and TV TipOver


"A TV can be a child’s best friend, but it also can be a parent’s worst enemy,” says the mother of

a 3yearold

who was crushed by a television, according to the Consumer Product Safety

Commission (CPSC). The watchdog organization recently published an 18year

study on the

dangers of furniture tipovers,

including startling findings that should be heeded by parents.

Here are some facts and figures from the CPSC study:

In 2006, Pier 1 Imports® announced the recall 4,300 TV stands after one of them was involved

in the accidental death of a child in Canada.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has established standards for

manufacturers that stipulate that dressers, chests of drawers, and armoires should be able to

remain upright when any doors or all drawers are open twothirds

of the way, or when one

drawer or door is opened and 50 pounds of weight are applied to the front, simulating a climbing

child. In addition, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) requires units to be able to remain upright

when placed on a 10degree

angle with 70 pounds on top to simulate the weight of a television.

The ASTM and UL standards are voluntary, however, and many manufacturers cut corners to

save money. And, despite efforts by the CPSC to enforce these standards, substandard

furniture is still regularly sold at retail stores.

From 1990 to 2007, an average of nearly 15,000 children under 18 visited emergency rooms

each year for injuries received from furniture tipovers.

The number shows a 40% increase in

injury reports over the duration of the study, hinting that the problem is growing worse. About

300 fatalities were reported.

Most injuries happened to children 6 and under, and resulted from televisions tipping over.

The most severe injuries were head injuries and suffocation resulting from entrapment.

More than 25% of the injuries occurred when children pulled over or climbed on furniture.

Most of the injured children were males under 7 who suffered blows to the head.

The newer flatscreen

TVs are not as frontheavy

as the older, traditional TV sets, which means

they may be less likely to tip over. Experts warn, however, that flatscreen

TVs are still heavy to

children, and they often have sharp, dangerous edges.



Parents can minimize the risks posed to their children from furniture tipovers

by practicing the

following strategies:

Read the owners’ manuals and manufacturers’ instructions for your TV and furniture to learn

about additional tips and hazards regarding their proper assembly and placement.

In summary, TVs and furniture can easily tip over and crush a small child if safety practices are

not followed by parents.




brackets are metal devices designed to prevent freestanding ranges from tipping. They

are normally attached to a rear leg of the range or screwed into the wall behind the range, and

are included in all installation kits. A unit that is not equipped with these devices may tip over if

enough weight is applied to its open door, such as that from a large Thanksgiving turkey, or

even a small child. A falling range can crush, scald, or burn anyone caught beneath.

Bracket Inspection

Homeowners can confirm the presence of antitip

brackets through the following methods:

Supervise young children at all times.

Place televisions low to the floor and near the very back of their stands.

Strap televisions and furniture to the wall with heavy safety straps or Lbrackets.

Many of these

devices do not require that any holes be drilled into furniture, and they can secure items up to

100 pounds.

Heavy items, such as televisions, should be placed far back on a dresser rather than at the front

edge, which would shift the center of gravity forward and make the whole assembly more likely

to tip over. Ideally, the center of gravity for furniture should be as low as possible, with the

furniture placed back against a wall.

Only purchase furniture that has a solid base, wide legs, and otherwise feels stable.

Install drawer stops that prevent drawers from opening to their full extent, as a full extension can

cause a dangerous forwardshift

in the center of gravity.

Keep heavier items on lower shelves and in lower drawers.

Never place items that may be attractive to children, such as toys, candy, or a remote control,

on the top of a TV or piece of furniture that poses a tipover


Do not place heavy televisions on dressers or shelving units that were not designed to support

such weight.

Place electrical cords out of the reach of children, and teach kids not to play with them. A cord

can be used to inadvertently pull a TV, and perhaps its supporting shelf, onto a child.



Homeowners can firmly grip the upperrear

section of the range and tip the unit. If equipped with

an antitip

bracket, the unit will not tip more than several inches before coming to a halt. The

range should be turned off, and all items should be removed from the stovetop before this action

is performed. It is usually easier to detect a bracket by tipping the range than through a visual

search. This test can be performed on all models and it can confirm the functionality of a


If no antitip

bracket is detected, homeowners should have them installed. They can contact the

dealer or builder who installed their range and request that they install a bracket. If homeowners

wish to install a bracket themselves, the part can be purchased at most hardware stores or

ordered from a manufacturer. General Electric will send their customers an antitip

bracket for


According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), there were 143 incidents

caused by range tipovers

from 1980 to 2006. Of the 33 incidents that resulted in death, most of

those victims were children. A small child may stand on an open range door in order to see what

is cooking on the stovetop and accidentally cause the entire unit to fall on top of him, along with

whatever hot items may have been cooking on the stovetop. The elderly, too, may be injured

while using the range for support while cleaning. Homeowners should never leave the oven

door open while the oven is unattended.

In response to this danger, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) created standards in 1991 that require all ranges manufactured

after that year to be capable of remaining stable while supporting 250 pounds of weight on their

open doors. Manufacturers' instructions, too, require that antitip

brackets provided be installed.

Despite these warnings, retail giant Sears estimated in 1999 that a mere 5% of the gas and

electric units they sold were ever equipped with antitip

brackets. As a result of Sears’ failure to

comply with safety regulations, they were sued and subsequently required to secure ranges in

nearly 4 million homes, a measure that has been speculated to have cost the company as much

as $500 million.

In summary, ranges are susceptible to tipping and causing grave injury, especially to children, if

they are not secured with antitip


It may be possible to see a wallmounted

bracket by looking over the rear of the range. Floormounted

brackets are often hidden, although in some models with removable drawers, such as


electric ranges made by General Electric, the drawers can be removed and a flashlight

can be used to search for the bracket. Homeowners should beware that a visual confirmation

does not guarantee that the bracket has been properly installed.



Window Falls

Every year, roughly 2.5 million children in the United States are treated for fallrelated


Of these, falls from windows tend to be the most serious and fatal, especially among male

toddlers. Older children are more likely to be seriously injured by window falls as summer

approaches and they spend more time around the home. This problem is heightened by the fact

that windows are left open for ventilation more often during the summer months than the rest of

the year.

Tips for Homeowners:

Windows that are low to the floor may be particularly easy for young children to operate.

In summary, homeowners can protect their children from window falls by learning some basic

facts about window safety.

Safety Glass

Safety glass is a stronger, safer version of ordinary glass. It is often used in locations where

harm due to breakage is likely, such as in cars and low windows.

It is found in the following two forms:

When ventilation is not needed, windows should be closed and locked.

Windows can be equipped with window guards to prevent children from falling out. In some

jurisdictions, such as New York City, window guards are required in apartments where children

reside. These devices are constructed of horizontal bars spaced close enough together so that

a 5inch

ball cannot pass through. Proper window guard placement can be determined by the

local building code official or the local fire department. Window guards should include a quickrelease

mechanism to allow for a rapid exit in case of an emergency, such as a fire.

Furniture that children can climb, such as dressers, beds and toy chests, should be kept away

from windows.

Window screens are designed to keep insects outside of the house and should not be relied

upon to keep children from falling out of windows.

Shrubs, wood chips, grass and other soft materials may be strategically placed beneath

windows in order to lessen the degree of injury sustained from falls.

Children’s play areas should be kept away from open windows.

If possible, ventilation should come from the upper sash of a doublehung

window rather than

the lower sash, which may be more accessible to a child.

Laminated safety glass is commonly found in car windshields. It is produced by bonding a resin

or a thin, transparent plastic film, known as PVB, between multiple sheets of ordinary glass.

When shattered, this type of glass will adhere to the plastic sheet and be held in place.



Tempered safety glass fractures parallel to its edge rather than perpendicular, and when it

shatters, it breaks into small, rounded, generally safe pieces. It is created by heating glass to a

high temperature and then rapidly cooling it to produce compression stress fractures on the

surface, while retaining tension in the center. The glass is several times stronger as a result of

the process, and it can withstand significantly higher temperatures. Tempered safety glass is

commonly found in rear and side car windows, computer monitors, and storm doors. Unlike

laminated safety glass, it cannot be customcut

once it is formed.

Where in a home might you find it?

Laminated glass may sometimes be found in shower enclosures, but it’s generally uncommon in

homes. Tempered glass appears more often and can be found in storm doors, skylights, sliding

glass doors, and unsafe locations. Safety glass should be found in locations considered to be,

according to the 2006 version of the International Residential Code (IRC), “subject to human

impact.” It describes these locations, as well as their exceptions, in “R308.4 – Hazardous

locations” under “Section R308 – Glazing” as the following:

R308.4: The Following Shall Be Considered Specific Hazardous Locations for the Purposes of


1. Glazing in swinging doors except jalousies. 2. Glazing in fixed and sliding panels of sliding

door assemblies, and panels in sliding and bifold

closet door assemblies. 3. Glazing in storm doors. 4. Glazing in all unframed swinging

doors. 5. Glazing in doors and enclosures for hot tubs, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms,

bathtubs, and

showers. Glazing in any part of a building wall enclosing these compartments where the bottom

exposed edge of the glazing is less than 60 inches measured vertically above any standing or

walking surface. 6. Glazing in an individual fixed or operable panel adjacent to a door where the

nearest vertical

edge is within a 24inch

arc of the door in a closed position and whose bottom edge is less than

60 inches above the floor or walking surface. 7. Glazing in an individual fixed or operable panel,

other than those locations described in Items 5

and 6 above, that meets all of the following conditions: 7.1. Exposed area of an individual pane

larger than 9 square feet. 7.2. Bottom edge less than 18 inches above the floor. 7.3. Top edge

more than 36 inches above the floor. 7.4. One or more walking surfaces within 36 inches

horizontally of the glazing. 8. All glazing in railings regardless of an area or height above a

walking surface. Included are

structural baluster panels and nonstructural infill panels. 9. Glazing in walls and fences

enclosing indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hot tubs, and spas

where the bottom edge of the glazing is less than 60 inches above a walking surface and within

60 inches horizontally of the water’s edge. This shall apply to single glazing and all panes in

multiple glazing.

Laminated safety glass is effective in blocking most ultraviolet radiation, as well as sound, and


it’s also used in cutting boards, thermometers, and bulletresistant

bank windows.



10. Glazing adjacent to stairways, landings and ramps within 36 inches horizontally of a walking

surface when the exposed surface of the glass is less than 60 inches above the plane of the

adjacent walking surface. 11. Glazing adjacent to stairways within 60 inches horizontally of the

bottom tread of a stairway in

any direction when the exposed surface of the glass is less than 60 inches above the nose of

the tread.

Exception: The following products, materials and uses are exempt from the above hazardous


1. Openings in doors through which a 3inch

sphere is unable to pass. 2. Glazing in Section

R308.4, Items 1, 6, or 7, in decorative glass. 3. Glazing in Section R308.4, Item 6, when there is

an intervening wall or other permanent barrier

between the door and the glazing. 4. Glazing in Section R308.4, Item 6, in walls

perpendicular to the plane of the door in a closed

position, other than the wall toward which the door swings when opened, or where access

through the door is to a closet or storage area 3 feet or less in depth. Glazing in these

applications shall comply with Section R308.4, Item 7. 5. Glazing in Section R308.4, Items 7

and 10, when a protective bar is installed on the accessible

side(s) of the glazing 36 inches ± 2 inches above the floor. The bar shall be capable of

withstanding a horizontal load of 50 pounds per linear foot without contacting the glass and be a

minimum of 11/

2 inches in height. 6. Outboard panes in insulating glass units and other

multiple glazed panels in Section R308.4, Item

7, when the bottom edge of the glass is 25 feet or more above grade, a roof, walking surface, or

other horizontal surfaces within 45 degrees of a horizontal surface adjacent to the glass exterior.

7. Louvered windows and jalousies complying with the requirements of Section R308.2. 8.

Mirrors and other glass panels mounted or hung on a surface that provides a continuous


support. 9. Safety glazing in Section R308.4, Items 10 and 11, is not required where:

9.1. the side of a stairway, landing or ramp has a guardrail or handrail, including balusters or infill

panels, complying with the provisions of the handrail and guardrail requirements; and 9.2.

the plane of the glass is more than 18 inches from the railing; or 9.3. when a solid wall or panel

extends from the plane of the adjacent walking surface to 34 inches to 36 inches above the floor

and the construction at the top of that wall or panel is capable of withstanding the same

horizontal load as the protective bar. 10. Glass block panels complying with Section R610.

How do you identify safety glass?

If safety glass is not specifically labeled as such, there are often signs that aid in its

identification. Unfortunately, it may be impossible to identify ordinary glass with certainty without

breaking it.

According to the IRC, tempered glass must contain an identifying label. It states that a label


must be “acidetched,

sandblasted, ceramicfired,


embossed, or be of a type

which, once applied, cannot be removed without being destroyed.” Tempered spandrel glass,

an opaque glass found in commercial curtain walls, is exempt from this rule because an etched

label can cause the entire panel to fracture.



Of multipane assemblies containing safety glass, the IRC states the following:

R308.1.1 Identification of multipane assemblies. Multipane assemblies having individual panes

not exceeding 1 square foot in exposed area shall have at least one pane in the assembly

identified in accordance with Section R308.1. All other panes in the assembly shall be labeled


Section R308.1 details identification as follows:

R308.1 Identification. Except as indicated in Section R308.1.1, each pane of glazing installed in

hazardous locations as defined in Section R308.4 shall be provided with a manufacturer's or

installer’s label designating the type and thickness of glass and the safety glazing standard with

which it complies, which is visible in the final installation. The label shall be acidetched,

sandblasted, ceramicfired,


or shall be of a type which, once applied, cannot

be removed without being destroyed.


laws similarly require a permanent label on most or all safety glass. In the UK,

for instance, tempered glass must include a “T,” and laminated glass must include an “L.” New

Zealand requires, according to Clause 303.7 of NZS 4223:Part3:1999, that all safety glass have

a label at the bottom that includes the following information:

(a) the name and registered trademark or code of the manufacturer or supplier; (b) the type of

safety glazing material. This may be in the form of a code, such as “T” for toughened

glass, or “L” for laminated glass, as indicated by the relevant test Standard (refer to AS/NZS

2208); (c) the Standard to which the safety glazing material has been tested, e.g. AS/NZS 2208;

(d) if applicable, the classification relating to impact test behaviour, i.e., A for Grade A, B for

Grade B, or

C for Grade C.

Laminated safety glass is often labeled, although codes do not always require it to be. An easy

way to tell if unlabeled glass is laminated is by examining the reflection of your hand or some

other object. As there are two pieces of glass, you should see two different images, but you

must be careful not to confuse them with the inner and outer surfaces of a single sheet of

ordinary glass. Laminated glass is also slightly thicker than ordinary glass, although this

difference is difficult to discern without the aid of very precise measuring instruments.

Tempered glass can also be identified through polarized glasses when viewed from an angle.

Black lines, a result of the heating and cooling process, should appear as your angle from the

glass surface increases and you approach the glass’s side.

When uncertain, homeowners should always assume that glass is not safety glass.


Windows and Stairs

The number one hazard for children is falls, which are the leading cause of nonfatal

injuries for

children in the U.S. About 8,000 youngsters wind up in emergency rooms every day for injuries

related to falling, adding up to almost 2.8 million per year. With those statistics in mind, it is

worth looking at what can be done to prevent such injuries in the home.




In trying to fathom how so many children can be injured on a daily basis from something as

simple as slipping and falling, we need to consider an important factor, which is height.

Oftentimes, when observing small children at play, we are amazed at their dexterity and ability

to take what looks like a fairly serious tumble and hop right back up, unfazed. Likewise, a slip or

fall for most adults, more often than not, leads to little more than a poorly chosen expletive being

uttered. However, imagine a small child falling a distance equivalent to the average height of an

adult, and we begin to see where the danger lies. With this to consider, let’s take a closer look

at two of the most important areas to childproof in a home: windows and staircases.


The first thing that probably comes to mind when examining child safety in relation to stairways

and staircases is a safety gate, and with good reason: falling down stairs can be a serious

hazard for an infant or toddler who is just learning to navigate his or her surroundings. When

properly installed, highquality

safety gates can help eliminate this possibility.

Safety Gates

A safety gate is a gate that is temporarily installed in a door or stairway. It allows adults to

unlock and pass, but small children will be unable to open it. There are two basic types of gates

which differ in the way they are installed. The first type is a pressuremounted

gate. These

safety gates are fixed in place by pressure against walls or a doorway. They can be used in

doorways between rooms, such as for keeping crawling babies out of a kitchen during cooking,

but they are not suitable for keeping kids out of other areas, such as the top of a stairway,

where falling could be a risk.

The other type of safety gate, which is recommended specifically for stairways, is


These gates mount solidly in place with screws but are still easily

removable for times when they are unnecessary. A hardwaremounted

safety gate will prevent

small children from entering stairways where accidents could occur.

When choosing a safety gate, you can refer to established ASTM standards for these products,

and some manufacturers also participate in a certification program administered by the Juvenile

Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA). Any gate you choose should meet the ASTM

standards, which will ensure that the gate itself poses no hazard to the child. Products that

comply with these standards have a sticker on the packaging or on the unit itself.


For parents of children who have outgrown the need for safety gates but are still small and

curious, especially those prone to climbing on things, baluster spacing on the handrail becomes

a concern. A stairway with four or more risers should have a continuous handrail not lower than

34 inches or taller than 38 inches on at least one side, with balustrades not more than 4 inches

apart from each other. If there are spaces between vertical rails or risers that will allow an object

larger than 4 inches to pass between them, this should be considered a safety hazard to a child

who may try to climb on the railing and may get stuck between the balusters or spaces between

the railing and risers.





If the dangers associated with falling are compounded by the height of the fall, then windows

can present an even greater concern than stairways. It is estimated that more than 4,000

children are treated every year in emergency rooms for injuries sustained by falling from

windows. There have been at least 120 such deaths reported since 1990. Risk of injury from


accidents in the home can be minimized by addressing several common issues.

The first and simplest thing to do is to ensure that there is no furniture situated in areas that

would make it easy for a child to reach and open or close a window. Any furniture a child could

potentially climb on should be moved away from windows.

Latches, Stops and Guards

As children begin to grow to heights where they may be able to access windows from a standing

position, it is important to install secure, childproof

latches. There are many types of window

latches that, similar to safety gates, will allow an adult to easily open and close the windows, but

will prevent kids from doing the same.

Also available are window stops, which will not allow the window to be opened wider than a predetermined

width. The recommended opening, similar to balustrade spacing, should not exceed

4 inches. This eliminates the possibility of a child or one of his limbs to pass through. These

stops are easily removable by an adult whenever necessary.

An additional option to consider is a window guard. A window guard can be vertical or

horizontal. It attaches to a frame and can be removed by an adult, but will deter a child. Guards

have some form of bars or beams across them, which should be no more than 4 inches apart.

Window guards maintain the functionality of the window while ensuring a child’s safety when the

window is open. However, even with a guard installed, kids should not be allowed to play

around windows, whether they are open or



closed. Try to open windows only from the top, if possible. And never rely on window screens to

keep a child from falling through the window, as that is not the function they are designed for.

With some foresight, a few clever and fairly inexpensive products, and proper adherence to

building codes, the risk of injury from falling can be successfully minimized. Your Certified

Master Inspector® can assess the safety issues in your home and advise you on the most

effective childproofing measures to keep your family safe.

Garage Doors and Openers

Garage doors are large, springsupported

doors. Garage door openers control the opening and

closing of garage doors, either through a wallmounted

switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the

strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective

over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as

well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.

The following facts demonstrate the dangers posed by garage doors:

Garage doors are typically among the heaviest moving objects in the home and are held under

high tension.

Injuries caused by garage doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits

annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although

severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed

since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.



Methods for testing the automatic reverse system:

1. This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and

applying upward resistance. Homeowners should use caution while performing this test

because they may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.

2. Some sources recommend placing a 2x4 piece of wood on the ground beneath the door,

although there have been instances where this testing method has damaged the door or door

opener components.

3. Using a supplemental automaticreverse

system. Garage doors manufactured in the U.S.


1992 must be equipped with photoelectric sensors or a door edge sensor, such as the following:

a. Photoelectric

eyes (also known as photoelectric

sensors) are located at the base of

each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will

cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors

must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the standing surface.

b. A door edge sensor is a pressuresensitive

strip installed at the base of the garage door. If it

senses pressure from an object while the door is closing, it will cause the door to reverse. Door

edge sensors are not as common in garage door systems as photoelectric


Safety Advice for Homeowners:

The automatic reversal system may need to be adjusted for cold temperatures, since the

flexibility of the springs is affected by temperature. This adjustment can be made from a dial on

the garage door opener, which should be changed only by a trained garage door technician.

In summary, garage doors and their openers can be hazardous if certain components are

missing or defective, or if people fail to use caution while around them during operation.

Homeowners should not attempt to adjust or repair springs themselves. The springs are held

under extremely high tension and can snap suddenly and forcefully, causing serious or fatal


No one should stand or walk beneath a garage door while it is in motion. Adults should set an

example for children and teach them about garage door safety. Children should not be

permitted to operate the garage door opener push button and should be warned against

touching any of the door’s moving parts.

Fingers and hands should be kept away from pulleys, hinges, springs, and the intersecting

points between door panels. Closing doors can very easily crush body parts that get between




Trampoline Safety

While healthpromoting

and fun, trampolines can also be dangerous when they're misused or if

they're poorly designed.

Facts and Figures

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that home trampolines not be used at all.

Parents may consider other forms of activity for their children to enjoy, or visit a commercial

trampoline park, whose standards for construction must follow strict safety guidelines.

Trampoline users should practice the following safety tips in order to avoid injury:

Leave the gymnastics to the professionals. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

cautions against performing somersaults on trampolines because landing on the head or neck

can cause an injury resulting in paralysis. The user should never attempt maneuvers beyond

their capability or training.

In addition to safe behavior, trampolines can be arranged to limit the chance of injury

using these guidelines:

The first modern trampoline was constructed in 1936 by University of Iowa gymnasts George

Nissen and Larry Griswold. Trampolinelike

devices have been in use for centuries, however,

such as walrus skins used by the Inuit to toss each other into the air.

According to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS), an average of 246,875

trampoline injuries that require medical treatment occur annually in the U.S. Of this total, the

majority 186,405


among children ages 14 and younger. The most common injuries

resulting in hospitalization include fractures to the upper and lower extremities. Catastrophic

spine injuries are rare, but head and neck injuries constitute a large portion of the more serious

reported injuries.

Most reported injuries and deaths are caused by children colliding with each other, landing

improperly while jumping or doing stunts, falling off the trampoline, or falling on the trampoline

springs or frame.

Allow only one person on the trampoline at a time.

Use a trampoline that is located in a welllit


Children should never be allowed to jump onto the trampoline from higher objects, such as a

tree or roof.

Always supervise children who use the trampoline, and never allow a child under the age of 6 to

use a fullsize


Install a surrounding net. These nets have been shown to reduce the number of injuries from

falls off the trampoline, although they are no substitute for supervision, and they do not protect

against injuries sustained on the trampoline, according to the Foundation for Spinal Cord Injury


Safety pads should cover all portions of the steel frame, hooks and springs.


Never place the trampoline on concrete or asphalt. It’s wise to apply wood chips or some other

soft surface to the surroundings beneath it.



Do not attach a ladder to the trampoline because it can provide unsupervised access for small


Trampolines and Homeowners Insurance

Trampolines are considered by insurance companies to be an "attractive nuisance" something

that invites trespassers – and, as such, insurers don't automatically provide coverage for them

in their homeowners policies. No matter what signs are posted or gates erected, there is always

a possibility that a neighborhood child will trespass, get injured on the trampoline, and sue you

in court.

Mary Kaderbek of Allstate® Insurance reminds homeowners that "owning a trampoline can

affect your homeowners insurance," so they should check their policies or give their agents a

call before purchasing one.

Most insurers handle trampolines in one of three ways:

Trampoline Exclusion: The most restrictive clause, this means that trampolines are excluded

from your homeowners coverage, so any damage or injury caused by anyone (invited or not)

who uses a trampoline on the insured property is not covered. Furthermore, if a homeowner

purchases a trampoline after purchasing the policy, the policy may not be automatically


In summary, trampolines can cause bodily harm and

financial hardship if

not used

responsibly. And, as with any major purchase for the home, homeowners should check with

their insurance carrier to find out what kind of liability they may face by setting up a trampoline in

their yard.

Never install a trampoline near structures, power lines, clotheslines, trees, or anything else that

may contact a bouncing child.

The trampoline should be regularly inspected for tears, rust, and detachments.

Safety harnesses and spotting belts, when appropriately used, may offer additional protection

for athletes practicing more challenging skills on the trampoline.

Trampolines that are set over pits so that the mat is at ground level may be safer because the

user will not fall as far if they miss the pad.

No Exclusions: This means that there are no restrictions on owning or using a trampoline on the

covered property. While it may be the most desirable coverage, it may not be a standard

offering by your insurer.

Coverage with Safety Precautions: This type of coverage is for trampolines that have safety

features installed, such as padded coverings for springs, a netting enclosure, a locking yard

gate, etc.



Tree Swings

A tree swing (or a rope swing or tire swing) is composed of a single rope or chain attached to a

high tree branch, along with a seat, which is typically a wooden plank or tire. For many

homeowners, tree swings represent fond childhood memories, but this type of DIY play

equipment is too often poorly constructed by nonprofessional

builders for their children who can

be unaware of the potential dangers.

Consider some recent tragedies. In 2010, a British girl enjoying her tree swing was killed when

she was pinned to the ground by the falling silver birch, which is a tree species considered

unsuitable for tree swings. That same year, an unsupervised boy accidentally hanged himself

when he became tangled in the tree swing’s rope. Children are also killed or injured when ropes

snap or hanger brackets dislodge. An article in the journal Pediatrics stated that “recreational,


tree swing injuries among children resulted in significant morbidity, regardless of the

height of the fall. This activity carries a substantial risk for serious injury.”

To prevent accidents, homeowners can learn about what goes into a properly installed tree

swing, and how to inspect them for potential hazards.

Tree Inspection

A sturdy tree is a must for a safe tree swing, but this consideration may be overlooked on

properties that lack a variety of healthy trees from which to choose. Also, homeowners should

remember that while trees appear stationary, they are actually alive and constantly, albeit

slowly, growing and changing shape. As such, branches will “absorb” hanger brackets, and

overhead branches will become brittle, gradually transforming what was once a properly

installed tree swing into one that is no longer safe to use.

Check for the following indications that the tree will pose dangers to the user:

Inappropriate tree choice. According to London Play, an organization that promotes outdoor

exercise for children, beech, oak, sycamore and Norway maple are suitable for rope swings,

while pine, poplar, spruce, willow and silver birch should be avoided. Cherry, cedar and ash can

be used only when their limbs are large and the tree is in good condition.

The branch is too thin. The branch’s minimum thickness depends on the tree species, but, in

general, it should be at least 8 inches thick.

Bulges, cracks, or unusual swelling. These tree defects often lead to limb failure. If possible, the

candidate limb should be inspected from above as well as from the ground.

Decay, fungus, or signs of hollowing within the tree. Dead wood is often dry and brittle and

cannot bend in the wind under the stresses of the weight of a swinging child. Strike the tree at

different points with a hammer to test for the sound of hollowing.




Power Lines

Despite what we know about power line dangers for residential homes and commercial

structures, homeowners sometimes build treehouses near power lines, perhaps due to space

constraints. This situation increases the likelihood that children will be electrocuted or burned in

a tragic treehouse fire, as it becomes quite easy for them to climb onto the power lines or

deliberately touch them with sticks or poles. The wind may also cause the branches to contact

the power lines. Some utility companies instruct their workers to flag treehouses that are

dangerously close to power lines. Homeowners are then notified and, depending on the

company, the tree may be either pruned or removed.

In addition to power lines, treehouses should not be built near or over a cliff, a busy road, or

dangerous water features.


The Forestry Commission of England offers the following treehouse safety guidelines (their

code is in italics):

Is there a railing? According to The Black and Decker Complete Guide: Build Your Kids a

Treehouse, railings should be at lest 36 inches tall with vertical balusters no more than 4 inches

apart. On treehouses designed for small children, rope or cable should not be used for the

balusters. Horizontal balusters are dangerous because children use them to climb.

Advice for Homeowners

Fall height. The fall height from the treehouse should not be greater than 2 meters unless the

structure has good protection against falls, such as railings or other edge protection.

Fall zone. The fall zone around the treehouse should be free of any pointed stumps, sharp or

large rocks, or dangerous waste, such as sharp metal. Normal vegetation cover, saplings and

bushes are not a problem. Wood chips make a good groundcover beneath the treehouse.

Access. Access to the treehouse needs to be checked. If a rope or rope ladder is provided, then


capacity should be checked by giving the rope a ‘good pull’ with feet firmly on

the ground. Wooden ladders are better than rope ladders, which are less stable and pose a

strangulation risk.

Structure. Structure should be checked to ensure that collapse is not likely. This should be done

in a safe manner from outside the structure [while] wearing safety helmet. If ladders are used to

access the structure, then working at height regulations should be followed. Also, inspect the

tree, as well as neighboring trees, for evidence of weakness, fungus and decay.

Snag hazards. Inspect for rough, splintered areas that can be sanded down, and for nails

sticking out that may be replaced with screws.

Inspect for loose and rotten boards.

Check your homeowners insurance policy or give your agent a call to find out what kind of

liability you may face by building a treehouse on your property. It may range from full coverage

to no coverage at all, including having your policy's renewal revoked if you build one.


Restrict access to the treehouse, especially if you live in a neighborhood with a lot of children.

You may be held responsible if a trespassing child is injured in your treehouse.

Treehouses allow children privacy and freedom, which can be healthy, but keep an eye out for

antisocial activities, such as drug use.



Post a list of safety rules for the children to learn, and make sure they follow them.

In summary, treehouses pose some unique risks that can be mitigated with regular inspection

and common sense.

Ladders and Stairways

Ladder Safety

A ladder is a structure designed for climbing that consists of two long sidepieces

joined at

uniform intervals by rungs or steps. It's important to use the right tool for the job, and that

includes ladders, which come in different types and sizes for different applications. It's also

important to exercise extreme caution while using a ladder, as a fall from a ladder can lead to

serious injury and even death.

Some common causes of ladder injuries include:


while climbing or descending.

Statistics Concerning Ladder Dangers

If the treehouse borders a neighbor’s house, it may cause a nuisance. Children might need to

keep their voices down and be respectful.

Is the treehouse not on your property? Build treehouses on public land at your own risk, as the

project may be illegal. Also, the treehouse and children's activity may disrupt the enjoyment of

others, or negatively impact nature conservation areas.

Never allow children in the treehouse during inclement weather, especially if you hear thunder.

Construct a pulleyandbucket

system for hauling items up to reduce the chance of fall or injury

that can occur when climbing while carrying items.

Restrict the number of children allowed in the treehouse at one time.

mounting or dismounting the ladder improperly;

losing one's balance;

failing to set up the ladder properly;


while on the ladder; and

According to the World Health Organization, the United States leads the world in ladder deaths.

Each year, there are more than 164,000 emergency roomtreated

injuries and 300 deaths in the

U.S. that are caused by falls from ladders.

Most ladder deaths are from falls of 10 feet or less.

Falls from ladders are the leading cause of deaths on construction sites.

Over the past decade, the number of people who have died from falls from ladders has tripled.

Falls from ladders are the leading cause of ladderrelated

injuries, followed by using a ladder

improperly, using a faulty or defective ladder, and simple carelessness.




Some basic safety tips will help prevent injuries. And safety begins with understanding the types

of ladders available and their common uses.

Ladder Types

According to the American Ladder Institute, there are seven common types of ladders:

1. a step ladder, which is a selfsupporting


that is not adjustable in length, with a hinged design for ease of storage; 2. a single ladder,

which is a nonselfsupporting

ladder that is not adjustable in length, consisting of one section. This type of ladder is rarely

used anymore because extension ladders are used instead; 3. an extension ladder, which is a


ladder that is adjustable in length. It consists of two or more sections that

travel in guides or brackets arranged so as to permit length adjustment; 4. an articulated ladder,

which has one or more pairs of locking articulated joints, allowing the ladder to be set up in

several different configurations. It may be used as a step ladder or single ladder; 5. a tripod

ladder, which has one leg opposite the

rungs and is handy for applications where more support is desired than that provided by an

extension ladder but where space to set up the ladder may be limited; 6. a trestle ladder, which

is a combination of a step ladder with a single extension ladder that can

be raised through the top; and 7. a telescoping ladder, which uses a pin system to

"telescope" into variable lengths. As it is more

portable than the extension ladder, it is often preferred over that design for indoor applications.

Homeowners should be aware that accidents have happened due to failure of the pins, which

can be difficult to detect in advance. Some people refuse to use telescoping ladders for this



Ladder levels attached to the bottom of the side rails can provide stability and support on

uneven surfaces, but the use of these devices should be limited to people whose expertise and

confidence in ladder use is advanced. For most users, placing the ladder on a flat, even surface

is the safest method.

If it's not possible to safely brace an extension ladder against a stable or level surface at the top,

a straight ladder stabilizer can be used for this purpose.



Safety Tips for Homeowners


drop or throw a ladder, or allow it to fall, which can create a hazard for others, as well as

damage the ladder.

Before mounting a ladder, always check the following:

leave a raised ladder unattended. Ladders that are not in use should be laid on the ground or

put away;

place a ladder in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded;

place a ladder on an unstable or uneven surface;

use a ladder for any purpose other than the one for which it was designed. Many homeowners

and even professionals sometimes use an extension ladder as a ramp between two points or as

a shelf to hold materials and supplies, and what may seem convenient in a pinch may lead to an

accident or injury;

tie or fasten ladders together to provide longer sections, unless they are specifically designed

for that purpose;

use a ladder in windy conditions;

use a ladder if you're not fully alert and physically able;

skip any rungs while climbing or descending;

bounce on any rungs;

use a ladder that has been exposed to fire or strong chemicals, as these conditions may leave

residual damage or corrosion, which cannot be detected during use;

exceed the maximum load rating. The maximum load rating, which should be found on a highly

visible label on the ladder, is the maximum intended load that the ladder is designed to carry.

Duty ratings are Type lll, ll, l, lA and 1B, which correspond to maximum load capacities of 220,

225, 250, 300 and 350 pounds, respectively. Homeowners should know the duty rating of the

ladder they are using, as well as the combined weight of themselves and their tools;

use a step ladder in the closed or partially closed position, or use it by leaning it against a wall;

sit on any rung, including the top;

climb past the fourth rung from the top on a leaning ladder, or the second rung from the top on a

step ladder. Never use the top step;

pull, lean, stretch, or make any sudden moves. Overreaching

is the most common and

dangerous form of ladder misuse;

climb a ladder while holding tools or other items. Both hands are required for safe climbing and


pull or push any items while ascending or descending. Always wait until you're at the top or


bottom of your working point to hoist or lower items;

step on the rear section of a step ladder or the underside of an extension ladder;

paint a wooden ladder, as this can conceal cracks and other damage that would require

repairing or replacing the ladder; or

that the ladder, steps and rungs are free of oil, grease, wet paint, and other slipping hazards;

that the feet work properly and have slipresistant

pads. These pads become worn over time

and may need to be replaced. On extension ladders, the rubber pads can be turned around to

reveal metal spurs, which can be used to secure the ladder in soft surfaces, such as grass or


that rung locks and spreader braces are working;



that someone knows where you are. Accidents can and do happen in remote areas where cell

phones are ineffective and no one is home. If you are injured under these conditions, no one will

know you are hurt and need help.

While on the ladder, always:

that all moveable parts operate freely without binding or excessive play;

that all bolts and rivets are secure;

that ropes aren't frayed or excessively worn;

that the ground under the ladder is level and firm. Large, flat, wooden boards braced under the

ladder can level a ladder on uneven or soft ground. Also, some companies make leveling

devices so that ladders can be used on uneven and hilly terrain;

that the ladder's rungs, cleats or steps are parallel, level, and uniformly spaced when the ladder

is in position for use. Rungs should be spaced between 10 and 14 inches apart;

that the ladder is anchored. The base can be tied to a nearby sturdy object, such as a pole or a

building. If no anchor is available, a stake can be driven into the ground. Homeowners should

beware not to anchor their ladders to something that can impale them if they were to fall on it,

such as a grounding rod. A 10inch

nail, hammered so as to leave only an inch or two exposed,

is usually safe and effective;

that the area around the ladder is roped off or barricaded;

for any cracks, bends, splits and corrosion;

the location of nearby power lines. If setting up a ladder near them or other types of electrical

equipment is unavoidable, use a wooden or fiberglass ladder rather than a metal ladder, which

can conduct electricity and lead to a shock or electrocution. Do not allow your ladder to make

contact with any overhead wires, regardless of the type or whether they're live, as it is not

always possible to confirm their status;

the distance of nonselfsupporting

ladders from the structure. This type of ladder must lean

against a wall or other support, so they should be positioned at such an angle that the horizontal

distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is about onequarter

or at a 4:1 angle of

the working length of the ladder. A rough method to test this angle is by placing your toes at the

base of the ladder and stretching your arm at shoulder height. Your hand should just touch the


that the ladder has slipresistant


that the ladder is the proper length for the job. Ladders should extend a minimum of 3 feet over

the roofline or working surface;

the locking devices. Step ladders must have a metal spreader or locking device to hold the front

and back sections in an open position when in use; and

face the ladder;

wear securefitting

footwear that’s free of mud and other substances that may cause you to slip;


consider anchoring the top of the ladder with a bungee cord. Perhaps the most feared move is

stepping back onto the ladder from the roof. You must step around the section of the ladder that

extends above the roofline, placing lateral pressure on the rung as you make contact with the

ladder. A bungee cord is a convenient tool that can be used to reduce any wavering that could

otherwise result in a serious accident. Also, a bungee cord may prevent the ladder from being

blown over in the wind while you’re on the roof;



utilize at least three points of contact, because this minimizes the chances of slipping and falling

from the ladder. At all times during ascent or descent, the climber must face the ladder and

have two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, in contact with the ladder cleats and/or

side rails. In this way, the climber is unlikely to become unstable if one limb slips during the

climb. It is important to note that the climber must not carry any objects in either hand that can

interfere with a firm grip on the ladder.

Always use proper mounting hardware on vehicles used to transport ladders, and follow

precautionary measures if your ladder exceeds the length of your vehicle so that you don't

cause an accident or violate any traffic codes.

Attic PullDown


Attic pulldown

ladders, also called attic pulldown

stairways, are collapsible ladders that are

permanently attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their attics

without being required to carry a portable ladder.

Common Defects

Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually install attic pulldown

ladders. Evidence of

this distinction can be observed in consistently shoddy and dangerous work that rarely meets

safety standards.

Some of the more common defective conditions include:

be conscious of the ladder's location, especially while walking on the roof. In an emergency, the

homeowner may need to leave the roof quickly. Ladders become much more dangerous when

someone becomes covered in a swarm of stinging bees and must get down in a hurry, for


use a fallarrest

system for working at great heights or while performing complicated tasks;

use the proper protective equipment for the job, such as a hardhat or eye protection;

keep your body centered between the rails at all times. Do not lean too far to the side while

working; and

Cut bottom cord of the structural truss. Often, homeowners will cut through a structural member

in the field while installing a pulldown

ladder, unknowingly weakening the structure.



In sliding pulldown

ladders, there is a potential for the ladder to slide down quickly without

notice. Always pull the ladder down slowly and cautiously.

Relevant Codes

The 2009 edition of the International Building Code (IBC) and the 2006 edition of the

International Residential Code (IRC) offer guidelines regarding attic access, although not

specifically pulldown

ladders. Still, the information might be of some interest to homeowners.

2009 IBC (Commercial Construction):

1209.2 Attic Spaces. An opening not less than 20 inches by 30 inches shall be provided to any

attic area having a clear height of over 30 inches. A 30inch

minimum clear headroom in the

attic space shall be provided at or above the access opening.

2006 IRC (Residential Construction):

R807.1 Attic Access. Buildings with combustible ceiling or roof construction shall have an attic

access opening to attic areas that exceed 30 square feet and have a vertical height of 30 inches

or more. The roughframed

opening shall not be less than 22 inches by 30 inches, and shall be

located in a hallway or readily accessible location. A 30inch

minimum unobstructed headroom

in the attic space shall be provided at some point above the access opening.

Structural members should not be modified without an engineer’s approval.

Fastened with improper nails or screws. Homeowners often use drywall or deck screws rather

than the standard 16d penny nails or 1/4 x 3inch

lag screws. Nails and screws that are intended

for other purposes may have reduced shear strength and they may not support pulldown


Fastened with an insufficient number of nails or screws. Manufacturers provide a certain number

of nails with instructions that they all be used, and they probably do this for a good reason.

Lack of insulation. Hatches in many houses (especially older ones) are not likely to be weatherstripped

and/or insulated. An uninsulated attic hatch allows air from the attic to flow freely into

the home, which may cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover

box can be installed to increase energy savings.

Loose mounting bolts. This condition is more often caused by age rather than installation,

although improper installation will hasten the loosening process.

Attic pulldown

ladders are cut too short. Stairs should reach the floor.

Attic pulldown

ladders are cut too long. This causes pressure at the folding hinge, which can

cause breakage.

Improper or missing fasteners.

Compromised fire barrier when installed in the garage.

Attic ladder frame is not properly secured to the ceiling opening.

Closed ladder is covered with debris, such as blown insulation or roofing material shed during


roof work.

Cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.



Tips for Homeowners:

Replace an old, rickety wooden ladder with a new one. Newer aluminum models are often

lightweight, sturdy, and easy to install.

In summary, attic pulldown

ladders are prone to a number of defects, most of which are due to

improper installation.


Due to their inherent dangers, stairways and unsafe patterns of use are the cause of a

surprising number of injuries. A careful assessment of the risks posed by stairways can prevent

unnecessary injuries.

Facts and Figures

In addition to potential physical injury, falls can cause serious psychological and social

consequences, affecting confidence, mobility, and general wellbeing,

according to the same


While residents may already be aware of stair abnormalities in their own home, their guests may

not be prepared for irregular steps or inadequate headroom height, for instance. If you sell your

home, prospective home buyers are better off hearing about such irregularities from you than

learning through experience after they purchase your home.

Do not allow children to enter the attic through an attic access. The lanyard attached to the attic

stairs should be short enough that children cannot reach it. Parents can also lock the attic

ladder so that a key or combination is required to access it.

If possible, avoid carrying large loads into the attic. While properly installed stairways may safely

support an adult man, they may fail if he is carrying heavy items. These trips can be split up to

reduce the weight load.

More than 1,600 people died from falls on steps and stairs in the United States in 2004. This

figure is greater than the combined number of swimming pool and bathtub drownings for the

same year, according to the National Safety Council. The actual number of stairway accidents is

probably much higher, as many people who sustain injuries don't know why they fell, and others

are too embarrassed to admit they fell, so these incidents go unreported.

Elderly occupants are at particular risk of falling down stairs, mostly due to impaired vision,

reduced strength, and poor balance. For individuals age 65 and older, 260,000 are injured every

year in falls on steps, stairs and escalators, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Handicapped and young children are also at increased risk of sustaining stairway injuries.

In a study by Loughborough University in England, onethird

of surveyed households admitted

to leaving objects on stairs, presenting a serious trip hazard.



The following is a partial list of defects you may find in stairways:

There is no safety gate at the top of the stairway in a home with small children.

Note that some design defects would be difficult or costprohibitive

to remedy, so this would

require rebuilding of the stairs.

Tips to reduce the chance of stairway falls include:

Install a second handrail for additional support. A second handrail will also provide support for

two individuals as they pass each other.

In summary, stairways can pose a serious safety risk, but these risks can be minimized by

adequate stair construction and safe practices.

A handrail is loose, incomplete, missing, splintery, not of a contrasting color with its background,

or has insufficient finger clearance. As deck stairways may be open on both sides, missing

handrails there put occupants at serious risk.

Treads are cracked, uneven, worn, loose, or poorly supported.

Risers are of uneven height.

Lighting is poor, shadows are numerous, or the corridor leading to the stairs is dark. It’s helpful

to have a light switch installed at the top and bottom of each staircase.

The floor is waxed, increasing the chances of slipping.

Exterior steps are not sloped to prevent water settlement and icing.

The stair carpeting slides because it is not firmly affixed to the stairs. Doublesided

tape or tacks

may be used to prevent slipping.

Balusters are spaced more than 4 inches apart, allowing a child to potentially slip through and

get trapped.

The stairs are not ergonomically designed.

The stairs are too steep.

The platform or landing surface is not slipresistant,

and/or it has a sharp object, blunt wall, or

window located in the direction of a possible fall.

The nosing is missing, broken, worn, patched, loose, slippery, or not installed properly.

Sharp corners are on stair elements.

Headroom is insufficient.

Start a regular exercise program, if you haven’t already. Inactivity leads to weakness,

inflexibility, and an increased risk of falling.

Remove trip hazards, such as clothes, shoes, toys and/or books from stairs and other places

where you walk.

Improve the lighting around the stairs. As you age, you'll need brighter lights to see well.

Lampshades or frosted bulbs will reduce glare.


Senior citizens should wear shoes that provide good support and have thin, nonslip


Avoid lightweight slippers or shoes with deep treads, as they can reduce your feeling of control.

Do not carry heavy items up and down stairs, especially if the item blocks your view of the

steps. Also, always hold onto the handrail.



Deck Safety

Even decks that appear to be professionally constructed can have defects that could cause their

collapse. These defects are so difficult for the average homeowner to recognize that the Master

Inspector Certification Board recommends that all decks be inspected by a Certified Master


More than 2 million decks are built and replaced each year in North America. Of the 45 million

existing decks, only 40% are completely safe.

Because decks appear to be simple to build, many people do not realize that decks are, in fact,

structures that need to be designed to adequately resist certain stresses. Like any other house

or building, a deck must be designed to support the weight of people, snow loads, and objects.

A deck must be able to resist lateral and uplift loads that can act on the deck as a result of wind

or seismic activity. Deck stairs must be safe, and handrails graspable. And, finally, deck rails

should be safe for children by having proper infill spacing.

A deck failure is any failure of a deck that could lead to injury, including rail failure, or total deck

collapse. There is no international system that tracks deck failures, and each is treated as an

isolated event, rather than a systemic problem. Very few municipalities perform investigations

into the cause of the failure, and the media are generally more concerned with injuries rather

than the causes of deck collapses. Rail failure occurs much more frequently than total deck

collapses; however, because rail failures are less dramatic than total collapses and normally

don't result in death, injuries from rail failures are rarely reported.

Here are some interesting facts about deck failure:

More decks collapse in the summer than during the rest of the seasons combined.

Almost every deck collapse occurred while the decks were occupied or under a heavy snow


There is no correlation between deck failure and whether the deck was built with or without a

building permit.

There is no correlation between deck failure and whether the deck was built by a homeowner or

a professional contractor.

There is a slight correlation between deck failure and the age of the deck.



Many doityourself

homeowners, and even contractors, don't believe that rail infill spacing

codes apply to decks.

Significant safety hazards are caused by both DIY and commercially built decks that:

may be built over a septic system or underground storage tank.

These are just some of the hazards that make a deck that is unsafe to use.

Are you planning on entertaining on your deck? Have your Certified Master Inspector® inspect it

first. Visit to find a CMI in your area.

lack adequate attachment to the house, both in terms of the deck’s structure and the use of

improper fasteners;

are cantilevered in style without the proper support to prevent weakening and collapse;

are built too high off the ground for their supporting members;

are not anchored properly at the base with proper footings and piers;

lack proper bracing at their underside;

are built on loose or uneven ground;

have deck planks installed without adequate spacing to allow for drainage of rainwater;

have deck planks installed without staggering for adequate load support;

lack proper rail height and width;

have baluster infill spacing that is too wide;

lack graspable handrails at the stairs;

lack a GFCIprotected

and covered electrical receptacle especially for use at the exterior;

lack adequate exterior lighting at the deck and/or stairs;

may have its supporting members subject to excessive moisture, such as by a lawn sprinkler


may have been built with reclaimed wood that is too weathered, dried out, splintered and/or

cracked to be safe to support the weight of people;

may be built over an emergency egress window at the home’s basement or lower level; and/or

About 90% of deck collapses occurred as a result of the separation of the house and the deck

ledger board, allowing the deck to swing away from the house. It is very rare for deck floor joists

to break midspan.

Many more injuries are the result of rail failure, rather than complete deck collapse.

Deck stairs are notorious for lacking graspable handrails.



Swimming Pool Safety

Home Pools

Swimming pools should always be happy places. Unfortunately, each year thousands of

American families confront swimming pool tragedies, drownings, and neardrownings

of young

children. At the Master Inspector Certification Board, we want to prevent these tragedies. These

are guidelines for pool barriers that can help prevent most submersion incidents involving young

children. These guidelines are not intended as the sole method to minimize pool drowning of

young children, but include helpful safety tips for safer pools.

Each year, hundreds of young children die and thousands come close to death due to

submersion in residential swimming pools. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)

has estimated that each year, about 300 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools.

Hospital emergencyroom

treatment is required for more than 2,000 children under 5 who were

submerged in residential pools. The CPSC did an extensive study of swimming pool accidents,

both fatal drownings and nearfatal

submersions, in California, Arizona and Florida states


which home swimming pools are very popular and used during much of the year.

Here are some of the study’s findings:

In California, Arizona and Florida, drowning was the leading cause of accidental death in and

around the home for children under the age of 5.


percent of the children involved in swimming pool submersion or drowning

accidents were between 1 and 3 years old.

Boys between 1 and 3 were the most likely victims of fatal drownings and nearfatal

submersions in residential swimming pools.

Most of the victims were in the presence of one or both parents when the swimming pool

accident occurred.

Nearly half of the child victims were last seen in the house before the pool accident occurred. In

addition, 23% of the accident victims were last seen on the porch or patio, or in the yard.

This means that 69% of the children who became victims in swimming pool accidents were not

expected to be in or at the pool, but were found drowned or submerged in the water.


percent of the accidents occurred in a pool owned by the victim’s immediate family,

and 33% of the accidents occurred in pools owned by relatives or friends.

Fewer than 2% of the pool accidents were the result of children trespassing on property where

they didn’t live or belong.


percent of the swimming pool accident victims had been missing for five minutes

or less when they were found in the pool, drowned or submerged.



The speed with which swimming pool drownings and submersions can occur is a special

concern: by the time a child’s absence is noted, the child may have drowned. Anyone who has

cared for a toddler knows how fast young children can move. Toddlers are inquisitive and

impulsive and lack a realistic sense of danger. These behaviors, coupled with a child’s ability to

move quickly and unpredictably, make swimming pools particularly hazardous for households

with young children.

Swimming pool drownings of young children have another particularly insidious feature: these

are silent deaths. It is unlikely that splashing or screaming will occur to alert a parent or

caregiver that a child is in trouble. The best way to reduce child drownings in residential pools is

for pool owners to construct and maintain barriers that prevent young children from gaining

access to pools. However, there are no substitutes for diligent supervision.

Why the Swimming Pool Guidelines Were Developed

A young child can get over a pool barrier if the barrier is too low, or if the barrier has handholds

or footholds for a child to use for climbing. The guidelines recommend that the top of a pool

barrier be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the barrier that faces away

from the swimming pool. Eliminating handholds and footholds, and minimizing the size of

openings in a barrier’s construction, can prevent inquisitive children from climbing pool barriers.

For a solid barrier, no indentations or protrusions should be present, other than normal

construction tolerances and masonry joints. For a barrier (fence) made up of horizontal and

vertical members, if the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45

inches, the horizontal members should be on the swimming poolside

of the fence. The spacing

of the vertical members should not exceed 13/

4 inches. This size is based on the footwidth


a young child, and is intended to reduce the potential for a child to gain a foothold. If there are

any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts should not exceed 13/



The definition of a pool includes spas and hot tubs. The swimming poolbarrier


therefore, apply to these structures, as well as to conventional swimming pools.

How to Prevent a Child from Getting Over a Pool Barrier

A successful pool barrier prevents a child from getting over, under or through, and keeps the

child from gaining access to the pool except when supervising adults are present.

The Swimming PoolBarrier


If the distance between the tops of the horizontal members is more than 45 inches, the

horizontal members can be on the side of the fence facing away from the pool. The spacing

between vertical members should not exceed 4 inches. This size is based on the headbreadth

and chestdepth

of a young child, and is intended to prevent a child from passing through an

opening. Again, if there are any decorative cutouts in the fence, the space within the cutouts

should not exceed 13/

4 inches.



For a chainlink

fence, the mesh size should not exceed 11/

4 inches square, unless slats

fastened at the top or bottom of the fence are used to reduce the mesh openings to no more

than 13/

4 inches.

For a fence made up of diagonal members (lattice work), the maximum opening in the lattice

should not exceed 13/

4 inches.


pools should have barriers. The pool structure itself can sometimes serves as a

barrier, or a barrier can be mounted on top of the pool structure. Then, there are two possible

ways to prevent young children from climbing up into an aboveground

pool. The steps or ladder

can be designed to be secured, locked or removed to prevent access, or the steps or ladder can

be surrounded by a barrier, such as those described above. For any pool barrier, the maximum

clearance at the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches above grade, when the

measurement is done on the side of the barrier facing away from the pool.

If an aboveground

pool has a barrier on the top of the pool, the maximum vertical clearance

between the top of the pool and the bottom of the barrier should not exceed 4 inches.

Preventing a child from getting through a pool barrier can be done by restricting the sizes of

openings in a barrier, and by using selfclosing

and selflatching


To prevent a young child from getting through a fence or other barrier, all openings should be

small enough so that a 4inch

diameter sphere cannot pass through. This size is based on the


and chestdepth

of a young child.


There are two kinds of gates that may be found at a residential property. Both can play a part in

the design of a swimming pool barrier.

Pedestrian gates are the gates people walk through. Swimming pool barriers should be

equipped with a gate or gates that restrict access to the pool. A locking device should be

included in the gate's design. Gates should open out from the pool and should be selfclosing

and selflatching.

If a gate is properly designed, even if the gate is not completely latched, a

young child pushing on the gate in order to enter the pool area will at least close the gate and

may actually engage the latch. When the release mechanism of the selflatching

device is less

than 54 inches from the bottom of the gate, the release mechanism for the gate should be at

least 3 inches below the top of the gate on the side facing the pool. Placing the release

mechanism at this height prevents a young child from reaching over the top of the gate and

releasing the latch. Also, the gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2inch

within 18 inches of the latch’s release mechanism. This prevents a young child from reaching

through the gate and releasing the latch.

Other gates should be equipped with selflatching

devices. The selflatching

devices should be

installed as described for pedestrian gates.

How to Prevent a Child from Getting Under or Through a Pool Barrier



Many homes with pools have doors that open directly onto the pool area or onto a patio that

leads to the pool. In such cases, the wall of the house is an important part of the pool barrier,

and passage through any doors in the house wall should be controlled by security measures.

The importance of controlling a young child’s movements from the house to the pool is

demonstrated by the statistics obtained during the CPSC’s study of pool incidents in California,

Arizona and Florida. Almost half (46%) of the children who became victims of pool accidents

were last seen in the house just before they were found in the pool.

All doors that permit access to a swimming pool should be equipped with an audible alarm that

sounds when the door and/or screen are opened. The alarm should sound for 30 seconds or

more within seven seconds after the door is opened. It should also be loud (at least 85 decibels)

when measured 10 feet away from the alarm mechanism. The alarm sound should be distinct

from other sounds in the house, such as the telephone, doorbell and smoke alarm. The alarm

should have an automatic reset

feature. Because adults will want to pass through house doors

in the pool barrier without setting off the alarm, the alarm should have a switch that allows them

to temporarily deactivate

the alarm for up to 15 seconds. The deactivation

switch could be a

touch pad (keypad) or a manual switch, and should be located at least 54 inches above the

threshold of the door protected by the alarm. This height was selected based on the reaching

ability of young children.

Power safety covers can be installed on pools to serve as security barriers. Power safety covers

should conform to the specifications in ASTM F 134691.

This standard specifies safety

performance requirements for pool covers to protect young children from drowning. Selfclosing

doors with selflatching

devices could also be used to safeguard doors that permit ready access

to a swimming pool.

Indoor Pools

When a pool is located completely within a house, the walls that surround the pool should be

equipped to serve as pool safety barriers. The measures recommended above where a house

wall serves as part of a safety barrier also apply for all the walls surrounding an indoor pool.


An outdoor swimming pool, including an inground,


or onground

pool, hot tub, or

spa, should be provided with a barrier that complies with the following:

1. The top of the barrier should be at least 48 inches above grade, measured on the side of the

barrier that faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between

grade and the bottom of the barrier should be 4 inches measured on the side of the barrier that

faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such

as an aboveground

pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or

mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure,

the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the

barrier should be 4 inches.

2. Openings in the barrier should not allow the passage of a 4inch

diameter sphere.

3. Solid barriers, which do not have openings, such as a masonry and stone wall, should not


contain indentations or protrusions, except for normal construction tolerances and tooled

masonry joints.



4. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between

the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members should be

located on the swimming poolside

of the fence.

Spacing between vertical members should not exceed 13/

4 inches in width. Where there are

decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts should not exceed 13/

4 inches in width.

5. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members, and the distance between

the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical members

should not exceed 4 inches. Where there are decorative cutouts, spacing within the cutouts

should not exceed 13/

4 inches in width.

6. The maximum mesh size for chainlink

fences should not exceed 13/

4 inch square, unless

the fence is provided with slats fastened at the top or the bottom, which reduce the openings to

no more than 13/

4 inches.

7. Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum

opening formed by the diagonal members should be no more than 13/

4 inches.

8. Access gates to the pool should be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian

access gates should open outward, away from the pool, and should be selfclosing

and have a


device. Gates other than pedestrian access gates should have a selflatching

device, where the release mechanism of the selflatching

device is located less than 54 inches

from the bottom of the gate.

The gate and barrier should have no opening greater than 1/2inch

within 18 inches of the

release mechanism.

9. Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier, one of the following should apply:

Other means of protection, such as selfclosing

doors with selflatching

devices, are acceptable,

as long as the degree of protection afforded is not less than the protection afforded by the

guidelines above.

10. Where an aboveground

pool structure is used as a barrier, or where the barrier is mounted

on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps, then:

The release mechanism should be located on the poolside

of the gate at least 3 inches below

the top of the gate.

All doors with direct access to the pool through that wall should be equipped with an alarm that

produces an audible warning when the door and its screen, if present, are opened. The alarm

should sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds within seven seconds after the door is

opened. The alarm should have a minimum sound pressure rating of 85 dBA at 10 feet, and the

sound of the alarm should be distinctive from other household sounds, such as smoke alarms,

telephones and doorbells. The alarm should automatically reset

under all conditions. The alarm

should be equipped with manual means, such as touchpads or switches, to temporarily deactivate

the alarm for a single opening of the door from either direction. Such deactivation

should last for no more than 15 seconds. The deactivation

touch pads or switches should be

located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door.


The pool should be equipped with a power safety cover that complies with ASTM F134691.



The ladder or steps should be surrounded by a barrier. When the ladder or steps are secured,

locked, or removed, any opening created should not allow the passage of a 4inch



These guidelines are intended to provide a means of protection against potential drownings of

children under 5 years of age by restricting access to residential swimming pools, spas and hot


Swimming Pool Barriers

An outdoor swimming pool barrier is a physical obstacle that surrounds an outdoor pool so that

pool access is limited to adults. “Pool,” in this context, includes outdoor hot tubs and spas. This

barrier is often referred to as pool fencing, although walls made from brick or stone are

acceptable, as well. Children should not be able to get under, over or through the barrier.

Why are pool barriers important?

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 250

children drown every year in residential swimming pools. In states where swimming pools are

open yearround,

such as Florida, Arizona and California, drowning is the leading cause of

death in and around the home for children under 5 years old. Many of these deaths result when

young children gain unsupervised access to swimming pools due to inadequate pool fencing.

Codes concerning pool barriers vary by jurisdiction. Some states, such as Arizona, Florida and

California, have compiled their own laws concerning pool barriers, while other locations rely on

the International Residential Code (IRC). The CPSC has thoroughly researched poolrelated

hazards and has compiled its own set of codes for pool fencing. The Australian government,

too, has placed tremendous emphasis on the development of pool barrier codes in an attempt to

reduce the number of deaths due to drowning in that country. The code below is taken mostly

from the 2006 edition of the IRC and is substantially similar to the other codes previously

mentioned. A few helpful parts of the Australian code are also listed.

2006 International Building Code Pool Barrier Requirements:

AG105.2. Outdoor swimming pool. An outdoor swimming pool, including an inground,


or onground

pool, hot tub or spa, shall be surrounded by a barrier which shall

comply with the following:

1. The top of the barrier shall be at least 48 inches above grade measured on the side of the

barrier which faces away from the swimming pool. The maximum vertical clearance between

grade and the bottom of the barrier shall be 2 inches measured on the side of the barrier which

faces away from the swimming pool. Where the top of the pool structure is above grade, such

as an aboveground

pool, the barrier may be at ground level, such as the pool structure, or

mounted on top of the pool structure. Where the barrier is mounted on top of the pool structure,

the maximum vertical clearance between the top of the pool structure and the bottom of the

barrier shall be 4 inches.

The ladder to the pool or steps should be capable of being secured, locked or removed to

prevent access.




2. Openings in the barrier shall not allow passage of a 4inchdiameter


3. Solid barriers which do not have openings, such as a masonry or stone wall, shall not contain

indentations or protrusions, except for normal construction tolerances and tooled masonry


4. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distance between

the tops of the horizontal members is less than 45 inches, the horizontal members shall be

located on the swimming pool side of the fence. Spacing between vertical members shall not

exceed 13/

4 inches in width. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members,

spacing within the cutouts shall not exceed 13/

4 inches in width.

5. Where the barrier is composed of horizontal and vertical members and the distance between

the tops of the horizontal members is 45 inches or more, spacing between vertical members

shall not exceed 4 inches. Where there are decorative cutouts within vertical members, spacing

within the cutouts shall not exceed 13/

4 inches in width.

6. Maximum mesh size for chain link fences shall be a 21/

4 inches square unless the fence has

slats fastened at the top or the bottom which reduce the openings to not more than 11/

4 inches.

7. Where the barrier is composed of diagonal members, such as a lattice fence, the maximum

opening formed by the diagonal members shall not be more than 13/

4 inches.

8. Access gates shall comply with the requirements of Section AG105.2, Items 1 through 7, and

shall be equipped to accommodate a locking device. Pedestrian access gates shall open

outward, away from the pool, and shall be selfclosing

and have a selflatching

device. Gates

other than pedestrian access gates shall have a selflatching

device. Where the release

mechanism of the selflatching

device is located less than 54 inches from the bottom of the

gate, the release mechanism and openings shall comply with the following:

8.1 The release mechanism shall be located on the poolside

of the gate at least 3 inches

below the top of the gate; and

8.2 The gate and barrier shall have no opening larger than 1/2inch

(13 mm) within 18 inches

of the release mechanism.

9. Where a wall of a dwelling serves as part of the barrier, one of the following conditions shall

be met:

9.1. The pool shall be equipped with a powered safety cover in compliance with ASTM F 1346;

or 9.2. Doors with direct access to the pool through that wall shall be equipped with an alarm

which produces an audible warning when the door and/or its screen, if present, are opened. The

alarm shall be listed in accordance with UL 2017. The audible alarm shall activate within seven

seconds and sound continuously for a minimum of 30 seconds after the door and/or its screen,

if present, are opened and be capable of being heard throughout the house during normal

household activities. The alarm shall automatically reset

under all conditions. The alarm system

shall be equipped with a manual means, such as touch pad or switch, to temporarily deactivate

the alarm for a single opening. Deactivation

shall last for not more than 15 seconds. The


switch(es) shall be located at least 54 inches above the threshold of the door; or




9.3. Other means of protection, such as selfclosing

doors with selflatching

devices, which are

approved by the governing body, shall be acceptable, so long as the degree of protection

afforded is not less than the protection afforded by Item 9.1 or 9.2 described above.

10. Where an aboveground

pool structure is used as a barrier, or where the barrier is mounted

on top of the pool structure, and the means of access is a ladder or steps:

10.1. The ladder or steps shall be capable of being secured, locked or removed to prevent

access; or 10.2. The ladder or steps shall be surrounded by a barrier which meets the

requirements of Section AG105.2, Items 1 through 9. When the ladder or steps are secured,

locked or removed, any opening created shall not allow the passage of a 4inchdiameter


AG105.3 Indoor swimming pool. Walls surrounding an indoor swimming pool shall comply with

Section AG105.2, Item 9.

AG105.4 Prohibited locations. Barriers shall be located to prohibit permanent structures,

equipment or similar objects from being used to climb them.

AG105.5 Barrier exceptions. Spas or hot tubs with a safety cover, which complies with ASTM F

1346, as listed in Section AG107, shall be exempt from the provisions of this appendix.

The 1994 edition of Australia’s Building Code offers the following suggestions concerning fence


If a fence has gaps, they should be of such a size that a young child is prevented from slipping

through, but the gaps also need to have dimensions such that any part of a young child's body

cannot be trapped.

Currently, the IRC makes no mention of regulations for “danger” or CPR signs that should be

attached on pool barriers. The Australian Building Code offers the following concerning CPR


The CPR sign needs to be durable, and placed in a conspicuous place near the pool. It must

detail the procedures necessary to undertake cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

In summary, homeowners should try to spot and correct defects in pool fencing.

Pool Alarms

A pool alarm is a safety feature designed to alert adults when unsupervised children enter a

pool. There are many different designs available, but none is foolproof. Pool owners should

become acquainted with these innovations, the main types available, and the potential dangers

of doing without.



Drowning remains the second leading killer of children under the age of 14 and, in many

Sunbelt states, drowning tops the list.

Approximately 350 children under the age of 5 drown in swimming pools annually, mostly in

residential settings. Many of these deaths occur when unsupervised children enter a pool and

are unable to swim or exit, resulting in drowning or neardrowning

within minutes. In these

situations, pool alarms may have reduced the response time of adults, perhaps saving the child.

In December 2007, the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act took effect, which

created a voluntary grant program that encourages states to pass legislation for pool and spa

safety. The bill requires states to write laws that call for pool alarms, as well as door alarms,

pool covers, and selfclosing/


gates. Currently, however, only California,

Connecticut and New York have passed such legislation.

Pool Alarm Types

Wristband: This device is worn around the child’s wrist and it cannot be removed without a key.

The alarm will activate when the wristband becomes wet, which creates opportunities for false

alarms, such as when the child washes his or her hands, or walks in the rain.

In 2000, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) staff conducted a review of

commercially available swimming pool alarm systems designed to detect water disturbance or

displacement. The CPSC staff evaluated surface wave sensors, subsurface


testers, and the wristband. The testers concluded that the subsurface

pool alarms generally

performed more consistently for true alarms than the other designs, which were more likely to

emit false alarms.

Since pool alarms are not foolproof and they rely on someone remembering to activate them,

they should not be depended upon as a substitute for supervision, or for a barrier completely

surrounding the pool. Pool alarms should also be used in conjunction with other types of alarms,

such as gate alarms, perimeter alarms, and window and door alarms. Even some pet doors

come equipped with alarms, owing to the recent attention given to the 100 or so documented

accidents when a child escaped to a pool through a pet door. Pool alarms are thus one

protective layer of many, none of which is sufficient as a sole preventative measure against

child drowning.

Pool alarms can be used to save dogs and cats, too. Data show that one out of every 1,027

pets drown in pools each year, which is a statistically higher risk than the drowning threat for

small children. The

Surface wave sensor: This type of sensor floats on the water and incorporates an electrical

circuit that includes two contacts. One of these contacts rests in the water, while the other is

adjusted to remain above the water's surface. When a surface wave touches the abovesurface

contact, the electrical circuit is completed, causing an alarm to sound. Sensitivity can be

increased or decreased by moving the abovesurface

contact closer to or further away from the

water’s surface.


disturbance sensor: Mounted to the pool wall below the water’s surface, this type of

sensor is activated by waveinduced

pressure changes. One design relies on the movement of


a magnetic float below a magnetic sensor, while another design relies on a pressuresensitive

switch. Subsurface

alarms can also be used in conjunction with solar covers, whereas the

surface wavesensor

alarms cannot.



reason here is obvious: pets are more likely to be allowed to roam free and unsupervised

compared to small children, especially in rural areas where nearby traffic is not a danger. Also,

pool fences may thwart children, while dogs and cats can jump or climb their way to the other

side. Not all dogs are good swimmers, though, and even healthy dogs that are used to

swimming in ponds might not be able to lift themselves out of a pool when they’re tired.

In summary, pool alarms are useful safety features to be used strictly in conjunction with other


Pool Drain Hazards

While drowning is a wellpublicized

danger associated with swimming pools, comparatively little

has been reported about injuries and deaths caused by pool drains. Water rushing out of the

drain creates a suction that can ensnare swimmers, usually small children, causing debilitating

injuries and death. These drains come standard in swimming pools, hot tubs and wading pools,

and while they appear harmless, parents should understand the potential dangers they pose.

Drain covers can break or be removed by people who are unaware of the possible

repercussions. When this happens, a swimmer playing with the drain may become stuck to it in

a way similar to how a vacuum will stick to the palm of the hand, but with much more force; 350

pounds of pressure is normal for a pool drain, and public pools are even more powerful. This

“suction entrapment” can hold the bather in the drain's grasp until the person drowns or

escapes, often seriously injured.

In July of 2007, a 6yearold

Minnesota girl was hospitalized after being severely injured when

she sat over an open drain in a wading pool. The suction from the drain, which did not have a

cover, pulled out her small intestine, requiring her to be fed intravenously. She died months

later, joining the 36 other people, mostly children, who are known to have been killed in similar

accidents since 1990. The actual numbers are likely much higher, as physicians often do not

distinguish drowning caused by drainage suction from ordinary drowning.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) distinguishes between five types of drain


1. body entrapment, where a section of the torso becomes entrapped. The CPSC is aware of 74

cases of body entrapment, including 13 confirmed deaths, between January 1990 and August

2004. The deaths were the result of drowning after the body was held against the drain by the

suction of the circulation pump; 2. limb entrapment, where an arm or leg is pulled into an open

drain pipe; 3. hair entrapment or entanglement, where a person’s hair is pulled in and wrapped

around the

grate of the drain cover. The CPSC is aware of 43 incidents of hair entrapment or entanglement

in pools, spas and hot tubs between January 1990 and August 2004. Twelve of the incidents

resulted in drowning deaths;



4. mechanical entrapment, where jewelry or part of the swimmer’s clothing gets caught in the

drain or grate; and 5. evisceration, where the victim’s buttocks come into contact with the

pool suction outlet and he

or she is disemboweled. While these accidents are rare, they result in lifelong impairment.

While laws regulating swimming pools are complex and vary by state, it is still helpful for

homeowners to learn the following ways in which pool drains can be made safer:

Install an additional drain. According to the CPSC, “providing multiple outlets from the pool to

the suctionside

of the pump allows flow to continue to the pump, and reduces the likelihood of

an entrapping suction from being generated when a body blocks one of the outlets.”

In summary, accidents caused by pool drains are often gruesome, but they can be prevented

when the appropriate pool safety devices are installed and children are adequately supervised.

Pool Water Pathogens

Germs from other swimmers and unsafe water supplies can easily contaminate pool water,

especially if it isn’t properly disinfected. Contaminated recreational water can cause a variety of

ailments and diseases, such as diarrhea, and skin, ear and upper respiratory infections,

particularly if the swimmer's head is submerged. Homeowners should be familiar with the

problems caused by contaminated pool and spa water and the ways to prevent them.

Viruses, bacteria and protozoa are the culprits in most swimming poolrelated


outbreaks. The mucus, saliva, blood and skin of infected swimmers can directly contaminate

pool and spa water with sufficient pathogens to cause infections in other swimmers who come in

contact with it. Feces are a particular danger in pools, as the pathogens they contain are

typically present in enormous numbers, approaching a million per gram of feces. A single fecal

release in a pool could contaminate millions of gallons of water, according to the University of

Arizona's College of Public Health. Large outbreaks of disease are uncommon and they don’t

typically happen in residential settings, but they should alert homeowners to just how contagious

pathogens are when they’re waterborne.

Make sure that a drain cover is present and firmly attached to the drain. If the drain cover is

missing or damaged, no one should be allowed to enter the pool, and a professional should be

contacted immediately. As of December 2008, the CPSC required antientrapment

drain covers

to be installed in all public pools.

Make sure there is a safety snap fitting serving the ground pool cleaner. These devices

automatically suck away dirt and leaves, but if they become disconnected from the suction fitting

at the pool wall, a hazardous situation can develop. A safety snap fitting is a springloaded

stopper that will end any suction through the port if any disconnection occurs.

Check to see if there is a safety vacuumrelease

system. This device will cause the drainage to

automatically cease if any entrapment occurs.

Check for an antientanglement

drain cover. This type of fitting is molded in a particular way so

as to prevent hair entanglement.


Use no drains at all. Gutters and overflows can be used to provide water to the pump without

the need for a drain.



Consider the following such cases:

hepatitis A and noroviruses.

Pool disinfectants can kill most germs in less than an hour, but for others, it can take longer.

Cryptosporidium, for instance, can survive for up to 10 days in a properly chlorinated pool, and

other pathogens are completely resistant to chlorine. In addition, the unique circulation patterns

found in pools may allow poor water circulation in some areas, making it unlikely that all

pathogen activity can be fully prevented. The unfortunate truth is that chlorinated swimming

pools can and do transmit disease. Swimmers should not rely solely on the pool's chemical

treatments and should heed the following precautions:

Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. Diarrhea can be transmitted in pool water weeks after

symptoms cease.

In summary, pathogens can easily permeate an entire pool. Some are resistant to chlorination.

Pool owners should know that chemical treatments for pools and spas are best supplemented

with good hygiene.

In 2001 in an Illinois water park, 358 people contracted diarrhea, despite adequate chlorine and

pH levels. Swimmers can add up to several pounds of feces per day in a typical water park.

Homeowners can benefit from learning about the basic pathogens that are commonly found in

swimming pools:

In 1998 in Georgia, 26 people were sickened after swimming in a pool with a child who had E.

coli. Seven people were hospitalized and one was killed by the outbreak. The pool’s chlorine

level had not been adequately maintained.

In New Mexico in 2008, a competitive swimmer who ignored symptoms of diarrhea caused 92

swimmers, including other competitive swimmers, coaches and lifeguards, to contract the


bacteria, such as E. coli, shigella (which causes dysentery), campylobacter, and salmonella.

Bacteria are generally killed quickly by chlorine disinfectant in properly maintained swimming

pools at a concentration of 1 part per million. E. coli, for instance, will be inactivated in less than

one minute if exposed to typical disinfectant concentrations;

protozoa, such as cryptosporidium (which causes diarrhea), and giardia, also known for its

severe gastrointestinal effects. Some of these pathogens are highly resistant to chlorine and

can survive for days in typical chlorine concentrations; and

Don’t ever swallow pool water. Children sometimes jokingly spit pool water back into the pool or

at their friends, but this is dangerous, as some of it may be swallowed.

Shower with soap and water before and after swimming.

Wash your hands with soap and water after using a toilet or changing diapers.

Remove small children from pools for bathroom breaks, and check infants’ diapers often.

Change diapers in a bathroom, not beside the pool.


Wash children, especially their rear ends, thoroughly with soap and water before they enter a





A sauna is a small, sealed room, typically constructed of wood, designed to safely increase the

user’s body temperature through a combination of heat and wellcontrolled

humidity. Saunas

are used recreationally and therapeutically, as users find them relaxing and healthpromoting.

Facts and Figures

One of the earliest sauna designs is the smoke sauna, in which stones warm the room after

being heated by a fire, which is extinguished before the room is ready for bathers. The smoke is

vented from the sauna, but its aroma lingers. The concept was nearly abandoned but has seen

a revival over the past few decades.

Safety Tips

“Sauna” is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary. Traditionally, the Finns used the

sauna as a place to clear the mind, give birth, and prepare the dead for burial. They were not

used for weight loss or as part of an exercise regimen, which are newer concepts for their use


Saunas can be divided into two basic styles:

o infrared saunas directly warm

occupants and other objects (much like the sun) using charcoal or other objects; and o

conventional saunas heat the room indirectly by warming the air.

Saunas stimulate the cardiovascular system and should not be used by anyone with high blood

pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or while under the use of antibiotics or other drugs.

Never stay in a sauna longer than 30 minutes. While it may be fun to see who can stay in the

sauna the longest, this sort of game is extremely dangerous and has led to injury and even

death. One experienced sauna devotee died in a sauna competition in August 2010.

Never wear jewelry in the sauna, as the metal and stones may heat up and burn exposed skin.

Use a towel as a barrier between yourself and the seat in a public commercial sauna to protect

yourself against disease. Strains of antibioticresistant

bacteria, known collectively as methicillinresistant

Staphylococcus aureus, have been shown to inhabit excessively humid and poorly

cleaned public saunas and steam rooms. Reducing the humidity can also control the risk of


Children should not use saunas because their immature bodies and metabolism have trouble


to stave off hyperthermia.



Recommended Sauna Design Features

Adequate ventilation is perhaps the most overlooked sauna design feature. Outgoing ventilation

expels stale air and reduces humidityspawned

mildew and moisture, which can cause wood

decay. Incoming ventilation brings in fresh air, ensuring the safety and comfort of the users.

Saunas typically have a vent behind the stove and another on the opposite wall near the ceiling.

While the sauna may vent to the outside of the building, this is not required in residential

saunas, and many systems utilize interior ventilation to heat the adjacent living space.

Some other essential design features include the following:

The sauna should be regularly inspected for mildew and wood decay around its exterior.

In summary, saunas are sealed, heated rooms used for therapeutic purposes and relaxation,

but they must be used and maintained properly to ensure the health and safety of their users.

Home Security



There are a number of measures that homeowners can take to ensure that their homes are not

attractive to burglars.

Freestanding saunas must have a solid foundation.

Sauna doors should be sealed and insulated.

The sauna door should swing outward and should not be equipped with a latching mechanism.

If the user is in distress, he should be able to easily push his way out of the sauna.

Saunas should be constructed from a decayresistant

species of tree, such as cypress,

redwood, spruce, cedar, or Douglas fir.

Any electrical wiring should be moistureproof

and able to resist high temperatures.

Metal, especially screw heads, should not be exposed where people sit, lean or walk. Metal will

get excessively hot and could burn exposed skin.

The ceiling height should be between 61/2 to 71/2 feet, but not higher, as heat will uselessly pool

above the user’s head. Also, undue stress will be placed on the heater, which will be forced to

work harder to heat the room.

The temperature should not exceed 195° F, as recommended by the Underwriters Laboratories.

Saunas heated by woodburning

stoves may be capable of exceeding this temperature, but this

is not advisable, as it can endanger the users' safety. Saunas that utilize excessive amounts of

steam should be set to a lower temperature, as wet heat can cause scalding.

The floor can be made from concrete, vinyl or tile, but not carpet, which will deteriorate from the

heat and humidity and create moisturecaused

health hazards. Carpet is also a fire hazard.

To best utilize the space and to achieve a balanced temperature throughout the sauna, the

shape of the sauna room should be nearly square.



Some interesting statistics concerning breakins

in the United States:

In 2005, law enforcement agencies reported more than 2 million burglary offenses.

According to a survey, burglars tend to enter homes through the following locations:

2% enter from somewhere on the second floor.

Some interesting statistics (2002) concerning breakins

in Canada:

The burglary rate in Canada is slightly higher than that of the United States (746 per 100,000

people), but significantly less than the burglary rate in Australia (2,275 per 100,000 people).

Exterior Doors

The Master Inspector Certification Board estimates that theft makes up more than threequarters

of all reported crime.

81% enter through the first floor;

34% enter through the front door;

23% enter through a firstfloor


22% enter through the back door;

9% enter through the garage;

4% enter through the basement;

4% enter through an unlocked entrance;

2% enter through a storage area; and

The burglary rate in Canada (877 per 100,000 people) is seven times higher than that of the

country with the fewest breakins,


Doors should be made of steel or solidcore

wood construction. Hollowcore

wood doors are

more easily broken than heavy, solidcore


Doors should be free of signs of rot, cracks and warping.

Doors should be protected by quality deadbolt locks. Chain locks are not adequate substitutes

for deadbolt locks, although chain locks may be used as additional protection.

If a mail slot is present, it should be equipped with a cage or box. Mail slots that are not

equipped with cages or boxes have been used by burglars to enter homes. Burglars can insert a

contraption made of wire and cord into the mail slot and use it to open the lock from the inside, if

no box or cage is present.

If a door is equipped with glass panes, they should be installed far from the lock. Otherwise,

burglars can smash the glass and reach through to unlock the door.

Spare keys should not be hidden in obvious locations. Burglars are very good at finding keys

that homeowners believe are cleverly hidden. The best place for a spare key is in the house of a

trusted neighbor. If keys must be hidden near the door, they should not be placed in obvious

locations, such as under a doormat, rock or planter.


A peephole can be installed in doors so homeowners can see who is on their doorstep before

they open the door.

Homeowners should consider installing bumpresistant

locks on their doors. “Bumping” is a

technique that can open almost any standard lock with less effort than is required by lockpicking.



This technique uses "bump keys," which are standard house keys with slight modifications. Lock

companies, including as Schlage®, Primus® and Medeco®, manufacture a number of locks that

offer some bumpresistance.

Pet Doors

Electronic pet doors are available that open only when the pet, equipped with a signaling device

in its collar, approaches the door. These doors are designed to keep stray animals out of the

home, and may provide protection against burglars, as well.

Sliding Glass Doors

A cutoff

broom handle, or a similar device, can be laid into the door track to prevent it from

being opened all the way.


It is helpful to install exterior lights that are activated by motion sensors. Burglars that are

suddenly illuminated may flee.


Windows should not be hidden by landscaping or structures. If landscaping or structures cannot

be moved, lighting can be installed around the windows.

Landscaping and Yard

Pet doors can be used by burglars to enter homes. Some burglars have reached through pet

doors in order to unlock the door. It is advisable to not have a pet door, but if one is necessary,

it should be as small as possible and installed far from the lock.

A crafty burglar may convince or coerce a small child to crawl through a pet door and unlock the

door. Also, some burglars are children.

They should be equipped with locks on their tops and bottoms.

They should not be able to be lifted from their frames.

Lights should be installed on the exterior of all four sides of the house. Burglars prefer darkness

so they cannot be seen by neighbors or passersby.

When building occupants are not home, a few lights should be left on inside.

All windows should be composed of strong glass, such as laminated glass, and be in good

operating order.

They can be installed with bars, grilles, grates, or heavyduty

wire screening. Barred windows

must be equipped with a quickrelease

mechanism so occupants can quickly escape during a


Shrubs and trees should not obscure the view of entrances. Shielded entrances can provide

cover for burglars while they attempt to enter the residence.

Fences are helpful burglar deterrents, although they should not be difficult to see through.




While the house is vacant:

The lawn should be mowed regularly. Uncut grass is a clue that no one is home.

Other Tips

If no security system is installed, the homeowner can post security alarm stickers around the


In summary, there are many tactics that homeowners can implement to help safeguard their

homes from breakins.

Bump Keys

What Is a Bump Key?

Most people think a locked door affords them security, but to anyone who knows how to use a

bump key, a door lock is just a minor inconvenience.

Bump keys are keys cut to a special design that will allow them to be used for picking


locks. Pintumbler

locks are the world's most popular lock, and these include

exterior door entry locks for homes. The process of gaining entry using a bump key is called

“bumping,” and it can be very effective.

All the cuts on a bump key are made to the maximum depth, so any key blank can be made into

a bump key. Bump keys are manufacturerspecific.

A Kwikset® lock requires a bump key made

from a Kwikset® key. The same is true for other lock brands. So, a full set of bump keys would

include one for each of the major lockset manufacturers.

A loud radio can be used to make burglars think someone is home. Timers can be used to

activate radios and lights to make the home seem occupied.

A car should always be parked in the driveway. A neighbor’s car can be parked there so that it

appears as if someone is home.

Dogs are excellent burglar deterrents. For homeowners who cannot own dogs, they can place

"Beware of Dog" signs around the yard for nearly the same effect.



Above: a pintumbler


How Do They Work?

Keys operate by aligning tiny springloaded

pins inside the lock. Once the pins are correctly

aligned, the cylinder will turn and the lock can be operated.

To use a bump key, the "pullback"

method is common. With this method, the key is inserted all

the way in, and then pulled back out one notch. While keeping rotational pressure on the key, it

is then bumped into the keyway with the heel of the hand or with a device of some sort.

The "bumper" needs to bump the key hard enough to jar the pins, but not so much that the lock

or key is damaged. Bumping the key causes the pins to jump slightly. Even this slight amount of

motion is enough to allow the bump key to turn the cylinder, unlocking the lock.



The image aboveleft

shows the condition just before the key is bumped. The image aboveright

is just after the key has been bumped. The driver pins (in blue) have bounced above the shear

line, while the key pins (in red) are still below the shear line. As long as the shear line is

unblocked, the cylinder can turn and the lock will open.

Another method for using a bump key, called "minimal movement," is slightly more sophisticated

than the pullback

method. Bumpkey

performance can be improved by filing away an additional

0.25 to 0.5 mm from the key tip and shoulder, allowing the key to be inserted slightly farther into

the lock.

How Effective Are Bump Keys?

The success of the bumper depends on practice. Very little skill is required, and the learning

curve is short. Success will also vary with the type of lock and quality of the key. Keys made

from soft metal won’t last long. Bumping tends to work better on more expensive locks, since

the hard, highquality

parts work more smoothly.

Bump keys sometimes deform when they’re hit, causing them to jam in the keyway. They can

be difficult to remove.

How Can I Tell if a Lock Has Been Bumped?

You can sometimes spot a lock that has been opened with a bump key if you see a small

indentation just above the keyway. Some older, softer locks will have dents even though they

have not been bumped.

It’s also possible to make bump keys that are protected from leaving indentations. You may be

able to tell that a lock has been bumped, but don’t count on it.

Above: a typical bump key

Can I Buy a Bump Key?

Owning or possessing a bump key is not currently illegal, and bump key sets, and videos on

how to use them, are available online. To acquire a bump key, all that’s needed is the

identification of the manufacturer of the lock.



How Can I Improve My Home's Security?

At least two companies, Schlage® and Baldwin, make locksets designed to defeat bump keys.

But many locks that use a key and the pintumbler

system are vulnerable to bumping. No

standards exist that demonstrate resistance to bumping. The resistance to bumping a deadbolt

lockset varies with the manufacturer. Electronic locks that have a key override are also



locks are rare and expensive. Bumpresistant

locks are much more common. Some

(but not all) lockset manufacturers include bumpresistant

features in their newer locks.

Without buying a new, bumpresistant

lock, consumers have two options. Usually, for less than

$20, a locksmith can replace the original lock pins with "mushroom" pins, sometimes called

spool pins, depending on the manufacturer. While these pins will improve the resistance of the

lock, they will not make it bumpproof.

Medeco® is a company that makes highend

locks. They can provide bumpproof

lock cylinders

for which a duplicate key is available only through Medeco®authorized

dealers. Their cylinders

start at around $100, although their lessexpensive

cylinders may not be bumpproof.

Will Insurance Cover Theft?

If a home is burglarized using a bump key, the theft may or may not be covered by insurance,

depending on how the policy is written. If proof of forced entry is required, the theft may not be

covered. Be sure to consult your insurance agent with questions about this.

Although bump keys have been around for more than 50 years, their existence has become

more widelyknown

with the advent of the Internet. Consumers should be aware of this potential

danger to their home's security.

In summary, homeowners should make sure their door locks are sufficiently secure to prevent

unauthorized entry by someone using a bump key. Taking extra safety precautions, such as

installing an alarm system, can provide homeowners with enhanced protection of their property.

The 10 Best Places to Hide Valuables in Your Home

Burglary is a crime of opportunity. And burglars don’t want to spend a lot of time looking through

a home to find things of value to steal, which is why there are obvious locations that they always

check. That means that there are ways to outsmart them by hiding your valuables in


places, and sometimes even in plain sight.

Depending on the size and type of item, the best places to hide valuables are those that

burglars don’t want to search through or wouldn’t bother with, including places that are

inconvenient or difficult to search, messy, or uninteresting.



Here Are the Top 10:

1. Hollowedout

books. Criminals tend to be uneducated, which is why they’ve turned to crime

to make their living. They’re practically allergic to books! But if you have only a couple of books

on a bookshelf, this may be a clue that they’re actually hiding places for your valuables, so

make sure your library is large enough to serve as a tedious place to search.

2. A false VHS tape or VHS carton. Who watches VHS tapes anymore? Again, follow the rules

above for books. A few can be a clue, but many can be a timeconsuming


3. False containers in the kitchen cupboard, under the sink, and in the bathroom, such as fake


cans and boxes, false cleaning product bottles, and personal hygiene items, and even in a

heavy tub of "cat litter." Some false containers available on the market today actually look like

false containers, so you might want to save yourself the expense and create your own.

4. In the false bottom or under the plastic liner of a bathroom or kitchen trash can. No one wants

to go pawing through your trash in the slim hope of finding something worth pawning.

5. Wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil and stored in the back of the freezer. This is also a


place to store documents and paper currency in case of a house fire.

6. In a floor safe in the bedroom closet. While this location may be obvious, a burglar would


to exert a lot of time and energy—and create a lot of noise—trying to break into a floor safe,

which is also generally of the heavy variety, making it not only hard to open, but hard to steal

whole, if the thief had plans to break into it later.

7. Inside a house plant. Using the same method as for trash containers, a plant’s soil can be

contained in a waterproof liner that can be lifted up to hide items underneath. Just make sure

the items you’re hiding are in a waterproof container, too.

8. Inside a false wall outlet. Make sure it’s not a live receptacle or in the way of any electrical


9. Within hollowedout/

removable building components, such as wainscoting, floor panels, door

jambs, window sills, and cabinet doors.

10. In the garage inside boxes marked with mundane labels, such as “Xmas Ornaments,” “Kid’s

Clothes,” “School Projects,” etc. Again, the more boxes you have, the longer the burglar will

have to search—if he’s so inclined—to find something worth stealing.

Hiding Places to Avoid:

1. Areas that can damage your valuables with water or invasive matter, such as the water tank

of a toilet, inside a mayonnaise jar that still has mayonnaise in it, or a paint can filled with paint.


There are highquality

waterproof containers on the market that will allow you to hide items in

water (and possibly other places), but err on the side of caution. Documents, jewelry and

electronics that become wet or permeated with chemicals or food matter may be damaged

beyond repair in your zeal to outsmart a tenacious burglar.



2. A jewelry box. This is a good place to store jewelry that you can afford to lose, but not your

diamond tennis bracelet or your grandmother’s antique wedding ring.

3. Your desk drawer, bedside drawer, or underwear drawer. Too obvious.

4. Inside CD cases. It’s true: burglars still prefer CDs to MP3s.

5. Inside DVD cases. DVDs and Xbox®type

games are worth between $2 and $10 at pawn and


shops; count on being cleaned out of your collection during a home burglary, regardless

of the titles.

6. A wall safe. Unless it’s highend

and professionally installed, a wall safe can be dislodged by

cutting the drywall seam around it, and wall safes are typically small and light enough to easily

transport off site to be opened later. Opt for the heavier and hardertoaccess

floor safe.

7. Inside picture frames with false backs/interiors. These tend to be thicker than typical picture

frames, so they’re easy to spot as a hiding place.

8. A cookie jar. Put cookies in it, not your grocery money.

9. An electrical item or heated area, such as a lamp base, toaster oven, or HVAC duct. You


accidentally ignite your valuables and put your entire home at risk for a house fire.

10. Any locked box or locking file cabinet. A box that has a lock on it will be stolen regardless of

what’s inside, and the lock on a file cabinet can be popped out with the right tool and a little


Other Precautions

For valuables that you can’t hide or lock up, such as a flatscreen

TV, stereo system, and

computers, make sure they’re insured through your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Unless

you invest in a home security system (and sometimes even if you do), it’s not possible to protect

every item in your home. But you can take precautions to passwordprotect

and GPSactivate

laptops and smartphones so that their recovery is more likely, should they be stolen.

Also, firearms should be properly locked in an approved gun safe that is stored out of reach for

the safety of the home’s occupants, as well as to deter theft.

Place a pole in the bottom track of your sliding glass patio doors so that they can’t be forced

open wide enough to permit the entry of an intruder. Install burglarproof

window locks that will

allow you to leave your windows open slightly for fresh air, but not wide enough to allow a

person to get through.

Remember that burglary is a crime of opportunity, so don’t tempt fate by leaving any exterior

doors unlocked (including sliding glass patio doors, and the door between the garage and the

living area), hiding a spare house key outdoors (under the “Welcome” mat, a large potted plant,

statuary, or a solitary or fake rock), leaving the doors to your attached garage open (even when

you’re home), or leaving the curtains or drapes open so that your valuables are in full view of


prowlers and passersby. Your personal safety is at risk as much as your personal property.



Also, don’t overshare

personal information with the world by advertising your absence from

home on social media. When leaving on vacation, have a trusted neighbor, friend or family

member monitor your home and bring in the newspaper, mail, and random takeout


hung on your doorknob. Install light timers indoors, and security/motion detectors outdoors to

illuminate your property’s exterior. And go ahead and apply security company stickers to your

windows/doors that advertise that your home is professionally protected, even if it’s not.

In short, do what you can to make your home a difficult, inconvenient, and timeconsuming

target that will force a wouldbe

burglar to move on. And do your part to keep your

neighborhood safe by reporting suspicious activity on your street to the police.

Window Bars

Window bars (also called safety bars and security bars) are metal bars that are installed to

prevent intruders from entering a building. As an unintended consequence, window bars can

slow or prevent egress during an emergency.


Seventy people died in a hotel fire on August 18, 2001 in the Philippines. The victims were

trapped inside the sixstory

hotel by window bars.

Advantages of Window Bars

They can prevent children from falling out of the window.

Disadvantages of Window Bars

Roughly 25 people die or are injured annually in fires where escape is hindered by window bars.

According to the National Fire Protection Agency, the number of deaths caused by fire related to

security bars is on the rise.

The fear of burglary, theft and/or physical attack presents a greater perceived risk than the

threat of fire.

They are a deterrent to potential burglars. They are mostly used in groundfloor

windows, which

are most vulnerable to intrusion.

They provide a sense of security to building occupants.

They can block the exit for occupants during an emergency, such as a fire. The occupants may

feel secure from burglary, but they have severely limited their avenues of egress. Ironically, it is

possible for occupants to become trapped behind window bars while trying to escape from an

intruder who has managed to enter the home.

They can potentially block the entry point for firefighters.

Houses equipped with window bars can potentially decrease the home’s property value.

Window bars can make a neighborhood appear unsafe to potential home buyers.



Requirements for a QuickRelease


According to the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), basements and sleeping rooms

should have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. Windows that are

equipped with bars and which are intended for emergency egress should have a quickrelease

mechanism installed. If a room’s egress requirements are already satisfied by another window

or door, it is still helpful for window bars to be equipped with a quickrelease


Where window bars are installed in windows that are part of a building’s means of egress, the

IRC requires that they be equipped with a quickrelease

mechanism that complies with the

following requirements:

Operation of the mechanism should not require special knowledge.

In summary, window bars are valuable antiburglary

features in residences, but they should be

able to be easily disengaged so occupants are not trapped during an emergency.

Safe Rooms (Panic Rooms)

A safe room, also known as a panic room, is a fortified room that is installed in a private

residence or business to provide a safe hiding place for inhabitants in the event of an


Safe Rooms Around the World

It should be accessible from the inside of the house. Although not addressed by the IRC, the

device should not be accessible from outside the house if the window were to be broken.

It should not require a key or combination. Likely reasons for this requirement are as follows:

o During an emergency, occupants may become too panicked or confused to remember

the combination or where they put the key. o Fire and smoke may prevent access to the key

or obscure view of the lock. o Occupants may not know the combination or know where the key

was placed.

It should not require any special tools, such as a screwdriver.

The mechanism should be able to be operated with relatively little force. Children and the

elderly should be strong enough to operate the release mechanism.

In Mexico, where kidnappings are relatively common, some people use safe rooms as an

alternative (or a supplement) to bodyguards.

In Israel, bulletand


security rooms have been mandated for all new construction

since 1992.

Since the 1980s, every U.S. embassy has included a safe room with bulletresistant




Perhaps the world’s largest safe room will belong to the Sultan of Brunei. The planned 100,000square

foot room will be installed beneath his 1,788room,


foot residence.

Why are safe rooms used? Some reasons include:

fear of an abusive spouse.

A Brief History of Safe Rooms

Safe rooms can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages. Castles had a "castle keep," a room

located in the deepest part of the castle, which was designed so the feudal lord could hide

during a siege. In the United States, safe rooms were used in the Underground Railroad during

the 1800s, where secret rooms hid escaping slaves. In the 1920s, hidden rooms stored


liquor. Safe rooms designed for weather protection have their origins in

storm cellars. The features of the modern safe room are mostly derived from fallout shelters

popular during the 1950s, which were created in response to the fear of nuclear attacks.

Various events of the past decade have spurred a rise in the popularity of safe rooms, including

New Year's Eve during “Y2K," the terrorist attacks in New York City in 2001, and the

subsequent anthrax poisonings that led to fears of civil unrest and war. Yet, it was the 2002 film

Panic Room, starring Jodie Foster, that heightened public awareness of safe rooms and their

perceived need. In fact, the term "panic room" became the popular name for what were

previously known as "safe rooms" as a result of the movie, although companies that create the

rooms still prefer to call them "safe rooms."

Today, they have become a status symbol in wealthy areas, such as Bel Air and Manhattan,

where it is believed there are thousands of such rooms. However, it is difficult to estimate the

number of safe rooms because many homeowners will not publicize the existence of their safe

rooms. Even real estate agents tend to hide the location of safe rooms, or even the fact that a

house has one, until they know a buyer is serious about purchasing the house.


The safe room’s location must be chosen carefully. It should not be located in the basement, for

instance, if intruders are likely to enter the house from that area. Ideally, occupants will be

closer than the intruders to the safe room at the time that the intrusion has been detected. This

way, the occupants will not be forced to cross paths with the intruder in order to reach the safe

room, such as in a stairway.

to hide from burglars. The protection of a safe room will afford residents extra time to contact


to hide from wouldbe

kidnappers. Many professional athletes, actors and politicians install safe

rooms in their houses;

protection against natural disasters, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. Underground tornado

bunkers are common in certain tornadoprone

regions of the United States;

protection against a nuclear attack. While safe rooms near the blast may be incinerated, those

far away may be shielded from radioactive fallout. This type of safe room, known as a fallout


shelter, was more common during the Cold War than it is today;

to provide social distancing in the event of a serious disease outbreak; and



Occupants can plan multiple routes to their safe room to avoid detection by the intruder who is

blocking the main route.



designs vary with budget and intended use. Even a closet can be converted into a

rudimentary safe room, although it should have a solidcore

door with a deadbolt lock. Highend

custom models costing hundreds of thousands of dollars boast thick steel walls, video banks,

computers, aircleaning

systems, bulletproof Kevlar®, and protection against bacterial and

chemical infiltration.

Recommendations for specific design elements include the following:

Generator: A selfcontained

power system is standard in most higherend

safe rooms.

Items to keep in a safe room:

Doors: These are one of the most critical components of the safe room design. A bulletresistant

door with internal steel framing can weigh several hundred pounds, yet it must operate

smoothly, easily, and without fail in an emergency. The hardware must be selected to provide

substantial, secure locking without compromising the smooth operation of the door itself. Most

importantly, it must allow the door to be secured quickly, preferably from a single control point.

The hardware should not be capable of being overridden or tampered with from the outside.

Floors: Concrete is an adequate material for the floor. In other forms of floor construction, such

as wood, it is important to provide supplementary protection suitable to the anticipated type of

emergency. As safe room construction often uses heavy materials, it is important to ensure that

the floor can support a heavy load.

Sound insulation: The attackers may try to verbally coerce the occupants to leave the safe

room. Effective sound insulation will limit the ability for such unwanted communication. Also,

sound insulation will prevent the intruders from hearing phone conversations between the

occupant and police.

Walls and ceilings: Wall construction that spans from floor to ceiling is generally preferred

because of the structural continuity of the framing. Bricks and blocks, while bulletresistant,


become dislodged from repeated sledgehammer battering. Steel stud walls, braced with

additional reinforcing ties, can be faced with steel sheet or bulletresistant

materials, such as

Kevlar®. These, in turn, may be covered with tile, sheetrock or other decorative finishes. Steel

and Kevlar® panels are available in large sheet sizes. This helps minimize the number of joints

that can be potential weak points of an assembly. It is important to not overlook penetrations

that may be made for light fixtures, power points and plumbing pipes. Ductwork that passes

through protected walls should also be carefully considered to ensure that the security is not

breached and that they are not used to transfer poisonous gases into the safe room.

Cameras and monitors: Concealed cameras located outside the room enable its occupant to

secretly monitor the movement and numbers of intruders. Effective camera systems may

incorporate one visible camera outside the room so that an intruder disabling the exposed

camera may not think to look for hidden cameras.


Bottled water and nonperishable

foods: There should be a small provision of bottled water and


foods (such as dried trail mix);



Gas masks, which may become necessary in the event that the intruders force poisonous gas

into the safe room. Where an odorless gas might be used, an electronic device may be installed

to detect any noxious fumes or poisons.

In summary, safe rooms are increasingly popular rooms designed to protect occupants from

various types of emergencies.

Fire Safety

Dryer Vent Safety

Clothes dryers work by evaporating the water from wet clothing by blowing hot air past them

while they tumble inside a spinning drum. Heat is provided by an electrical heating element or

gas burner. Some heavygarment

loads can contain more than a gallon of water, which, during

the drying process, will become airborne water vapor and leave the dryer and home through an

exhaust duct, more commonly known as a dryer vent.

Communication devices: Ideally, all three of the following devices should be stored in the safe


o a cell phone and charger, which are convenient, but they may not operate through thick

safe room walls. The charger will not work if no electrical receptacles are installed, so those are

required, too; o a landline

phone: Since cell phones may not work in a safe room, or because

they may

lose power, a landline

phone is recommended. It should, however, be on a separate line from

the rest of the house so that intruders are less likely to disable it; and o a twoway


Blankets: Occupants may be there for a while, so they might as well be comfortable;

First aid kit: Even if occupants make it to the safe room, they may have been injured by the

intruder en route. It is unlikely that he will allow the occupants to reenter

the room after they

leave it to look for bandages;

Prescription medication: Small quantities of necessary medications should be stored in the safe

room, or else occupants may be forced to surrender their position during a medical emergency.

Having a hundred cans of tuna and a flatscreen

TV does little good if your only asthma inhaler

is left on the kitchen table;

Flashlights: Severe weather can knock out electricity to the house, or intruders may intentionally

cut the power;

Sanitation supplies: Safe rooms built on a budget often don't have a toilet. A bucket can be used

as a lowcost


Weapons: If the intruders manage to enter the safe room, occupants should be prepared to

defend themselves. Pepper spray is a common choice, and firearms are certainly no less

effective; and



A vent that exhausts damp air to the home's exterior has a number of requirements:

1. It should be connected. The connection is usually behind the dryer but may be beneath it.

Look carefully to make sure it’s actually connected. 2. It should not be restricted. Dryer vents

are often

made from flexible plastic or metal duct, which may be easily kinked or crushed where they exit

the dryer and enter the wall or floor. This is often a problem, since dryers tend to be tucked

away into small areas with little room to work. Vent hardware is available which is designed to

turn 90 degrees in a limited space without restricting the flow of exhaust air. Air flow restrictions

are a potential fire hazard. 3. One of the reasons that restrictions are a potential fire hazard is

that, along with water vapor evaporated out of wet laundry, the exhaust stream carries lint –

highly flammable particles of clothing made of cotton and polyester. Lint can accumulate in an

exhaust duct, reducing the dryer’s ability to expel heated water vapor, which then accumulates

as heat energy within the machine. As the dryer overheats, mechanical failures can trigger

sparks, which can cause the lint trapped in the dryer vent to burst into flames. This condition

can lead to a house fire. Fires generally originate within the dryer but spread by escaping

through the ventilation duct, incinerating trapped lint, and following its path into the building wall.

The Master Inspector Certification Board believes that house fires caused by dryers are far

more common than are generally believed, a fact that can be appreciated upon reviewing

statistics from the National Fire Protection Agency. Fires caused by dryers in 2005 were

responsible for approximately 13,775 house fires, 418 injuries, 15 deaths, and $196 million in

property damage. Most of these incidents occur in residences and are the result of improper lint

cleanup and maintenance. Fortunately, these fires are very easy to prevent.

The recommendations outlined below reflect International Residential Code (IRC) “Section

M1502 Clothes Dryer Exhaust” guidelines:

M1502.5 Duct construction. Exhaust ducts shall be constructed of minimum 0.016inchthick

(0.4 mm) rigid metal ducts, having smooth interior surfaces, with joints running in the direction of

air flow. Exhaust ducts shall not be connected with sheetmetal

screws or fastening means

which extend into the duct.

This means that the flexible, ribbed vents used in the past should no longer be used. They

should be considered a potential fire hazard if discovered.

M1502.6 Duct length. The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 25

feet from the dryer location to the wall or roof termination. The maximum length of the duct shall

be reduced 2.5 feet for each 45degree

bend, and 5 feet for each 90degree

bend. The

maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct.



This means that vents should also be as straight as possible and cannot be longer than 25 feet.

Any 90degree

turns in the vent reduce this 25foot

limit by 5 feet, since these turns restrict air


A couple of exceptions exist:

1. The IRC will defer to the manufacturer’s installation instructions, so if the manufacturer’s

recommendation permits a longer exhaust vent, that’s acceptable. 2. The IRC will allow


bends to be installed to reduce restrictions at turns, but

confirming compliance requires performing engineering calculations in accordance with the

ASHRAE Fundamentals Handbook.

M1502.2 Duct termination. Exhaust ducts shall terminate on the outside of the building or shall

be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust ducts shall

terminate not less than 3 feet in any direction from openings into buildings. Exhaust duct

terminations shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the

duct termination.

Homeowners may see many dryer vents terminate in crawlspaces or attics where they deposit

moisture, which can encourage the growth of mold, promote wood decay, or create other

material problems. Sometimes they will terminate just beneath attic ventilators. This is a

defective installation. They must terminate at the exterior and away from a door or window.

Also, a screen may be installed at the duct termination to prevent birds and other small animals

from building nests in the protected and warm tunnel of the vent, but a screen can prevent the

expulsion of lint, which can accumulate, along with other debris. This is an improper and

dangerous situation, so the screen should be removed and replaced with a movable damper.

M1502.3 Duct size. The diameter of the exhaust duct shall be as required by the clothes dryer’s

listing and the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Look for the exhaust duct size on the data


M1502.4 Transition ducts. Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction. Flexible

transition ducts used to connect the dryer to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single

lengths not to exceed 8 feet, and shall be listed and labeled in accordance with UL2158A.



Pilot Lights

A pilot light is a small flame that is kept constantly lit in order to serve as an ignition source for a

gas burner. It’s used on many natural gas and propane appliances, such as water heaters,

clothes dryers, central heating systems, fireplaces and stoves.

The pilot light is fueled by a small amount of gas released from the gas pipe. When the

appliance is turned on, a valve releases more gas, which is ignited by the pilot light. The light

may need to be relit

from time to time after being extinguished on purpose or by accident.

Modern alternatives to the pilot light include a highvoltage

electric arc between two electrodes

placed close to the gas flow, and a redhot

surface made from silicon carbide, silicon nitride, or

another material that can withstand prolonged heat exposure. While most commercial kitchens

still rely on pilot lights for ovens and grills, their residential counterparts typically use electronic



If a pilot light is accidentally extinguished, there exists a danger that the gas used to keep the

flame lit will continue to vent, possibly into the living space. If this leak continues, its

concentration may reach a point where a spark – such as that from a cigarette lighter, static

electricity, or even the pilot light itself as it is being relit

– will cause a fire or even an explosion.

As a precaution, the flow of gas to the pilot light is maintained by electrical circuitry that relies on

the detection of the flame by a sensor.

Modern appliances that use pilot lights should be equipped with one or more of the following

sensor types:

a voltmeter, which detects the electrical current created by the heat of the flame as it warms a

thermocouple. A thermocouple is a device that creates a voltage related to the temperature

difference at the junction of two different metals.

Natural gas and propane can usually be detected by a home’s occupants by their odor, which is

added to these naturally odorless fuels specifically to alert people to a lurking danger.

Numerous injuries have been reported, however, when homeowners have tried to relight

a pilot

light after the appliance’s malfunctioning sensor failed to stop the flow of gas into the room.

Thermocouples are degraded by continued exposure to the pilot light’s flame, which increases

their electrical resistance and reduces their effectiveness as flame sensors. Periodic testing and

replacement of these devices will mitigate the safety hazards posed by pilot lightequipped


While many homeowners may not be aware of the danger, a number of houses are destroyed

every year when a pilot light ignites the explosive gases released from insecticide "bug bombs"

and foggers. A fire erupted in a Newburgh, Ohio house after a man placed a roach fumigator

under his kitchen sink and the fumes reached his oven’s pilot light. Even worse, when

homeowners employ a recklessly large

a photoresistor,

which detects the light emitted by the pilot light;

a thermometer, which detects the heat created by the pilot light; or




number of these foggers, they can generate enough gas to create a catastrophic explosion, and

the determination of homeowners driven mad by cockroaches and fleas is occasionally enough

incentive for them to employ such overkill. In one case, 19 foggers were unleashed in a


foot San Diego home, filling the building with so much gas that the pilot light

destroyed the home and launched shrapnel into the street. Fortunately, foggers are typically

used in buildings that have been vacated. However, three men were hospitalized when an

oven's pilot light in a Thai restaurant in Perth, Australia ignited the gas released from 36 foggers

– enough to blow the roof off the building in a massive explosion that rocked the suburban

neighborhood, causing $500,000 in damages.

Energy Waste

Pilot lights are not needed for the majority of the time that they’re lit, which is how they waste a

large amount of fuel. The exact amount of energy wasted depends on the unit, but various

studies report that a pilot light burns $7.50 to $18 per month of natural gas, and even more for


appliances. They waste more than 20% of the gas used in the United States,

according to Cornell Environmental Health and Safety. A constantly burning pilot light also adds

heat to the house, which may be convenient in the winter, but adds to the heat load in the

summer and places an unnecessarily greater burden on the airconditioning

system. Even in the

winter, the appliance may be located in a utility room or other area that doesn’t require heating.

Also, a typical pilot light can generate 450 pounds of carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas over

a sixmonth


If an appliance isn’t needed for a long period of time, its pilot light may be extinguished to save

energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the risk of a fire or explosion.

Concerned homeowners can also purchase appliances equipped with the aforementioned

alternatives to the pilot light. If they have any additional issues or concerns related to pilot lights

or fuelburning

appliances, they should consult with their Certified Master Inspector® during

their next scheduled inspection.

In summary, pilot lights are a somewhat antiquated technology plagued by fears concerning fire

and energy waste, but safer and more energyefficient

alternatives are available.

Hearths and Hearth Extensions

A fireplace hearth is the floor area within a fireplace. It is made from noncombustible materials,

such as brick or stone. The hearth extension is the noncombustible material in front of and at

the sides of a fireplace opening. Hearths and hearth extensions are designed to prevent sparks

that leave the fireplace area from igniting nearby combustibles.



Guidelines for sufficient thickness and size of hearths and hearth extensions can be found in the

International Phase I Standards of Practice for Inspecting Fireplaces and Chimneys and in the

manufacturer’s instructions.

The following guidelines are from the International Phase I Standards of Practice for Inspecting

Fireplaces and Chimneys, which are also useful for homeowners to know:

The inspector should inspect the hearth, hearth extension, and chambers for joint separation,

damage and deterioration.

The 2006 International Residential Code (IRC) offers the following exception to the 2 inchthick

rule: When the bottom of the firebox opening is raised at least 8 inches above the top of the

hearth extension, a hearth extension of not less than 3/8inch

thick brick, concrete, stone, tile, or

other approved noncombustible material is permitted.

Homeowners should note that carpet or tile may obscure the hearth extension so that it may be

difficult to tell how thick it is.

In summary, hearths and hearth extensions are noncombustible surfaces designed to prevent

fires from spreading beyond the fireplace. If they are not large and thick enough, they might not

be sufficient to prevent the spread of fire.

Holiday Safety

The winter holidays are a time for celebration, and that means more cooking, home decorating,

entertaining, and an increased risk of fire and accidents. The Master Inspector Certification

Board recommends that you follow these guidelines to help make your winter holiday season

safer and more enjoyable.

The inspector should inspect for hearth extensions that have a thickness of less than 2 inches.

The inspector should inspect for hearth extensions that are less than 16 inches in front or less

than 8 inches beyond each side of fireplace openings that are 6 square feet or less.

The inspector should inspect for hearth extensions that are less than 20 inches in front or less

than 12 inches beyond each side of fireplace openings that are greater than 6 square feet.



Holiday Lighting

Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a



Avoid trimmings that resemble candy and food that may tempt a young child to put them in his


Holiday Entertaining

Use caution with holiday decorations and, whenever possible, choose those made with flameresistant,


and noncombustible


Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials, and do not use candles

to decorate Christmas trees.

Carefully inspect new and previously used light strings, and replace damaged items before

plugging lights in. If you have any questions about electrical safety, ask your Certified Master

Inspector® during your next scheduled inspection.

Do not overload extension cords.

Don't mount lights in any way that can damage the cord's wire insulation. To hold lights in place,

string them through hooks or insulated staplesdon't

use nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights

to remove them.

Keep children and pets away from light strings and electrical decorations.

Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from

faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.

Before using lights outdoors, check their labels to be sure they have been certified or ULListed

for outdoor use.

Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets, or loose


Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with groundfault

circuit interrupters to avoid

potential shocks.

Use only noncombustible

and flameresistant

materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel and

artificial icicles of plastic and nonleaded


Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use nonflammable

holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.

In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp and

breakable, and keep trimmings with small removable parts out of their reach.

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. When cooking for holiday

visitors, remember to keep an eye on the range.

Provide plenty of large, deep ashtrays, and check them frequently. Cigarette butts can smolder


in the trash and cause a fire, so completely douse cigarette butts with water before discarding.

Keep matches and lighters up high, out of sight and out of reach of children (preferably in a

locked cabinet).

Test your smoke alarms, and let guests know what your fire escape plan is.



Make sure the base is steady so the tree won't tip over.


Do not burn wrapping paper in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly

and burn intensely.

Toys and Ornaments

Place older ornaments and decorations that might be painted with lead paint out of the reach of

small children and pets.

Children and Pets


When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label "fireresistant."

When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull

from their branches, and when bent between your fingers, they will not break.

When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators and portable heaters.

Also, place the tree out of the way of foot traffic, and don’t block any doorways.

Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water

absorption, which will help keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.

Be sure to keep the tree stand filled with water. Heated rooms can dry live trees out rapidly.

Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers, and other decorations from the

fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.

Use care with "fire salts," which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They

contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.

Purchase ageappropriate

toys for children. Some toys designed for older children may be

dangerous for younger children.

Electric toys should be ULListed

and approved.

Toys with sharp points, sharp edges, strings, cords, and parts small enough to be swallowed

should not be given to small children.

Poinsettias are known to be poisonous to humans and animals, so keep them well out of reach,

or avoid having them in the house.

Keep decorations at least 6 inches above the child’s reach.

Avoid using tinsel. It can fall on the floor and a curious child or pet may eat it. This can cause

anything from mild distress to death.

Make sure that any ribbons on gifts and tree ornaments are shorter than 7 inches. A child could

wrap a longer strand of ribbon around his neck and choke.

Avoid mittens with strings for children. The string can get tangled around the child’s neck and

cause him to choke. Use clips instead. It’s easier to replace a mitten than a child.


Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Never leave a child or a

rambunctious pet unattended.



Inspect wrapped gifts for small decorations, such as candy canes, gingerbread men, and

mistletoe berries, all of which are choking hazards.


Have a trusted friend or neighbor keep an eye on your home.


A firestop is a passive fireprotection

method designed to reduce the opportunity for fire to

spread through unprotected openings in a rated firewall. Such openings are found around the

perimeter of pipes and wiring that penetrate firewalls.

Places where firestops are required:

Firestops must seal all unprotected openings in firewalls. In homes, firewalls are found in the

following locations:

firewalls that separate condominium units are often penetrated by utilities that serve multiple

units. These utilities are sometimes contained inside chases that should be sealed where they

pass through the firewall between units. Firewalls between units must be continuous, all the way

to the roof. Homeowners should have their CMI check in attics of multifamily

dwellings to make

sure that the firewall has not been violated in the attic space.

Common Problems with Firestops

Homeowners should look for any instances where firestops are missing, damaged, or otherwise

inadequate. Some descriptions of firestop deficiencies are as follows:

Store scissors and any sharp objects that you use to wrap presents out of your child’s reach.

Activate your home’s burglar alarm system.

If you plan to travel for the holidays, don’t discuss your plans with strangers or on social media.

between the garage and the living space, including the overhead ceiling;

between the attic and the living space. Homeowners should be on the lookout for fireplace and

wood stove flues that lack adequate firerated

sheetrock or metal flashing firestopping;

Missing firestop: Unsealed pipe penetrations will greatly reduce the ability for a firewall to

contain a fire. This situation is more common in old buildings than in new ones due to changes

in building code.

Cable or pipe replacement: Electricians and plumbers may partially remove a firestop in order to

install new cables and plumbing. A firewall’s fireresistance

rating will be compromised if the

opening created by this removal is not filled.

Improper installation: Firestops will be effective only if they are installed correctly. For instance,

firestop mortars are sometimes smeared into place unevenly and lack the required thickness at

certain points. Also, firestops that are installed on only one side of a penetration may not be

sufficient to prevent the spread of fire through the opening.



Common Firestop Materials



In summary, firestops are designed to prevent the spread of fire through unprotected openings

in rated firewalls.

Clothes Closet Lighting

People don’t often think about the fire risks posed by the light in their clothes closet, but it’s one

of the few places in the house where a source of high heat can get too close to flammable

materials. Lighting must be installed safely with adequate separation from clothes, boxes and

other flammables stored in the closet. Additionally, the quality of the light, as well as bulb

efficiency, will influence your lighting choices.

The 2009 International Residential Code (IRC) on "Permitted Luminaires and Clearance

from Clothing"

The IRC defines a "luminaire" as follows: a complete lighting unit consisting of a lamp or lamps,

together with the parts designed to

Firestop mortar: Cements made from lightweight aggregates, such as vermiculite or perlite, can

be used as firestopping. They are typically colored to distinguish them from other types of

cement that lack firestopping characteristics. For example, firestopping mortar made by Nelson

is colored red, and 3MTM Fire Barrier Mortar is bluishgray.

Intumescent: Any substance that expands as a result of heat exposure is considered an

intumescent. Intumscents used as firestops can be made from a variety of flameretardant

materials, such as graphite, hydrates, and sodium silicates. They are especially useful

firestopping materials for electrical cables, which can completely melt or burn away in a fire. The

expanding intumescent will partially or completely cover the exposed opening created by a

melted wire.

Firestop pillows: These items contain various flameretardant

and intumescent substances, such

as rockwool and graphite. They are filled loosely inside of a fiberglass fabric case that

resembles a small pillow. Firestop pillows can be inserted into openings in firewalls and used in

conjunction with other firestopping materials.

Sheet metal.



distribute the light, to position and protect the lamps and ballast (where applicable), and to

connect the lamps to the power supply.

Types of luminaires permitted by the 2009 IRC include:


fluorescent or LED luminaires identified as suitable for installation within the

storage area.

Luminaires not permitted by the 2009 IRC:

Incandescent luminaires with open or partially enclosed lamps and pendant luminaires or lampholders

are prohibited.

Clearances permitted by the 2009 IRC:

The minimum distance between luminaires installed in clothes closets and the nearest point of a

storage area shall be as follows:

1. Surfacemounted

incandescent or LED luminaires with a completely enclosed light source


be installed on a wall above the door or on the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum

clearance of 12 inches between the fixture and the nearest point of a storage space. 2.


fluorescent luminaires shall be installed on the wall above the door or on the

ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches. 3. Recessed incandescent

luminaires or LED luminaires with a completely enclosed light source

shall be installed in the wall or the ceiling, provided that there is a minimum clearance of 6

inches. 4. Recessed fluorescent luminaires shall be installed in the wall or on the ceiling,

provided that

there is a minimum clearance of 6 inches between the fixture and the nearest point of storage

space. 5. Surfacemounted

fluorescent or LED luminaires shall be permitted to be installed

within the

storage space where identified within this use.

Also, metal pull chains may be dangerous; if the base cracks, the chain can become electrified.

Color Rendering Index (CRI)

CRI is a quantitative measure of the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of various

objects faithfully, in comparison with an ideal or natural light source. The closer the CRI of a

lamp is to 100, the more "true" it renders colors in the environment. Poor CRI is the reason that

a shirt and pants that seemed to match at home now clash in the restroom at work. For clothes

closets lighting, the CRI should be as high as possible. Incandescent lights are inefficient but

they have a CRI of 100, making them the most aesthetic lighting choice. Compact fluorescents

lights (CFLs) are far more efficient and have a longer life than incandescent bulbs, but they

have a CRI in the low 60s, making them a poor choice for


or recessed incandescent luminaires with completely enclosed lamps, surfacemounted

or recessed fluorescent luminaires; and




clothes closet applications. Lowvoltage

halogen and LED lights are relatively efficient,


and have a high CRI, although not as high as incandescent bulbs.

In summary, homeowners should replace lighting in their clothes closets if the light has the

potential to ignite flammable materials in the closet.

Barbeque Safety

During barbeque season, homeowners should heed the following safety precautions in order to

keep their families and property safe.

1. Propane grills present an enormous fire hazard, as the Consumer Product Safety

Commission (CPSC) is aware of more than 500 fires that result annually from their misuse or

malfunction. The following precautions are recommended specifically when using propane grills:

a. Store propane tanks outdoors and never near the grill or any other heat source. In

addition, never store or transport them in your car’s trunk. b. Make sure to completely turn

off the gas after you have finished, or when you are

changing the tank. Even a small gas leak can cause a deadly explosion. c. Check for

damage to the tank before refilling it, and only buy propane from reputable

suppliers. d. Never use a propane barbecue grill on a terrace, balcony or roof, as this is


and illegal. e. No more than two 20pound

propane tanks are allowed on the property of a



home. f. To check for a leak, spray a soapy solution over the connections and

watch for bubbles.

If you see evidence of a leak, reconnect the components and try again. If bubbles persist,

replace the leaking parts before using the grill. g. Make sure connections are secure before

turning on the gas, especially if the grill hasn’t

been used in months. The most dangerous time to use a propane grill is at the beginning of the

barbeque season. h. Ignite a propane grill with the lid open, not closed. Propane can

accumulate beneath a

closed lid and explode. i. When finished, turn off the gas first, and then the controls. This

way, residual gas in the

pipe will be used up.

2. Charcoal grills pose a serious poisoning threat due to the venting of carbon monoxide (CO).


CPSC estimates that 20 people die annually from accidentally ingesting CO from charcoal grills.

These grills can also be a potential fire hazard. Follow these precautions when using charcoal


a. Never use a charcoal grill indoors, even if the area is ventilated. CO is colorless and


odorless, and you will not know you are in danger until it is too late. b. Use only barbeque

starter fluid to start the grill, and don’t add the fluid to an open flame. It is possible for the flame

to follow the fluid’s path back to the container as you're holding it. c. Let the fluid soak into the

coals for a minute before igniting them to allow explosive

vapors to dissipate.



d. Charcoal grills are permitted on terraces and balconies only if there is at least 10 feet of

clearance from the building and a water source immediately nearby, such as a hose (or 4

gallons of water). e. Be careful not to spill any fluid on yourself, and stand back when igniting

the grill. Keep

the charcoal lighter fluid container at a safe distance from the grill. f. When cleaning the grill,

dispose of the ashes in a metal container with a tight lid, and

add water. Do not remove the ashes until they have fully cooled. g. Fill the base of the grill with

charcoal to a depth of no more than 2 inches.

3. Electric grills are probably safer than propane and charcoal grills, but safety precautions need


be used with them, as well. Follow these tips when using electric grills: a. Do not use lighter fluid

or any other combustible materials. b. When using an extension cord, make sure it’s rated for

the amperage required by the

grill. The cord should be unplugged when not in use and kept out of a busy foot path to prevent

tripping. c. As always, follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Safety Recommendations for General Grill Use:

Keep alcoholic beverages away from the grill; they are flammable!

In summary, homeowners should exercise caution when using any kind of grill, as they can

harm life and property in numerous ways.

Kerosene Heaters

A kerosene heater, also known as a paraffin heater, is a portable, unvented heating appliance

that runs on the controlled burning of kerosene. In the U.S., it is used mainly for supplemental

heating and for emergency heat during a power outage. In Japan and other countries, it is used

as the primary source for home heating.

Always make sure that the grill is used in a safe place where kids and pets won't touch or bump

into it. Keep in mind that the grill will still be hot after you finish cooking, and anyone coming into

contact with it could be burned.

If you use a grill lighter, make sure you don't leave it lying around where children can reach it.

They will quickly learn how to use it.

Never leave the grill unattended, as this is generally when accidents happen.

Keep a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby.

Ensure that the grill is completely cooled before moving it or placing it back in storage.

Ensure that the grill is only used on a flat surface that cannot burn, and well away from any

fencing, shed, trees and shrubs.

Clean out the grease and other debris in the grill periodically. Be sure to look for rust and other

signs of deterioration.


Don't wear loose clothing that might catch fire while you're cooking.

Use longhandled

barbecue tools and flameresistant

oven mitts.



Kerosene burners operate in a manner similar to kerosene lamps: a fabric wick draws kerosene

from a tank via capillary action into a burning chamber mounted above. Once lit, the wick warms

nearby objects through radiation and convection. The user may control the burner’s heat by

raising or lowering the wick's height inside the burning chamber. The heater is turned off by fully

withdrawing the exposed wick into a cavity beneath the burner.

Kerosene heaters are favored for their portability, efficiency, and lack of reliance on electricity.

They also lack a pressurefed

fuel system, which is a significant safety advantage over standard

heating systems.

However, the following problems plague kerosene heaters:

Fire hazard. Highly flammable liquids are burned within the living space, creating vulnerability to

mechanical and humancaused


The aforementioned safety concerns can be addressed by inspecting for the presence of the

following safety design features:

Odor. While newer kerosene heaters do not present as much of a problem, all such heaters

emit a smell when they are being fueled. Odors typically cease after the heater begins burning

normally. If the odor does not dissipate, the cause may be because the wick may be too thin for

the heating unit, allowing kerosene vapors to pass through the wick gap and vent into the room.

Odors and excess smoke may also result from the combustion of lowgrade

fuel or

contaminated kerosene.

Inadequate ventilation. Kerosene heaters, like ventless fireplaces, vent soot, sulfur dioxide,

carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide directly into the living space. In modern wellinsulated

homes, an improperly adjusted, improperly fueled, or poorly maintained kerosene heater can

pose a serious health hazard.

an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) seal, guaranteeing that it has passed certain safety


a pushbutton,

automatic starter, which eliminates the need for matches;

a low center of gravity, which makes accidentally tipping the burner over less likely;

an automatic cutoff

device to turn the heater off in case it is tipped over. This device also

prevents kerosene from spilling during a tipover;

a grille attached to the front to prevent contact burns;

placement of the heater on a large, fireproof surface;

a model that is equipped with a wick this

makes flooding of the burner impossible;

all components made from heavy, durable metal;

a sturdy fuel tank, sealed and installed beneath the burner; and

a fuel gauge to prevent inadvertent overfueling.





Never move or carry the heater in the event of an explosion or flareup.

In an emergency,

activate the manual shutoff

switch, if the heater has one.

In summary, kerosene heaters are attractive alternatives to standard heating systems, although

they present certain health and safety concerns if improperly designed or operated.

Attached Garage Fire Containment

An attached garage is a garage that is physically attached to a house. Fires that begin in

attached garages are more likely to spread to living areas than fires that originate in detached

garages. For this reason, combined with the multitude of flammable materials commonly found

in garages, attached garages should be adequately sealed from living areas. A properly sealed

attached garage will ideally restrict the potential spread of fire long enough to allow the

occupants time to escape the home or building.

Why are garages (both attached and detached) fire hazards?

Burn only waterclear,

K1 kerosene that is not yellow or contaminated. While other grades of

kerosene may look like K1, they will release more pollutants into the home. Never burn gasoline

or any other flammable liquids, as they dramatically increase the risk of fire or explosion.

Do not use a kerosene heater in areas where explosive vapors may be present, such as in a


Always store kerosene in a container intended for kerosene and marked as such, and never in a

can that previously contained gasoline. Gasoline containers are typically red, while kerosene

containers are usually blue. The container should have a tightfitting

lid to avoid spills. Do not

store large amounts of kerosene or any other flammable liquid.

Never bring kerosene into the house other than the fuel in the heater, which should be filled

outdoors after the heater has cooled down.

Maintain a safe clearance between the heater and furniture, drapes, and other combustibles.

Do not place the heater in a hightraffic

area or in the way of an exit.

Instruct children to never touch the controls, and keep children and pets away from the heater at

all times.

Do not let the heater operate while the house is empty.

Ventilate the room by opening a door or window.

Oil or gasoline can drip from cars. These fluids may collect unnoticed and eventually ignite.

Flammable liquids, such as gasoline, oil and paint, are commonly stored in garages. Some

other examples are brake fluid, degreaser, motor oil, varnish, lighter fluid, and fluids containing

solvents, such as paint thinner. These chemicals are flammable in their fluid form, and some

may create explosive vapors.

Heaters and boilers, which are frequently installed in garages, create sparks that can ignite


fumes or fluids. Car batteries, too, will spark under certain conditions.



Mechanical or electrical building projects are often undertaken in the garage. Fires can easily

start while a careless person is welding near flammable materials.


The 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC) states the following concerning

doors that separate garages from living areas:

R309.1. Opening Penetration: Openings from a private garage directly into a room used for

sleeping purposes shall not be permitted. Other openings between the garage and the

residence shall be equipped with solid wood doors not less than 13/

8 inches in thickness, solidor


steel doors not less than 13/

8 inches thick, or 20minute



In addition, homeowners can check for the following while inspecting the door that separates

their garage from the living areas:

Pet doors should not be installed in firerated

doors. Pet doors violate the integrity of a fire


Walls and Ceilings

The 2006 edition of the IRC states the following concerning garage walls and ceilings:

R309.2. Separation Required: The garage shall be separated from the residence and its attic

area by not less than 1/2inch

gypsum board applied to the garage side. Garages beneath

habitable rooms shall be separated from all habitable rooms above by not less than 5/8inch

Type X gypsum board or equivalent. Where the separation is a floorceiling

assembly, the

structure supporting the separation shall also be protected by not less than 1/2inch


board or equivalent. Garages located less than 3 feet from a dwelling unit on the same lot shall

be protected with not less than 1/2inch

gypsum board applied to the interior side of exterior

walls that are within this area. Openings in these walls shall be regulated by Section 309.1. This

provision does not apply to garage walls that are perpendicular to the adjacent dwelling unit


While not required by the IRC, it is helpful if there is at least one step leading up to the door

from the garage. Gasoline fumes and other explosive gases are heavier than air, and they will

accumulate at ground level. Their entry beneath a door will be slowed by an elevation increase.

Doors should have tight seals around their joints to prevent seepage of fumes into the living

areas of the house. Carbon monoxide, with the same approximate density as air (and often

warmer than surrounding air), will easily rise above the base of an elevated door and leak

through unsealed joints.

Doors should be selfclosing.

Many homeowners find these doors inconvenient, but they are

safer than doors that can be left ajar. While this requirement is no longer listed in the IRC, it is

still a valuable recommendation.

If the doors have windows, the glass should be firerated.



In addition, homeowners can check for the following while inspecting walls and ceilings:

Drywall joints should be taped or sealed. Joints should be fitted so that the gap is no more than


with joints backed by either solid wood or another layer of drywall such that the joints

are staggered.


The 2006 edition of the IRC states the following concerning ducts that penetrate garage walls

and ceilings:

R309.1.1. Duct Penetration Ducts in the garage and ducts penetrating the walls or ceilings

separating the dwelling from the garage shall be constructed of a minimum No. 26gauge


sheet or other approved material, and shall have no openings in the garage.

Dryer exhaust ducts that penetrate garage walls are serious fire hazards. These ducts are

generally made from plastic and will easily melt during a fire, creating a large breach in the



The 2006 edition of the IRC states the following concerning floors in garages:

R309.3. Floor Surface Garage floor surfaces shall be of approved, noncombustible


The area of the floor used for parking of automobiles or other vehicles shall be sloped to

facilitate the movement of liquids to a drain or toward the main vehicle entry doorway.

In garages that have access to the attic, a hatch cover made from an approved, firerated

material should protect this access at all times. Missing or opened covers should be noted, as

should covers made from flammable materials, such as thin plywood. Garage attic doors must

be constructed such that the 45minute

rating is maintained; any drywall edges on both the

hatch and the surrounding area exposed to physical damage are protected. The cover or door is

installed so that it is permanent (nonremovable)

with hardware to maintain it in a closed

position and with latching hardware to maintain it in a closed position. This could be

accomplished by the use of springloaded

hinges, a door closer, or hardware that will not allow it

to be left in an open position when not in use. A single bolttype

or hookandeye

hardware does

not provide a positive closure, since these would allow the door to be left open. Likewise,

drywall screws are "fasteners" and not hardware, so they cannot be used as the only means of

keeping access doors closed.

The living space is separated from the garage by a firewall that extends from the floor to the

roof. If the ceiling material is firerated,

the firewall can terminate at the ceiling.



Homeowners may also want to check for the following:

Water heaters should be elevated above the floor by at least 18 inches. A pilot light may ignite

spilled fluid or floorlevel

flammable fumes if the water heater is placed at floor level.

Concerning items placed on the floor, homeowners should check for the following:

The floor should be clear of clutter. Loose papers, matches, oily rags, and other flammable

items are dangerous if they are strewn about the garage floor.

General Safety Tips for Attached Garages:

Tape down all cords and wires so that they’re not twisted or accidentally yanked out of the


In summary, attached garages should be sealed off from the living space so that fire may be




A room must conform to specific requirements in order for it to be considered a bedroom or

sleeping room. The reason for this law is that the inhabitant must be able to quickly escape in

case of a fire or other emergency.

Why would a homeowner use a nonconforming

room as a bedroom?

A curb is present along the perimeter of the garage floor. This curb is designed to prevent fluids

from entering the living areas of the house. Curbs are often useful barriers for melted snow

carried into the garage by automobiles, but curbs can also keep chemical spills contained in the


All flammable liquids are stored in clearly labeled, selfclosing

containers, and in small amounts.

They should be stored away from heaters, appliances, pilot lights, and other sources of heat

and flame.

Propane tanks should never be stored indoors. If they catch fire, a serious explosion may result.

Propane tanks are sturdy enough to be stored outdoors.

Use light bulbs with the proper wattage.

Do not overload electrical outlets.



Some of the reasons include:

lack of knowledge of code requirements. To the untrained eye, there is little obvious difference

between a conforming bedroom and nonconforming

bedroom. When an emergency happens,

however, the difference will be more apparent. If you have any questions about safety

requirements, ask your Certified Master Inspector® during your next scheduled inspection.

Homeowners run serious risks when they use a nonconforming

room as a bedroom. An

embittered tenant, for instance, may bring their landlord to court, especially if the tenant was

forced out when the faux bedroom was exposed. The landlord, upon being exposed, might

choose to adjust the bedroom to make it codecompliant,

but this can cost thousands of dollars.

Landlords can also be sued if they sell the home after having advertised it as having more

bedrooms than it actually has. And the owner might pay more than they should be paying in

property taxes if they incorrectly list a nonconforming

bedroom as a bedroom. Perhaps the

greatest risk posed by rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms stems from the reason these

laws exist in the first place: rooms lacking egress can be deadly in case of an emergency. For

instance, in January 2002, four family members sleeping in the basement of a Gaithersburg,

Maryland townhome were killed by a blaze when they had no easy escape.

The following requirements are taken from the 2006 International Residential Code (IRC), and

they can be used as a general guide, but bear in mind that the local municipality determines the

legal definition of a bedroom. Such local regulations can vary widely among municipalities, and

what qualifies as a bedroom in one city might be more properly called a den in a nearby city. In

some municipalities, the room must be above grade and equipped with an AFCI or smoke alarm

to be considered a conforming bedroom. Ceiling height and natural lighting may also be factors.

The issue can be extremely complex, so it’s best to learn the code requirements for your area.

Nevertheless, the IRC can be useful, and it reads as follows:

to earn money from it as a rental. While they run the risk of being discovered by the city,

landlords can profit by renting out rooms that are not legally considered bedrooms;

to increase the value of the home. All other considerations being equal, a fourbedroom


will usually sell for more than a threebedroom

house; and


sleeping room shall have at least one operable emergency escape and rescue opening. Such

opening shall open directly into a public street, public alley, yard or court. Where basements

contain one or more sleeping rooms, emergency egress and rescue openings shall be required

in each sleeping room, but shall not be required in adjoining areas of the basement. Where

emergency escape and rescue openings are provided, they shall have a sill height of not more

than 44 inches above the floor. Where a door opening having a threshold below the adjacent

ground elevation serves as an emergency escape and rescue opening and is provided with a

bulkhead enclosure, the bulkhead enclosure shall comply with SECTION R310.3. The net clear

opening dimensions required by this section shall be obtained by the normal operation of the

emergency escape and rescue opening from the inside. Emergency escape and rescue

openings with a finished sill height below the adjacent ground elevation shall be provided with a


window well, in accordance with SECTION R310.2.

o MINIMUM OPENING AREA: SECTION: R 310.1.1. All emergency escape and rescue

openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5.7 square feet. Exception: Grade floor

openings shall have a minimum net clear opening of 5 square feet.




Emergency escape windows are allowed to be installed under decks and porches, provided the

location of the deck allows the emergency escape window to be fully opened and provides a

path not less than 36 inches in height to a yard or court.

In summary, nonconforming

bedrooms are rooms that unlawfully serve as bedrooms, as the

occupant would lack an easy escape in case of emergency.

Window Wells

A window well is a semicircular

excavation that surrounds a basement window. It is typically

constructed from a solid barrier made from corrugated galvanized metal, masonry, plastic, or



WINDOW WELLS: SECTION R310.2. The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be

9 square feet, with a minimum horizontal projection and width of 36 inches. The area of the

window well shall allow the emergency escape and rescue opening to be fully opened.

Exception: The ladder or steps required by SECTION R 310.2.1 shall be permitted to encroach

a maximum of 6 inches into the required dimensions of the window well.

LADDER AND STEPS: SECTION R 310.2.1. Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44

inches shall be equipped with a permanently affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in

the fully open position. Ladders or steps required by this section shall not be required to comply

with SECTIONS R311.5 or R311.6. Ladders or rungs shall have an inside width of at least 12

inches, shall project at least 3 inches from the wall, and shall be spaced not more than 18

inches oncenter

vertically for the full height of the window well.

BULKHEAD ENCLOSURES: SECTION R 310.3. Bulkhead enclosures shall provide direct

access to the basement. The bulkhead enclosure with the door panels in the fully open position

shall provide the minimum net clear opening required by SECTION R 310.1.1. Bulkhead

enclosures shall also comply with SECTION R 311.5.8.2.

BARS, GRILLES, COVERS AND SCREENS: SECTION R 310.3. Bars, grilles, covers, screens

and similar devices are permitted to be placed over emergency escape and rescue openings,

bulkhead enclosures, and window wells that serve such openings, provided the minimum net

clear opening size complies with SECTIONS R 310.1.1 to R 310.1.3, and such devices shall be

releasable or removable from the inside without the use of a key, tool, special knowledge, or

force greater than that which is required for normal operation of the escape and rescue opening.

o MINIMUM OPENING HEIGHT: R 310.1.2. The minimum net clear opening height shall be

24 inches. o MINIMUM OPENING WIDTH: R 310.1.3. The minimum net clear opening width

shall be

20 inches. o OPERATIONAL CONSTRAINTS: R 310.1.4. Emergency escape and rescue

openings shall be

operational from the inside of the room without the use of keys or tools or special knowledge.



Window wells are usually installed for the following purposes:

to allow sunlight into a belowgrade

room that would otherwise rely solely on artificial lighting.

Window wells are often covered to prevent falls, as well as to discourage small children, pets

and wild animals from entering the wells and becoming trapped. For instance, a deer fawn

made the news in Utah after it was recovered safely after falling down a 12footdeep


window well. Covers will also prevent the accumulation of twigs, grass, mulch, and blowing

snow that would obscure sunlight and complicate emergency escape through the well. Covers

may be locked from the inside to prevent unwanted intrusion.

Window well covers, however, can block sunlight, ventilation, and emergency egress, especially

if they become covered with snow and ice. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to make sure

that the cover is cleared of snow and has not been frozen shut from ice. No items, such as

garden hoses, potted plants or tools, should be placed on top of window well covers. Note that

covers that are locked from the inside to prevent unlawful entry will be inaccessible to fire crews

and firstresponders.


Regarding their strength and operability, the 2007 edition of the International Code Council

(ICC), Section 3.4, states that window well covers shall support “a minimum live load of 40

pounds per square foot. The cover shall be operable from within the window well without the

use of tools or special knowledge, and shall require no more than 30 pounds of force to fully


Additional safety concerns include the following:

Size. According to the 2006 edition of the International Residential Code (IRC), Section R310:

The minimum horizontal area of the window well shall be 9 square feet, with a minimum

horizontal projection and width of 36 inches.

Even if the well seems large enough for members of a particular household, it might be a tight fit

for a fully equipped firefighter.

Structural damage to the barrier. Hydrostatic pressure and freezethaw

cycles can exert a great

deal of pressure on window wells and, over time, cause masonry to bend or crack. Check for:

emergency egress. If the window serves a living area as

opposed to an unfinished basement

with exposed utilities emergency

escape at a minimum of two locations is required. Window

wells allow windows to be used by escaping occupants and emergency crews attempting to

enter the house;

to prevent moisture damage to basement windows that are at or below grade. The window wells

keep the soil away from openings in the foundation walls while still allowing proper grading and

drainage away from the house; and

spalling, bowing, cracking or leaning in concrete;

cracking or bowing in plastic;


rust, bowing or ruptures in metal; and

insect damage or cracks in wood.



Lack of a ladder. The 2006 IRC, Section 310.2, states:

Window wells with a vertical depth greater than 44 inches shall be equipped with a permanently

affixed ladder or steps usable with the window in the fully open position.

Additional Tips for Homeowners

Consult with your Certified Master Inspector® if you have additional concerns regarding window

wells, covers, moisture problems, or emergency egress.

In summary, window wells are installed to allow emergency egress and to protect windows from

damp soil, but improper installation and maintenance can lead to moisture damage and safety

hazards, especially in an emergency.

Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are devices commonly found indoors and are used to douse fire and prevent

its spread. They are small metal canisters that contain compressed gas (usually nitrogen) that,

when activated, propel a directed spray of flameretardant

chemicals. Fire extinguishers are

effective only if the users understand where and why they are used.

Fire Type

Fire extinguishers are distinguished based on the types of fires on which they are effective.

These fires are classified by their fuel source and assigned identifying letters as follows:

Improper drainage. Waterlogged window wells can easily leak through a window into the

basement, especially following a heavy rain. Water intrusion can cause a variety of undesirable

conditions, such as mold growth, wood decay, corrosion, and insect damage. Check for a lack

of sufficient cleaning and maintenance both in the window well and elsewhere. Homeowners

should first make sure that gutters and downspouts are clear of debris, which can force water to

overflow from the gutters and collect in the window well and other low areas. Dirt and debris

should also be collected from the well. A qualified professional may be required to correct

structural sources of drainage issues, such as soil erosion, insufficient or settled drainage stone,

or the pulling away from the foundation of the barrier.

Window well covers can be screened or barred to provide pestfree


Teach children to avoid window wells, even if they are covered and appear sturdy.

Practice exiting the window, window well and window cover so that any previously unnoticed

obstacles can be removed. Repair or replace any equipment that does not function properly.

Speak with your local building department if you are unsure whether a window well is required in

your home. Your jurisdiction may mandate special size restrictions.

Metal window wells can have rolled edges for safety against cuts.



K class: These types of fires consume vegetable oils and animal fats, and generally happen in


NOTE: Although, technically, the letter rankings listed above refer to fire types, these symbols

can also be used to identify the extinguishers themselves. For instance, an extinguisher that

uses CO


can be

called a “CO


extinguisher” or a “BC extinguisher."

Extinguisher Types

No fire extinguisher can be safely and effectively used for every type of fire. Some contain

chemicals that are ineffective in certain situations and can even cause harm to the operator if

misapplied. To prevent confusion, extinguishers are classified by the type of chemical agents

they contain.

A few of the most common extinguisher types are listed below:

A class: fires that result from ordinary combustibles, such as wood and paper.

B class: fires that result from combustible liquids, such as kerosene, gasoline, oil and grease.

C class: fires of an electrical nature. These result from the combustion of circuit breakers, wires,

outlets, and other electrical devices and equipment. Extinguishers designed to handle this type

of fire cannot use chemicals that are conductive, since conductive agents increase the risk of

electric shock to the operator.

D class: fires resulting from combustible metals, such as sodium, potassium, titanium and

magnesium. These fires occur mostly in chemical laboratories and are rare in most other


Dry Chemical: There are two types of fire extinguishers that use a dry chemical. One is called


dry chemical and uses ammonium phosphate as the extinguishing agent, which is

effective on A, B, and C class fires. This chemical is corrosive and must be scrubbed from

surfaces after use. These types of extinguishers are very common and are found in schools,

homes, hospitals and offices. Sodium bicarbonate is used in extinguishers known as regular dry

chemical, which are capable of handling B and C class fires. These extinguishers are found in

garages, kitchens and laboratories. Sodium bicarbonate is easy to clean and nontoxic.

that Carbon Dioxide: These extinguishers contain liquid CO


is expelled as a gas. They are effective

against B and C class fires. Unlike other chemicals, CO



does not leave a harmful residue and

is environmentally friendly.



Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers: These devices are designed to combat K class fires and

commonly use potassium acetate. They are appropriately employed in commercial kitchens and

restaurants, especially around deep fryers. The chemical is emitted as a fine mist that does not

cause grease to splash onto other surfaces. They can also be used in A class fires.

Extinguisher Testing and Replacement

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends that extinguishers be tested every

five or 12 years, depending on the type. The standard method of testing—hydrostatic—is

conducted underwater where the cylinders are subjected to pressures that exceed their ratings.

Vessels that fail the test are condemned and destroyed, while the rest are reassembled and put

back into service.

According to the NFPA, extinguishers should be destroyed if any of the following conditions are

present (and they should not be tested):

a. if repairs by soldering, welding,

brazing, or the use of patching compounds exist; b. if the cylinder threads are worn,

corroded, broken, cracked or nicked; c. if there is corrosion that has caused pitting, including

pitting under a removable nameplate or name band assembly; d. if the fire extinguisher has

been burned in a fire; e. if a calcium chloridetype

of extinguisher agent was used in a stainless

steel fire extinguisher; f. if the shell is of copper or brass construction joined by soft solder or

rivets; g. if the depth of a dent exceeds 1/10 of the greatest dimension of the dent if not in a

weld, or exceeds


if the dent includes a weld; h. if any local or general corrosion, cuts, gouges or dings

have removed more than 10% of the

minimum cylinder wall thickness; and/or i. if the fire extinguisher has been used for any

purpose other than that of a fire extinguisher.

It also poses very little danger to electronics and is effectively employed in laboratories,

computer rooms, and other areas with sensitive equipment.

Water Extinguishers: These extinguishers are most suited for A class fires. However, they

cannot be used in B, C or D class fires. In B and D class fires, the water will spread the flames.

In a C class fire, the water is conductive and poses a risk of electric shock to the operator.

However, the misting nozzle of a water mist extinguisher breaks up the stream of deionized

water so that there is no conductive path back to the operator. Since the agent used is water,

these types of extinguishers are inexpensive and environmentally friendly.



When should a fire extinguisher be used?

Small fires can be controlled through the use of household or commercial fire extinguishers. A

household extinguisher can often completely douse a very small fire and prevent the need for

professional assistance. Even if a fire cannot be completely doused, a homeowner can

potentially control a blaze long enough with an extinguisher for firefighters to arrive. Fire

extinguishers should not be used if the operator is not sure if they have the proper type of

extinguisher, if they are not sure how to use it, or if they cannot avoid smoke or are in imminent

danger. If the operation of an extinguisher may place other people in danger, they should

evacuate the building and wait for fire crews to arrive.

What is on an extinguisher’s label? You'll find:

a tag that indicates if and when it was inspected.

Do fire extinguishers expire?

Fire extinguishers expire and they do this for a few different reasons. One common reason is

that, over time, the seal on the neck will weaken and allow compressed gas to escape.

Extinguishers that have lost much of their pressure will not operate properly. Pressure within an

extinguisher can be conveniently checked through a pressure gauge. ABCclass


phosphate) extinguishers have the tendency to fail due to solidification of the chemical in the

canister base. Homeowners can delay this process by periodically shaking the extinguisher.

Expensive extinguishers that have expired, especially those designed for commercial use, can

be refilled and resealed by companies that specialize in this service. Inexpensive models are


Unfortunately, an expiration date cannot be fully trusted, and there is no foolproof way to know if

an extinguisher is no longer functional. Due to the extremely destructive potential of fires and

the relatively low cost of extinguishers, it is advisable to replace or recharge questionable


In summary, extinguishers are classified based on their chemical ingredients, all of which have

their own strengths and limitations. It is important to know what type of extinguisher combats

what type of fire. Fire extinguishers are critical indoor safety devices that must be maintained

and checked regularly.

Smoke Alarms

A smoke alarm, also known as a smoke detector, is a device that detects smoke and emits an

audible sound and/or visual signal to alert residents to a potential fire.

essential information about the types of fires they can combat. Newer devices have pictures on

their labels that correspond directly to the fire types listed previously. Older models have letters

that serve the same purpose;

a numerical rating that designates the extinguishing potential for that particular model (Class A

and B);

instructions for operation; ad




Facts and Figures

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Every year in the United States, about 3,000 people lose their lives in residential fires. Most of

these deaths are caused by smoke inhalation, rather than as a result of burns.

Smoke Alarm Types

Ionization and photoelectric

are the two main designs of smoke detectors. Both types must

pass the same tests to be certified to the voluntary standard for smoke alarms, but they perform

differently in different types of fires. Detectors may be equipped with one or both types of

sensors known

as dualsensor

smoke alarms and

possibly a heat detector, as well. These

sensors are described as follows:


smoke sensors use a lightsensitive

photocell to detect smoke inside the detector.

They shine a beam of light that will be reflected by smoke toward the photocell, triggering the

alarm. These sensor types work best on smoldering fires but react more slowly to flaming fires.

They often must be hardwired

into the house's electrical system, so some models can be

installed only in particular locations.

While heat detectors are not technically classified as smoke detectors, they are useful in certain

situations when smoke alarms are likely to sound false alarms. Dirty, dusty industrial

environments, as well as the area surrounding cooking appliances, are a few places where false

alarms are more likely and where heat detectors may be more useful.


Individual authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) may have their own requirements for


placement, so homeowners can check with their local building department if they

need specific instructions. However, the following guidelines can be helpful.

Smoke alarms should be installed in the following locations:

Almost twothirds

of reported deaths caused by home fires from 2003 to 2006 resulted from fires

in homes that lacked working smoke alarms.

Older homes are more likely to lack an adequate number of smoke alarms because they were

built before requirements increased.

In 23% of home fire deaths, smoke alarms were present but did not sound. Sixty percent of

these failures were caused by the power supplies having been deliberately removed due to

false alarms.

Ionization smoke sensors are the most common and economical design, and are available at

most hardware stores. They house a chamber sided by small metal plates that irradiate the air

so that it conducts electricity. When smoke enters the chamber, the current flow becomes

interrupted, which triggers an alarm to sound. These sensors will quickly detect flamingtype

fires but may be slower to react to smoldering fires.

on the ceiling or wall outside of each separate sleeping area in the vicinity of bedrooms;


in each bedroom, as most fires occur during sleeping hours;



in each story within a building, including basements and cellars, but not crawlspaces or

uninhabited attics.

Smoke alarms should not be installed in the following locations:

in deadair

spots, such as the top of a peaked roof or a ceilingtowall


Power and Interconnection

Power for smoke alarms may come from being hardwired

directly into the home’s electrical

system, or it may come from just a battery. Hardwired

smoke detectors are more reliable

because the power source cannot be removed or drained, although they will not function in a

power outage. Batteryoperated

units often fail because the battery can be easily removed,

dislodged or drained, although these units can be installed almost anywhere. Older buildings

may be restricted to batterypowered

designs, while newer homes generally offer more options

for power sources. If possible, homeowners should install smoke alarms that are hardwired


a battery backup, especially during a renovation or remodeling project.

Smoke alarms may also be interconnected so that if one becomes triggered, they all sound in

unison. Interconnected smoke alarms are typically connected with a wire, but new technology

allows them to be interconnected wirelessly. The National Fire Protection Agency requires that

smoke alarms be AFCIprotected.

Tips for Homeowners:

in the basement, preferably on the ceiling near the basement stairs;

in the garage, due to all the combustible materials commonly stored there;

on the ceiling or on the wall with the top of the detector between 6 to 12 inches from the ceiling;


near heating or airconditioning

supply and return vents;

near a kitchen appliance;

near windows, ceiling fans, or bathrooms equipped with a shower or tub;

where ambient conditions, including humidity and temperature, are outside the limits specified

by the manufacturer's instructions;

within unfinished attics or garages, or in other spaces where temperatures can rise or fall

beyond the limits set by the manufacturer;

where the mounting surface could become considerably warmer or cooler than the rest of the

room, such as an inadequately insulated ceiling below an unfinished attic; or

Parents should stage periodic nighttime

fire drills to assess whether their children will awaken

from the alarm and respond appropriately.

Never disable a smoke alarm. Use the alarm’s silencing feature to stop nuisance or false alarms

triggered by cooking smoke or fireplaces.

Test smoke alarms monthly, and replace their batteries at least twice a year. Change the


batteries when you change your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Most models emit a chirping

noise when the batteries are low to alert the homeowner that they need replacement.



If you have any questions or concerns related to smoke alarms or fire dangers in your home,

consult with your Certified Master Inspector® during your next scheduled inspection.

In summary, smoke alarms are invaluable, lifesaving

appliances when they are installed

properly and adequately maintained.

Fire Sprinklers

In a growing trend that many say will save even more lives than smoke alarms and


detectors, fire sprinklers are now available for residences.

Every year, residential fires destroy lives and property. In 2007 in the U.S., there were 414,000

residential fires that caused:

$7.5 billion in property damage.

Residential sprinklers, listed by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), are now available to

homeowners. The development of chloropolyvinyl

chloride and other listed nonmetallic


has simplified installation, making sprinkler systems more costeffective.

Because of their

improved sensitivity, they are designed to respond to fires much faster than standard

commercial and industrial sprinkler systems.

Here are a few facts you might not know about fire sprinklers:

Smoke alarms should be replaced when they fail to respond to testing, or every 10 years,

whichever comes first. The radioactive element in ionization smoke alarms will decay beyond

usability within 10 years.

Smoke detectors should be replaced if they become damaged or wet, are accidentally painted

over, are exposed to fire or grease, or are triggered without apparent cause.

Note the sound of the alarm. It should be distinct from other sounds in the house, such as the

telephone, doorbell and pool alarm.

2,895 fire deaths;

14,000 injuries; and

On average, they use significantly less water to extinguish a fire than would be required by the

fire department. Sprinklers use just 10 to 26 gallons per minute (gpm), while fire crews use 125

gpm per hose.

Insurance premiums are often lower for homes that are equipped with fire sprinklers, which help

pay for the systems.

In houses equipped with sprinklers, 90% of fires are contained by the operation of a single

sprinkler head.

Newer fire sprinkler heads are designed to activate independently of one another, leaving

unneeded heads in reserve, and sparing watersensitive


Fire sprinklers are triggered only by temperatures that surpass a certain heat threshold, making

it practically impossible to trigger them accidentally.




A recent study conducted by the UL found that house fires are getting worse; the time needed to

escape some types of fires has been reduced from approximately 17 minutes to as little as three

minutes, in some situations. According to the study, this change is largely due to the disuse of

natural fabrics for furnishings, such as wool, cotton and rayon, in favor of more flammable

synthetics, such as polyester and plastic. Sprinkler systems are thus becoming increasingly

more important in residences, just as they have been relied upon in commercial buildings for


Sprinklers respond to fires immediately and automatically from locations that may be dangerous

for firefighters to reach. In contrast, fire departments can be quite slow to respond, given the

following potential delays:

Fire trucks can be slowed by traffic, and they can even get lost en route.

In residential applications, sprinklers are smaller than traditional commercial sprinklers, and they

can be aesthetically coordinated with any room décor and mounted flush with walls and ceilings.

They are also inexpensive, relative to the value of the structure and the potential damage

inflicted by a fire. Presently, the cost of a home sprinkler system will add 1% to 1.5% to the cost

of new construction, and the price will probably come down in the future. Although more

expensive, it is possible to retrofit existing homes with sprinkler systems.

Tips for Homeowners:

Never hang anything from any part of a fire sprinkler system.

In summary, residential fire sprinklers are a valuable, costeffective

safety addition to any home,

although they require periodic maintenance.

House Numbers

House numbers should be clear enough so that police, the fire department, paramedics, etc.,

can quickly locate properties in an emergency. House numbers are often the only way that


can identify their intended destinations. A number of jurisdictions have begun

enforcing laws through strict fines for homeowners who do not comply with laws that impose

requirements for house numbers.

In rural areas, it may take a long time for fire trucks to reach their destination.

Calls made at night are responded to more slowly than calls made during the day, as most

career and volunteer firefighters are asleep.

If the 911

call comes from a cell phone, the dispatcher will have greater difficulty pinpointing

the fire’s location than if the call comes from a landline.

While some fire departments are always wellprepared,

in many areas, the firefighters require

time to assemble, get suited up, and prepare the fire truck.

Always make sure control valves are in the open position.

Always report damage to any part of a sprinkler system immediately.

Never paint a fire sprinkler.


Never stack items close to fire sprinklers, as this may reduce their heat sensitivity. The tops of

stored items and furniture should be at least 18 inches below fire sprinklers, according to the

National Fire Sprinkler Association.



Local Regulations

Many municipalities and counties have implemented ordinances requiring property owners to

standardize the display of house numbers on buildings. The city of St. Martinville, Louisiana, for

instance, is considering requiring its citizens to display street numbers in block numbering that is

at least 4 inches tall and is either illuminated at night or has a reflective finish. If the ordinance is

passed, the city will fine offenders $200, plus hundreds more in court fees. In Florida, the cities

of Clearwater, Largo and St. Petersburg have begun enforcing their own municipal codes that

regulate the visibility of house numbers, imposing fines for violators.

Common Requirements

In order for house numbers to be visible from the street, Certified Master Inspectors® advise

that they should:

be clearly displayed at the driveway entrance if the house is not visible from the road.

According to 6.5.12 of the International Standards for Inspecting Commercial Properties,

inspectors should:

Inspect the address or street number to determine that it is visible from the street with numbers

in contrast to their background.

Future Adjustments

Even if a house number is currently adequate, it might need adjustment in the future. The

following are common reasons for future adjustments:

be large. Jurisdictions that regulate the size of street numbers generally require them to be 3 to

6 inches tall. Many jurisdictions require that the numbers be of a certain thickness, such as


as required by New York City;

be of a color that contrasts with their background. Reflective numbers are usually helpful

because they are easier to see at night than numbers that are not reflective;

not be obscured by any trees, shrubs, or other permanent objects;

face the street that is named in the house’s address. It does emergency workers no good if the

house number faces a different street than the one the workers are traveling on;

The numbers assigned to houses by the municipality occasionally change, and homeowners

must adjust their house numbers accordingly.

The trees or shrubs in front of the house have grown so much that the number is no longer

visible. House numbers installed in the winter may be visible during that season but become

blocked by budding vegetation by spring or summer.

House numbers will require maintenance when they get dirty. Numbers may not be reflective or

contrasting if they are covered in mud.



Snow piles created by snow plows during the winter may be high enough to cover the number. If

this happens, the number should be raised so this situation does not repeat.

In summary, house numbers serve a critical function for emergency personnel and should be

clearly displayed.

Electrical Safety

Aluminum Wiring

Between approximately 1965 and 1973, singlestrand

aluminum wiring was sometimes

substituted for copper branchcircuit

wiring in residential electrical systems due to the sudden

escalating price of copper. After a decade of use by homeowners and electricians, inherent

weaknesses were discovered in the metal that led to its disuse as a branch wiring material.

Although properly maintained aluminum wiring is acceptable, aluminum will generally become

defective faster than copper due to certain qualities inherent in the metal. Neglected

connections in outlets, switches and light fixtures containing aluminum wiring become

increasingly dangerous over time. Poor connections cause wiring to overheat, creating a

potential fire hazard. In addition, the presence of singlestrand

aluminum wiring may void a

homeowner’s insurance policy. Homeowners should talk with their insurance agents about

whether the presence of aluminum wiring in their home is a problem that requires changes to

their policy.

Facts and Figures

In April 1974, two people were killed in a house fire in Hampton Bays, New York. Fire officials

determined that the fire was caused by a faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), "Homes wired with aluminum

wire manufactured before 1972 ['old technology' aluminum wire] are 55 times more likely to

have one or more connections reach fire hazard conditions than is a home wired with copper."



Aluminum as a Metal