Three overlooked home hazards and how to prevent them

Consumer Reports News: July 18, 2012 01:08 PM

A blocked dryer vent, a broken microwave, a damaged mower blade. These are three of the most overlooked home hazards, according to, and ignoring them can lead to injuries, fires or worse. "It's important to be aware of these dangers and to take proper care to reduce risks and stay safe," says Chris Hall, president of the replacement parts website. Here's how with tips from Consumer Reports, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and RepairClinic.

Clothes dryers: Instant fire starters
As we recently reported in Appliance fires: Is your home safe? clothes dryers accounted for almost 14,000 fires, 10 deaths and $84 million in damages from 2002 to 2009. Many were caused by blocked dryer vents that caused heat buildup resulting in fast-moving fires. "If you notice that it's taking longer for your clothes to dry, it's likely that lint is clogging the venting system," says Hall of RepairClinic.

What to do. White vinyl venting no longer meets national fire code standards in the U.S. and should be replaced with an aluminum equivalent. Safer yet, replace accordion-type ducting material with rigid or corrugated semi-rigid metal ducts. Then make the following a routine:

  • Clean the lint screen/filter before or after drying each load of clothes.
  • Clean the dryer vent and exhaust duct periodically.
  • Clean behind the dryer, where lint can build up.

Microwaves: Don't try this at home
The CPSC warns against do-it-yourself repairs of microwave ovens. From 2006 through 2008 there was an average of two electrocution deaths per year associated with consumers attempting their own microwave repairs. Microwave ovens use high voltage which makes it particularly hazardous for consumers to remove the cover and touch electrical parts. The possibility for electrical shock still exists even after the microwave is unplugged.

What to do. Repairs are best left to a professional. However, the cost of a new microwave is often comparable to the cost of replacement parts so a new unit may be the best solution, says Hall. Non-electronic parts like door latches and glass trays, however, are inexpensive and easy to replace. Most of the countertop microwaves recommended by Consumer Reports cost less than $200.

Lawn mowers: Watch for flying projectiles
From 2008 through 2010, an average of 40,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for walk-behind power mower injuries, according to the CPSC. Many of the injuries, including some fatalities, were caused by flying debris kicked up by the mower's spinning blade.

What to do. To prevent this hazard, clear your lawn of all twigs, rocks and other objects before getting started. Here's some more tips from RepairClinic:

  • Check the cutting blade regularly for damage, bends and dullness. A blade should be replaced every one or two years, depending on how often the mower is used.
  • Keep children and pets inside when the lawn mower is in operation.
  • Don't remove or adjust the position of the mower's deflector. Making a change that's not in the owner's manual can result in debris flying at a longer distance.
  • Before each mowing season, check the protective rubber trail shield at the back of the mower to make sure it's working properly and free of tears.

If your mower is beyond repair, check the results of our tests of push, self-propelled and riding mowers and check for sales at your local big box or home improvement store.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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