If you're a homeowner, you undoubtedly work hard to protect your home. But homes face all sorts of threats, some less obvious than others. Being armed with knowledge about these dangers can save your house, and in some cases, even your family.
Click through to learn about 10 hidden dangers in your home.
Toxic mold, or black mold, is one of the greatest dangers in homes, because it's often hidden behind walls or bathroom tiles. Its presence can cause severe illness, including headaches, flu-like symptoms and, in rare cases, death.
The mold typically begins to accumulate where excess water is present. Water often comes from a leaking pipe, roof or even clogged gutters. You can often tell if you have toxic mold because you'll smell a musty odor. If you also have physical symptoms, you should also investigate for mold.
If you have toxic mold, the Center for Disease Control offers guidelines for cleaning small outbreaks. But if the mold growth is extreme or if you are concerned that you can't take care of it yourself, hire a professional with mold-cleaning expertise to do the job.
Roof and Gutter Problems
Proper gutter and roof maintenance is essential to home safety. In winter, a clogged gutter can lead to ice damming, which can cause roof leaks, as well as an overflow of water at your home's foundation. Obstructions left in a gutter during any season can cause rainwater to puddle around the edge of the roof and foundation, which can lead to leaks and flooding. Foundation cracks and rotting wood can also result from excess water.
Clear your gutters and drainspouts of debris regularly — at least twice a year — to avoid damage.
Poor Pipe Maintenance
Poorly maintained pipes can lead to pipes freezing, cracking and flooding, and that can cause costly damage to your home. Keep your pipes insulated with a foam sleeve, and during winter, turn off the water supply to outdoor faucets. Be sure to keep the taps open; this will relieve internal pressure in the pipes caused by temperature changes.
Also, poorly maintained pipes can become clogged or develop cracks. A pipe with a crack as small as 1/8 of an inch can leak up to 250 gallons of water a day, while clogged pipes can become breeding grounds for dangerous molds.
To detect plumbing problems before they become severe, schedule seasonal inspections with a licensed plumbing contractor.
If you've experienced any of the following, it may indicate faulty wiring in your home: dimming lights, discolored or melting light socket fittings, shocks from electrical appliances, frequently blown fuses or excessive sparking when a light is turned on.
Faulty electrical wiring can be extremely dangerous, leading to electrocution or fires. If you suspect a problem, call a licensed electrician immediately to examine and, if necessary, repair your wiring.
Improper Construction Methods
Improper house construction can lead to cracks in the foundation. These cracks can create problems that include cracking sheet rock, swelling door frames and window jams.
Cracks in the foundation can also lead to water entering your house and causing mildew to form. The worst-case scenario is total foundation failure, in which your foundation walls bow until they give way and your home collapses.
If you detect cracks in the foundation — even if they're minor — contact a contractor to assess the damage and make repairs.
When lightning strikes occur, they can increase the electrical charge in power lines, which can send a power surge through your home's wiring, appliances and electronics, even if the strike occurred a mile away from your house.
The surge can damage your appliances and electronics, and — in the worst cases — spark fires. To help prevent damage from surges, unplug appliances and electronics during electrical storms.
In case you aren't available to unplug electronics, remember to keep them plugged into a surge suppressor, which diverts the heightened current into a grounding wire. But keep in mind that suppressors cannot be guaranteed to protect your electronics in the event of a lightning strike.
Keep your home's chimney clean, clear and well-maintained. If you don't, the consequences can be dangerous and even deadly. When there are gaps or cracks in your chimney flue, noxious gasses that contain carbon monoxide or soot can drift into your home rather than be vented out. These gasses can lead to asphyxiation.
Additionally, if large amounts of soot have built up in your chimney, they can catch fire. To help prevent fires and other dangers, have your chimney professionally cleaned at least once a year, or more if you use it frequently.
When hiring a chimney sweep, be sure to look for someone who is accredited with the National Chimney Sweep Guild or the Chimney Safety Institute of America. These organizations can also help you locate professional chimney inspectors and repairmen.
Dryer Vent Fires
Failure to properly clean and maintain your dryer vent can lead to fire. As lint collects in the lint trap and dryer vent, it can cause the dryer to operate at a high temperature, possibly overheating and in the worst cases, causing a fire.
To prevent fires, clean your lint trap before and after using the dryer, and clean dryer ducts regularly. It's also important to use metal ducts rather than foil or plastic ducts, which are known to sag, trapping lint. Also, if a fire were to occur, a metal duct would be more likely to keep it contained.
Remember to regularly clean inside, behind and underneath your dryer, because lint can also accumulate there over time.
Before you fire up the barbecue at your next cookout, consider this: Gas grills are involved in an average of 3,400 home fires each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The liquid petroleum gas or propane used in gas grills is extremely flammable; a leaky or clogged gas-supply hose can lead to fires or explosions. Additionally, the heat and flames from a grill that's too close to a house or in an enclosed porch can pose a danger.
To help prevent fires, check your gas-supply hose regularly for cracks and clogs from insects or grease, and always place your grill at least 10 feet from your home in an area with no overhead obstructions.
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Termites have been called a silent destroyer, because many homeowners don't realize they suffer from an infestation until it is too late.
You can recognize the presence of termites by either seeing the creatures, finding piles of discarded wings, or by seeing mud tunnels along your home's foundation or in your crawlspace or interior walls.
Although most people understand the dangers that termites pose, they don't often take steps to prevent termites from thriving in their home's wood.
Most homeowner's insurance policies won't cover termite damage, but you can sometimes sign annual contracts with pest-control agencies that will inspect your home regularly and, if an infestation is discovered, treat it at a reduced cost.