Moving to a new home is an exhilarating process. Because it can also be a busy process, many new homeowners may forget to develop a safety plan.
In fact, U.S. Census Bureau data suggests that about 1 in 10 Americans relocate every year, setting the stage for millions of people to move into a new home with minimal safety precautions put into place.
“While moving can be an exciting time, settling into a new home is also a critical time to assess and mitigate risks — like making your home safe from home fires and earthquakes,” says Mindy Mizell, director of media relations for the American Red Cross.
If you want to keep the safety of your family — and yourself — at the forefront, the American Red Cross advises a focus on these checklist items:
Develop a Fire Escape Plan
Sarah Layton, a communications associate with the Red Cross, advises that homeowners plan two ways out of the home during an emergency and to designate two meeting places: one outside of the home to reconnect with family members and one outside of the neighborhood in case the first meeting place is blocked during the emergency.
If your home has more than one story, additional escape routes can be included by keeping an escape ladder in an easy-to-access spot upstairs. It’s also a great idea to designate one person to install the ladder and another to gather the children or other loved ones during the emergency.
There are also a few precautionary measures you can take while your home is being constructed.
“If you are building a new home, a home fire sprinkler system should be as important as hardwood floors or granite countertops,” says Judy Comoletti, division manager of public education for the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). “They protect lives by keeping fires small, they react quickly and can reduce the heat, flames and smoke in a fire allowing people more time to escape.”
Comoletti also advises to have interconnected fire alarms installed inside each sleeping room and outside of each sleeping area on each level of the home. Also, be sure to have them tested once a month and replaced every 10 years.
Below are a few additional tips for developing an escape plan:
- Involve everyone in your home with the planning process.
- Teach kids to recognize the sound of smoke alarms and to retreat to your designated meeting place.
- Ensure all windows and doors are easily opened.
- Learn the emergency number for your local fire department.
- Ensure your house number is visible from the street.
- Practice a fire escape drill at least twice a year.
Gather Items for an Emergency Stockpile
If you have the space for it, the Red Cross also suggests storing a survival kit in case of emergencies that could keep you indoors for a lengthier period of time.
While the Red Cross sells its own emergency kit with medical supplies and tools, you’ll also want to consider storing up these items as well:
- Enough food and water for each family member for at least three days.
- A flashlight and extra batteries.
- A first aid kit.
- Health/sanitary items and extra medications.
- Cell phone chargers.
- A battery-powered or hand-crank weather radio.
- Copies of personal documents and emergency contact info.
- Consider additional needs specific to your family (baby supplies, health devices, etc.)
Identify Your Nearest Severe Weather Shelter
If your new home doesn’t have a safe space like a basement, safety room or storm shelter, you’ll want to locate your nearest severe weather shelter where you can retreat to during weather warnings.
If there isn’t a shelter nearby, the Red Cross advises to find an interior spot in your home that is on the lowest floor, away from windows and isn’t near an outdoor wall.
Update Smartphone Alerts
The Red Cross has many free emergency apps that allow you to update alert preferences, including the locations you’ll want to monitor and types of disasters.
The NFPA also offers several apps, in addition to safety games for kids at sparkyschoolhouse.org.
Your local emergency management professionals may also offer other notification systems that can provide additional safety updates for your area, like text message alerts.
Plan for Earthquakes
Even if you’re not in a well-known earthquake zone, quakes can still happen sporadically across the nation.
As you’re moving into your home, try to avoid hanging heavy items above sitting areas, beds or cribs and be sure to dutifully secure items and furniture that could fall on someone (bookshelves, TVs, dressers, etc.).
Assess Fire Risks
Finally, it’s time to assess other common errors that greatly increase your home’s risk of fire. The Red Cross offers the following tips for reducing that risk:
- Keep heating sources clean, in working order and away from flammable objects.
- Use kerosene heaters when permitted by law and only refill outdoors after they have cooled.
- Regularly check electrical wiring for damages, replacing or repairing frays and loose plugs.
- Check that wiring is not under rugs, attached by nails or in high-traffic areas.
- Ensure outlets have cover plates and that wiring is not exposed.
- Do not overload power strips or extension cords.
- Store rags that are used to apply flammable chemicals in metal containers with tight lids.
- “Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires,” adds Comoletti. “Stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on what you fry, keep smokers outside the home and have central heating inspected by a professional annually.”