Toddler-Proofing your Home: A Home Inspector’s View

Toddler danger

Toddlers present many challenges for parents; not the least of which are the hazards their rapidly improving mobility presents. They are curious about everything and have few fears to protect them. There will be plenty of the common sense advice offered elsewhere dealing with topics such as poison control, stair gates, safety locks, sharp furniture corners, operating strings on blinds, and so forth. As a Home Inspector, I hope to be able to add some tips that deal with the house itself.

Many opportunities for injury in the home come in the form of climbing hazards. Kitchen cabinets sometimes have built-in under the counter wine racks that must look like a jungle gym to a toddler. Park the wine somewhere else for a year and consider blocking the opening with the back of an upholstered chair. Wine mini-fridges are a newer trend. Hopefully the door is lockable.

Stove doors and dishwasher doors are tempting platforms to climb. Some manufacturers provide anti-tipping brackets for their stoves. They work by holding down the back feet of the stove. The brackets cost less than five dollars and can be found at your neighbourhood Lowes or Home Depot. Oh, and they protect everybody else in the family too.

Dishwashers can have the same tipping problem if they are not installed properly. They come with a strap that should be screwed in the laminate counter top near the latch. With stone and synthetic counters hopefully the trim is screwed into the cabinets. Just leaving the door open is a tripping hazard and of course there’s always sharp cutlery to grab. Keeping the door closed when you are not actively loading or unloading is your best bet.

Stair balusters (those repeated vertical bars that run down from a hand rail) should be no more than four inches apart. The risk being trapping a toddler’s head between the bars. In older homes, particularly outside on balconies and decks, multiple horizontal rails were sometimes used. Another invitation to climb. Consider upgrading the railing system to a more modern solution. Make sure that deck boxes, benches and chairs are not up against a railing.

Toddlers like to hold onto the balusters as they descend a staircase because they can’t reach the railing. Be careful if you have winding stairs. In most cases the exposed side with the balusters will have the skinny end of the stair treads. This creates a situation where a short misstep can result in a long fall. Coaching children to go up and down the stairs on the wide side of the stair treads may end up being safer. Don’t forget that stairs have always been a hazard for people of all ages.

In the last few years there’s been a trend of using stainless steel horizontal handles on pot drawers. Not just a climbing hazard, they also extend at the ends to present a danger to young faces when toddlers inevitably run through the kitchen. Possible temporary solutions include removing the handles if you can easily open the drawer from the edge, or installing safer knob handles in the existing holes.

Shelving units commonly use pins in drilled holes to support the weight of a shelf. This poses a couple of hazards. Shelves can be easily pulled out and will drop their contents on unsuspecting little ones. Climbers may breakout particle board materials, resulting in similar consequences. You can temporarily remove shelves at the lower levels or reinforce the shelves with more permanent brackets. Also remember to secure any tall objects that a little one might pull over onto themselves.

Lever handles on doors are a convenience but may be too easy to operate on particularly risky doors, like the one in front of the basement stairs. Consider swapping a safer lockset until toddlers are fully in control.

Gas fireplaces are a commonplace feature of our homes. Few realize that the pilot light can keep the glass face quite warm to the touch. It’s a simple matter to turn off the pilot to avoid a tearful episode. Wood-burning fireplaces have their own issues. Ashes can still be burning hot the morning after a romantic fire and they can make an incredible mess on carpets. While we’re at the fireplace, if you have a set of fireplace utensils sitting in front of the hearth, consider storage for a while.

Something that we see quite often these days are fridges that serve water and ice in the door. This can be quite entertaining for toddlers who learn to operate them by themselves. The wet floor presents a slip and fall hazard. Most units will have a combination of buttons that will lockout water delivery. See your appliance’s user guide for instructions.

Ladies here’s a hazard you’ve wanted to fix for years. Tell the guys they need to keep all the toilet lids down or risk an expensive plumbing call to snake your cellphone out of the drain pipe. If that doesn’t motivate, you might point out that some toilet seats are heavy enough to break little fingers. I’m referring to those solid wood or epoxy resin replacement seats.

Some homes have solid metal doorstops that stick out from the baseboard. A trip and fall just waiting to happen. You can replace them with doorstops that are spring that will bend before a tiny foot gets caught. The downside is that the annoying sound of pinging them seems to amuse small children for long periods of time.

Some replacement designer heat registers have openings large enough to snag a toddler’s toes. It only takes a minute to swap them out of the areas that the little ones will be playing in. It would be unfortunate to have a setback when everyone is so excited about newly acquired walking skills.

Everyone has probably seen the plastic safety inserts for electrical receptacles. Unless your house was built in the last few years, you may not be aware that newer homes have tamper-resistant receptacles. As you already know, toddlers learn quickly by observing adults. Removing an insert or sliding cover is just another lesson to be practised. If you are remodelling, or if you decide the extra safety is warranted in a given play area the tamper-resistant receptacles are an easy upgrade.

I wish you and your little ones the best of health and protection from life’s bumps and bruises.

Author: Robert Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. His daughter survived falling on her head off a counter top, falling headfirst down a winding staircase, cutting her forehead falling against the fridge, and sticking a screwdriver in an electrical receptacle. Despite these, and other heart-stopping mishaps, she has still grown into a beautiful and brilliant woman.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Home Inspection Guide for Sellers

House for sale

Now that the big picture decisions of affordability, room layout and neighbourhood are behind them, buyers are going to examine your house in much finer detail. They are trying to picture how it will feel to live there. Everybody gets used to their own messes but other peoples’ are much less appealing. A little extra effort at this final stage can help keep a nervous buyer moving forward.

The goal should be to get as many of the little items taken care of as you can to keep them from bulking up the inspection report. This can help to relieve the anxiety of the buyer, who might be intimidated by the reality of the closing and still has to waive their conditions. Why not reassure them that the house is in top shape in as many ways as possible?

Quick Fixes

Replace any burned out light bulbs. A burned out bulb suggests that you haven’t been keeping up on the little things around the house. A cautious inspector will now spend twice as much time to make sure they see everything.

Install missing and replace damaged receptacle covers (with the power off for safety of course). Inspectors will write up every missing receptacle cover they see as a safety hazard. It is commonly treated as a major safety and immediate item. Why have those items in the report when its such an easy fix?

Make sure your furnace filter is clean and replace if necessary. Furnace protection plans are often transferable to the new owner. Have the documentation out on the kitchen table. It’s a great way to reassure the buyer that their furnace maintenance is up to date.

Inspectors don’t like to see leaves and debris accumulating in window wells. It only takes a few minutes to scoop them out and eliminate another item from the report.

Make sure the pilot light is on in your gas fireplaces. Some inspectors refuse to turn on any gas appliances for fear that they are not operating properly. This ends up in a phone call from the agent or as an item for followup inspection. Its just easier to avoid the possibility and have them on and ready. By the way if your unit uses a remote control to operate, have it out in plain sight.

The inspector is most likely going to detect the signs of significant work such as foundation repairs. Inspectors will report evidence of past water intrusion for sure. Rather than having the prospective buyer worrying about expensive repairs, and possibly losing the deal, a much better impression is made if you freely display the paper work for the repairs that addressed the problem.

A Bit of Elbow Grease Required

Funky smells get noticed and nobody appreciates them. If the kid’s sports equipment or accumulations of laundry are developing a fragrance all of their own, take the time to do the wash and put the equipment in the trunk of your car. If that seems like a gross idea, it just proves the point. Flush toilets, clean litter-boxes and diaper pails. Scrub any mildew around tubs and showers. Emptying and deodorizing garbage pails is a good idea. Take fifteen minutes to air the house out, but don’t over do the chemical air fresheners and deodorizers.

The fewer signs that there are pets in the house the better. It’s a good time to take the pets with you for a walk. Make sure someone has done a thorough poop cleanup in the yard. You may think the buyer loves animals too, but if they show up with Mom, Dad or their Mother in Law, their opinion may be unnecessarily soured. Nobody will appreciate stepping on one of your pet’s landmines.

The inspector is going to climb up to have a look in the attic hatch. Most of these hatches are in closets and sometimes those closets are stuffed with belongings. First, you probably would prefer us not to be handling your stuff to clear out the closet enough to spread a stepladder. And second, although we try to be neat and tidy, its almost inevitable that some insulation will fall down through the hatch. Far better to move a few things now than to have suits to clean later.

Most inspectors won’t run the appliances, but the home buyer might. Empty the washing machine, clothes dyer and dishwasher. If you have a built-in vacuum cleaner, this might be a good time to empty it as well.

Turning off the electrical power is the safest way to inspect the distribution panel. If you have special equipment that requires continuous power try to make accommodation for a brief shutdown. I once had a house with a couple racks of computers in the basement serving several online businesses. In that case it was pretty obvious, but if I had thrown the switch before noticing the computers it might have been awkward. At the very least, make sure the inspector hears about stuff like this before hand. Confirm after the inspection that power has been restored to GFCIs, thermostats and timers you depend upon.

Please make sure there are no dishes or laundry items left soaking in the sinks. Sinks that drain slowly will be reported. It might not be fun, but you can clear them with a plunger or by emptying the traps. Those curved sections under the vanity have a plug or nut that can be loosened to flush them out. Have a tub underneath and a rag handy.

If winter snow has accumulated, clear off walkways, porches, balconies, decks and if possible the driveway. Whatever the inspector can’t see will become a report item. This doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, just that the inspector can’t reassure the buyer of their condition. Don’t shovel snow off the roof. You will more likely damage the roof and it’s a risky activity.

A Few Bucks But Probably Worth It

Squeaky floorboards get noticed. There are special screws that will fix squeals under carpet, hardwood and linoleum floors. They are specially designed so that they tighten the floor to subfloor or joist with minimal visibility. The screw heads snap off to leave a small hole below the surface which should be invisible in carpet floors and easily filled in hardwood. An excellent explanatory video is available from the manufacturer, O’Berry Enterprises, Inc.

Door hinges sometimes need a little lubrication on the hinge pin to stop a squeak. Some people use oil or powdered graphite, but both can be messy and can drip or work its way out where it can be seen. Grease is a better choice. Be careful to use just a little. See your local Lowes or Home Depot for plumber’s grease or alternate product. Here is a handyman site that has a good how to page on this topic.

Ripped window screens can be taken to your local hardware store for repair. The inspector will want to operate your windows. You can find replacements for cranks missing from casement windows at Lowes or Home Depot. Thermopane panels in windows sometimes have failed seals that show up as moisture or stains in between the sheets of glass. This can be a pricey item to fix in any quantity. I’ve seen houses that had more than half a dozen of these located throughout the house and it can become a renegotiation issue. There are three approaches to be considered, replacing the entire window, just replacing the glass or attempting to repair the seal. You may decide fixing a prime picture window location to be a good investment. Then you can provide the paperwork to the buyer when discussing the others. Here’s more window seal repair information.

All inspectors comment on areas where surface water runoff will drain toward the house rather than the preferred direction away from the house. Eavestrough downspouts often deliver water too close to the foundation. By extending downspouts, six feet where possible to a downhill grade, the water runs away form the house and has little chance of soaking down along the basement wall. Toronto Eavestroughing has produced an excellent video explaining how to reroute a downspout. In this case the eavestrough had been flowing underground but the same principles apply to extending a surface feeding downspout. For more explanation see their website.

Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors that are discoloured or nearing ten years of age will be reported. Most detectors are now hard-wired to the electrical supply, so make sure you turn off the right circuit breaker before replacing them. Replacing with the same model or brand can reduce this to a quick plug in to the existing connector. If you are the least bit uncomfortable working with electricity seek help, but its pretty simple and here’s a very thorough video guide from

If you are a bit handy or have access to a handyman these issues can be readily addressed. They aren’t showstoppers but they help to remove items from the inspectors report.

Final Thoughts

Just in case the selling agent doesn’t have your cell phone number with them, it’s a good idea to leave it out on the table. Sometimes a quick answer can help clarify things quickly. For those few hours you are out of the house, disable the security alarm. Everybody might have a good laugh later but the inspection could get derailed. You can always let a neighbour know that an inspection is happening.

If you can take your animals with you it would be best. The non-pet people will appreciate it and there will be people opening outside doors and gates that any escape artists might take advantage of. The inspector needs access to all parts of the house. Dogs with an attitude can stop things cold. If you have work conflicts, you might consider asking someone to watch ‘Spike’ for the day.

Look here for a printable home inspection checklist.

Finally, make sure you are not at home during the inspection. Be out for at least four hours. As welcoming as you intend to be, it can still be awkward for the buyer. Not having the freedom to inspect at their leisure feels uncomfortable. This is a crucial part of the buying process when you want them to feel as much ‘at home’ as possible. One last piece of advice, don’t show up at the end of the inspection and ask how it went. As much as you want to know the answer, the inspector reports to the buyer and the buyer needs time to absorb the contents of the report. Rest assured, you will find out as soon as the buyer is ready to tell you.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Tips for a Good Home Inspection

A home inspection is an important part of your diligence in buying a home. Here are some tips to help you get the most value out of your inspection.

  • Start by finding a good inspector. Check your inspector’s qualifications. They should have completed a community or junior college program in home inspection and be a member of a professional association dedicated to home inspection. Try to stick to inspectors that only do home inspections. While real estate agents are aware of inspectors in the area and may provide referrals, an independent source may be advisable. Friends and relatives may know someone that they liked but you need an inspector that you have rapport with. You should feel that your inspector is interested in your questions and that you are comfortable communicating with them.
  • Once that trusting relationship starts out on the right foot, don’t undermine it by price shopping or asking for cash deals. Give as accurate a description of the house as you can. If you want to work with a professional, be a good client and respect the team members working for you.
  • Book a reasonable time for the inspection. Make sure you leave a little room before your condition expires for any other inspections or contractor estimates that may become necessary. Wells, septic systems, pools and wood-burning appliances are examples of specialized inspections that are frequently called for. You may lose control of the deal if you have to ask for more time to do them. There’s little point in starting after dark if you want your inspector to see exterior deficiencies. Most inspectors will work on weekends but most appreciate a free Friday evening. Statutory holidays aren’t popular either. It’s also a good idea to get the first inspection on the next available day rather than try to force a third one in on a busy day.
  • Review the inspection contract and standards of practice before you arrive at the inspection. It will help you to understand the service you are getting and avoids wasting time on site that could be better spent inspecting.
  • Good inspectors have a process that they follow to help them keep on track and cover all the things they need to look at. By all means ask questions but do your part to help keep things on track by asking questions in the room they pertain to.
  • Be ‘present’ at the inspection both physically and mentally. You are the client and the decision maker for your purchase. Make sure you are there so that you gain the most insight into the condition of the property. Don’t bring kids, relatives, leave pets in the car or carry on long personal phone conversations. It’s tempting to share the excitement and get input from others but there will be another time for that. During the inspection, anything that distracts you from seeing and understanding the potential issues with your new home is counterproductive. Worse yet, too many background conversations can get in the way of your inspector seeing everything you want them to find.
  • Don’t be a ‘Yabbut’! Some buyers are already so emotionally attached to the property that they get defensive when a defect is identified. If you jump in with a ‘Yeah but … my brother can fix that’ or ‘Yeah but … I don’t plan on using that bathroom’, you are not listening. Don’t debate the defects as they are found, you will have plenty of time to discuss the issues after the inspector delivers the report. Remember that you are paying for the inspector to find defects and that every house has them. You want to find out about them now so that you have options and can get estimates if needed.

Good luck with your purchase and I hope this has helped you get more out of your home inspection.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.

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