Filed Under:Claims, Catastrophe & Restoration

5 factors to minimize home-related risks

Risks can affect renters and homeowners no matter where they live. Taking simple precautions can help reduce the impact should they occur. (Photo: iStock)
Risks can affect renters and homeowners no matter where they live. Taking simple precautions can help reduce the impact should they occur. (Photo: iStock)

Our home should be a safe haven since it is where we spend most of our time.

Unfortunately, most homes are vulnerable to a number of safety and security risks that require homeowners and renters to take additional steps to mitigate them.

This can include purchasing specific insurance policies to provide additional coverage against factors like flood or theft, using new technology to mitigate or alert family members to various dangers, and training family members on how to recognize and reduce the risks.

Here is a list of the five most common security threats and some recommended solutions that can be implemented fairly easily to keep everyone safer.

Related: 15 preventable homeowners' insurance claims and how to avoid them

burglar in a home causing a theft claim

(Photo: iStock) 

1. Burglary


A home is burglarized every 20 seconds in the United States, which comes at a great cost to homeowners and insurers — the average loss totals $2,316. And most stolen possessions are unlikely to be recovered because police solve only about 13 percent of reported burglaries.

Related: Here's the new high-tech way to catch a burglar

In general, where one lives doesn’t offer a measure of protection since intruders target homes and rental units equally. When everyone in a household is gone during the day, it increases the risk because most burglaries occur during the day. As 61 percent of intruders gain access to a home through forcible entry, homeowners and renters should take steps to protect their property.

One of the best ways to protect a home is with a security system, since a house is 300 percent more likely to be broken into without one. A security system might seem like a hefty investment, but some of the cost can be recouped since many insurance companies may discount rates up to 20 percent for customers with an alarm system. Homeowners can also choose a security system without a monthly fee or even a DIY security system.

Basic burglar proofing will also deter criminals. Put window bars on the base of all window frames to prevent them from being opened from the outside, install a heavy-duty dead bolt lock on every door that leads outside, and trim landscaping around doors and windows so potential intruders can’t hide.

Child getting into chemicals in a cabinet

(Photo: iStock) 

2. Poisoning


The National Safety Council reports that 90 percent of poisonings happen at home and are the leading cause of unintentional death. The most common type of poisoning is overdosing from prescription drugs, especially painkillers. Daily, over 50 people die from opioid pain medications and over 150 children go to the emergency room for ingesting medicines.

Up and Away shares solutions for storing medicine and vitamins away from curious little hands and mouths. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids provides a parent toolkit with tips for talking to kids at various ages about the danger of drugs that aren’t prescribed to them.

Another threat to be aware of is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) gas is known as the silent, invisible killer because it is undetectable without equipment — it is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Annually in the United States, unintentional CO poisoning causes more than 20,000 emergency room visits, 4,000 hospitalized patients, and more than 400 deaths.

Only a CO detector can identify this toxic gas, so it is important to install one on every level of a home and in areas with CO-producing equipment and appliances, like the garage and kitchen.

smoke detector

(Photo: iStock) 

3. Fires


Home fires are so alarming because they start quickly and quietly: The Department of Homeland Security reports that fires can become life-threatening in a mere two minutes, and a home can be fully engulfed in flames in just five. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), seven people die from home fires every day, half of them in fires that started between eleven o’clock at night and seven o’clock in the morning.

Though cooking equipment is the leading cause of home fire injuries, smoking materials are the primary cause of home fire deaths. Fires aren’t just quarantined to the kitchen area: 25 percent of home fire deaths result from fires that start in a bedroom and 25 percent are from fires that start in a living room, family room or den.

Related: 10 dos and don'ts to prevent home fires

A smoke detector is one of the best fire prevention tools. According to the NFPA, 60 percent of home fire deaths happen in homes with no working smoke alarm. Like a CO detector, a smoke detector should be installed on every floor of a home, in each bedroom, and in the attic.

Also keep a fire extinguisher on every floor of the house, including one near the kitchen. An extinguisher can quickly stop a small fire from spreading, so make sure family members know how to properly use it. Make sure to check the batteries in all smoke detectors and the expiration date on any fire extinguishers every year.

It is also important to form an escape plan in case a fire starts when family members are home and to run through it twice a year. Remember that if a smoke alarm goes off, get out of the home immediately. The heat and smoke can be toxic and disorient residents, which is why practicing an escape is critical.

evacuation plan check list

Planning ahead for multiple hazards can be the difference between life and death. (Photo: iStock) 

4. Natural Disasters


No matter where you live, most residents are probably at risk for some type of natural disaster. Whether it is floods, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes or hurricanes, it is important to be prepared to handle a variety of perils. Even if you don’t live in Tornado Alley or an earthquake zone, severe weather accounts for three of the five most common home insurance claims according to Zillow. Wind and hail top the list, followed by water damage, freezing and lightning.

Related: How to protect your property and business from earthquakes

Natural disasters are often covered by supplemental insurance policies, especially if you live in an area at high risk of a specific disaster — so check with your insurance provider. Then, prepare your family by putting together a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit with things you’ll need if you have to leave your home in a hurry. Provident Living provides a detailed checklist of what you’ll need like a set of car and house keys, medication and a portable water filter.

You’ll also want to develop an emergency communication plan with your family in case a natural disaster makes it difficult to reach each other at work or school. FEMA recommends collecting vital contact information for each family member and including the phone numbers of medical facilities, schools, doctors and workplaces. Keep a hard copy of this list at home and work.

elderly couple going up the stairs

(Photo: iStock) 

5. Falls


Falling is a common household hazard: one in three older adults falls each year, one in five falls results in a broken bone or a head injury, and nearly three million older people visit the emergency room as a result of a fall.

There are things we can do to help prevent falls. Being physically active is the most critical, since strong muscles can improve balance and help expedite recovery time. Regular eye exams, limited alcohol use, blood pressure checks, and solid shoes that surround your foot can also help.

To help prevent falls, eliminate clutter around the home — especially toys and loose electric cords. Secure all floor rugs and place night-lights in bathrooms, halls and the kitchen. Be mindful of the bathroom and its slippery shower and bathtub, since this is where many falls occur. Put non-skid mats in the bath and shower and install handlebar grips in the shower and around the toilet.

Walk through your home on a regular basis to see if it is vulnerable to any of these threats. Many of these solutions are fairly simple, but they can save time to implement safety strategies that will keep your home as safe and secure as possible. 

Sage Singleton is a home and community safety expert for SafeWise. She has written for a variety of audiences ranging from government sites to lifestyle magazines. She can be reached at sage.singleton@safewise.com.

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