If you've decided to do a little DIY rehab on your home, you're not alone. Spending on home improvement projects in the United States is expected to rise 4.9 percent in 2010, the first jump since the second quarter of 2007. That's a lot of paint, flooring, drywall and nails.
If you're planning on making your home a little homier this year, there are a couple of things you should consider before you grab a hammer. No project is worth risking serious injury. Whether you're painting, putting in a sunroom or just puttering around the garage, make safety your top priority.
10: Avoid Chainsaw Kickback
If you've ever been serenaded on a sleepy Saturday by the sound of your neighbor's chainsaw, you've been introduced to the wonderful world of tree maintenance. It seems like every big storm causes a few faltering branches to lose their struggle with gravity. Unfortunately, it's up to you, the homeowner, to clean up the mess.
Chainsaws are efficient tree trimmers, but they can be dangerous, too. The U.S. Consumer Protection Safety Commission has released a hazard warning for old style chainsaws recommending a replacement chain to reduce the chance of kickback that can occur when the nose-end of the guide bar encounters an obstruction. If you have an old chainsaw, get a replacement chain for it. If you're in the market for a new chainsaw, look for one with added safety features like:
- Hand guard
- Chain brake
- Trigger or throttle lockout
- Spark arrestor (gas models)
- Vibration reduction system
- Chain catcher
- Bumper spikes
9: Wear Quality Safety Glasses
You may not think a quick trip around the yard with the weed whacker or a little mold cleaner justifies the use of safety glasses, but airborne particulates can and do cause eye injuries. About half of the 2.5 million eye injuries that occur in the United States every year happen at home, so you're not as safe as you think you are.
Invest in tight-fitting protective eye wear that conforms to the contours of your face. You'll probably pay a little more, but it's worth it. And once you do buy protective eyewear, it won't do you any good if you leave it in a drawer. Get into the habit of putting on protective glasses whenever there's even a small chance of flying dust.
8: Respect Ladders
A ladder can be a great tool, but only if you show it the respect it deserves. When you use a ladder, keep reminding yourself that heights are dangerous, and be carefully observant at all times.
- Situate ladders on stable, level surfaces.
- Lock A-frame ladders in the open position.
- Never step on the top two rungs of a ladder.
- Lean ladders against vertical surfaces with a one-foot spread at the base for every 4 feet of height.
- Never use aluminum ladders near utility poles or around electrical wires.
- Never place a ladder in front of a door that swings outward unless the door is locked.
7: Wear a Dust Mask or Respirator
Just because you're covering your mouth and nose with a mask of some sort doesn't necessarily mean you have all the protection you need. Some respirators are designed to filter out particulates, while others will also protect you from harmful fumes. No single respirator will protect you from all potential threats, though.
When evaluating a job, the materials and tools you're using will usually provide information about the right respirator to buy. Check all the reference documentation before you start a project, and add the right protection to your shopping list.
6: Be Careful Around Electricity
The electrical current in your home is powerful enough to kill you. There, we said it. Electricity can kill you if you're not careful, and even though everyone knows this in theory, it's easy to make a stupid mistake -- with tragic results. Keep these electrical safety tips in mind:
- Electricity and water don't mix.
- Use a voltage meter to make sure whatever you're planning to repair isn't getting any electrical current.
- Never perform electrical work when standing on an aluminum ladder.
- When working with electricity, wear rubber soled shoes or work on a rubber mat.
- Don't use tools in damp conditions unless they're connected to a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
- Never bypass the on/off switch of a piece of equipment by using the power cord instead.
- Never use tools with frayed cords or disabled guards.
If all this sounds scary to you, consider hiring a professional instead of performing electrical repairs yourself.
5: Leave Gas Repairs to the Pros
Gas is an efficient power source, but it can be extremely dangerous, too. One big problem is that you can create a leak and not realize it until there's a dangerous gas build-up in your home. The smell will tip you off, but by that time, static electricity could set off an explosion.
If you have an upgrade in mind, call your local power company for information. If you smell gas in your home, don't stop to call anyone or diagnose the problem yourself. Get your family together and leave. Call for assistance from another location.
4: Dress with Safety in Mind
The thing about DIY accidents is that it's often the small things that end up hurting you. You know to be careful around electricity, saws, riding lawnmowers and other obviously dangerous stuff, but what about your jewelry or long sleeves? If you're around anything that spins (like a saw) dangling sleeves, jewelry and even long hair can get caught up and pull you toward danger.
Wearing shorts or going barefoot in areas where things get hot or break can also cause problems. The lesson here is to dress for the task and take your wardrobe seriously.
3: Be Wary of Heights
If you don't like heights, maybe your body is trying to tell you something. DIY jobs that require walking on the roof or dangling from a second story window can result in an unscheduled trip to the emergency room. Professional roofers are required to wear protective harnesses for a reason. It's easy to become dizzy and disoriented up in the stratosphere, and successfully swapping out a roof shingle doesn't seem like adequate compensation for the risk.
If you have a roof repair in mind, call a professional. If you absolutely refuse to farm it out, invest in a roofer's fall-protection kit. You can usually find them at home improvement outlets for around $100. They're a harness with mounting gear designed for the DIY enthusiast. If you take a tumble wearing one, you'll only hurt your pride.
2: Buy a Fire Extinguisher
Fires can be tricky, and dousing a fire with water won't always do the trick. Invest in a couple of fire extinguishers for your home, and inspect them periodically in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions. A general purpose A-B-C rated fire extinguisher will provide protection from burning liquids like grease, materials like paper and wood, and burning electrical insulation and components. Keep one in your kitchen and another near your DIY workbench.
1: Do Your Homework
Research your DIY projects thoroughly. Read the labels on all project materials you buy, and pay particular attention to the safety directions. Reacquaint yourself with the proper use of your tools before each project.
The Internet is a great source for guidance when it comes to home improvement, and many manufacturers will have a presence on the Web you can tap for additional information and support. The more you know, the safer you and your family will be.
Lots More Information
- How to Protect Your Work Area for Safety
- 5 Projects that are Worth Paying For
- Top 5 Home DIY Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Ophthalmologists Issue New Recommendation in Effort to Prevent Eye Injuries at Home" 7/1/08. 5/27/10.http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/resources/upload/Press-Kit-on-EyeSmart-letterhead.pdf
- American College of Emergency Physicians. "Safety Tips for Being Handy in the Home." Undated. 5/25/10.http://www3.acep.org/patients.aspx?id=26180
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- Miller, Mark R., Rex Miller, Glenn E. Baker. "Home Remodeling." McGraw-Hill. 2005.
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