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38 Home Disasters You Can Avoid Before the Holidays

Make sure your home is safe from these potential hazards during the holidays.

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Family Handyman

Put Splash Pans Under Washers and Water Heaters to Catch Leaks

Once upon a time, water heaters and clothes washers always sat on concrete floors near drains, where spills and leaks wouldn’t hurt anything. Now they often sit on framed wood floors, sometimes on the second floor, where spills, overflows, broken hoses or slow drips can cause stains, rot and other potentially expensive water damage. For about $20, you can buy special pans at home centers and appliance dealers that catch slow leaks and mild overflows to prevent any kind of catastrophe during the holidays. Some have drain holes where you can connect a tube that leads to a floor drain. They won’t stop burst water lines or massive overflows, but they’re cheap insurance against water damage caused by minor spills and leaks.

And if your washing machine does start to leak, here’s how to fix the most common problems yourself.

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Install surge protectors to protect your microprocessors and prevent data loss

Computer chips are sensitive and highly vulnerable to momentary power surges, especially powerful ones induced by lightning. When you’re adding additional items that need power, like Christmas lights, during the holidays, make sure your other electronics are protected. Losing a $1,000 computer is bad enough, but losing photos, music and other irreplaceable stuff on your hard drive is often much worse. Insulate your valuable microprocessors from this danger by plugging them into a surge protector. Better surge protectors ($40 and up) will have the following ratings printed somewhere on the box: meets UL 1449 or IEEE 587; clamps at 330 volts or lower; can absorb at least 100 joules of energy or more; and handles telephone lines and video cables as well.

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Check Your Smoke Detector

Every year people die because their smoke detectors didn’t go off during a fire. That’s usually because the batteries were dead (or had been removed to stop false alarms) or the detector was past its useful life or was located where occupants couldn’t hear the alarm. See how to check your smoke detector and why you need to write the date on your smoke detector. 

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Potential Cooking Fire

A towel or curtains hanging too close to an unattended stove can ignite. The statistics: Cooking fires cause 23 percent of home fires and 9 percent of deaths. The grease in an unattended frying pan catches on fire and ignites nearby combustibles, which in turn ignite curtains, cabinets or anything else in the vicinity. Be sure to check out these fire prevention tips, like how to properly put out a grease fire.

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Potential Extension Cord Fire

Overloaded extension cords, bad connections and other careless use of electrical devices can melt wire insulation and cause a fire. The statistics: Electrical equipment causes 9 percent of home fires and 10 percent of deaths. Overloaded extension cords, hidden electrical shorts, bad connections, and oversized bulbs and fixtures can ignite nearby combustibles and burn down your house. Stay safe and prevent any potential problems with these safety tips while decorating for the holidays.

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Potential Gas Water Heater Fire

Clothes piled too close to a gas water heater can ignite when the water heater comes on. The protective doors for the gas burners are missing. Appliances (clothes dryers and gas water heaters) cause 7 percent of home fires and 4 percent of deaths. After problems with stoves and heaters, the biggest culprits in appliance fires are lint in dryers and combustibles near gas water heaters. The last thing you want to do is seek out a repair person during the holidays. Check out how to diagnose water heater problems to save you from scrambling.

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Having a Dirty Stove While You Cook

If your stove is covered with grease and other flammable grime, a small kitchen fire can get out of hand quickly. Clean and clear the area around the stove before turning on the heat, especially if you plan on lots of cooking during the holidays. (Learn how to keep your kitchen health-inspector approved in less than 5 minutes.)

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Fireplace Safety

Your home’s chimney should be swept at least once a year, according to the National Fire Protection Association, especially before they get used during the holidays. This fire safety measure will help remove soot and debris which could become a fire hazard. And when using the fireplace, keep any flammable materials, such as blankets, curtains and rugs away from the fireplace and never leave children unattended near a working fireplace. See the best way to keep your chimney clean.

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GFCI outletFamily Handyman

Loose Outlets

The constant movement of loose electrical outlets can loosen the wires connected to the outlet and create dangerous arcing. This can be especially a problem when visitors stop by your home and start looking for a place to charge electronics. Luckily, the fix is simple, check it out here.

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Laptops

Laptops have caused fires in homes in the past and your guests might bring theirs with them. In 2013 a laptop running on a bed for 16 to 18 hours with a recalled battery in a Manassas, Virginia condo contributed to a fire that burned the condo down, according to a NBC Washington report. It seems the battery played the bigger role in igniting the blankets and comforter than the laptop. Most laptops include automatic shutdowns to prevent them from overheating. Find out where you can take an old laptop that you no longer use.

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9-Volt Batteries in Junk Drawers

People know a 9-volt battery and some steel wool is a great fire starter. So batteries shouldn’t be kept loose in a junk drawer, especially 9-volt batteries. It’s possible that the metal in the junk drawer could short out a 9-volt battery and spark a fire. It’s best to keep batteries in the packaging or keep the posts covered with tape. Check with local officials on how to best dispose of 9-volt batteries and clean out your junk drawer before guests arrive.

Just don’t keep a 9-volt battery in your pocket with change like one reader did. Read about what happened and 29 other spectacular fails around the house.

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Dust Bunnies

There’s a super important reason why dusting is a vital chore at home. Those dust bunnies when near a spark will ignite and spread a fire quickly. Dust bunnies near a space heater and electrical sockets are a huge fire hazard. Make your home dust bunny free with these 100 essential cleaning hacks for your home.

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Exposed Lightbulbs

Those closet lights that don’t have an enclosure around them pose a fire and safety risk in the home. According to Buell Inspections, under normal circumstances a 60-watt light bulb will not get hotter than 175 degrees Fahrenheit but under some conditions it could reach close to between 290-500 degrees, high enough to ignite things likes table tennis balls, which begin to melt around 130-150 degrees, according to Nittaku, a table tennis equipment manufacturer.

Find out how to pick LED lights that will help you save on energy costs.

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Paper

It should go without saying that paper is a huge contributor to home fires but it’s the location of those papers that people don’t pay close enough attention to at home. Newspaper in the garage near the gas tank for the lawn mower is a common ignition source. See how to safely store gasoline.

Find a good, secret hiding place for your valuable papers in your home, well away from any ignition sources.

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Dryer Lint

In a four-year span there are nearly 25,000 dryer fires, which cause millions of dollars in damage and hundreds of injuries, some fatal. Dryer fires start when built-up lint near the motor, gas burners or heating elements catches on fire. This fire can then spread to ignite lint in the vent pipe. Make sure you’re regularly cleaning the lint trap in your dryer and the vent pipe.

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Barbecues

Make sure your grill is not directly underneath any part of the house when grilling and make sure you keep the grease trap clean after uses. If the flame on your grill goes out make sure to wait the proper amount of time suggested by the grill manufacturer before reigniting the grill.

Check out this collection of grill tips that will help make you a grill expert.

Photo: Via Amazon

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Garage Smoking

Smokers who aren’t allowed to smoke in the house will often seek refuge in the garage. But the garage is not a safe place to smoke because of the various flammable liquids that reside there. Make sure your household knows these 12 fire safety tips.

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Forgetting to Childproof the Garage

You may have every corner of your home locked and guarded against little ones, but most families neglect to do the same for their garage—where enticing and dangerous items tend to lurk. Maintain the same level of care you bring to childproofing your house to your garage: Put dangerous chemicals and tools—like antifreeze, fertilizers, and gasoline—in high, locked cabinets. Watch out for these mistakes that could make your backyard dangerous.

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Leaving Slip and Trip Hazards Lying Around

From a coil of extension cord to a spill of cleaning products, there are plenty of things in your garage that could literally trip you up. “Keeping a busy, cramped garage is unwise,” Vanessa Thorn, a health and safety advisor at Lock Up Garages, says. “It’s not so much tripping that is the cause of concern; it’s what may fall on top of you, or what you may fall into.”

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Ditch the Clutter, Especially on StairsFamily Handyman

Ditch the Clutter, Especially on Stairs

Nearly half of all falling deaths occur on steps and stairways. Keeping the steps clutter-free seems obvious, but take a look at your own steps (especially those leading down to the basement). Who hasn't set something on the top step “temporarily” with a plan to take it down on the next trip? It's easy to use the steps as semipermanent storage, but it's a very dangerous habit. Odds are that eventually someone is going to trip over something and break an arm or leg (or neck). Don't set anything on the steps. Ever. Check out our 10 top tips for cleaning your whole house in a day.
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Make Windows Safe for KidsFamily Handyman

Make Windows Safe for Kids

Each year in the United States nearly 15,000 children are injured because of falls from windows. Window screens are not strong enough to prevent falls. In rooms on upper floors, install window guards with quick-release mechanisms (in case of fire) to prevent windows from opening more than a few inches. And keep furniture away from windows so kids aren't tempted to climb near them. Window guards are available from safebeginnings.com and other online retailers, home centers and department stores. Plus: Learn how to babyproof your home in 9 easy steps!
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Furniture Tipping

If you don’t think that furniture tipping over is a danger you have to worry about, learn of the numbers, and you’ll think twice when someone warns you of the dangers.

Every year, thousands of children are injured by furniture tipping over. Every two weeks, a child is killed by a tip-over. The stats, which come from the Consumer Reports (CR) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, reveal there were 195 deaths caused by tip-overs between 2000 and 2016. CR also reported that in 2016, 2,800 incidents of injury to children from a falling piece of furniture occurred—a 33 percent spike from 2015.

Dresser tip-overs are the biggest culprit, with children pulling out dresser drawers to climb on them. Even the sturdiest dressers can fall forward. Check out this hack to prevent a bookcase from falling over.

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Candles

Candles sure do create a cozy holiday environment, but they are dangerous for your household if you do not attend to them properly. Did you know that candle fires are four times as likely to cause fires during the winter holidays, and two out of five of holiday decoration fires are caused by candles? Typically these fires occur when a candle is unattended and close to flammable materials that can easily catch (like a tree, for example).  It is recommended to keep candles at least 12 inches away from a flammable source.

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Christmas Lights

Lastly, the third popular holiday decor item that can easily catch flames are your lights. They may look gorgeous hanging on your house or your tree, but if not assess properly before hanging these lights can easily turn into a beautiful disaster. First, evaluate if the lights are meant for indoors or outdoor use—yes, it does make a huge difference. It may be tempting to leave your lights on all night, but it is recommended by NFPA to turn them off when you leave the house and when you go to bed. Since out of four tree fires are caused by electrical problems, you always want to make sure to check the wiring of your lights. Are any of the wires in the lights frayed? Bulbs missing? Excessive wear from previous years of decorating? A proper evaluation may take time, but it will keep you safe in the long run.

And lastly, make sure that all of your smoke alarms are working properly. U.S. Fire Administration states that having a properly functioning smoke alarm reduces your risk of dying in a fire by nearly half. Want to make sure all of your bases are covered? We have 12 fire safety tips you need to know to keep your family safe.

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How to Add an Outdoor OutletFamily Handyman

How to Add an Outdoor Outlet

Most homes have only two exterior outlets—one in the front and one in the back. That may be OK most of the year, but it’s a real hassle when you’re hanging holiday lights. It can be dangerous, too. Overloading cords or outlets poses a fire hazard, while crisscrossing your driveway and sidewalk with cords creates tripping hazards. In just a few hours, you can solve these problems forever by adding an outlet or two. Do it safely and easily with this simple through-the-wall technique.
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Extension Cords

Along with being a major tripping hazard, extension cords cause over 3,000 residential fires each year, which results in an estimated 50 annual deaths according to the CDC. Put extension cords away when they’re no longer needed and limit their use around children and the elderly. Never use an extension cord that it cracked or frayed. Here’s what you need to know about extension cord repair.

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Flat-Screen TV

It’s great for watching sporting events or hosting movie nights, but unfortunately it’s also a silent killer! According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, more than 17,000 kids were taken to the E.R. each year between 1990 and 2011 with television tip-over-related injuries. Be sure you mount your TV on the wall!

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Magnets

Magnets aren’t something that usually comes to mind when you think about dangers in the house, but small magnets that can be ingested can stick together and trap and compress portions of the bowel wall between them. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this can potentially lead to perforation, ischemia, sepsis and bowel obstructions in children. Check out these 15 DIY magnetic strip hacks.

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Throw Rugs

Small throw rugs may protect your floors, but for the elderly, they can be a major hazard. Also watch for area rug edges that curl up. You can secure them with double-faced carpet tape. Check out these 10 ways to prevent trips and falls at home.

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Family Handyman

Running Toilet

The mysteries of a running toilet can drive you nuts. Whether you hear water running constantly or cycling on and off, we’ll help you decipher the clues so you can stop wasting water. Hardware stores and home centers carry the parts for almost all toilet repairs. One cause of a toilet running is a flapper that doesn’t seal. If water from the tank seeps around the flapper and into the bowl, the flapper is probably shot.

Flush the toilet and look for a fill valve leak. Lift up on the toilet float arm when the tank is filling to see if the water stops. Bend or adjust the toilet float arm so the tank stops filling when the water level is 1/2- to 1-in. below the top of the overflow pipe. If the fill valve still leaks, replace it. Find out more about how to fix a running toilet.

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Sweaty Toilet

If summers are humid where you live and you don’t have air conditioning, you’ve probably noticed your toilet “sweating” excessively. Condensation forms on the outside of the tank, which can drip down and make a mess or even rot out your floor. Some toilets are available with insulated tanks to prevent condensation problems.

Ever worried about waking someone up when flicking on the bathroom lights in the middle of the nights? Then this tricked-out toilet will blow your mind.

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Family Handyman

Bubbling Toilet

If you have air bubbles that rise up through your toilet bowl (except when it flushes) or notice the water level rising and falling, you probably have a clogged or improperly vented toilet. This toilet bubbling problem is especially true when you have an appliance like a clothes washer nearby. Your drain line is gasping for air.

When you pour liquid from a can, you’ll notice that it doesn’t flow evenly unless you have a second opening for air. The same holds true for plumbing vent pipe. As water goes down a drain, air is needed to equalize the pressure in the drain line.

This is the purpose of a venting system. If the drain lines in your home have poor venting, water rushing down the drains will pull water from nearby P-traps. The drain in the toilet bowl is basically a P-trap. If the problem just started, it’s probably a blocked drain or plumping vent pipe that needs to be “snaked” out. And since the water in the toilet is dropping and gurgling, it’s likely that the problem is near that area.

Unfortunately, a clogged or missing vent is tough to fix, since it usually requires breaking into the walls to examine the drain system. Unless you have plumbing experience, this project is best left to a professional. That way you can avoid one of these 100 plumbing goofs and other scary things.

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Toilet Won’t Flush Well

Master baths are often distant from the rest of the plumbing in the house, so they often have their own plumbing vents independent of the home’s other plumbing. If the flushing performance is anemic and there are no clogs or obvious malfunctions, there may be an amazingly simple remedy. Occasionally, plumbers forget to remove the temporary plug that’s used to pressure-test the lines after plumbing rough-in. They’re located at the top of the vent pipe up on the roof. If you can’t see a rubber cap clamped on the vent over the bathroom from the ground, climb up on the roof and inspect the end of the vent over your bathroom and I’ll bet you’ll find an overlooked plug. If so, break through the plastic with a screwdriver and pry out the pieces and that toilet will work just fine.

If that isn’t the problem, you probably have a defective toilet or an obstruction in the drain line. Get ahold of the plumber who worked on the house. He or she should be able to solve the toilet wont flush problem. Discover these 9 super-simple toilet tuneups, too.

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Sluggish Toilet

If your toilet flushes slowly, the rinse holes under the rim may be clogged with mineral deposits. With a mirror and a coat hanger, you can clean out those clogged holes without ever getting your hands dirty. The photo says it all—look into the mirror to see if the holes are clogged. If they are, bend a coat hanger flat and probe the tip into the holes to poke out any mineral deposits.

If you thought some of those toilet seats were crazy, prepare for 50 of the most insane toilets ever created.

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Family Handyman

Loose Toilet Seat

Tighten a loose or wiggly toilet seat with inexpensive rubber bushings and seat stabilizers. It’s a 15-minute fix that’ll last for years and stop someone from slipping off the seat.. Remove the toilet seat nuts and insert the rubber bushings.

Loop the rubber band around the toilet seat and center the stabilizers so they touch the inside rim of the bowl. Drill a starter hole and secure the stabilizers with screws from the kit. Then install a set of toilet seat stabilizers, such as Safe-T-Bumpers ($6 at amazon.com). That’ll eliminate loosening caused by side-to-side movement.

If your toilet is coming up short in other areas, check out some solutions that can improve toilet performance.

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Be Smart With an Open Flame

Although this seems obvious, the U.S. Fire Administration notes that candles start two out of five home decoration structure fires and that the top three days for home candle fires are Christmas, New Years Day, and Christmas Eve. Although you may love to burn candles during the holidays, remember to blow them out when you leave the house and keep them far from your decor. Or, switch from real candles to flameless. Some of these safer candles look surprisingly realistic and come with a remote control!

Here are more important tips for preventing home fires.

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Handling Broken Glass

Glass ornaments are beautiful and many of us have a collection that includes some heirlooms. However, no matter how careful you are, ornaments do fall off of the tree and break. It’s important to clean up all of the tiny shards of glass, especially if there are children and/or pets in the house. Here is the smartest way to handle and dispose of broken glass.