Bad homeowner habits can wreak havoc

Practice common sense, safety, and you'll avoid floods and other disasters

February 23, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

They're the household equivalent of slouching and chewing with your mouth open.

They're bad home habits, things we do without a second thought. Unlike elbows on the table, though, these bad habits could harm more than our images. They could jeopardize our homes, possessions and even our lives.

With the help of a few professionals who have to deal regularly with the consequences of our boneheadedness, we've compiled a list of some of the worst home habits. A few are habits you might not have realized were potential problems.

It isn't meant to be a complete list - heaven knows our shortcomings aren't that limited - but rather a way of encouraging you to focus on making a few changes for the better.

As Mom would say, it's for your own good.

Check appliances

We're so used to automatic dishwashers, clothes washers and clothes dryers doing the work for us that it's all too easy to turn on these appliances and forget about them - even as we're walking out the door.

We almost always get away with letting the appliances finish their cycles after we've left the house, but the sense of security that habit creates is dangerous. On the rare occasion that something goes wrong, the results can be disastrous.

Hoses can burst. Appliances can overflow. Dryer lint can catch fire. Before you're even aware of a problem, water could be seeping out from under your front door or flames shooting from your windows.

Appliance repairman Rudy Germeister won't even go to bed with the dishwasher running. "It may be hours before you realize there's a leak," said Germeister, who owns Advanced Appliance Service Co. in Akron, Ohio's Chapel Hill area.

While it's not an alternative to vigilance, he recommended reducing the risk of problems wherever you can. Inspect the washing machine's water-supply hoses periodically, and replace them when there's any sign of deterioration, particularly distortion around the coupling. You might even replace the rubber hoses with braided stainless-steel hoses, which are built to withstand higher pressure. The cost may be two to three times higher, "but it's worth it," he said.

Some repair people even recommend turning off the water supply to the washing machine every time you finish doing laundry, but he thinks that's a little extreme. Nevertheless, you should do that whenever you leave the house for a vacation or other extended time.

Germeister also recommended cleaning the lint filter after every dryer load and dismantling and vacuuming out the dryer vent once a year.

Stove storage

Lt. Al Bragg sees it all the time: clean pans left on burners, pot holders hanging above stove tops, cooking implements and even napkins stored in ovens. It's enough to make him cringe.

"People use their stove sort of as a storage area," said Bragg, the Akron Fire Department's public education supervisor.

The problem, he said, is that heating elements can come on accidentally, perhaps because of an electrical problem or because a control was turned on by a child or an unknowing visitor. That can cause the items on the stove or in the oven to melt or ignite. If you're lucky, you might come away with just a ruined pan. If you're not, you might come away without a house.

The common rule, Bragg said, is never put anything that can burn within 3 feet of something that could cause it to burn. Never leave the kitchen when you have something cooking on the stove. It's just too easy to get distracted and forget.

Neglecting gutters

Nobody likes cleaning the gutters. It's soggy, slimy, nasty work.

But you haven't seen soggy, slimy and nasty till you've seen what can happen to your basement walls if you leave your gutters clogged with leaves and debris.

"Do you know the majority of damp basement walls are because people don't clean out their gutters?" asked Norma Starts, a State Farm insurance agent in Coventry Township, Ohio. Water spills over the edge of clogged gutters, seeps into the ground at the foundation and often makes its way into the basement, where it can promote mold growth.

That's not the only problem. Standing water freezes in gutters, causing ice dams that can back up under roof shingles. When that ice melts, the water can seep into the house and damage walls and ceilings.

The best course is to clean gutters and downspouts whenever debris accumulates. Autumn, when leaves are falling, is the most critical time, but you may need to do it in spring and summer, too.

Electrical shortcuts

Your brand new DVD player is all hooked up and ready to go, but the nearest electrical outlet is already claimed by the television set and the VCR. So you dig out an extension cord, run it from the DVD to an outlet several feet away and settle in for a night of movie watching.

Bad idea.

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