A Worst-Case Guy
This month, we’ll look at a variety of miscellaneous safety issues. Perhaps those of you who have been following this column for a while have noticed that I am a “worst-case guy.” Recently, however, I was outdone by two clients. One described a most unlikely accident that took place when her mother operated the disposer, while her hand was above it, unaware of the knife inside. As the disposer began to spin, the knife shot out of the disposer and cut her hand. Another client told me about his roommate who was washing dishes at the sink and thirsting for a beer from the refrigerator. The roommate had one hand on the faucet, so he was well grounded; the refrigerator had a short, so the case was live. As soon as his free hand grasped the refrigerator door handle, the roommate became stuck between duty and desire. Only a superhuman effort freed him for the fate of electrocution. The latter is an excellent argument for grounding refrigerators.
In some homes, our need for greater security from theft leads to an unsafe condition that could mean reduced safety in the event of a fire. Fears about exterior doors with glass often lead homeowners to install double-barrel locks, the ones that can only be be opened (from either side) by using a key. This type of locking is not allowed in multiple families, although it is frequently observed in such buildings. In single families, it is not uncommon to find every door on the first floor protected in such a way. This becomes or can become a serious problem in the event of a fire, particularly if there are children home alone, as there may be no direct egress from the burning home unless the key is in the lock.
On one home inspection, I was explaining the danger associated with double-barrel locks when my client retorted: “You don’t have to tell me. I had a fire this year in my house, and I rushed downstairs to the front door to get out, only to discover that the door was locked and there was no key.” Now you may think that one reasons logically under such conditions, but this is not usually the case. Perhaps you have even thought of what you might do in case of a fire, such as toss a chair through a window; however, confused, frightened and in a state of terror, my client chose to run back up the stairs and climb down the porch columns off the porch roof.
An easily overlooked detail is the operability of windows. How many of you, as I, have nearly lost a finger when the top sash of a double-hung window came crashing down because the sash cord for the top sash broke or was missing? Broken sash cords are probably the most common cause of broken window glazing in older homes; deteriorated sash cords can also be a source of serious injury. A recent client described a coworker’s hand that actually was stuck at a window after one of the window sash fell. The woman,in great pain, had to wait over an hour to be freed.
A thorough home inspection should touch on many safety issues, even though some may not appear to be deserving of attention. Look around and be another “worst-case person.”