A Stairway to Heaven

Properly built and equipped stairs are easy to use whether you are familiar with the house in question or not. Unsafe stairs are an accident waiting to happen. The homeowner may claim that, “those stairs have been like that for years and no-one has gone to the hospital yet”. The keyword is ‘yet’. Along with other criteria, home inspectors want to see stairs that are: solid; level; consistent and compliant in step height and tread depth; have sufficient head-room; are well-lit; and appropriately guarded by handrails and ballasters.

It doesn’t seem like much of a big deal when one step is a different size, but if you expect the next one to be like the last one, the surprise can easily take you for a tumble. We often see this on decks where pre-cut stringers or improperly installed interlock create an odd-sized step at the top or bottom. Stairs must be custom fit to evenly divide the overall height between the platforms with a consistent rise that conforms to the range specified in your local building code. Here are a few examples of the kind of things we often see.

Trip hazard Inconsistent steps
Trip hazard Inconsistent steps
Stair with no light or handrail Stairs not level
No light or handrail Stairs not level
Stair with no landing or handrail Stairs broken
Stair with no landing or handrail Stairs broken

Not having sufficient light in a stairwell is risky. Having no light and no handrail is temping fate. Each additional non-conforming factor just adds to the risk. Broken stairs and treads that aren’t level can be treacherous. Exterior stairs can ice up in cold weather and be very slippery. Landings are required to safely enter and exit buildings with more than three risers.

Home inspectors pay such close attention to steps and stairways to improve stair safety. According to the mortality data from Statistics Canada, there were 388 deaths due to falling down stairs and steps (table 102-0540, 2009). One can only assume that there are many times more stair-related injuries as well. If you recognize any of these issues on the stairs in your home, take corrective action now. Make sure that the only stairway to heaven in your home is on a playlist.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Don’t Get Hosed by your Washing Machine

Traditional rubber washing machine hoses that feed hot and cold water to your washer can deteriorate over time. This makes them susceptible to rupturing and potentially flooding your home. The recent trend of locating laundry facilities on the second floor of the home for proximity to the bedrooms further exacerbates the problem, as the flooding occurs in finished areas of the home rather than a basement. Having a drainage tray installed is a good and helps if the pump housing breaks, but ruptured hoses will spray in all directions circumventing the tray’s protection.

Below on the left is a picture of a washing machine supplied by rubber hoses. On the right you can see what steel-braided washing machine hoses look like. You can buy them in a package of two for about twenty-five dollars at the big box hardware stores. All you need is access to the back of the machine and a pair of pliers to install them. The principle is that the wrapping of the hose with the steel braid reinforces the hose and does a better job preventing ruptures. Make sure there are no kinks after you install your new hoses.

rubber supply hoses steel-braided hoses

While we’re on the topic, you can lessen the risk by turning off the shutoff valves while you are away on vacation. A lot of water can pass through a pressurized hose in a week or two. Newer plumbing installations (as per picture to the right above) have a single lever ball-valve that makes this easy. Of course you still have to remember to use it.

Is age the only factor that causes rubber hoses to burst? Well, probably not. Another factor that I think contributes is water-hammering. The solenoid valve in a washing machine that controls the water flow pretty much goes from full flow to no flow in a split second. The sudden stop of the pressurized water really hammers the pipe and supply hoses. Not all all water supplies have hammering that you’ll hear, but the surge of water still sends a shock wave through the line. Like most things in life, the weakest components fail first. If you have old rubber supply hoses, you have a flood waiting to happen.

Anti-hammering devices can be installed between the hose connection and the supply line to reduce the effects of the hydraulic pressure wave. They act as a shock absorber to reduce hammering and the noise that commonly accompanies it. Here’s an article at About.com that shows you an anti-hammering device and discusses how to install them.

As a Home Inspector I frequently comment on rubber supply hoses to washing machines.I hope these tips help you to be comfortable and safe in your new home.

Author: Rob Cornish is a Home Inspector in Ottawa, Canada. © 2013 HomeXam Inc.
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Factory-Built Modular Homes

Modular homes are an approach to modern construction that has slowly been gaining acceptance. Probably because the efficiencies of constructing buildings in a factory setting has several advantages. Regardless of the weather, the materials and crew are protected indoors; water damage is eliminated and productivity is high. On-site time is greatly reduced and much of the construction waste is handled at the factory.

I recently went on a tour of Guildcrest Homes in Morewood, Ontario, just outside of Ottawa. Several model homes are on display at the property to help purchasers see some of the many designs available, but the real action is in the factory behind. In a one hundred thousand square foot building, house modules start their life at one end of the building and emerge at the other end packaged and ready to ship. The company manages the construction process through eighteen stages of completion supplying materials and related tradespeople as required.

First wall on deck In the first stage, the deck is built and set onto steel wheels that guide the developing module through the factory on tracks in the floor. Here we can see that a protective layer of paper has been laid down on the deck and the first wall section has been lifted into position by crane. The section already has vapour -barrier and drywall installed. To the right, we can see a module that already has its interior and exterior wall sections in place.

Walls up The factory has workshops that specialize in producing various sub-components like stairs and roof trusses. The sub-components are made to the custom requirements of the individual module’s design and transported to the factory just in time for assembly. With the framing done and drywall in place, crews can work to install electrical and plumbing from the outside and the interior through openings in the drywall where required.

Siding and trim Insulation, sheathing, windows and doors, siding, soffit and facia trim are all applied on the exterior while drywall is taped sanded and painted on the inside. The completed module will have shingles and interior finishes including flooring, cabinets and plumbing fixtures installed. Sufficient wiring is bundled at the end of each electrical circuit to complete the run to the electrical panel. I’ve glossed over the work performed here pretty quickly because the materials are not unique its the environment and the order they are installed in that differs.

In normal construction emphasis is on getting the building envelope sealed so that materials are protected and the work then shifts to building from the outside shell inwards. In the factory environment, once the drywall is installed work can be performed on both sides of the wall. Supply of materials is much easier, as is working from a level concrete floor or from permanent overhead scaffolding when shingling the roof.

Ready to travel At the end of the production line, the module is wrapped in plastic to protect it from the wind and elements while shipping. Hydraulic jacks lift the module off the steel wheels and onto higher stands. A transport truck backs a trailer under the module and it is lowered to be hauled away. Guildcrest’s website has a nice sequence of shots showing the craning of the finished modules onto a waiting foundation. Their installation makes for a dramatic advancement in a single day at the construction site. Of course there is still work to be done on site to link the modules together, connect electrical and plumbing runs and install any brick veneer or stonework required.

Guildcrest estimates that only one percent of the new-build housing market is being supplied by factory-built modular homes. Given it’s advantages we are likely to see more of this approach to residential construction. As a home inspector, I like the potential of higher quality construction in homes that are better sealed from the elements. If significant cost savings are passed on to the consumer, expect to see more modular homes going up in a subdivision near you.

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

The traditional method of assembling the wood framing members that hold up a residential roof structure was a manual process of custom cutting rafters, ceiling joists and the various pieces required. For the last couple of decades, virtually all roof framing is built as factory manufactured components that are assembled on site. There are several advantages to this approach. Engineered designs allow greater loads to be carried with smaller dimension lumber; saving material costs. Greater uniformity in the components helps with the quality of construction. Factory automation provides labour savings on-site as trusses can be lifted into place as finished components. Less skill is required in the field and roof structures can be framed in less time.

Truss manufacturing companies serve builders by efficiently producing trusses at their factories and shipping them to the construction site. Smaller trusses are lifted by hand and larger ones are often lifted by crane to be installed. The process start with specialized design software that takes design parameters as input and creates truss designs that meet load, span and code requirements. In large part, trusses form a repetitious design element where each truss is offset parallel to the next by a standard amount.

A truss is made up of a top and bottom chord and supporting pieces between called webbing that are often arranged in a triangular pattern. There are truss designs to accommodate different requirements like cathedral ceilings, attic storage, tray ceilings and so on. Truss manufacturers cut several of each component and assemble the parts in jigs for speed and accuracy. At the joints, the pieces are held in place by a gusset, which is a plate with many fasteners. In earlier versions the gussets often were a piece of plywood covering the end of several parts held together with numerous nails. Now the most common gussets are galvanized sheet metal cut with many tangs that are pressed into the wood.

Laying out truss components

You can see how the workers assemble each part of the truss on a table according to the design. Gussets are laid on the joints and a press rolls into position and pushes the tangs down into the wood for a strong and secure joint. The process is repeated over and over until enough trusses have been produced for the house. Then they are shipped to the construction site. The first picture shows the layout of pieces and the second the press in action.

Pressing the gussets

In the example shown the trusses are relatively small and only form one half of the roof for a modular home. It’s not uncommon for trusses to span more than thirty feet in length and take the entire load for that distance. This removes the need for load bearing walls in the interior space of the house and facilitates open designs and subsequent interior renovations. Because trusses carry so much of the load in a house, it is critical that the design follows engineered specifications and that the plan is followed accurately on site. Municipal building officials help to ensure that code issues like nailing, bracing and other requirements are consistently applied. As home inspectors, we visually examine the trusses, typically from an attic hatch, to see if we can spot any damage to truss components or improper modifications. Given the limited view possible from this vantage point it can only be a cursory examination.

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

Knob and Tube wiring was one of the earliest techniques used to distribute electricity in our homes. It’s referred to as Knob and Tube because of the ceramic insulators that were used to pass the wire through and around obstacles. The Tube lined a hole through a stud or joist and the wire fed through it to protect the structure from contact. Knobs were used to secure the wire and at points with changes in direction. The wire itself was a product of the times; copper with a cloth woven covering impregnated with a waxy substance to protect the wires from moisture. Unlike modern wiring, each conductor was a separate wire and there was no ground wire.

Aluminum wires in electrical panel

The first installations were all retrofits and the wiring was mounted on wall surfaces. As new homes were built knob and tube wiring was incorporated into the wall structure like today’s wiring is. Since using electricity was new, there were very limited uses for it and the amount of current supplied was small, typically 30 amps. Today’s homes use at least 100 amps and in those of any size 200 amps is common. As new electric appliances, televisions, computers and other devices came along electrical services were upgraded in older houses.

It wasn’t overly difficult to upgrade the electrical service and distribution panel, but the existing distribution wiring hidden in the walls was a greater challenge. The effort and disruption of opening walls to replace the wiring was more than many homeowners were prepared to undergo. Often older houses developed into hybrid systems. This left sections of Knob and Tube wiring in some of the more difficult to access original sections of the home and updated wiring was used in remodelled sections and new additions.

This is part of the reality that home buyers face today when purchasing homes that predate about 1940. Somewhere in that building one or many runs of old Knob and Tube wire may still be hidden in the wall. It’s not that the wiring doesn’t work, but it doesn’t meet modern electrical and safety standards. Amateur connections between old and new wiring can be problematic and because the presence of Knob and Tube is considered undesirable, old wiring is sometimes left hidden and goes undisclosed. To be fair, the current owner may have no idea that it’s there.

Ultimately this falls into the risk that a home buyer accepts when they purchase an older home. Along with the charm comes the workmanship and technology of the day. As Home Inspectors, we look for signs of Knob and Tube wiring, but it’s a visual inspection and we can’t open up the walls to satisfy our curiosity. Another reason that Knob and Tube wiring becomes relevant at the time of purchase is that insurance companies are none too fond of it. You may have fewer companies to choose from, and those that do cover it, may do so at a higher cost.

The purpose of this article was to help you understand Knob and Tube wiring and the issues it raises in buying older homes. Wiring issues can be always be addressed with enough effort. It is just one of many issues to be considered and a licenced electrical contractor should be consulted when it is discovered. Hopefully the remaining use of Knob and Tube is limited and the associated costs to upgrade will be manageable.

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

First of all, aluminum is a good conductor. It weighs less and costs less than copper. That’s why utility companies have been using it in their transmission lines for many decades and continue to do so to this day. From the mid-sixties to the late seventies aluminum wire was installed in residential electrical systems because the price of copper had spiked. You may have heard that the presence of aluminum wiring in a house is a cause for concern. I’ll try to explain what the issues are and you can decide what to do from there.

The primary concern is the risk of fire from improper installation. It all happens at the connection points. Aluminum oxidizes when exposed to the air. This really doesn’t matter except at the connection points between wires. Unfortunately aluminum oxide is a poor conductor. It creates resistance in the flow of electrons and it results in heat being generated. If there’s enough heat, there’s a chance of fire.

To add to the problem, aluminum has a different expansion ratio than other metals commonly used in electrical systems. Repeated heating and cooling of connections where aluminum wire joins copper wire or another metal, such as under a receptacle screw terminal, can cause the connection to work its way loose. Once loose, oxidation between the formerly airtight connection now starts to build up.

There are products that have been developed to help deal with these issues. One is anti-oxidant compound that can be applied over the tightly twisted ends of the wires. It looks and feels like grease and blocks oxygen out of the joint to stop oxidation. Special aluminum-rated connectors or “Marrettes” should be used to join aluminum wires and aluminum to copper wires.

Terminal crews on components like receptacles and switches were improved to have more secure terminal screws. Of course these more specialized components come a significantly higher cost. To reduce cost, tradesmen have adopted the practice of “pig-tailing” the final connection. This means that regular components are used with a short “pig-tails” of copper wire which is then properly joined to the longer run of aluminum wire through the walls.

Aluminum wires in electrical panel

So if all this works, why do you still care about whether there’s aluminum wire in the house? One reason is that just the stigma alone may discourage buyers when you go to resell. On the other hand, if it doesn’t bother you there’s likely other buyers who don’t care either. There’s thousands of houses out there that are still happily standing with aluminum wire in them. Depending where you live another challenge might be getting insurance coverage. You are likely to pay a premium price when you find it.

So why don’t you just replace all the wiring with copper? The key question is how much it will cost. The major hassle is accessing those wires behind the walls. Bungalows with unfinished basements are the easiest to deal with since the electrician can get to most of the wiring directly. When you have to open up the walls and repair them things quickly get more challenging and expensive.

Hopefully this article has given you a better understanding of why Home Inspectors try to point out the presence of aluminum wiring in any house they inspect. You should have gained an idea of the impact that its presence may have on you. For some it’s and major issue and for others it’s barely a blip in the new home buying process.

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

When a foundation crack is severe enough that it compromises the ability of the wall to carry its load, we call it a structural crack. Left unattended to the integrity of the foundation will continue to degrade but there are remedies. This article describes one example of the repair of a structural crack in a poured concrete foundation wall.

Structural crack discovery Structural crack revealed

Initially the crack may not look too serious, but once it is chipped out for repair it is obvious that it extends all the way to the footing. The chipping opens the crack to accept concrete and allows the to bond with the wall. Next an adhesive rubber membrane seals the repair from any water. Steel plate straps are bolted into anchors drilled into the wall. In this case the straps go around the corner but the technique works just as well on straight section of wall. The excess thread on the bolts is cut off and a dimpled plastic membrane called Platon is attached and sealed to the wall. The purpose of the Platon is to sheet water down to the footing weeping tile and away from the crack. A porous fill like gravel is used for backfill to make sure any surface water can drain rapidly.

Structural crack patch Structural crack platon

Obviously there is some hard work to make this repair happen and the cost can be considerable. However if the crack is structural a repair really isn’t optional. This is work for a foundation repair specialist. General contractors may be able to come up with a solution, but time is money and a specialist is going to do it right the first time. And nobody wants to pay for a second time.

Photos courtesy of AboveWater Foundation Waterproofing & Restoration Services Inc.

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

We all pick up ideas in passing about various subjects that we accept at face value. Perhaps even helping to pass them on to others with the full conviction that we are sharing a bit of wisdom. Most of the time these truisms are valid but every once in a while a myth sneaks in undetected. Here are a few home maintenance misconceptions.

  1. You test a smoke detector by pressing the ‘test’ button.
    If there’s no smoke the circuit had nothing to test except that the batteries still had power. Basically you are pushing the on switch for the alarm. If you want to test for smoke detection you need to present some smoke within range of the detector. A blown out candle or wooden match is more than enough to a functional smoke detector. While you are checking you might want to confirm that the detector is less than ten years old. I’ve been told that’s about length of their effective life. I hope it wasn’t a myth.
  2. Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors should be installed near the furnace.
    Only if you enjoy the occasional false alarm. Small amounts of CO are not uncommon around furnaces or other combustion sources. As for the ongoing debate over high or low placement in a room, there are arguments for each. If you desire more precise measurement and memory for duration testing the digital plug-in models fit the bill and will typically be 18 inches off the floor. Hardwired CO and smoke combination units are typically installed in ceilings and are an affordable alternative. High or low the one placement guideline to make sure you follow is that at least one alarm can clearly be heard in the sleeping areas.
  3. The bigger your range hood fan the better.
    This is potentially a life threatening concern because if your mega-fan is pushing too much air it has to come from somewhere and that may be your smouldering fireplace or conventional gas water heater. While it seems like an excellent idea to get rid of cooking odours and humidity, you need to balance the volume of air being blown out with the fresh air that replaces it. If that 600 cubic feet per minute fan has a 6 inch outlet, and you have unsealed combustion devices in the house, plan on putting in a 6 inch fresh air inlet. Back-drafting poisonous combustion gases and smoke into your home is unpleasant at best and fatal at worst. On the positive side you’ll find out if your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors work.
  4. Blocking your combustion air supply is a good idea.
    I see this occasionally while inspecting homes. If you have a conventional gas water heater or furnace they rely on a duct from the outside to provide a fresh air source for combustion. Some people worry about that cold air coming in the combustion air supply and stuff a rag or towel in it to block it. Bad idea. The fresh air inlet keeps air flowing up the chimney and is much less likely to create a back-draft situation as per the previous item.
  5. The finer your filter the better for your furnace.
    Not really. Furnace filters were created to protect the furnace and can operate quite well on the lowest MERV rated filter at your local hardware store. The finer the filter you buy the sooner it will get clogged up with dirt, forcing you to change it more often. One of the worst things you can do to your furnace is let the furnace filter get really dirty. It makes the blower motor work too hard and can actually burn them out.The higher rated filters were created to improve the air quality in the house for you and your family. They can screen out much smaller particles like smoke, pet dander and pollen, but are much more expensive. When buying your furnace filters remember that you are really paying that extra money to look after the health of your loved ones. If you change them often enough, your furnace will stay healthy too.

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

As a Home Inspector, I frequently find cracks in the foundation at the lower corners of basement window openings. They occur there so often because it’s a weak point in the wall. The depth of the concrete in the window opening is less than the full height of the foundation wall surrounding it. When pressure from uneven settling or heaving acts on the wall, the wall in the window well cracks first. Does this mean that if we didn’t have any basement windows that we wouldn’t have any cracks? Not necessarily. If the pressure is great enough the wall will eventually crack somewhere. Besides basement windows have their virtues.

So now that we have accepted cracks at basement windows as a fact of modern living, why do we worry so much about them? Any crack is a potential entry point for water. Cracks within the confines of a window-well are in what amounts to a catch-basin for water. If water pressure builds up against a cracked basement wall, sooner or later that water is coming through to damage your basement renovations and possessions.

Modern basements should be built with a plastic membrane on the outside of the foundation to feed water down to the footing. From there it should run away through the perforated drain pipe installed at that level. All too often these components are missing or defective in older houses. Occasionally relatively new homes have these problems as well. What matters is that the homeowner gets to the bottom of the problem before the damage starts. And the best way to get to the bottom of the problem is for a foundation repair contractor to start digging.

Here we see the work the contractor has already done. Crack repaired The area around the crack has been excavated and the crack has been filled and covered with tar or an adhesive rubber membrane to seal it. Next a harder plastic sheeting that has a waffle-like texture is attached to the wall with fasteners shot into the concrete. The dimpled pattern will encourage water to percolate down to the footing more easily. You can see the new piece of perforated pipe that has been joined to the weeping tile at the footing.

Gravel is used as fill because it is porous and allows water to flow to the footing as well. The hole is filled with gravel and a galvanized window well is attached to the wall. Dirt fill is replaced around the window well and the grade is finished to slope away from the foundation wall. Finally the a cap is placed on the drain to lessen the likelihood of it becoming blocked with debris. All that remains to be done is to install some sod and enjoy a drier basement.

Note that multiple techniques have been used in combination to resolve this problem.Filled in a ready for sod The wall was made as impermeable as possible. A platon membrane (the waffle), porous fill and a weeping tile has been installed to help remove whatever water arrives outside the wall. And finally, the grade has been sloped away from the wall to run water away. In combination they add up to the best solution to a crack that allows water into a basement. Because of all the work, the bill can add up to a hefty figure as well. All the more reason to make sure you get a good foundation repair contractor.

Photos courtesy of AboveWater Foundation Waterproofing & Restoration Services Inc.

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