What is Asbestos?Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is a known carcinogen--meaning it is capable of causing cancer. Asbestos has been utilized throughout history for a number of practical uses, dating back to Ancient Greek and Egyptian societies who used asbestos in the embalming process and in candle wicks. In 1900s America, asbestos was used in a range of industries from automobiles, the military, and in building our homes. The benefits of asbestos are many. It is a great insulator and is also fire retardant. So for homeowners trying to keep warm but also concerned about their house burning down, asbestos offered two highly sought after services. It wasn't until the 1970s that the U.S. government began warning about and regulating the use of asbestos.
RisksIn spite of its many uses, asbestos has one--huge--disadvantage: it causes cancer. More specifically asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the chest and abdominal cavity). The cancer is a result of inhaling the fibers of asbestos mineral that are released into the air. In extreme cases where asbestos exposure becomes cancer-causing, some common symptoms include:
- pain or difficulty breathing
- coughing blood
- a cough that doesn't go away or worsens
- shortness of breath
Detecting asbestos in your homeThe ways in which asbestos can make its way into the air are innumerable. Sometimes drilling into a ceiling that is blown with asbestos insulation causes the fibers to fall into the home. However, there are other places asbestos has been used in homes such as in flooring, paint, and wallpaper used around wood-burning stoves. According to the EPA, you generally can't tell if something contains asbestos just by looking at it. If the asbestos containing material is in good condition it is recommended that you leave it alone. However, if you are planning a remodel that will disturb the material (work which involves breaking ceilings, walls, or flooring) it is recommended that you seek out a certified inspector.
Removal or repair?If an inspector deems part of your home unsafe due to asbestos fibers they will help you determine if the asbestos needs to be removed or simply repaired. In minor cases, a contractor will be able to repair the fix that is causing asbestos fibers in such a way that it doesn't need to be removed entirely. In more severe cases, the asbestos may need to be entirely removed by a contractor. It is important that you don't attempt these repairs or removals yourself as they require safety equipment and precautions that only accredited professionals have access to.
“The silent killer.” It’s a perplexing name for a common household hazard. We’ve all heard of the dangers of carbon monoxide, but few of us are taught exactly what causes CO poisoning.
Understanding the causes of CO poisoning are essential in reducing the risk that you or your family could be harmed by this poisonous gas. So, in this article we’ll break down what exactly it is that carbon monoxide does to the body, where it can occur in the home, and how to protect yourself against it.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas. Because it is so dangerous to humans, fuels that emit carbon monoxide are usually mixed with other gases that do have an odor. This way, humans can typically smell gas and therefore be alerted that they are in danger.
What does CO do to the body?
When inhaled, carbon monoxide inhibits your body’s ability to use oxygen. So, even though you are breathing in air, your body is still suffocating. As a result, the lack of oxygen caused by carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to death the same way that drowning does.
High levels of CO in the air can cause you to succumb within minutes. Your chest will tighten, you’ll feel dizzy or drowsy and could suffocate if you don’t get away from the area.
However, lower levels of CO exposure can also be dangerous. People often notice headaches, slight dizziness and muscle fatigue and mistake the symptoms for the flu.
People who are asleep can die from carbon monoxide poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms.
Where is CO found within the home?
Since carbon monoxide occurs from unburned fuels leaking in the air, there are a number of sources within and outside the home that emit carbon monoxide.
According to the American Lung Association, some common sources of carbon monoxide include:
Gas appliances (furnaces, ranges, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers, etc.)
Fireplaces, wood stoves
Coal or oil furnaces
Space heaters or oil or kerosene heaters
Charcoal grills, camp stoves
Gas-powered lawn mowers and power tools
Automobile exhaust fumes
How to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning
Luckily there are several ways to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning. Knowing what causes it is the first and most important way. Preventing gas leaks in appliances and maintaining proper upkeep of those appliances is one important way.
Another tip to keep in mind is to make sure your home is well ventilated. If cooking for a long period of time, don’t leave gas ranges unattended. If the knobs on your range are easily turned, make sure children and pets aren’t left alone near the oven.
Never use items like kerosene lanterns, portable camping stoves, burning charcoal, or running engines inside your home or garage. Lack of ventilation can easily cause CO levels to rise to a dangerous level within minutes.
Common mistakes involving carbon monoxide include running lawnmowers or other gas-powered items inside a garage, or leaving a car running in a garage.
Finally, install a carbon monoxide detector in your house and garage. Change the batteries regularly and test the alarm often. If you smell gas in your home and can’t identify the source immediately, open the windows and leave the house.
- Ask for a Friend: If you are going to be gone for longer than a few days, it’s probably wise to ask a friend, neighbor or family member to stop by and check on your house. They can grab the mail and newspaper, water plants, and make sure the house is still standing. Consider paying someone to stay at your home full-time to take care of your pets. Generally, it will be cheaper than boarding them and you won’t be displacing them while you’re away.
- Do NOT post on social media: Social media is a staple for many to share their life, but it’s best not to post on social media that you will be heading off to the Caribbean for a week— unless you have someone staying at your house full-time. This gives burglars the perfect opportunity to break into your home.
- Remove spare keys: It’s best to give the person watching your home the spare key and have them hold onto it and remove additional spares key. There are rarely any creative spots to hide spare keys and leaving it under your welcome mat is asking for someone unwanted to enter your home.
- Timer lights: Invest in a timer for your lights. If your lights turn on periodically, it will look like someone is at home. It will also save you money compared to if you were to leave your lights on constantly while away.
- Unplug appliances/electronics: Unplug anything that will not be used while you are on vacation. This includes toasters, computers, printers, television, etc. Even though they are not on they could still be using up energy.
- Close windows/lock doors: Remembering to close your windows and lock your doors sounds like it would be easy, but it’s probably not the first thing on your mind when going on vacation. Set a reminder on your phone to check all of your windows, making sure they are locked if low to the ground, and locking the doors that you are not exiting from.
- Use a safe: If you have a safe or locked drawer, it’s very wise to place important things into it while you’re gone. Important paperwork, jewelry, and emergency money that you leave around the house are all items that you should be putting a safe place, such as a safe or locked drawer.
- Clean refrigerator condenser coils or fans Just like changing the oil in your car, the best approach to maintaining your appliances is by keeping a schedule. The coils or fans beneath your refrigerator aren't something you probably look at often. But they can get covered in household lint and dirt, which will shorten the life of your unit. We recommend cleaning them twice a year (mark it on your calendar!) or, if you're a pet owner, check the coils every couple months--all that fur your dog loses in the spring will end up clinging to your refrigerator coils. Be sure to check your manual on the best way to clean your refrigerator.
- Avoid your oven's self-clean feature Many modern ovens offer what seems like a saving grace--a "self-clean" feature. Imagine never again having to reach into the depths of a grease splattered oven. The catch? This popular function can also damage your oven or blow fuses. Plus it'll probably set off your smoke detector in the process. Our best advice? Baking soda and vinegar--consider it today's arm workout and scrub.
- Rinse dishwasher filters Many modern dishwashers in the USA crush food debris before draining them to avoid clogging your fixtures. This comes at the cost of being much louder than filter-based dishwashers. If your dishwasher has a filter ideally you should clean it at least as often your refrigerator, but if you start to notice a smell from the washer when it's clean you know it's time to rinse out the filter.
- Empty your dryer lint trap after each use When your dryer can't move air efficiently it can't dry efficiently. Running a dryer with a full lint trap places undue stress on the dryer, shortening its lifespan. The best way to remember this one is to make a habit out of cleaning it immediately when you open the dryer door. If you plan to clean the lint trap after you fold your clothes you may forget as you leave to put away your clothes.
- Don't overload your washing machine We've all had nightmares of coming home to a soapy lake in our basement. Overfilling your washing machine usually won't cause it to overflow. But it can damage or break the machine. Mind the size of your load when you fill the machine and save those king sized comforters for the laundromat. A good rule of thumb for load sizes: a small load fills a 1/3 of the machine, medium fills 1/2, and a large load fills 3/4.Keep these five cleaning tips in mind and you could end up saving hundreds on your home appliances.
StairsStairs are the most obvious and most important thing to consider when making your home senior friendly. You probably have at least three sets of stairs in your home, but some people have many more. When it comes to making stairs safe for seniors and those with limited mobility you have three main options: Chair lift - If someone needs to get up a long flight of stairs, chair lifts are the most useful item to have in your home. These are expensive additions to a home, however, so you probably wouldn't want to invest in one unless it is a permanent alteration. Ramp - Ramps are great for outside stairways. At the very least you should have one ramp leading to your house. These can be assembled temporarily as well, which makes having a ramp a good option if you have a house guest with limited mobility. Alter current stairs - All stairs that remain in your home should have sturdy rails. If your stairways don't have any, installing rails is a good idea in general. Steps should have nonstick surfaces. You can buy an adhesive grip at most hardware stores. Rearrange - If your house guest is only staying for a short while it doesn't make sense to build ramps or buy an expensive chair lift. Instead, make sure they can access their bedroom and bathroom all on the ground floor. If that means switching bedrooms for a week, it's a much safer option that making them risk stairways daily.
Bathroom safetyThere are a number of small changes you can make in your bathroom to make it more accessible to those with limited mobility. Here are a few that every homeowner should make:
- Use slip resistant grip in the tub
- Leave bathroom lights on overnight to avoid trips
- Install a medical alert button in the bathroom within reach of the tub
- Make sure your bathroom door locks can be opened from both sides in case of emergency
- Practice good communication and awareness
General home safetyAside from stairs and bathrooms, the home has a number of other dangers that we often take for granted. Some good practices include:
- Remove slippery rugs from floors
- Clear walking spaces of clutter, moving furniture if you have to
- Have your guest let you know or accompany them when they're walking outside on dangerous surfaces
- Make your guest aware of things like fire extinguishers, telephones, and first aid kits