A Home Can Be Risky Business

vanessa risk control

It’s pretty nerve-wracking to have a risk control consultant assess your home. Even if you feel it’s safe. Even if she’s a warm, calming presence with an open smile. Even if she reassures you ahead of time, “Don’t worry about housekeeping!”

Let’s back up a moment.

Laurie Woodward—a senior risk control consultant who recently visited my home—along with her team, have three main objectives:

  • Prevent claims
  • Make sure building insurance values are adequate
  • Recommend changes and improvements to make things safer

Her team mostly deals with businesses, so coming to my abode was an exception for the purposes of this column.

Our first stop was the basement, where Laurie zeroed in on the wiring. Aluminum wiring, commonplace in the 1960s and 1970s, poses a fire risk. So does the even older knob-and-tube wiring, which can’t carry today’s typical electrical load. Our house, built in the late 1990s, had neither. Wiring should be looked at about every quarter-century, so at 17.5 years out, we’re well within the safe zone.

The electrical panel should be clear three feet out so it can be accessed quickly in an emergency. We were good here, too.

Next, Laurie tackled the topic of plumbing. “Old cast iron or galvanized plumbing can corrode over the years,” she cautioned. “If I spot it, I’ll always ask how old it is and who last checked it out. If the answer is ‘Gee, I don’t know,’ I strongly suggest a professional plumber look at it.” Our plumbing was fine—another gold star for our home! I was going to get an A+ rating! However, my overconfidence received a reality check when we came to the furnace.

Every furnace should have a five-foot clearance around it. Ours….didn’t. (Think: Rubbermaid® bins filled with a zillion old kids’ toys, holiday decorations, etc., stacked both tall and wide.)

“Yeah, you may want to clean this out a bit,” Laurie suggested. “It would just add fuel to a fire if something would happen.”

We then approached my husband’s workshop, where he builds everything from Adirondack chairs to wine tables. Laurie wanted to be sure he didn’t paint or varnish indoors and that the wood-burning stove was safely elevated to the manufacturer’s specs. He was good on both counts.

We only got dinged on one more thing. Each floor of a house should have smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers. Our basement was lacking, so we’ll be taking care of that in addition to finding new homes for all those bins.

In the post "8 Easy Ways to Make Your Home Safer," Laurie’s team rounded up their top tips for making your home safer. Check them out—and remember that you’re in good company if your home doesn’t quite make the grade just yet.

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