Home maintenance is never-ending, right? Just as soon as you fix that loose board in the fence, the kitchen faucet starts to leak at random. And then you notice that the bathtub is starting to drain slowly. Sigh. Just add it to the list.

But the flipside of all this work is that you have a roof over your head. That’s a good thing! And whether you like it or not, maintaining that roof (and what’s underneath it) is part of your responsibility as a homeowner.

Your home may be your castle, but it still needs to be safe—for you, your family, and for visitors. You’re probably aware of obvious safety issues like rickety outdoor stairs and cracked or uneven walkways, but to truly stay safe at home, you’ll need to take a broader approach.

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How to Stay Safe at Home

image of emergency room sign

The last full week of August of every year is National Safe at Home Week, so in its honor, take this opportunity to assess your home for any potential safety issues.

Not sure where to begin?

Well, while the home safety statistics published by the National Safety Council are pretty terrifying, they do serve as a good starting point for your home safety assessment. Luckily, many of the important home safety tasks will likely overlap with your routine home maintenance.

According to the National Safety Council, these are the leading causes of injuries and fatalities at home:

  • Poisoning
  • Falls
  • Choking and suffocation
  • Drowning
  • Fires and burns

None of these emergencies are fun to think about, but to avoid accidents at home, you must be aware of the dangers. Take a look at our home maintenance checklist specifically designed to target these major safety issues.

Home Maintenance Checklist

1. Fix broken or malfunctioning door locks

close-up image of lock and key

This may seem like a no-brainer, but how many times have you noticed a door that closes funny or a lock that takes some extra effort and thought, “Eh, it’s not that big of a deal”?

Let this serve as your reminder: now is the time to fix them.

Exterior doors should be equipped with a Grade 2 handle lock and deadbolt set; if you’re comfortable with interior doors being locked, those doors should have Grade 3 locks to ensure they’re easy to unlock.

This is also a good time to think about who has a key to your house. If you didn’t change the locks when you moved in to your home, or if you’ve recently severed contact with a pet sitter, house cleaner, or other service provider who has a key, consider rekeying or replacing your exterior locks altogether.

2. Install lights in stairwells

With falls being one of the top causes of injuries and fatalities at home, lighting up dark hallways and stairwells is an important step toward making your home safer.

There are countless ways to get more light into these spots. Wall sconces are a traditional option, but if you prefer a lower-profile look, consider built-in stair lighting. Talk to a professional electrician about design and installation options.

For the safest configuration, ask your electrician to install multiway light switches at the top and bottom of the stairwell so no one has to walk through the dark to turn on the lights.

3. Clean gutters twice per year

man standing on ladder while cleaning gutters

Clogged gutters are a safety issue in a few ways:

  • Rainwater pouring over the side of the gutter instead of being diverted away from the house can cause problems with foundation settlement and erosion around your property.
  • Overflowing gutters can cause basement water seepage, which can contribute to mold growth and poor indoor air quality if not corrected.
  • During the cold winter months, overflowing gutters contribute to icicle formation as well as the possibility of ice building up on walkways and stairs.

Water that flows where it shouldn’t around your home is not a good thing, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed promptly. Gutters should be cleaned twice per year—once in the late spring, and once again in the late fall.

By the time spring starts to feel more like summer, most of the trees, shrubs, and flowering plants will have finished blooming; a gutter cleaning at this point in the year ensures that you’ll start the (often rainy) summer with clean gutters.

A second cleaning in late fall will remove shed autumn leaves in preparation for winter precipitation and snow melt.

In the spirit of safety, it’s important to remember that the process of cleaning gutters is a safety hazard on its own. Unless you have extensive experience and all the right tools—including safety gear and specialty ladders—hire a gutter cleaning professional.

4. Clean mildew and debris from decks and porches

Decks and porches that have been neglected or that are constantly shaded and damp are prone to mold and mildew growth. Not only is this unattractive, it’s also a safety hazard. Mold and mildew can turn an average wood deck (and some composite decks) into a surface that is as slick as ice (and just as likely to cause falls).

To keep both your household members and any visitors safe, clean your deck and porch regularly. Be sure to finish by sealing the surface—doing so will deter mold and mildew growth in the future.

Your clean deck or porch will increase your home’s curb appeal, and you won’t have to worry about anyone slipping and taking a tumble.

5. Install or replace handrails

view up a brown wooden staircase with handrail

This is another task that probably sounds obvious, but you might be surprised to hear how many handrails are either not secure or are missing altogether.

Not all staircases will require a handrail, but most do. Your local building code (which most likely follows the 2009 International Building Code) will have specific details—in most areas, any staircase with more than two to three risers requires a handrail on at least one side of the staircase.

Check existing handrails. If they’re loose, you’ll need to do a little investigation to determine your best course of action.

  • Examine the fastening hardware. Sometimes, the cause of a loose handrail is simply fastening hardware that has loosened over time. Tighten (or replace, if necessary) the screws and/or brackets.
  • Check that wall-mounted handrails are attached to wall studs. If tightening or replacing the fastening hardware doesn’t fix the problem, the handrail was probably incorrectly installed to begin with and will need to be fixed.

To be secure, wall-mounted handrails must be anchored at the wall studs. If it’s only attached to the drywall, someone grabbing the handrail to stop a fall could easily pull it off the wall.

Use a stud finder to locate the wall studs. If the handrail isn’t attached to them, you’ll need to either move the brackets or remove the handrail altogether and reinstall it correctly.

6. Check outdoor safety fencing

If you have a pool or a similar type of water feature on your property, your city or county code will likely stipulate that you install a safety fence to keep unsupervised children and animals away from the water.

Accidental drowning is one of the leading causes of death in children under the age of three, so if small children live with you or visit, safety fencing is the most important feature of your property.

Follow these steps to determine whether the fence needs maintenance:

  • Regularly walk the length of your fence to give it a visual inspection.
  • Look for evidence of erosion around posts or under rails or boards.
  • Check that all latches and locks function correctly.
  • Test any alarms triggered by opened gates.

Safety fences must be in good shape to do their jobs. If you notice problems, contact a fence professional for help.

7. Install organizational shelving units

home office with modular storage piece

Another cause of falls and injuries at home is clutter. Toys on the floor, shoes piled up where they shouldn’t be, backpacks and bags tossed around the house willy-nilly—it all adds up to messiness that can prove to be more than just an annoyance.

I certainly empathize with the urge to give away anything found strewn around the house, but my recommendation is to first try organizational shelving and furniture. It’s far easier to keep things in their place when they actually have a place to go.

Modular storage units can be customized with baskets and bins in different colors and materials. If you’d like to make space in a closet, look for hanging shelves and shoe storage units. Anchor decorative hooks to wall studs for backpacks and purses.

Turn tidying up into a daily game for small children, and emphasize the safety hazards of clutter with the teenagers and adults in your house. I’ve found that gentle reminders, small incentives, and genuine appreciation for a job well done work nicely for getting everyone in the habit of keeping clutter to a minimum.

8. Update childproofing measures

As a parent, watching your children hit developmental milestones is a thrill, but it’s easy to get a little complacent with childproofing once your little one is out of the wobbly older baby phase.

Toddlers are the ultimate wildcard, however, and you just never know what they’ll decide to get into. For their safety, be vigilant about assessing the safety measures you set up those many months ago:

  • Check cabinet locks. If the locks rely on adhesives, are they still secure?
  • Double-check the contents of drawers, shelves, and cabinets. Cleaning supplies, medications, batteries, and any other potentially harmful items must be locked away, ideally in a top cabinet.
  • Anchor all shelving units. Bookshelves, entertainment centers, and modular shelving units all look like fun ladders to the average toddler. If the furniture didn’t come with anchoring materials, your local hardware store will have plenty of easy-install kits.
  • Install doorknob safety covers, if you haven’t already. The day your toddler learns to open doors on her own is an interesting one, to say the least. Check the hardware store for doorknob safety covers—you’ll find options for both knobs and lever-style handles.
  • Learn how to unlock your home’s interior doors. It’s not fun when your two-year-old accidentally locks herself in her bedroom. Test any bedroom or bathroom door locks to see what you’ll need to use to unlock them from the outside. Most newer locks will unlock with a coin or flathead screwdriver, while older locks may require a skeleton key.
  • Do a thorough sweep of the house to look for loose beads, escaped buttons, forgotten bouncy balls, and other choking hazards. Toddlers put everything in their mouths—it’s one of the ways they learn about the world. And how their parents age five years in as many months. Search your house for (and remove!) anything that a little one could choke on.

9. Replace smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

smoke detector isolated on gray background

Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are vital to a safe home, so be sure you have enough of them and that they’re all in working order.

Here’s where you need smoke detectors in your home:

  • Outside and inside every bedroom or other area where people sleep
  • On every floor of your home, including the basement

If your home has a gas furnace, water heater, fireplace, heater, stove, oven, dryer, or any other appliance that uses combustible fuel, you need carbon monoxide detectors. Here’s where to place them:

  • In bedrooms
  • In common areas—the kitchen, living room, and den or family room
  • In rooms containing gas or fuel-burning appliances—laundry room, basement, etc.
  • In the garage

You’re probably aware of the reminders to replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors twice per year—usually at the biannual time change—but did you know that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors need to be completely replaced periodically?

All types of smoke and carbon monoxide alarms have a finite lifespan—ten years for smoke detectors, and five to seven years for carbon monoxide alarms.

To find the date of manufacture, take the alarm off the wall or ceiling. If there is no date and you can’t remember (or simply don’t know) when it was installed, replace it. When it comes to fire and carbon monoxide, it is always better to be safe than sorry—even if it means a few dollars out of your pocket.

For the most secure protection, talk to a licensed electrician about hardwired smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Alarms that are hardwired in a home will all sound at the same time—if your home is large, this is especially important.

The Bottom Line

It’s easy to get a little lax about safety at home. After all, we know our homes inside and out, and other than a turn of a deadbolt or the beep of an alarm system, we aren’t really confronted with daily safety reminders like we are when we turn on our cars.

Nonetheless, being aware of safety at home is important, especially if your household is multigenerational and includes elderly people and small children.

Nine home maintenance tasks may seem like a lot to add to your list, but they ensure that you and your family stay safe and that your house remains in good shape—two important goals. And don’t feel like you need to tackle the list in one weekend! Split the jobs up, enlist some capable help, and before you know it, your home will be safe and look beautiful.