Sunday, July 6, 2014

Homeowners: 13 Summer Dangers and How to Stay Safe

13 summer home dangers and how to stay safe (© Carl & Ann Purcell/Corbis, Sylvie Bouchard/Alamy)
© Carl & Ann Purcell/Corbis, Sylvie Bouchard/Alamy

Homeowners: 13 summer dangers and how to stay safe

By Leah L. Culler of MSN Real Estate
Summer is here. So what does that mean for you, your home and your family?
Sure, summer means ice cream, pool parties and family vacations, but it's also full of danger. And nothing ruins a neighborhood barbecue like a house fire, drowning or severed limb.
We're not trying to scare you, but it's important to know what's out there so you can protect yourself and your home. Here are 13 summer home dangers and how to guard against them.

 The Lawn Mower

The lawnmower (© Charlie Schuck/AGE Fotostock)
© Charlie Schuck/AGE Fotostock
Mowing the lawn is a weekly ritual for many in the spring and summer, but it sends nearly 80,000 Americans to the hospital each year, according to a 2006 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study. Researchers say the most common injuries are caused by debris, such as rocks and branches, propelled by the mower's spinning blades.
"These are machines with sharp blades spinning at 160 mph just inches away from our feet and hands," says author David Bishai of the Bloomberg School. "We have got to respect the dangers and use common sense."
Here are a few lawn-mowing safety tips from Bishai:
  • Wear goggles, long pants and closed-toe shoes with soles that offer good traction.
  • Clear the yard of debris before mowing.
  • Wear protective gloves when servicing the mower or changing blades.
  • Never service the mower while it is running.
  • Do not carry passengers on riding mowers or tow anyone behind the mower.
  • Do not allow children younger than 16 to operate a riding mower.
  • Store lawn mowers in an area that has minimal traffic and that children cannot access.

 Extreme Weather

Extreme weather (© Exactostock/SuperStock)
© Exactostock/SuperStock
Depending on where you live, summer can bring some nasty storms.
Tornadoes: Residents of Tornado Alley — the area between the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains — probably know that tornado season can last throughout the summer, bringing winds of up to 300 mph. Unlike in "The Wizard of Oz," a tornado probably won't pick your home up and plop it down elsewhere without doing some serious damage. Protect your home from tornado damage with this online checklist from The Weather Channel.
Hurricanes: Those of you on the southern and eastern coasts of the U.S. know the threats of hurricane season. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has a short checklist to help you prepare your home before a hurricane hits.
Wind and hail: Even if you don't live in a hurricane or tornado zone, wind and hail from summer storms can do some serious damage. In 2010, damage caused by wind and hail cost State Farm Insurance and its policyholders more than $3.2 billion, says Holly Anderson, a State Farm spokeswoman. She also says that homeowners should consider impact-resistant roofing to limit damage.
Lightning: If lightning strikes your home, it can fry your electrical system, destroy equipment and even set your house on fire. Read "If lightning strikes, is your home ready?" to learn how to protect your home.

 A House Fire

A house fire (© John A. Rizzo/Photodisc/Getty Images)
© John A. Rizzo/Photodisc/Getty Images
A lightning strike can set fire to your home, but the likelihood of that is slim compared with more common summer sparks, such as outdoor grilling and fireworks.
According to, nearly 10,000 Americans are injured by fireworks each year, and 5,000 are injured by charcoal, wood-burning and propane grill fires. Anderson, from State Farm, says July is the peak summer month for insurance claims related to smoke and fire losses. The average cost for such a claim between 2005 and 2009 was $23,548, she says.
Protect your home and yourself by following a few fire-safety tips:
  • Never light fireworks indoors or near dry grass.
  • Always have a bucket of water, a fire extinguisher or both nearby.
  • Dispose of hot coals properly; douse them with plenty of water, and stir them to ensure that the fire is out. Never place them in plastic, paper or wooden containers.
Find more tips and information at, which compiles information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the U.S. Fire Administration. If you live in an area that is prone to wildfires, you can find more home-protection information on the FEMA website.

A Ladder

A ladder (© Cultura Creative/Alamy)
© Cultura Creative/Alamy
A clear summer day may seem like the perfect time to climb a ladder to fix that loose shingle on the roof or to trim that eyesore of a tree. But a fall from that height can cause serious injury or death.
The CPSC says that 164,000 ladder-related injuries are treated in emergency rooms in the U.S. each year. Your best bet may be to have a professional handle any home project involving great heights, but you can take precautions to keep your ladder climb as safe as possible:
  • Be sure your ladder has slip-resistant feet.
  • Be sure the ground under the ladder is level and firm.
  • Keep your body centered on the rails at all times; do not lean to the side while working.
  • Do not step on the top step of the ladder.

    Digging A Hole

    Digging a hole (© I love images/Photolibrary)
    © I love images/Photolibrary
    Before you get out a shovel to plant a tree or install a mailbox, you must find out if and where utility lines are buried in your yard. When struck, underground gas and power lines can cause serious injury or death.
    Khrysanne Kerr, vice president of communications for the Common Ground Alliance, says that more than 19 million miles of pipes, wires and cables are buried. They provide vital services such as energy, water and enhanced 911 service. The CGA works to prevent damage to underground utilities and to ensure public safety and environmental protection.
    Digging without knowing what's underground can cause serious harm, but it can also disrupt vital services and cause costly damage.
    Homeowners who are planning a project that involves digging should call 811, which will route the call to a local center. Local utility companies will then visit your property to mark the approximate location of underground lines, pipes and cables.
    "Making a phone call to 811 is by far the easiest damage-prevention tactic (that) anyone who intends to dig can make," says Bob Kipp, CGA president. "Homeowners need to exercise caution and make the phone call and not a judgment call."

    The Heat

    The heat (© Novastock/Photolibrary)
    © Novastock/Photolibrary

    Between 1979 and 2003, heat-related illnesses killed 8,015 people in the United States, more than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined, the CDC says.
    Sweating is the body's natural way of cooling itself, but it may not be enough in extreme heat or long exposure.
    So what can you do?
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Seek air conditioning to keep cool.
  • Pace yourself.
  • Monitor people at high risk, including the elderly and young children.
In some places, a hot day can turn paved roads into "streets of fire." Metal surfaces, such as car doors or a shed in your yard, also can get extremely hot.
Arizona Burn Center studies found that contact with hot pavement in the summer is a leading cause of foot burns in small children in the Southwest. One study showed that pavement temperatures in Arizona are hot enough to cause second-degree burns within 35 seconds from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Always wear shoes if you'll be walking on potentially hot surfaces, and don't touch metal surfaces that have been in the sun for a long time.

Power Tools

Power tools (© Sylvie Bouchard/Alamy)
© Sylvie Bouchard/Alamy
Every year, emergency rooms treat 36,000 people for chain-saw injuries and thousands more for injuries caused by power hedge trimmers or weed trimmers, according to CDC estimates.
Any time you're using a power tool, wear protective gear, head to toe. And don't decide you're going to tackle that downed tree in the backyard after a few Coronas. Power tools and booze don't mix.
Here are a few fact sheets on power tools from the CPSC.


Bugs (©
About 2 million Americans are allergic to insect stings, and many of them are at risk of life-threatening reactions, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Each year, insect stings cause at least 50 deaths and send more than 500,000 Americans to the emergency room.
Stinging insects such as bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are most active in the late summer and early fall.
Other potentially harmful bugs include ticks, which can cause Lyme disease; mosquitoes, which can spread West Nile virus; scorpions; and a few types of spiders.

Your Garden

Your garden (© Plush Studios/Getty Images)
© Plush Studios/Getty Images
The plants, flowers and trees in your yard may provide food for your family, sweet-smelling flowers and beautiful landscaping. But some of them may be dangerous. Did you know, for instance, that eating the leaf blade of the rhubarb plant can lead to convulsions, coma and even death? Know what's growing in your yard and in nearby areas and make sure your family members know never to eat a plant they find. That goes for mushrooms, too.
Here's a chart from Texas A&M University's AgriLife Extension Service that identifies some of the most common poisonous plants.

Your Swimming Pool

Your swimming pool (© Carl & Ann Purcell/Corbis)
© Carl & Ann Purcell/Corbis
According to the CDC, most accidental drownings of children ages 1 to 4 occur in residential swimming pools. While your pool may add value to your home and offer relief from the summer heat, it can also put your family at risk.
The best way to keep your pool area safe is to install a fence to prevent anyone from falling in accidentally. Supervise your children at all times when they are in a pool.
Also be aware of any rivers, lakes or other bodies of water near your home, and exercise caution any time you are in or around them. Wear life jackets and know the weather forecast before you go swimming; a sudden change in weather can put you at risk.


Tetanus (© Ian Logan/Getty Images)
© Ian Logan/Getty Images
Did your parents tell you not to run around barefoot outside, warning that you'd step on a rusty nail and get tetanus?
These days, most people have been vaccinated against tetanus, but people do still get it, and it can be deadly. And rusty nails aren't the only things to avoid.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Clostridium tetani, the bacteria that cause tetanus, are found in soil, dust and animal feces. When the bacteria enter a wound, spores may produce a powerful toxin called tetanospasmin, which actively impairs your motor neurons, or the nerves that control your muscles.
Your best protection is to ensure that you and your family are up-to-date on tetanus shots. It's probably also a good idea not to step on any rusty nails.


Pesticides (© Javier Larrea/age fotostock/Photolibrary)
© Javier Larrea/age fotostock/Photolibrary
Everyone deals with pests in and around the home, whether those pests are bugs, weeds or bacteria. But some pest-control products come with dangerous side effects.
If you're using pesticides, you can limit your exposure to the potentially harmful substances and their impact on you, your family and your pets. Read more about minimizing your exposure on the National Pesticide Information Center's website (PDF).
You also can limit the use of pesticides by trying "integrated pest management," which is an environmentally sensitive approach to pest management.

The Sandbox

The sandbox (© Juniors Bildarchiv/Photolibrary)
© Juniors Bildarchiv/Photolibrary
That sandbox you built in the backyard has given your kids hours of enjoyment and may even make your home more appealing to potential homebuyers. But danger could be buried in the sand if neighborhood cats have decided to use it as a litter box. 
That's right: Cat poop is not only gross, it's dangerous.
Cats may host a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii; it can cause a disease called toxoplasmosis, which can affect the brain, lungs, heart, eyes and liver. It can be deadly for people with weakened immune systems.
If you want to protect your family and embark on a home-improvement project at the same time, build a sandbox cover and keep the sandbox protected so that it doesn't become a giant litter box. Teach your kids to always wash their hands after playing in the sandbox.
Find more information about toxoplasmosis on the National Center for Biotechnology Information's website.

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