Face Your Fears Day: Five threats that lurk in your home

    Consumer Reports News: October 13, 2010 03:34 PM

    Today is National Face Your Fears Day, created in 2007 by a presentation-skills trainer in response to people's fear of public speaking. But some fears are healthy fears, especially if they involve house fires, carbon-monoxide poisoning, and other household threats that sicken or kill thousands each year. Here's how to use Consumer Reports' expert advice and test results to face—and conquer—the fears within your four walls: 
    Fighting fire and carbon monoxide
    Residential fires in the U.S. kill some 2,800 people each year, two-thirds in homes with a broken or disabled smoke alarm—or no alarm at all. Carbon monoxide poisoning adds another 500 to that grim tally. Our tests found smoke alarms that excelled at detecting both smoldering and fast-flaming fires, along with accurate carbon monoxide detectors (Ratings are available to subscribers). Where you put those alarms is critical; here's how to situate them for the earliest warning.
    Reining in radon
    Closed windows during the winter heating season increase risks tied to radon, a colorless, odorless gas responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Our recommended radon test kits cost as little as $20 and can tell you if you need to invest in a radon-reduction system.  

    Mitigating moisture and mold
    Record rains across the U.S. have led to increased outbreaks of mold, but these five key home repairs (and the gutter guards we recently rated) will keep water flowing away from your home. Also fix any plumbing leaks to keep mold from starting inside your home. Already have mold? Follow the EPA's advice on removing it. Our Ratings of dehumidifiers can also help you reduce moisture levels that foster mold.  

    Alleviating indoor air pollution
    Indoor air can be even more polluted than the outdoor air of large industrialized cities. Along with mold, common culprits include second-hand smoke, pet dander, dust mites, emissions from household cleaners and furniture made of certain pressed wood-products, and nitrogen dioxide (a byproduct of indoor fuel-burning appliances). All of these can degrade air quality and trigger asthma attacks. You'll find a list of low- and no-cost solutions on the EPA's website. Also consider one of our recently tested air purifiers—except those that emit ozone, a respiratory irritant.
    Regular vacuuming is one of the EPA's remedies for dirty indoor air. While vacuum manufacturers often tout HEPA filters, some vacuums with conventional filters proved just as good at containing dust in our vauum tests. An $80 upright vacuum from Hoover and a $210 Panasonic canister vacuum were among those that cleaned carpets, bare floors, and pet hair impressively without spewing dust.
    Looking out for lead
    Fall's lower temperatures are a great time for painting, and deck repairs and restaining. But if your home was built or remodeled before 1978, it could be among the 38 million homes with lead paint. A low-cost kit of those tested by Consumer Reports can help you find out for sure; if so, leave the painting to a qualified pro certified in the EPA's lead-abatement rules.
    Most paints and deck stains contain volatile-organic compounds, or VOCs, which include a variety of chemicals that may have adverse short- and long-term health effects. Two zero-VOC paints from Olympic scored well in our Ratings of indoor and exterior paints

    —Gian Trotta

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