Tips to Prevent Burglaries

Ever wonder if your home is a target for burglaries — if burglars look hungrily at your poorly lit, flimsy front door? View your home the way a burglar would, and think about what you see. Boosting your home security will give you peace of mind, and help prevent a robbery.

How to Make Your Home More Secure

You don’t have to barricade your doors and windows to keep burglars out of your home. But you do need to make sure that your home is protected, with no weak spots where burglars can enter or hide out. Here are some ways to strengthen your home security:

  • Door security. Use solid metal or wood doors with deadbolt locks, and hinges without removable pins when possible. If you have sliding glass doors, secure them with screws that keep them from being lifted off their tracks and lock them with a deadbolt lock. Make sure all doors in the house, including patio and side doors, are secured at all times.
  • Close the garage. Keep your garage doors and windows closed and locked, including those doors leading from the garage into the home.
  • Light your home. Make sure doors and windows are well lit. Exterior and interior lighting is important for deterring burglars. No burglar wants to get caught trying to break in through a door or window with a light shining brightly on him or her.
  • Lock windows. All windows on the main floor of your home — which are probably pretty easy to get into — should be securely locked. Also secure all screens and storm windows, and basement windows as well.
  • Protect upper floors. If you home is two stories or higher, don’t underestimate a burglar’s ability to climb up to get inside. Keep trees trimmed away from windows to prevent climbing in, and make sure there is no access to a ladder. If upper windows have locks, use them; if they don’t, consider installing them.
  • Trim shrubbery. Don’t give burglars a place to hide by allowing landscaping to get too lush or overgrown, blocking windows and doors. Keep all trees and bushes around your home neat and trimmed.
  • Talk to neighbors. If you are concerned about home security and burglaries, talk to trusted neighbors. Neighbors can do more than lend a cup of sugar — ask them to let you know if they see anyone suspicious around your home, and offer to do the same for them.
  • Fence in your yard. A fence, particularly one with only a narrow gate, may deter burglars. A fence makes it more difficult to get in and out, especially lugging big, awkward items like a TV out of your home.
  • Consider a burglar alarm. An alarm can certainly scare off burglars and offer you peace of mind. A loud alarm will sound when your home is broken into, and some alarms automatically call the police or a security company when triggered.
  • Take a self-defense class. If you’re worried about how to react if an intruder breaks in, consider taking a self-defense class. You’ll learn how to surprise a burglar, and have him heading for the door — and you’ll feel more confident in your abilities.
  • Get a dog. Most dogs make a lot of noise when they hear something suspicious, and the last thing a burglar wants is for people to be made aware of his presence.

Home Security When You Travel

You may be particularly concerned about home protection while you’re traveling or on vacation, and rightly so. Burglars look for good opportunities, like plenty of time to break in without worrying about someone coming home and disrupting them.

Take these extra precautions before heading out of town so that you don’t leave your home vulnerable to burglary:

  • Make sure all doors and windows are securely locked.
  • Leave lights on inside and outside your home, such as front porch lights, and side and back door lights.
  • Turn on a radio to make it seem like someone is home. Better yet, install a timer to turn on lights and a radio or TV at specific times of the day.
  • Instead of boarding your dog, leave Fido home and hire a pet sitter to care for your dog – and your home.
  • Have mail and newspapers collected every day, or stop delivery ahead of time.

What Kids Should Know About Home Security

Security measures should become second nature for every member of the family, even the youngest ones. Try these strategies:

  • Teach children to be careful about keeping doors locked, and not be careless about forgetting to lock or close a door or window here or there.
  • Make sure children know not to open the door for strangers. This can never be repeated enough.
  • Once old enough, kids should know how to operate the burglar alarm system, and have it on when they’re home alone.

Home security is a family affair. It takes everyone’s involvement. No matter how safe your neighborhood, don’t be careless around your home — someone may be waiting to take advantage of it.

Learn More About Seasonal Tips for Clean, Safe Air

Indoor air quality may be invisible, but it still has an impact on your family’s health and your home safety. Levels of many pollutants can be far higher indoors than they are outdoors — and indoor pollutants can seriously affect your health. Major factors impacting indoor air quality and home safety are air circulation and moisture levels.

Ted Schettler, MD, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says that air filters, which help capture particulate pollution, play a major part in home air quality.

Clean, efficient fans and filters on dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, and other appliances allow them to function efficiently and can also reduce moisture in the air and minimize particulate pollution in your house.

Similarly, for home safety, it’s important to vacuum or dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors frequently, as spider webs and dust can limit their effectiveness. While you’re dusting, take a moment to test them and make sure the batteries are still working.

Take these steps throughout the year to improve the air quality inside your home:

  • Be sure air vents between the indoors and the outside aren’t blocked by snow, leaves, dirt, or other debris, depending on the season.
  • Vacuum rear grills on refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean drip trays to prevent mold growth.
  • Be diligent about fixing any plumbing leaks — even small drips can create favorable conditions for mold growth and affect air quality.
  • Clean clothes dryer exhaust ducts and vents.

What’s in Your Garage?

In general, air circulation inside a home should be encouraged, but air shouldn’tcirculate freely between an attached garage and your family’s living space. Car exhaust and other pollutants found in garages can have a serious, negative effect on the air quality inside your home and on your home safety. Make sure the door between the garage and your home seals completely, and keep weather stripping in good repair.

Tips for Year-Round Home Health

These seasonal tasks can help improve your home’s “health:”

Spring

  • Clean your air conditioner and have it serviced as necessary, at least every two years; clean and replace the filters as necessary.
  • Turn off the gas furnace and fireplace pilot light if applicable.
  • Check your home’s sump pump to ensure it’s functioning properly before the spring thaw.
  • Clean ceiling fans so they don’t spread accumulated dust particles throughout the house.

Summer

  • Inspect and repair vermin screens on chimney flues.
  • Inspect chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures for bird nests, which can prevent ventilation of combustible gases, decreasing air quality and posing potential fire hazards. Repeat this task in the fall.
  • Inspect the outside perimeter and trim shrubs and bushes away from the house, foundation, and roof, as growth that’s too close to the house can promote algae and mold.

Fall

  • Clean humidifiers in preparation for seasonal use.
  • Remove screens from windows where they might trap condensation on glass, promoting mold growth.
  • Sweep the chimney to remove creosote buildup and inspect for necessary repairs.
  • Seal any openings on the exterior of the house to prevent rodents and other pests from entering.

Winter

  • Test for carbon monoxide and radon levels.
  • Clean humidifier(s) regularly when in use.
  • Clean air vents on heating systems and space heaters, and be sure to service your furnace/heating system at least every other year.

Following these maintenance tips can help you and your loved ones breathe easy all year long.

Survive a Hurricane

Hurricane season arrives every year toward the end of summer, and the first storm of the 2011 season — Irene — is threatening the U.S. East Coast. Though it’s too early to determine exactly where the storm will hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that if you live along the Atlantic coast, you should start preparing well before the storm comes to your area.

While many who live in hurricane-prone areas already consider themselves pros at hurricane prep, it’s a good idea to review these safety precautions before a storm rolls in.

Before the Hurricane:

A joint report from FEMA, the American Red Cross, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that you plot out the safest and most effective evacuation routes before a storm strikes. Once you have an evacuation strategy in place that will keep you, your family, and your pets safe, don’t neglect these important, but easy-to-forget steps.

“Remodel” your home. Purchase plywood and other materials to board up your windows, and install straps to fasten your roof to the frame structure — this should help minimize roof damage. And don’t forget to trim those trees and bushes; doing so can cut down on the amount of post-hurricane debris you’ll have to clear.

Fill up your tank with gas. In the event of an evacuation, the last thing you’ll want to do is wait in line at a gas station — that’s why you should fill up before a storm gets close and keep your tank filled throughout hurricane season. Also, if the gas stations in your area become inoperable, filling up in advance will ensure that you still have enough gasoline to get out of town.

Stock your pantry with good-for-you foods. Once a hurricane hits your town, you can expect power outages and limited access to grocery stores — which means you need to prepare a healthy meal plan in advance — one that includes foods with a relatively long shelf life. For protein, stock up on canned tuna, chicken, or salmon, as well as beans and nuts. Keep fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes on hand; frozen fruits and veggies will keep in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours after power goes out. Stock up on healthy snacks, such as high-fiber, low-sugar cereals, rice cakes, and energy bars (which offer a lot of healthy calories in a small package). Most important: Don’t forget about hydration. The National Hurricane Center recommends storing enough drinking water — one gallon per person per day for three to seven days.

Have a pet plan. Do you know what to do with Fido and Fluffy in the event of a hurricane? The National Hurricane Center suggests keeping a current photograph of your pet on hand and ensuring that your pets have collars with identification (in case you get separated). And don’t forget to consider your furry friends in your evacuation strategy — if you’re planning on staying in a hotel along your evacuation route, locate pet-friendly hotels or pet shelters nearby before you leave.

Keep your documents dry. Important documents — such as birth certificates, insurance information, and social security cards — should be kept in a safe, dry place (even if that means taking them along with you in an evacuation).

Insure yourself. Make an inventory of the contents in your home (consider documenting them in a video diary), in case you need to file an insurance claim after the storm. Be sure to include your most valuable and expensive assets, such as electronics. Also, review your homeowners’ insurance plan. In a press release, Weather Channel’s hurricane expert Dr. Rick Knabb noted that flooding is not covered under most policies.

Create a hurricane supply kit. Stock up on emergency food, water, and equipment, and don’t forget to test everything to make sure it works. According to the National Hurricane Center, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water (1 gallon per day per person for 3 to 7 days)
  • Food (non-perishable packaged and foods, baby food, utensils, and healthy snack options) — don’t forget the non-electric can opener!
  • Prescription medications
  • A first aid kit
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Battery-powered cell phones
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Clothing and rain gear
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Toiletries
  • Pet food, pet medications, a pet carrier or cage, and a leash
  • Tool set
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Toys, books, and games

During the Hurricane

If you’re in a “watch area” or a “warning area,” stick by your radio or television for official weather bulletins — and leave immediately if officials instruct you to evacuate. If you live in a mobile home, high-rise building, or on the ocean, you should strongly consider leaving — people and property in these areas are most at risk. Be sure to unplug all small appliances like toaster ovens and alarm clocks; you may be directed to turn off utilities and your propane tank as well.

If you choose to stay at home, go to a small interior room — away from windows and doors. During the “eye” of the storm — the period of calm found at the center of the hurricane — remember that the storm is not over. Winds will pick back up as soon as the eye passes.

After the Hurricane

Steer clear of closed roads, bridges, and areas with downed power lines — and don’t reenter an evacuated area until it’s declared safe. When inspecting your home, check your gas, water, and electrical appliances for damage (and be sure to use a flashlight during your inspection — not a candle, which could easily start an accidential debris fire and lead to even more damage). Also, stay away from tap water until you hear from health officials that it’s safe.

Learn More About Childproofing Essentials for a Safe Home

Childproofing your house can be difficult! The process is an ongoing one to ensure a baby, toddler, and child safety at home or to keep kids safe while visiting a friend or relative’s home.

Karen Sheehan, MD, MPH, medical director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, reminds adults to consider a child’s developmental stage when childproofing a home.

  • Infants are barely mobile, but even young babies can roll or otherwise move considerable distances.
  • Crawlers and early walkers can get into trouble anywhere.
  • Older toddlers can be extremely curious and resourceful about climbing, opening doors, and getting into places that may surprise adults.

A good approach to childproofing your home is to see each room through eyes of a child. Get down on the floor and look around. Ask yourself questions like, “What’s that? Can I put it in my mouth? What would happen if I crawl in there?”

A Childproofing Safety Check for the Whole House

Once you start childproofing, you’ll probably notice safety hazards throughout the house, from the laundry room to the linen closet. Be methodical during your childproofing “tour” of your home. Count the number of electrical outlets within a child’s reach, including those behind furniture. You’ll need a plastic electrical outlet safety cover for each one.

Next, pay special attention to choking hazards. Make sure that cords hanging from drapes or appliances are tied up and out of reach of curious hands. Babies and young children can also choke on balloons, jewelry, toys, coins, rubber bands, decorative rocks or marbles in potted plants, and hundreds of other things.

Sharp objects like knives, cooking utensils, and gardening implements should be kept out of sight and, ideally, out of a child’s reach or locked up. That goes for cleaning supplies too – kids shouldn’t be able to get to them. Poisoning is a common, but preventable occurrence. If you don’t actually use a particular chemical or cleaning agent in your house, don’t keep it; if you do need it, lock it up. Just in case, keep the number to the 24-hour nationwide poison-control center handy: 1-800-222-1222.

If you have guns in the house, keep them unloaded, out of sight, and locked away from children and teens of all ages.

Room-Specific Childproofing Safety Check

Make sure each room in your home is checked for its unique hazards:

  • In the bathroom. Keep all medications, including over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, out of sight, and use safety latches on medicine cabinets. Keep scissors, tweezers, and other sharp objects out of reach. To avoid burns, set the hot water heater no higher than 120 degrees. Never leave your child unattended in the tub, and place toilet lid locks to keep small children from playing in the toilet bowl and possibly drowning. Store buckets upside down to prevent any water accumulation; remember that small children can drown in just a few inches of water.
  • In the bedroom. A crib should be a safe haven for babies to sleep, so remove all toys, comforters, pillows, and other items that pose a risk of suffocation. As babies begin to sit up on their own, move mobiles out of their reach. Maintain smoke alarms in or near each bedroom and test them to make sure they actually work. If not, replace older devices with new smoke detectors.
  • In the kitchen. When cooking on the stove top, use rear burners, keep handles turned toward the back of the stove, and don’t leave the room when the stove is on.
  • In the basement and garage. Hang tools and ladders out of reach, and store any gasoline, lighter fluid, paints, pesticides, or other chemicals in a locked cabinet.
  • At windows. Windows are an often-overlooked aspect of home safety. Remember, screens are designed to keep insects out, not to keep kids in. Don’t place furniture under windows, which creates an invitation to climb and explore. If you do open your windows to let a breeze in, be sure the windows are out of children’s reach.

    Install safety locks on windows throughout the house. Windows should still provide a viable escape in case of fire, however, so make sure they’re not painted shut. Also, if you have window fans or air conditioning units, make sure at least one window in each room is not blocked.

  • In the backyard and around decks. If you have a pool, maintain a tall fence around it (usually determined by local building codes) and keep it locked when not in use. Never allow your children to swim unsupervised. Be sure that doors leading to the yard, deck, and any balcony also have childproof locks.
  • On the stairs. Safety gates should be positioned at the top and bottom of each flight of stairs.

Childproofing your entire house probably isn’t necessary if children are there only as guests, but focus on the area or rooms where visiting children will spend the most time. And keep in mind that young children should be supervised at all times, so everyone can remain safe and sound.