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Home safety tips: Protecting against fires, mold and other hazards

Keep your family safer with this quick checklist.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

We spend a tremendous amount of our lives at home, whether that's an apartment, a condo, a house or something else entirely. But it's easy to forget to keep up with all the home safety maintenance involved in those places -- which can put you and your loved ones at risk. Fortunately, you can maintain a safer and healthier household by running through some simple home safety to-dos.

From replacing the batteries in your smoke detectors to checking for signs of black mold, it's necessary to stay on top of your home maintenance to prevent costly repairs or safety hazards. Below, you'll find a comprehensive home safety checklist to help you take control of these critical matters and keep your family safe.

Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Inside your home, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are essential for your safety. In fact, according to the National Fire Protection Association, you're 55% less likely to die in a home fire if you have a working smoke alarm.

These types of devices can identify the first signs of danger and alert you if there's a problem -- but they'll only work if you take good care of them. The US Fire Administration recommends testing your batteries monthly and replacing them once or twice per year. You should also swap out the entire device every 10 years (or earlier if you find problems during testing).

Check your fire extinguishers

Even though the number of home fires has been roughly cut in half since 1980, the risk of death when a fire occurs has remained the same. To prevent a blaze from getting out of control, experts recommend having at least one fire extinguisher in your home.

But again, your fire extinguisher is only effective if it's maintained properly. At least once per year, you should verify that it hasn't expired and ensure that the safety pin remains intact. You should also keep it clean and damage-free and make sure that the nozzle still works. Finally, you'll need to replace the extinguisher every 10-12 years.

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Fire extinguishers can help fight localized fires, but be sure your extinguisher type is effective against oil fires.

Josh Miller/CNET

Look for signs of black mold

Black mold is frequently found in warm and moist areas of the home, including bathrooms and basements. If you have mold inside your home, it can trigger symptoms like itchy eyes, wheezing, fever or shortness of breath. For children, black mold can even contribute to the development of asthma.

It's important to inspect your home for any signs of mold on a regular basis. Here's how to do it: 

1. Look for spots or clusters of mold, particularly in damp rooms or places where you've had a leak or water damage.

2. If you find any, put on some protective gear, open your windows and doors and throw away any moldy items.

3. Pull out and replace mold-covered surfaces (like carpet or ceiling tiles) and treat the area with bleach.

4. Let everything dry completely. If a leak caused the mold, make sure to fix it.

Keep an eye out for evidence of water and termite damage

Water damage and termite damage can both contribute to structural damage in your home, which could result in costly repairs or significant losses in property value. For water damage, check under sinks, in basements and under and behind appliances. In addition, keep an eye on your ceilings: Leaks in the roof, around skylights or from pipes can be slow-moving enough that you'll notice discoloration before you notice water dripping from above.

Termites are another risk to your home's structural integrity. Especially if you live in more sparsely populated areas, termites could burrow into the wooden supports of your home and severely damage them over time. If you have wood floors, check that they aren't "blistering" anywhere -- which can be a sign of water damage or termite damage underneath. Also keep an eye out for mud tunnels at the base of your exterior walls, and termite droppings, which look like small pellets of wood, near interior or exterior walls.

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Flood sensors can protect the easily forgotten nooks and crannies of your house safe from accidental water damage.

David Priest/CNET

Use a video doorbell or sensors

More than 1.1 million burglaries occurred in the US in 2019, with residential burglaries accounting for 63% of them. To reduce the risk of break-ins and to deter thieves, many homeowners and renters are opting to install video doorbells and window/door sensors at their properties.

Doorbell cameras from companies like Arlo and Vivint allow you to see who's coming and going from your home, providing an extra line of defense against intruders. They're also affordable and easy to install, so you can get up and running in a couple of hours.

Schedule an annual chimney sweep

If you have a chimney at home, it's vital to get it professionally cleaned each year to remove debris and ensure that everything is in working order. Even if you don't use your fireplace often, you still need to get it checked annually to make sure that there aren't any animals living inside.

According to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, chimneys should be cleaned when there's more than one eighth of an inch of accumulated soot. Your chimney sweep will instruct you on whether or not you need a cleaning during your annual appointment. You can use the CSIA website to find a certified professional in your area.

Make sure your house number is visible from the road

It might not be the most obvious home safety tip, but it's imperative to ensure that your house number is easy to read from the street. In case of an emergency, first responders should be able to read your house number to know that they're in the right place.

Install large, legible numbers in a well-lit area so that emergency personnel can spot your home at any time of day or night. If necessary, use reflective material or add a light above the numbers for extra visibility.

No matter how many safety measures or precautions you take, accidents and mistakes can always happen at home. However, there are several things that you can do to prepare your home and reduce the risk of serious damage or injuries.

Plus, with the continued development of smart home technology (like doorbells, sensors and DIY home security systems), you can take a more proactive approach to safety.

More on home safety and smart home devices