5 Home Safety Hazards (And How to Avoid Them)

Less than one week into 2019 in a quiet neighborhood in Tampa, a couple pulled their Mercedes SUV into the garage of their townhome and went upstairs.  Unfortunately, the keyless ignition was left on and the vehicle’s engine ran all night long.  This simple mistake cost the husband, Thomas Martino, his life.  When paramedics arrived the following morning, he was pronounced dead on arrival and his wife was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.  The cause was accidental carbon monoxide poisoning.

Over the coming year, we are going to discuss some best practices to make your home a sanctuary of health and happiness.  We will explore the basics of a healthy home - like air and water quality - and even get into some deeper topics such as building physics and electromagnetic pollution. Before we get there, we’ve got to start with something very foundational: safety and maintenance.  

Oh, not the glamorous topic you were hoping for?  Sorry, but here’s the harsh truth:  Your home can have all of the sustainably-harvested hardwood floors and flame retardant-free furniture you’d like, but if your smoke detectors are out of batteries or your water filter hasn’t been changed in four years, it doesn’t really matter.

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So I promise to try to make this admittedly less-than-exciting topic as interesting as I can, but I’m begging you not to overlook this article because, “Yeah, yeah, yeah...of course safety is important.”  You simply cannot have a health-focused home without regularly addressing safety and maintenance issues.  

Top 5 Household Hazards

There are hundreds of potential safety risks that exist in a home, so discussing them all would be a difficult task (not to mention a boring read)!  So we will focus on avoiding the five leading causes of unintentional death in the home (according to the Home Safety Council):  falls, poisonings, fires/burns, choking/suffocation, and drowning/submersions.   


  • Outside walkways should be well-lit and free of toys and other items; add a glow-in-the-dark anti-slip tape to steps for extra protection

  • Keep floors free of tripping hazards including toys, cords, and shoes

  • Install non-slip adhesives to bathtub and shower flooring; add support rails if needed

  • Staircases should be well-lit, with securely attached railing and flooring, and be free of toys and other items; additionally, if young children are in the home, safety gates should be installed at the top and bottom of the staircase

  • Use appropriate stools and stepladders when needed; never use a chair to reach high items

  • Use window guards on low-level windows to prevent children from falling

  • Avoiding shoes in the home is a great way to reduce exposure to toxins, bacteria, and other uninvited guests, but socks can present a major slipping hazard; bare feet, socks with grips, and house shoes are recommended instead

  • Trampolines should have a proper enclosure and should be checked for tearing and deterioration seasonally


  • Save the number for Poison Control (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and display it prominently near home phones

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your home and test it regularly

  • Fluorescent and CFL light bulbs (the curly kind) contain mercury; if one breaks in your home, the room should be evacuated immediately and a window or door opened to ventilate the space 

  • As much as possible, reduce the number of commercial cleaning products, yard care products, and beauty products you bring into your home, or at least replace them with non-toxic alternatives

  • Always properly close medication bottles and store out of reach of young children, preferably in a locked medicine cabinet

  • Store household chemicals and cleaners on a high shelf, preferably in a garage or outside of common areas; purchase products in child-proof containers

  • Do not store household products in the kitchen or near food items

  • When using cleaning products, use gloves to protect your skin and open a window to improve ventilation

  • Do not mix cleaning products together, as they can cause noxious fumes (never mix ammonia and bleach products)

  • If your house was built before 1978, you may have lead-based paint on your walls - any chipping, peeling, or other damage should be addressed by a lead-safe certified contractor

  • Keep button batteries (watch batteries) out of reach of children, and consider avoiding toys and devices that use them

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  • Install photoelectric smoke detectors on each floor of your home and near each bedroom; test units monthly and change batteries each year

  • Have an ABC-rated fire extinguisher in your kitchen and ideally on each floor of your home

  • Store matches, lighters, and candles out of reach of children

  • Avoid smoking in the home, especially in the bedroom (smoking in bed is the #1 cause of home fire deaths)

  • Unplug appliances when not in use and replace items with frayed or damaged cords

  • Install ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) in kitchens and bathrooms

  • Do not overload outlets, extension cords, or power strips

  • Keep space heaters and radiators at least 3 feet from furniture, curtains, and other flammable items

  • Clean your dryer’s lint trap (ideally outdoors - dryer lint contains chemicals you don’t want in your indoor air) after each use and clean the dryer exhaust seasonally

  • Have your chimney professionally cleaned annually

  • Keep in mind that, in addition to other health and safety concerns, there is evidence that smart utility meters may pose a fire risk 

  • Use the back stove burners when possible or turn pot and pan handles toward the back of the stove so that children cannot grab them

  • Set water heater temperature at 120°F and always check the water temperature before bathing children

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  • Avoid toys that are smaller than 2” long x 1” wide for children under 3 years old; regularly inspect toys for loose parts

  • Regularly get down on your hands and knees to inspect the floor for small items that may have fallen

  • Keep all plastic bags, including shopping bags and dry-cleaning bags, out of reach of children

  • Avoid window blinds that have looped cords or install a cord guard

  • Be sure that crib mattresses fit snugly within the crib and that bedding fits snugly around the mattress

  • Put child-resistant locks on all air-tight appliances including the washing machine


  • Do not leave children alone near water including buckets, bathtubs, pools, or the ocean; be especially mindful to keep the bathroom door closed if you fill your bathtub prior to storms

  • Install and maintain child-proof fencing around pools and hot tubs; fences should be four-sided and at least 5 feet high with a self-closing and self-locking gate 

  • Have all non-swimmers and weak swimmers wear a Coast Guard-approved life jacket; arm “floaties” and foam noodles are toys, not acceptable safety devices

  • Designate one person to provide close and constant monitoring for children (many drownings happen at family gatherings when adults think someone else is watching the kids) 

  • Have a rescue pole with life hook and life preserver in the pool area

  • Take a CPR-training course and remain familiar with these life-saving skills

  • Remove toys from the pool when you get out to prevent kids from trying to retrieve them

  • Avoid the use of prescription drugs or alcohol when in a pool or hot t

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Home safety and maintenance is an essential part of creating a healthy home.  Nothing is more important than keeping your family safe. Again, this is not an exhaustive safety list, but is a great start toward having a safer and healthier home.  Start with some of the items on this list, and then expand into other areas of concern.  

Remember not to let perfect be the enemy of better; any positive change is a step in the right direction.  


Run A Fire Drill

March 2019 Healthy Home Challenge

Drill.  Even the word sounds exhausting.  But as the Greek poet Archilochus said, “We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”  

So while we may think that everything will come together in the event of an emergency, it would be a terrible time to find out that you are wrong.  It was a fire drill spurred by the writing of this article that made me realize that even though we own a fire escape ladder, I had no clue how to use it.  Maybe I figured I’d have time to read the instruction manual by the light of a blazing inferno behind me?  Not smart.

If you have kids, this is even more critical.  Parents, I know you can think of more than a few examples of times that telling did nothing, but showing did everything.  We need to show our children how we expect them to handle an emergency, and work out the kinks in our plan while the stakes are low.   

Here are some tips for running a fire dril

  • Discuss how your family would react in several different scenarios.  These may include what to do if your clothing caught fire, the door handle felt hot, or the pet were on the other side of the house.  

  • Practice each aspect of the plan.  Have family members actually leave the house and gather at the designated meeting area.  This is the best way to identify challenges and improve outcomes in an actual emergency.

  • Catch them off guard.  What if a heavy sleeper snoozes through the smoke detector alarm or your kids panic and freeze?  Running an unexpected practice drill - with a real alarm - is a good idea.


Overlooked Maintenance Tasks

April 2019 Healthy Home Challenge

With spring cleaning just around the corner, home cleaning and maintenance tasks are already top of mind.  Here are a few of the most commonly overlooked home maintenance tasks that are important in creating a healthy home.  This month, your challenge is to take your deep cleaning even deeper with these maintenance jobs:

  • Cleaning and sanitizing washing machine.  Yes, you should clean the cleaner!  Many new models have self-cleaning cycles but for those that don’t, running an empty load with 2-3 cups of vinegar can work great at descaling and disinfecting your machine. 

  • Cleaning refrigerator drip pan.  A refrigerator drip what?  See your owner’s manual to find the precise location, but this pan catches the condensation - and often food particles - from your fridge.  Once discovered, it’s often a bona fide science experiment.  Clean it thoroughly, then add kosher salt to prevent future microbial growth.  

  • Flushing your water heater.  Your water heater can collect mineral deposits and other sediment that contaminates the system and the hot water that comes out of your faucets.  Flushing the system regularly will make your water heater last longer and run more efficiently.

  • Cleaning gutters.  Out of sight, out of mind, right?  They are hard to access and no fun to clean, but clogged gutters can lead to water damage and mold and can also provide a prime nesting ground for pests to end up in your home.  

  • Having AC unit serviced regularly. Annual HVAC cleaning will save on your power bills and extend the life of your system, but more importantly, it will keep the air you breath clean by reducing microbial build-up and contamination.  

Home Is Where the Risk Is

By Courtney Lebedzinski

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As another busy year begins, many of us have committed - or perhaps recommitted - to healthier habits and practices. Inspired by ideas and images of improving our health, we tell ourselves that this will be the year we make it happen.  But defining what “better health” may look or feel like can be challenging, leading many to ask themselves - How can I best improve my health?

Some of us are convinced that a better diet or exercising more

will bring the health  improvements we desire. Others might tackle water intake or sleep quality as a way to feel better.  But almost no one thinks about their home environments as the proxy for good health.

As for me, I’ve spent countless hours studying the complex interactions between our homes and other buildings and our health, and I am now convinced that well people cannot thrive inside of sick environments.

Let’s begin by exploring how our homes and other surroundings can affect us.

The Gene-Environment Interaction

Think back to 8th grade science class when you learned about genes, genetics, Mendelian inheritance, and - my favorite - Punnett squares. If this doesn’t ring a bell, don’t worry.

Basically, classical genetics teaches that our genes make us who we are and play an important role in our predisposition for certain health issues. It also suggests that any person’s genetic health is simply a function of their parents’ dominant and recessive traits. Turns out, it’s not quite so elementary.

Over the last decade, mainstream science has come to a new understanding of how human gene expression works. This field, called epigenetics, is the study of how our environment influences our genes. To put it simply: Our genes may “prime” us for certain health issues, but it takes the right environment or circumstances to trigger that gene to express itself.

As an example, if an individual already has the genetic marker for breast cancer, it might be the daily exposure to hormone-disrupting plasticizers from vinyl window blinds that turn this gene on.

The average American spends 90% of their time indoors, with some 30% of their life spent in their bedroom alone! Is it any wonder then that, from an epigenetic perspective, our homes have profound implications on our health?

The Risks Inside Your Home Environment

Some people believe that their homes could never harm them – their home is too new, or expensive, or clean to make them sick.  We all want to believe our homes are safe havens - spaces for rest, relaxation, and comfort. But it is that same coziness that can lull us into a false sense of security about the safety of our homes.

The truth is that even the most expensive custom home is capable of negatively influencing occupant health.

With risks including lead, mold/moisture, carbon monoxide, radon, asbestos, toxic lighting, chemical pollution, non-native electromagnetic frequencies (nnEMF), poor indoor air quality, contaminated water, pests, asthma/allergies, unsafe conditions, psychological stress, thermal discomfort, and noise pollution, the list of possible negative home-health interactions is quite staggering.  

How Did We Get Here?

Over the last century, the increase in manufacturing, innovation, and technology has profoundly influenced every aspect of our lives, including our houses. We used to build with local and natural materials such as rocks, adobe, and plaster using time-tested building principles, a building process largely forgotten in post-Industrial Revolution America.

In 2019, this building style has been replaced with modern construction materials and techniques that could  unintentionally yet potentially endanger the health of some occupants.

In response to buyers’ demands of bigger, faster, and cheaper homes, manufacturers have turned to using man-made material alternatives to natural materials.

The result is that our homes could now be contributing to new health concerns.

Have You Considered...

•  The radon test that many people perform when purchasing a home maybe prone to false negative results.

•  Experts recommend that you test your water at the faucet at least once per year (then use contaminant-specific filtration).

•  The third most common way that people bring radioactive material into their home is through granite countertops.

•  A broken CFL light bulb (the curly kind) releases neurotoxic mercury vapors, and all humans and animals are advised to evacuate the room immediately.

•  As long as your smart TV is plugged into the wall, occupants are exposed to levels of microwave radiation – even when the TV is off.

•  Your sofa and mattresses are likely covered in halogenated flame retardants which are known to disrupt your hormonal system.

How is Designing for Human Health Different?

So I’ve got a question. What if we started building, designing, and remodeling our homes with occupant health in mind?

Considerations when designing homes for human health include everything from site selection and building design to the toxicity of building materials and furnishings. In studying this concept of a healthy home, we look at the following:

Designing for human health is different than building “to code.” In fact, building for human health occasionally opposes certain building codes, such as those that require the use of highly-fluorinated fire retardants, which could become harmful indoor air pollutants capable of making occupants ill.

Designing for human health is different than “green” building initiatives such as the tiny home movement or LEED certification. While building for human health and building for the  environment often look very similar, there are certain times that the path clearly diverges. For example, with a scoring system weighted heavily toward energy conservation, solar panels are very popular in “green” certifications. Solar panels, and their power inverters more specifically, can produce powerful electromagnetic fields and could create harmonics or “dirty electricity” throughout the home’s wiring, both of which come with their own set of health effects.

Designing for human health means considering much more than just indoor air quality. The few building standards that consider human health tend to focus solely on indoor air quality. Although an important consideration, to be sure, I cannot agree that healthy indoor air quality is the single most important metric of human health. Focusing solely on indoor air quality neglects the other legitimate concerns that exist in conventional housing, as mentioned above.

So now that you know what building for human health is (and isn’t!), let’s discuss how we can take this knowledge to your house!

A Resolution for Truly Better Health:  One Year to a Healthier Home Challenge

As thousands of additional bodies are taking over gyms all across the Emerald Coast, this year I propose a different type of resolution. What if you tackled your health goals by addressing your home environment? If you’re willing, I would like to take you through a year-long journey of creating a healthy home for yourself and your family.

Here are some of the healthy home topics we will be covering this year:

1. Start with safety

2. Upgrade your lighting

3. Filter your air and water

4. Keep it dry

5. Minimize indoor emissions

As a tool for you, I’ll be posting free downloadable worksheets, helpful information, extra resources, and climate-specific tips exclusive to On The Coast Magazine readers, so be sure to grab those at

I’m looking forward to helping you make progress on this year’s resolution, so let’s get started with your first challenge (see page 28) and change the way that you feel at home!


January 2019 Healthy Home Challenge

With the holidays still a fresh financial wound, let’s use January as the month to get a quick and completely free win, shall we? No trips to the store and absolutely no money needed, this challenge will allow you to sleep in a healthier home as soon as tonight!

Below are five $0 healthy home hacks that you’ll want to try! Even implementing just a couple of these tips could yield incredible results!

Turn off your router at night. Though a wired connection is healthier, faster, and more secure, I get it – it’s 2019 and you want wireless internet! Even if you must have WiFi during the day, turning your wireless router off at night (using a cheap timer, if needed) will help give your body a break from strong electromagnetic fields.

Take your shoes off at the door. Your shoes are covered in chemicals and pesticides, viruses and bacteria, and even poop! This simple step will drastically reduce the amount of nasties on your floor – a must for those with little crawlers in the home.

Unplug your electronics when not in use. Many electronics, including smart TVs, gaming consoles, wireless printers, and even some CPAP machines broadcast extremely high levels of microwave radiation – even when not turned on.

Toss the air fresheners. The smell of “ocean breeze” coming from your plug-in air freshener is actually a proprietary laboratory blend of hundreds of different chemicals under the deceptively-innocent-sounding term “fragrance.” Many of these compounds have known negative health consequences.

Want more free healthy home tips? When it comes to EMF, distance is your friend. Not only will walking into the next room to turn off your alarm clock help you wake up, it will spare you an electromagnetic assault that can rival what occurs under high-tension power lines.


February 2019 Healthy Home Challenge

When it comes to “healthifying” your home, few things can make a bigger impact than your bedroom. Not only do you spend more time here than anywhere else in the home, it is where you are located during your body’s critical rest and repair stage.

Because of this, building biologists and other healthy housing strategists often place a primary focus on creating a calming sleep sanctuary. Here are my top tips for helping you design a health-promoting bedroom:

Your room should be electrically quiet. The ideal is to cut the circuit breakers to your bedrooms every night. The next best strategy involves removing all non-necessary electronics from the bedroom, unplugging remaining devices when not in use, and positioning the devices that operate overnight (such as a CPAP machine or alarm clock) as far away from the bed as possible.

Use natural textiles. What goes on your skin goes in your skin, so it is important that both your pajamas and your bedding be made of natural fibers. Choose options made with organic cotton, linen, jute, or wool.

The goal is total darkness. Your bedroom should be completely dark when you go to sleep. To achieve this, you may need to purchase black-out curtains and put LED covers over the indicator lights of anything still plugged in.

Reduce allergens.  Your pillow and mattress are havens for dust mites and other allergy-triggers - and you breathe them in all night long! Keep dust mites, bacteria, and fungus under control by disinfecting your mattress and pillow with a vapor steamer (dry steamer) every two months. Also consider removing carpeting and bulky curtains from your bedroom.

Cool it down. Studies have shown that a cool air temperature can improve your sleep quality. Ideally, program your home to be in the 60-65° F range during sleep and then to begin warming up about 30 minutes before sunrise.

For bonus zero-cost tips and tricks for creating a health-focused home and to access more of my favorite bedroom best practices, hacks, and resources download my January & February Challenge Worksheets, visit