House Hazards

You’re finally on your own, but there are some hazards you should look out for in your new home.


Electrical fire:

Did you know that most electrical fires start in the bedroom? According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International, “electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year.” Over 60 percent of American homes do not have a fire detector despite the fact that a battery-operated one can be purchased for less than $10. Electrical fires are preventable if you know what to look for.

  • Causes
    1. Appliances with frayed cords
    2. Electrical cords that are hidden under rugs
    3. An altered electrical cord, such as one with the third grounding prong removed
    4. Installed light-bulbs with a wattage that is too high
    5. Cloth or paper draped over a lampshade
    6. Extension cords that are misused or daisy-chained (multiple ones connected together)
    7. Space heaters used in confined places that could overheat
    8. Outdated wiring that is stressed by power-sucking computers, widescreen TV’s, gaming systems, air conditioners, and microwaves
  • Warning signs
    1. An electrical outlet has a charcoal-black stain on or around the plate
    2. When you touch an appliance you feel a tingling feeling or shock
    3. You experience flickering lights
    4. You see smoke or smell burning when you are next to faulty wiring or a dangerous plug or appliance
    5. Circuit breakers trip, making you lose power to a portion of your house. NOTE: If the breaker box is too old, it’s connectors may not cause the breaker to trip. This will cause the system to overload and ignite
  • What to do
    1. Baking soda will work for a small fire. Baking soda produces water, which cools and smothers. That is why it is an active ingredient in fire extinguishers.
    2. Use a Fire Extinguisher – Pull the pin from the top of the extinguisher. Hold upright and aim the nozzle at the place where the fire started. As you squeeze the lever, sweep the area back and forth until the fire is out, then call 911.
    3. NOTE: No water! Water conducts electricity and is advised against for treating electrical fires.
    4. NOTE: Do not use that appliance, light, outlet, extension cord again! Don’t put it out on the curb for an unsuspecting person to bring into their home. Dispose of it with a sign so ground-scoring people know that it caused a fire.



  1. Fire: If you have an oven fire, close the door and make sure that the stove is off. If flames are on top of the stove, use a fire extinguisher or baking soda to contain it. If flames are engulfing the stove, exit immediately and call 911.
  2. Gas leak: The gas used to power a stove smells like garlic or rotten eggs. Check to make sure the knobs are off. If you are smelling gas when you haven’t been using the stove, it may be a leak. You should call the landlord or a trusted family member first. If it is a leak, they can help you turn the gas off at its source. The gas company will need to be called.
  3. Grease Fire:
    • Foods cooked in a thick layer of oil can start a grease fire if the oil gets hot enough to ignite. These fires are dangerous because they can often happen suddenly, are hard to control, and can easily hurt people.
    • Prevention
      • Don’t cook food on “high.” It is rare that foods need to be cooked at such a high temperature. Grease can reach a high temperature quickly and burn your food.
      • Don’t allow yourself to be distracted. If you have to take a phone call or answer the door, turn the flame off until you return.
    • Fire response
      • NEVER throw water on a grease fire. It will superheat and could explode grease everywhere.
      • Try covering the flames with a metal pan lid, not a glass lid that could shatter.
      • Smother the flames with baking soda, never flour or sugar, which can increase the danger of igniting.
      • Use a fire extinguisher.
      • If you cannot get the fire under control, call 911.

Watch what NOT to do with a grease fire. 


  1. Fire: If your microwave catches on fire, close the door to suffocate the fire from oxygen and unplug the microwave.
  2. Roaches: Roaches love appliances, especially ones with clock mechanisms because they provide warmth even when they are not in use. Appliances additionally provide shelter and are usually close to a food and water source. Roaches can cause damage by eating components inside the microwave and can leave droppings that cause health issues in humans and electrical problems in the appliance.
    • How to get rid of them
      • Unplug the microwave and take out the glass dish.
      • Use a bleach spray to spray inside of the microwave. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
      • Wipe it out.
      • Put the microwave outside.
      • Spray the microwave heavily with anti-roach or insect-killing solution and leave it alone for 1 hour.
      • Wipe any dead roaches and use a cleaning solution one more time. Leave it for another hour.
      • Wipe the microwave and dry it off with a clean towel.
      • Leave the microwave for an entire day before bringing it back indoors.
      • NOTE: The best defense against roaches is cleanliness. Don’t leave food or dirty dishes where roaches can access them. Vacuum and mop weekly. Take out the trash regularly.


A television can overheat and catch fire if there is not enough space around it to ventilate. In the case of a TV fire, use a fire extinguisher. Electrical components inside the TV can make it explode, so it is best to call 911 for anything but a very small fire.

Carbon monoxide:

  1. Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless poisonous gas that is the number one cause of death due to poisoning in the United States. It is the byproduct of combustion whenever fuel is burned in common home appliances, such as gas/oil furnaces, gas refrigerators, gas clothing dryers, gas stoves, gas water heaters, space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, or wood stoves. The symptoms of CO poisoning are often described as flu-like. This includes a headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.


  1. Prevention
    • Purchase a battery-operated CO detector and set an alarm on your phone to change the batteries regularly. Detectors can range in cost from $20 – $200. Replace the unit every 5 years. Contact your landlord or the fire department if the alarm goes off, press the silence/reset button. Vacate the building until it is handled.
  2. Things to NEVER use indoors
    • Don’t use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
    • Burning charcoal indoors produces CO.
    • Don’t use an oven for home heating.
    • Never use portable camp stoves inside your home.
    • As a rule, never use a generator indoors.
photo by Karolina Grabowska


Mold exposure can lead to sneezing, runny noses, red eyes, skin rashes, asthma, and other respiratory complaints. Some molds exposure is life-threatening.

  • Treatment
    • There is no practical way to eliminate all mold and mold spores indoors without first controlling the source of the moisture. Manage leaks from sinks, bathtubs, air conditioners. Clean spills immediately to prevent mold.
    • After you eliminate the source, clean the area thoroughly using bleach, and let it dry completely.
    • Reduce indoor humidity by ventilating bathrooms when you shower.
    • Use air conditioners, dehumidifiers, and exhaust fans.
    • Insulate areas that collect or allow in moisture like windows and doors.
    • NOTE: For more information, access the World Health Organization’s PDF,  “the WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality”: Dampness and Mould here or check out the CDC’s website:

Lead-based paint:

Lead is the number one environmental threat to the health of children. “It is a neurotoxin that accumulates in soft tissues and bones, damaging the nervous system and causing brain disorders and, in mammals, blood disorders,” Wikipedia.

Virtually anyone, however, can be exposed through drinking, eating, or breathing in particles from contaminated soil or deteriorating paint dust in the environment. Prior to 1978, when it became illegal, Lead was used in paint, gasoline, water pipes, and many other products. At high levels, lead can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. In children, the effects of children can be severe and cause them to have significant health and developmental problems.

  • Combat against lead:
    • Consult your state health or housing department for suggestions on how to test your home for lead paint.  
    • Mop floors and wipe window ledges and surfaces where dust might collect.
    • Personal hygiene will keep Lead from sticking to your body.
    • Use doormats to wipe your feet as not to drag lead paint from the ground into your home.
    • A healthy diet: A diet filled with iron and calcium will help to prevent your body from absorbing lead.
    • Use a water filter to prevent old pipes and even new brass from contaminating your water supply. NOTE: Learn more at

Review past sections: renting an apartment and setting up utilities