Give Your Home an Annual Safety Inspection

woman changes smoke detector
  • 3 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 10-50

Keep your home and family safe with an annual safety inspection before minor damage turns into major issues.

Inside Your Home

Smoke and CO Detectors

Every dwelling should have smoke detectors installed in all bedrooms, outside the sleeping areas, and on each level of the home. So a two bedroom townhome should have at least four detectors. Similarly, your home should have a CO detector on each level, and at least one either inside or just outside the sleeping area.

Your annual inspection should include cleaning and testing all these detectors, and installing any you lack. To maintain those already installed, open the cover, remove the battery, and vacuum the housing. Replace the battery and press the test button. The alarms should sound briefly during the test. If they don’t, replace the batteries, or the entire unit if needed.

Electrical Safety

With so many gadgets and devices assisting us in our homes, you may have numerous power strips working hard. Just because it has eight outlets to plug into, doesn't mean you can safely plug eight things in, especially if you're using these to power large appliances, or using an aging power strip. Pare down the number of devices plugged into these units, and replace any that are old or worn.

overloaded power strips

Check for Water Damage

Check for leaks anywhere water enters the house. This means in and around the kitchen and bathroom, the dishwasher, under the sinks, in the laundry area and around the water heater. Look for signs of corrosion. This could mean a problem with the water or the pipes themselves. Also, check the toilet stands, making sure they don’t rock. Movement can indicate damage to the floor beneath.

Don’t forget to look up. The ceiling may show stains, sagging, or cracking that indicate plumbing or roof leaks. Slow leaks can lead to big damage if not addressed soon.

After looking up, take a look at the floors. Note any sagging or cracks, especially in locations that receive water, like toilets or tubs.

Windows and Doorways

Doorway thresholds should exhibit no cracks, which could lead to water entering the home. Look for cracks above the doors, which could indicate shifting in the foundation. Check signs of water damage around windows and examine the caulking to test whether they’re sealed up tight. If not, your home energy efficiency could be suffering.

Kitchen and Laundry

Burners on a gas stove should light quickly without a mini explosion, and provide an even blue flame. If they don't, you may have a dirty ignition. Contact a professional to have this serviced.

Hopefully you regularly vacuum out the lint screen on your dryer. Each year, you also need a thorough cleaning of the dryer ductwork, requiring more than a vacuum. If you’re not able to DIY this one, contact a local company specializing in this work.

Common Spaces

Active kids (or adults rushing out the door in the morning) may put stress on the stair balustrade. If ignored, a playful Saturday morning tug can lead to injury. Give it a jiggle to determine it’s sturdiness, and make repairs accordingly.

Attic and Garage

Make your way into the attic and take a peek while it’s still light outside to find holes that let light in. Any animal activity? Critters have the potential to destroy the integrity of insulation, or chew through wires, creating a fire hazard. Keep an eye out for areas that may become entry points for rats, squirrels, raccoons, and other culprits.

Put away the folding ladder and mosey on into the garage to check for cracks in the doors. If this is the first time you’ve entered the garage in a few months, tread carefully. Who knows what types of tripping hazards those rakes and shovels have created, not to mention that stack of old paint cans and other chemicals lurking in the corner. Might be a good time to get that garage organizing project coordinated.

old cans of paint

Before you leave the garage, grab a flashlight so you can inspect the chimney. Check for loose bricks, cracks, animal activity or nests, and excess soot that can create a fire hazard. Verify that the damper works properly while you’re at it.

Outside the Home

Take care when examining the exterior of your home. Cracks in the asphalt or concrete of your driveway or sidewalk may have become a tripping hazard over the last few months underneath a blanket of snow and ice. What started as a minor crack a couple summers ago can turn slowly into a raised, jagged obstacle, increasing each time water infiltrates and freezes.

Examine rails on your porch and watch out for loose or rotted out steps that can cause a nasty fall. Do the same for gates and fences, watching for leaning posts or other damage caused by storms.

If animal activity is evident around eaves or attic vents, locate the marauding menaces (yes, we know, they can be cute…) and manage them so they don’t cause further damage.

You’ve already checked the interior of the chimney, so now check the exterior. Flashing, vent, and chimney caps should not be peeling or missing.

Rain gutters should be clear and at the correct pitch. Inspect the foundation for cracks or bulges.

What does the roof look like? Are there missing shingles? Blistering or crumbling chunks? Is it covered in moss? All of these conditions can create nightmares in the long run, so be aware and take care before they turn into something more than you can handle.

Have you found the gas shutoff valve? Please do, and make sure it works properly by turning it perpendicular to the pipe in the shutoff position. Don’t forget to turn it back on once you’ve finished the check.

Don’t forget to look up while outside your house. Any tree limbs threatening to touch wires around the home could spell trouble.

Clean any AC units, removing twigs, leaves, and dead critters like lizards who met their untimely demise there.

Make Your Plans

This includes your family emergency plan, your winter storm prep, and your extreme heat plan. Restock your disaster supply kit with batteries, canned foods, and emergency water. No home safety inspection is complete without each of these plans, regardless of where you live.

Winter weather may vary depending on your location, but extreme heat now takes it toll on all of us in one way or another. Planning for your family’s safety in the event of sustained heat is a new crucial priority on your home hazard checklist.