2020's biggest home hazards (and how to avoid them)

01/30/2020

A home is a place to feel safe and relaxed, but it may be filled with unintentional booby traps. Of course, you want to minimize any obvious hazards (looking at you, Aunt Svetlana and your amazing knife-throwing act), but keep an eye out for ones that might not be so evident.

Still, there are some things you just can't control, and that's why there's insurance. A standard homeowner's insurance policy typically covers four areas: the actual structure (for example, if a tree falls through your roof), the belongings inside (in case of theft or damage from a covered event), liability (for instance, if a guest falls down the stairs and gets hurt) and, in some situations, additional living expenses (when your home is unlivable due to a disaster).

But not all insurance policies cover every single scenario. So you might assume that damages from an earthquake or flood are automatically included in your policy—but often, you'll need a separate add-on for those instances. You might also think that ever-increasing cyber-crimes and identity theft will leave you wrecked without recourse, but there's also coverage available now for those situations.

The additional costs for more coverage might seem like a burden initially, but it's nothing compared to staring down thousands of dollars in damages. You'll always wish you'd paid a little more upfront to have the peace of mind in case you need it.

Here are other places to look for hidden hazards in the home:

Cords and Electrical

Problem: Overloaded outlets and non-UL-approved devices can trip a circuit breaker, and worse, overheat to a disastrous degree.

Solution: Use the most energy-efficient devices you can find, distribute the load, check for frayed cords and, if necessary, call in an electrician to help make sure your place isn't at risk for an electrical fire. Even though you just purchased six new affordable lamps made from Swedish miracle paper, you don't have to use them all.

Yard Fun

Problem: Pools, trampolines, grills, hula hoops all add so much fun to our lives. But also, so much potential for getting hurt.

Solution: Supervise kids, clean up anything that someone can trip over, regularly inspect equipment for wear and hazards, keep the pool covered when not in use (which also saves on cleaning and heating bills) and definitely do not jump on the trampoline after a few margaritas. You can hurt yourself—and also, nobody wants to see that.

Extreme Weather

Problem: Hurricanes and tornadoes are nobody's friend. Nor are really cold winters, crazy-hot summers, super wet rainy seasons and prolonged droughts. No matter where you live, weather-related damage can directly and indirectly damage your home.

Solution: Protect your pipes so they don't freeze and burst, keep the home at 65 degrees or warmer even if you're not there, maintain your roof and fix any leaks immediately, and get rid of any dried “fuel" such as pine needles, dead grass, encroaching branches and other things around your home that will feed a fire. You'll also want to review your disaster prep and protection plan—how long has it been since you recharged your fire extinguishers, anyway? Better to go visit your local firefighters with some fresh baked goods rather than have them come visit you on an emergency call.

Mold

Problem: A slow leak or inadequate ventilation can cause mold to grow—and it's no joke. Even worse, mold has a way of propagating in dark places, like in cracks and behind walls, and by the time you discover it, the damage has been done. Prolonged exposure to mold can cause an allergic reaction or even serious autoimmune and other diseases.

Solution: Check for and fix leaks, ventilate damp areas by using a dehumidifier or air conditioner, change filters on air conditioners and furnaces. And if your area is prone to wet basements, do not carpet the bathroom and basement—that unfortunate mold-harboring trend went out with eight-tracks and perms.