clock menu more-arrow no yes

10 Ways Your House Can Kill You

Poisonous gases, electrical currents, rust, fires—there are many ways your house can take you down, if you're not vigilant about safety and codes. Check out these dangerous household conditions for a lesson in what not to do

Danger on the Homefront

Photo by Amanda Friedman/Getty Images

We love our homes. They provide us with warmth, shelter and, best of all, security. That's why it's so darn shocking when they turn against us. Like it or not, a house can be a virtual arsenal of lethal weapons. Whether its poisonous gasses, fiery flames, rabid bats or electrocuting appliances, even the sweetest Colonial Revival can be as armed and dangerous as Rambo on a bad day. Here are 11 ways our home sweet homes can take us down.

Uncontrolled Electrical Currents

Photo by Bob Bowling

If old Ben Franklin only knew the careless way some of us deal with electricity these days, he would've kept his discovery to himself. Whether it's overwhelming a frayed extension cord with holiday lights, or exposed outlets like the one taped to a conductive metal support in this flood-prone basement, home electrocutions account for around 1,000 deaths each year in the U.S alone. At the least this homeowner could have used a GFCI receptacle so any power surge would switch it off. But if you don't know what you're doing, for Pete's sake, call up a licensed electrician.

Deadly Odorless Gas

Photo by Kim Thormodsgard

We all go to sleep at night, but each year 170 of us never wake up thanks to this silent killer. The culprit: carbon monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning fuel burning appliances such as furnaces, ranges, water and room heaters. One way to protect yourself is to make sure you vent the exhaust of these appliances properly. That means having the pipes angle up, not down, as these folks have done—hot air rises, you know—and checking that vents are free of cracks and gaps. And most importantly: install a standard carbon monoxide detector. They only cost 20 bucks and are the best way to protect your family.

Decomposing Decks

Photo by Jim Rooney

Be warned! If the brackets and fasteners holding your deck together are as corroded as this one, your backyard paradise is in serious danger of turning into a pile of tinder sticks. Water and weather can take a toll on metal fasteners and joist hangers. Even treated decking lumber can react negatively with them, leading to corrosion and—worst-case scenario—failure.

Between 2000 and 2008, about 30 people were killed in deck collapses. So it's important to inspect yours regularly, and replace corroded metal hardware with stainless steel or hot-dipped galvanized fasteners and joist hangers. They're more rust-resistant and neither will react negatively with the copper in treated woods. Doing so will give you peace of mind the next time your plus-sized pals come over for a few cold ones on the deck.

Menacing Methane

Photo by Charlie Rice

A build up of sewer gases in your home doesn't just create a foul odor reminiscent of a hot-summer-day cow pasture. Inhaling the methane that is contained in it (itself an odorless gas) can also lead to headaches, difficulty concentrating, and heart palpitations. What's worse: if enough methane accumulates in your home, the simple flicker of a pilot light can cause it to ignite. If you smell sewage, check your bathroom vent pipe (or "stink pipe") and make sure it doesn't have any holes or loose connections. And no, using duct tape and a terrycloth towel to seal it, like this homeowner did, is not the way to go.

Water Torture

Photo by Joe McKinney

Most mental health experts, including Dr. Phil, would be alarmed to hear you've just mounted a TV in your bathtub. In its purest form, water is a poor conductor of electricity. It's when you factor in the salts, metals and other impurities found in most drinking water, that its conductive properties become more worrisome. Let's say this homeowner grew tired of Dr. Phil's ranting and changed the channel with a wet hand. The electricity in the TV could easily jump right through the water on his fingertips, and into his body.

Keep all electrical appliances, TVs, radios, et al, away from your tub, or any other place water is often present.

Death by Dryer Lint?

Photo by Brandon Dyles

Sure, people might snicker if they hear you've been taken out by something as seemingly benign as dryer lint. But, seriously; due to lint's high flammability, it can happen. Too much lint build-up inside your dyer can lead to a good old-fashioned dryer fire. And too much lint outside this appliance can do the same thing, especially if it's piling up next to, say, a water heater with a pilot light, like it is here. You should keep a radius of several feet around water heaters and furnaces free of combustible materials, such as paints, solvents, and, yes, dryer lint. If you notice lint build up, make sure your dryer vent pipe isn't cracked. If it is, replace it immediately, or patch it up with some foil tape.

Killer Critters

Photo by Andy Hilton

Not only do they make even the bravest of men fall to the ground and assume the fetal position, those nasty bats in the attic can also spread rabies and, worse, contaminate the air with their foul feces, the fumes of which can lead to deadly histoplasmosis. Then there are the snakes that go hunting after them for a good meal. So what are they all doing in your attic? They found a way in—through a hole or crack in your house's skin. If you find a gap even as small as a finger's width, just assume something awful has taken advantage of the easy access. Then deal with it.

Chim-Chim-Cheree (of Death)

Photo by Matt Koch

In some cases, fires are hard to prevent. In others—well you're just asking for it. Take the homeowner who neglects to maintain his chimney on a regular basis. Doing so leads to a build up of flammable creosote, which can lead to a build up of deadly carbon monoxide in his home, and, eventually, a chimney fire, which can take down the entire house. Chimney safety is often overlooked, especially by this homeowner, who tacked on an addition while neglecting to compensate for the chimney height, which must be at least 2 feet higher than any nearby structure and 3 feet above the roof it passes through. If just one fiery spark from the fireplace makes its way up here, kaboom! Just be sure to have your chimney cleaned and inspected annually.

Menacing Mold

Photo by Daniel R. Schuerman

That earthy smell in your house might not be your sweaty work boots. It could be mold. While all of us have mold spores in our homes, a build up can lead to respiratory problems and a substantial worsening of allergy and asthma symptoms, especially for children. In severe cases, mold can even lead to anaphylactic shock, which leaves you completely unable to breathe. It's a no brainer that mold most often occurs in the moistest areas of our homes, such as the kitchen, an improperly vented bathroom, or a basement, like the one shown here. Check these areas for mold regularly. Once you remove the mold, figure out what the underlying cause is, and address it promptly. Trust us, it'll make you breathe easier.

Chemically Packed Paint Fumes

That "Spiced Butternut Yellow" paint you used to liven up the master bedroom sure looks pretty. Too bad it's KILLING YOU WHILE YOU SLEEP!

OK, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. But if you used a regular paint full of volatile organic compounds, such as, say, benzene, it can lead to some serious headaches and respiratory issues. And keep in mind that the EPA says many of the VOCs found in paints are suspected carcinogens. Don't take any chances. Always using no- or low-VOC paints, stains and finishes on your home improvement projects. And make sure you store your paint with the covers securely fastened, unlike the cans shown here.