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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