If you're like most people, your first and strongest instinct is to keep your family safe, and that's especially true when you are all at home. Unfortunately, the average house contains many things that can threaten to do us harm. Some of these threats can compromise the house, itself, indirectly putting your family in bigger danger. You could even be put in serious financial risk because of these threats! But just by knowing about these common hazards and exercising a little bit of preventive safety, you'll manage to protect your family and loved ones infinitely better.
Here are the 10 most dangerous threats in your home (in no particular order):
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that causes a range of dangerous health problems – and commonly shows up in older homes. If traces of lead are ingested or absorbed into the body, it can interfere with brain function occur, even causing permanent damage to the brain, nervous system and vital organs.
Before it was outlawed, many household products contained high amounts of lead. Once lead was discovered to have adverse health effects, it was banned from use in 1978. So if your home was built before 1978, you might have traces of lead-based paint lurking under newer layers of paint. Lead presents the biggest risk to children, who might put lead-based paint dust or paint chips in their mouths or hands, or breathe it if someone is sanding or doing construction and the particles go airborne. Both children and adults are at high risk of lead poisoning.
Rats, mice, other rodents, wasps, bees, spiders, and snakes are no fun to have around, but there are far more dangerous uninvited guests that may try to take over your home. For example, termites and other wood-destroying pests can cause mass damage to your dwelling. Unfortunately, infestations and the insects themselves are so small and hard to detect, the damage often is invisible in wood framing, below subfloors, structural beams, or inside any other wood that makes up your home.
Subterranean termites are the most common variety – and they also happen to cause the most damage, but damp-wood termites, dry-wood termites, wood boring beetles, and carpenter ants can also invade a home, even rendering it unlivable if unchecked.
Toxic mold can grow in unlikely places in your home wherever there is moisture, often hidden behind the walls, attics, and under the floors. The most dangerous types of molds emit mycotoxins, which can cause illness and respiratory problems, or even hospitalization and death in extreme cases.
Mold can only grow where there is a steady source of moisture, like leaky seals around plumbing or roofing, or even where groundwater seeps in your basement. It grows fast, requiring only 24-48 hours to mature, so mold should be handled with extreme caution.
4. Home fires
We have a home fire every 10 seconds in the US, or a fire big enough to call the fire department every 60 seconds. Firefighters in the U.S. respond to 374,000 residential fires every year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Sadly, about 13,000 people lose their lives in home blazes every year, or one every three hours. The monetary damage incurred from house fires is an alarming 11.7 billion dollars a year.
A large number of home fires get started when residents fall asleep with lit cigarettes, from accidental kitchen fires, or shorts in faulty electrical wiring.
5. Water damage
Water damage that seeps into the home is a serious threat that can cause major damage. Of course, burst pipes or broken sewage lines are disastrous and can be exorbitantly expensive to fix. But smaller, slow leaks and water intrusions can enter through faulty rooflines, unsealed windows and doors, or pool up under sink cabinets, in basements, and in crawl spaces. Even small drips can rapidly cause wood rot and provide a perfect breeding ground for termites and other wood-eating pests as well as an ideal place for dangerous mold to sprout.
6. Carbon monoxide
High levels of carbon monoxide gas are a silent and invisible danger in any interior space. Even short-term exposure to carbon monoxide can cause serious health problems. Once breathed, it essentially replaces oxygen in the blood, killing off cells and starving vital organs of oxygen flow. The scary thing is that carbon monoxide can come from a variety of common household items and appliances. It's also totally odorless, colorless, and can incapacitate or kill within minutes in some cases. Many states have laws requiring landlords to put in carbon monoxide detectors, so homeowners would be wise to do the same.
Unfortunately, we live in one of the most litigious societies in the world, and that means virtually anyone can sue anyone whether it's reasonable or not. Visitors, delivery employees, and service workers who come on your property and then get hurt can sue you, and most people would rather have major surgery than go through a lawsuit. Slip and falls, dog bites (about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year!), accidents involving children and pools or trampolines, even falling tree branches are common sources of lawsuits against property owners.
8. Thefts and home invasions
According to the FBI, there are approximately 2.5 million home thefts and forced entries every year, or about 1 in every 30 households. The average loss for each home burglary is $2,230, which adds up to about $4.7 billion every year. But the damage goes beyond the material, often having lasting consequences for the residents. The psychological toll and feelings of violation can remain far after the monetary damages are forgotten, often making a house no longer feel like a home.
9. Natural disasters
Referred to as "Acts of God” by insurance companies, tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, hailstorms, sinkholes, mudslides, and forest fires are just some of the natural disasters that can befall a home. In California, the fear of a sizable earthquake is a valid concern, and recently, the damaged spillway in Oroville Dam forced 80,000 residents to evacuate. Of course, no one can predict when a natural disaster will hit – or prevent it – but homeowners are often woefully underprepared.
According to United Policyholders, about two-thirds of U.S. homeowners would be underinsured if some sort of adverse weather or geological event struck. It’s advisable to have evacuation supplies ready, extra food stored in your garage, batteries for flashlights and a family plan should some catastrophic event occur.
10. Cyber crime
Does identity theft really count as a danger to homeowners? In fact, identity theft and other types of online fraud are on the rise in the United States – and the stats are staggering. Approximately 15.4 million people have their identities or financial data compromised and exploited, costing them upwards of $50 billion dollars. To compare cyber theft, it amounts to three times more than the combined losses from all other types of theft like personal, burglary, motor vehicle, or property theft.
Whether it’s malware that infiltrates your computer and corrupts your data, hackers who steal your passwords and commandeer your financial information, or cyber criminals who assume your identity and open new accounts under your name, the damage could cost consumers tens of thousands of dollars and take years to clean up – without the thieves ever physically entering the home.