Safety issues for homeowners
Julie Garton-Good, GRI, DREI

Q:Our friends recently had blood tests run on their child and found that she had high levels of lead in her blood that might have been caused when they remodeled their home. We've never paid attention to lead based paint issues, but this has been a wake-up call. Where can we find information about locating and removing lead based paint in our home?

A:Remodeling a home, particularly one built before 1978 when paints contained lead, creates problems for young children when they inhale lead dust, created during knockdown and sanding. In addition, young children who touch paint surfaces and then put their hands in their mouth are at higher risk since their nervous systems are still developing and their bodies absorb more lead. National statistics find that one out of every 11 children in the United States have dangerous levels of lead in the bloodstream.

The National Safety Council hosts a National Lead Information Center that not only distributes information, but can direct you to lead inspectors and risk assessors in your area. By calling (800) LEAD-FYI (available 24 hours a day), you can obtain an information packet containing information on how to locate and assess lead-based paint in your home, how to protect children from it and tips on how to significantly reduce lead hazards in your home.

If you find you have questions not covered in the materials sent to you, you can call the same number again (during the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday) to speak directly to an information specialist.

CHILD-PROOFING A SWIMMING POOL

Q:We are a young couple with two small children. We want to buy a move-up house with a pool. But my husband says having a pool would be too dangerous for our kids. Are there any precautions we could take to minimize the risk?

A:For many families, the American Dream is only complete once the swimming pool is added to the backyard. But what appears to be a national sign of affluence is also one of the greatest killers of children under the age of five. Nationally, after fire deaths, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in the home; and in the states of Florida, Texas, Arizona and California, it's the leading cause.

Studies by The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) find that a physical barrier restricting access from the house to the pool is one of the best ways to prevent swimming pool accidents. Since review of fatality cases show that almost all of the victims lived in or visited the residence where the accident happened, making it more difficult to access the pool from the house can be a safety precaution. This is particularly true where young children are concerned since they often drown because they venture outside alone when the parent or caretaker is momentarily distracted.

The CPSC has proposed regulations to be administered through existing local building codes. These guidelines would apply to any outdoor, private swimming pool, hot tub or spa and include such things as a barrier around the pool area at least 48 inches high, with openings no larger than 4 inches in diameter. Solid barriers should contain no openings nor indentations that could assist someone in climbing over the structure. It's suggested that access gates contain locks. Where a wall serves as part of the barrier, all doors with direct access to the pool from that wall should be equipped with an alarm that sounds when the door is opened.

For more detailed information on how to safety-proof your pool, you can write to "Pool Safety," U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Washington, D.C. 20207. Ask for a free copy of Safety Barrier Guidelines for Pools (CPSC359).

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

Q:We live in a home where water seeps into the basement during the rainy season, creating a lot of mold and attracting insects.

The first contractor we called said we only needed to damp-proof the foundation. But the second contractor we spoke to said we'd be much happier with water-proofing. What's the difference, other than the price?

A:If you're like many homeowners, keeping water and moisture out of a basement or crawl space (especially during certain times of the year) can be a problem. In fact, basement/foundation water is the second most common homeowner problem, second only to roof leakage.

Besides properly grading around the house and adding drains to divert the water away from the foundation, sealing the foundation from the outside is a solution. While more expensive than applying coatings on the interior of the foundation, it provides a more long-term, permanent solution.

But (as you found out), not all coating systems are made equal. In fact, they are categorized by whether they provide "damp-proofing" or "water-proofing". Damp-proofing only resists the passage of water. Most homes, even new ones, receive only damp-proofing, usually with an asphalt emulsion. Water-proofing, on the other hand, actually resists water flowing under pressure (like ground water), which can often be very forceful and damaging. Materials used for water-proofing include cement coatings and polymer modified asphalt. They are more expensive than those used for damp-proofing.

Your best bet is to have several contractors evaluate how severe the problem is and the depth of the water table, and then give you an estimate of how long various remedies should control the problem. You can then compare the solutions to what you want to achieve (i.e. short- or long-term ownership, how much you want to spend or can afford to spend, etc.) before taking the most effective course of action.

KEEPING THE BURGLARS OUT

Q:I am taking my family out of state for an extended time and concerned about burglaries, which seem to be increasing in our neighborhood. We can't afford an alarm system for our home. Do you have suggestions for making it a bit more burglar-proof?

A:There are low-cost, no-cost steps you can take to help protect your home.

  1. Outside, make sure that all lights are in working order and that shrubs and bushes are cut away from view of the house. Patrolling police will need a clear line of vision to doors in order to make their surveillance effective.
  2. When you're away, put several lights on timers as well as leave a radio on to give the appearance that someone is home. Leave your drapes open, particularly on upper floors that don't provide a full view of your home.
  3. Stop all expected deliveries and have your mail held. Tell at least one neighbor that you'll be gone and that you're not expecting anyone to drop by. Many a thief has made off with an entire household posing as a moving or delivery person.
  4. If you have a telephone answering machine, change the message from "we're not home" to "we can't come to the phone right now."
  5. Check to make sure all doors and windows are locked, particularly hidden entrances like those from your garage into your home. Deadbolt locks are best and are most likely to cause a would-be burglar to move on to an easier target. Don't be foolish and leave a spare key near any door -- if you can get it, so can a burglar.

Even the most secure home can't be completely protected. Move small valuables, such as jewelry, to a safe deposit box before you leave. Mark larger valuables with your driver's license number through the police department's property protection program. Itemize a list of home furnishings and valuables and place it in your safe deposit box. Or better yet, videotape your possessions and place the video in the safe deposit box. This serves as documentation should the property be stolen or destroyed.