15 Hidden Dangers in Your Home You Should Never Ignore
Some of these hidden home dangers aren't easy to spot. Keep tabs on these problem areas to solve issues before they get worse.
If it’s taking longer than usual for your clothes to dry or the clothes are super hot after a dry cycle, you could have a build-up of dryer lint, even if it’s not visible in the lint screen. Reduce the risk by removing the lint from the lint screen after each load and clean the dryer vent line every year.
“Lint is an extremely flammable material,” says Jason Kapica, president of Dryer Vent Wizard. “Oxygen moves through a dryer and its vent when the machine is running. There is a heating element inside the dryer providing a potential ignition source.”
“Mold is a particularly common problem in bathrooms with inadequate ventilation,” says Yoel Pioraut, managing partner at MyHome Design + Remodeling. “Examine pipes to check for moisture or excessive condensation. If everything checks out, but you have a lack of ventilation, it’s time to call in a contractor to add an exhaust fan.”
The Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is an electrical safety device that trips electrical circuits when they detect ground faults or leakage currents. “These outlets prevent deadly shock by quickly shutting off power to the circuit when the electricity flowing into the circuit differs from that returning,” says Keith Pinkerton, owner of Mr. Electric of Huntsville, Ala., a Neighborly company.
In some cases, the switches may stay on and trip off when the test button is pressed. That’s a sign a new GFCI should be installed by an electrician.
Flickering and blinking lights may seem ghostly, but it’s probably overloaded electrical circuits. Pinkerton says other signs include dimming lights, blown fuses, warm or discolored wall plates, crackling, sizzling or buzzing from receptacles.
A mild shock from touching appliances or burning odor from receptacle or wall switches should also be signs of an electrical problem. “Overloaded electrical circuits should only be repaired by a licensed, qualified electrician,” says Pinkerton.
Yes, the annoying beeps on your smoke alarm usually wake you up at 3 a.m., but don’t just knock it off the ceiling and forget about it. It’s a sign it needs to be fixed. It could be a dying battery or dead backup battery, dust, or a sign of a malfunction.
“Roughly two-thirds of all home fire deaths occur when smoke alarms are not working,” says Pinkerton. “Check the home to verify smoke alarms are installed in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home. A licensed, qualified electrician should be contacted to verify your home’s smoke alarm system meets the latest building and electrical codes.”
A crackling fire is so cozy. But when those dancing flames don’t completely burn off the oils in the wood, they off-gas as volatiles (a.k.a. volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) and rise with the smoke. As the smoke cools, it condenses with water and other chemicals inside the chimney and flue, creating a build-up of creosote. This can lead to chimney fires and house fires.
“Bringing in an expert to assess and repair if needed is always recommended because of the risk of fire or death,” says Robert Boudreau, an InterNACHI-Certified Home Inspector for Metro-West Appraisal and Home Inspections.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends chimneys, fireplaces and vents be inspected at least once per year.
Pump On the Fritz
“Checking connections, cleaning the pump and vents, and making sure the float switch is not restricted can be done by the homeowner,” says Boudreau. “A battery backup pump is also an inexpensive way to prevent failure.”
Improper grading can cause cracks, deterioration of foundation walls and structural damage if you don’t know what to look for.
“Spotting grading issues is the easiest if water is pooling next to a home’s foundation,” says Boudreau. “But sometimes it is difficult to detect the source because water can be running towards to the home below the surface or water can be pooling because of rain. Adding soil to exterior foundation below siding is an easy and cheap solution.”
Changing the downspouts and ensuring they are six feet away from the home is another option. But if more drastic grading is necessary, a pro needs to be called.
Cracks and Gaps
Speaking of foundation, there are signs inside your house you should look for regularly. These include gaps and cracks in hardwood floors, or cracks at the corners of door jambs and window frames, says Patrick Knight, training, licensing and inspection support manager of WIN Home Inspection.
Minors cracks should be monitored, but cracks of more than 1/8- to 1/4-in. should be investigated by a pro. “Uneven floors and doors that don’t shut right can be annoyances, but if that settlement continues, then the structure can become at risk,” cautions Knight.
Mixing Old and New
Do you have an old house with two-prong outlets in some rooms and updated three-prong in others? Do you see mixed wire type, open junctions or just worn out wiring?
“In older houses where electrical wiring has been updated, it’s important to make sure these changes were done to code and by a professional,” Knight says. “Substandard wiring can not only lead to blown circuits, but old or faulty wiring left intact can cause fires.”
Contacting an electrician is recommended for this home improvement, so don’t cut corners and try to DIY.
If you’re comfortable doing so, check out your roof with a ladder or take a decent look with binoculars. The National Roofing Contractors Association recommends inspecting it twice a year, in the fall and spring.
Knight says to look for bumps or dips; discolored, missing, or broken shingles; gutters and attached drainage. “The biggest thing that can happen are leaks,” Knight says. “Leaks lead to structural issues as well as moisture-related issues in the home.”
You can replace missing shingles that flew off in a storm, caulk flashing, and hammer down popped nails yourself. But call a pro if you’re not comfortable working on the roof or you find extensive damage.
Leaking Ducts and Flue Pipes
When it comes to boilers or furnaces, “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a common mentality. But even if they’re keeping your toes warm, you should definitely check these regularly for warning signs things are headed south, such as a yellow or jumpy pilot flame.
In addition, Knight says to check for cracks, rusting and/or leaking flue pipes, since this is a big hazard for carbon monoxide. That old furnace might be a “classic,” or it could be one of the warning signs a house could be a money pit.
Bubbling paint may be a sign of moisture build-up … or termites. You’re hoping it’s moisture, right? “Subterranean termites eat the wood and process it into food,” say Knight. “Termites make mud tubes because their bodies must stay moist.”
You can spot some of the signs of termites: mud tubes, shredded wings that look like tiny fish scales, sagging or blisters in flooring, hollow or weak sounding wood, or wood that is damaged.
It usually takes years of unnoticed termite activity to destroy a house, but they can certainly damage structural components, like the floor joists which support your house. Call an exterminator to assess the extent of infestation.
Signs something is amiss are blistering paint, warped walls, damaged wallpaper, loose tiles, a buckling or cracked floor, and mold or mildew on non-shower walls. “Once you have leaks that show up in walls or start causing floor damage, a pro should be called,” says Knight.
The longer it takes you to detect the leak, the more extensive the damage could be.
Toilet Gurgles and Burping
Sounds that babies make? Yes, but if your toilet is making this sound, it’s not cute. Built-up grease, large quantities of food in the garbage disposal or using your toilet like a wastebasket contributes to a sewer system backup.
According to Glenn Gallas, vice president of operations for Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly company, signs of a sewer system backup include gurgling, burping and overflowing fixtures in toilets, tubs, showers and sink drains.
This is a situation a plunger isn’t likely to fix. A plumber should be called, since raw sewage is a serious health hazard.