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Discover Your Home's Top 10 Danger Zones

Watch these common problem areas to help prevent costly household disasters

Preventative Measures

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Fires are one of the costliest disasters that can strike your home, and water damage caused by leaks or plumbing problems is among the most frequent triggers for insurance claims. Here are 10 common problem areas that could lead to catastrophe—along with a few simple precautions you can take to keep trouble at bay.

1. Cooktop

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The Hazard:

About 40% of fires start in the kitchen, and the cooktop is the most common culprit.

How to avoid it:

Never leave burners unattended when in use, and store combustibles such as paper towels or pot holders a safe distance away.

2. Smoke detectors

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The Hazard:

Dead or missing batteries are the leading causes of malfunction.

How to avoid it:

Change the batteries at least once a year. Replace models that are more than 10 years old (see How to Prepare Your Home for Emergencies for the kind to get).

3. Roof

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The Hazard:

A roof that's too warm in wintertime melts snow, creating runoff that freezes when it meets the gutter. There it forms an ice dam that forces water beneath the shingles.

How to avoid it:

Add attic insulation and venting to keep the roof cool.

4. Gutters

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The Hazard:

Clogged gutters overflow and allow water to pool around the foundation, leading to basement leaks.

How to avoid it:

Remove leaves and debris from gutters every spring and fall.

5. Wiring

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The Hazard:

Bad wires can short out and start a fire. Signs of trouble: frequent blown fuses, flickering lights, and a tingling sensation when you touch a wall switch or appliance.

How to avoid it:

Replace old circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters, which cut the electricity when they sense danger. Consider replacing wiring that's more than 40 years old.

6. Pipes

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The Hazard:

A pipe that freezes and cracks just one-eighth of an inch can leak up to 250 gallons of water daily.

How to avoid it:

Insulate exposed pipes with foam sleeves. Before winter, turn off the water supply to outdoor spigots and leave the taps open to relieve internal pressure.

7. Dryer

The Hazard:

Lint builds up inside the dryer cabinet where the heating element is housed, creating a fire hazard.

How to avoid it:

Brush or vacuum out buildup around the lint filter every few months. Hire a pro to clean out the cabinet every two years.

8. Washing Machine

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The Hazard:

An inlet hose that bursts will send a torrent of water gushing into your laundry room.

How to avoid it:

Replace rubber hoses with braided steel ones, and check them regularly for leaks and loose connections (see How to Prepare Your Home for Emergencies for leak-detection gear).

9. Fireplace

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The Hazard:

Creosote buildup causes most chimney fires, and errant sparks can fly out of the hearth and ignite rugs or furniture.

How to avoid it:

Get your chimney swept once a year. Keep the screen closed when the fireplace is in use.

10. Gas Grill

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The Hazard:

A leaky gas-supply hose is a fire hazard, as is a grill that sits in an enclosed porch or too close to your house's siding.

How to avoid it:

Check the hose for cracks regularly and replace it when worn. Place the grill at least 10 feet away from your house, making sure it's in an area with no overhead obstructions.