By Anessa V. Cohen

This week, we continue with an in-depth home safety guide–specifically for the elderly but also useful for other age groups. The text was written by the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.

Emergency Exit Plans

Do you have an emergency exit plan and an alternate emergency exit plan in case of a fire? Once a fire starts, it spreads rapidly. Since you may not have much time to get out and there may be a lot of confusion, it is important that everyone know what to do.

Develop an emergency exit plan. Choose a meeting place outside your home so you can be sure that everyone is capable of escape quickly and safely. Practice the plan from time to time to make sure everyone is capable of escape quickly and safely.

Kitchen Safety

In the kitchen, check the range area, all electrical cords, lighting, stools, throw rugs and mats, and the telephone area. Are towels, curtains, and other things that might catch fire located away from the range? Placing or storing non-cooking equipment, such as potholders, dish towels, and plastic utensils, on or near the range may result in fires or burns.

Store flammable and combustible items away from the range and oven. Remove any towels hanging on oven handles. If towels hang close to a burner, change the location of the towel rack. If necessary, shorten or remove curtains that could brush against heat sources.

Do you wear clothing with short or close-fitting sleeves while cooking? Long sleeves are more likely to catch fire than short sleeves. Long sleeves are also more likely to catch on pot handles, overturning pots and pans and causing scalds. Roll back long, loose sleeves or fasten them with pins or elastic bands while you are cooking.

Are kitchen ventilation systems or range exhausts functioning properly, and are they in use while you are cooking? Indoor air pollutants may accumulate to unhealthy levels in a kitchen where gas or kerosene-fire appliances are in use. Use ventilation systems or open windows to clear the air of vapors and smoke.

Are all extension cords and appliance cords located away from the sink and range areas? Electrical appliances and power cords can cause shock or electrocution if they come in contact with water. Cords can also be damaged by excess heat.

Do you have a step stool that is stable and in good repair? Standing on chairs, boxes, or other makeshift items to reach high shelves can result in falls. The CPSC estimates that in 1982, 1,500 people over 65 were treated in hospital emergency rooms when they fell from chairs on which they were standing.

Before climbing on any step stool, make sure it is fully opened and stable. Tighten screws and braces on the step stool, and discard step stools with broken parts.


Are chimneys clear from accumulations of leaves and other debris that can clog them? A clogged chimney can cause a poorly burning fire to result in poisonous fumes and smoke coming back into the house. Do not use the chimney until the blockage has been removed.

Has the chimney been cleaned within the past year? Burning wood can cause a buildup of creosote inside the chimney. This tar-like material can ignite and result in a serious chimney fire. Have the chimney checked and cleaned by a registered or licensed professional.


Are hallways, passageways between rooms, and other heavy-traffic areas well lit? Shadowed or dark areas can hide tripping hazards.

Use bright bulbs. Install night lights. Reduce glare by using frosted bulbs, indirect lighting, and shades and globes on light fixtures, and by partially closing blinds and curtains. Consider using additional lamps or light fixtures. Make sure that the bulbs you use are the right type and wattage for the light fixture.

Are exits and passageways kept clear? Furniture, boxes, and other items can be an obstruction or tripping hazard, especially in the event of a fire or other emergency. Rearrange furniture to open passageways and walkways. Remove boxes and clutter.


In the bathroom, check the bathtub and shower areas, water temperature, rugs and mats, lighting, small electrical appliances, and storage areas for medications.

Are bathtubs and showers equipped with nonskid mats, abrasive strips, or surfaces that are not slippery? Wet, soapy tile and porcelain surfaces are especially slippery and may contribute to falls. Apply textured strips or appliques on the floors of tubs and showers. Use nonskid mats in the tub and shower and on the bathroom floor.

Do bathtubs and showers have at least one grab bar (and preferably two)? Grab bars can help you get into and out of your tub or shower and can help prevent falls. Check existing bars for strength and stability, and repair them if necessary.

Is the temperature 120°F or lower? Water temperature above 120°F can cause tap-water scalds. If you are unfamiliar with the controls of your water heater, ask a qualified person to adjust it for you. If your hot-water system is controlled by the landlord, ask the landlord to consider lowering the setting. If the water heater does not have a temperature setting, you can use a thermometer to check the temperature of the water at the tap.

Is a light switch located near the entrance to the bathroom? A light switch near the door will prevent you from walking through a dark area. Install a night light. Inexpensive lights that plug into outlets are available.

Are small electrical appliances, such as hair dryers, shavers, curling irons, etc., unplugged when not in use? Even an appliance that is not turned on, such as a hair dryer, can be potentially hazardous if it is left plugged in. If it falls into water in a sink or bathtub while plugged in, it could cause a lethal shock. Unplug all small appliances when not in use. Never reach into water to retrieve an appliance that has fallen in without being sure the appliance is unplugged. Install a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) in your bathroom outlet to protect against electric shock.

Are all medicines stored in their original containers, and are they clearly marked? Medications that are not clearly and accurately labeled can be easily mixed up. Taking the wrong medicine, or missing a dosage of medicine you need, can be dangerous.

Many poisonings occur when children visiting go through the medicine cabinet or a grandmother’s purse. For homes where grandchildren or other youngsters are frequent visitors, medicines should be purchased in containers with child-resistant caps, and the caps should be properly closed after each use. Store medicines beyond the reach of children.

Next week: Part 3 v

Anessa Cohen lives in Cedarhurst and is a licensed real-estate broker and a licensed N.Y.S. mortgage originator with over 20 years of experience, offering full-service residential, commercial, and management real-estate services (Anessa V Cohen Realty) and mortgaging services (First Meridian Mortgage) in the Five Towns and throughout the tri-state area. She can be reached at 516-569-5007 or via her website, Readers are encouraged to send questions or comments to

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