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Avoid hazards at home: Fires, pests, mold

Problems like house fires, pest infestations and mold overgrowth can be costly to clean up, but easy to prevent. TODAY real estate expert Barbara Corcoran gives smart advice on how to keep your home clean and safe.
/ Source: TODAY

Did you know that every year, almost 500 people in the U.S. are killed in electrical fires and thousands more are injured? Did you know that termites and roaches create more than $5 billion dollars in house damages alone, not counting the sleepless nights for their hapless human bedfellows? And don’t forget mold. Molds are considered the No. 1 source of allergic symptoms in the U.S.

Not that I want to alarm you, of course. I just want to make you aware of the potential hazards we are all living with on a day-to-day basis. Here is my advice on how can you give these problems the boot once and for all:

How to prevent electrical fires
Don’t overload a circuit! You need to be somewhat savvy about how much power devices use. Generally speaking, anything that produces a great deal of heat uses a great deal of power, such as toasters, microwave ovens, space heaters, etc. Electronic devices don’t usually use a lot of electricity. Your computer, as powerful as it seems, probably uses 10 times less electricity than your toaster. That means that plugging a hair dryer and a space heater into the same outlet is like plugging in 20 computers. If you look at it like that, you can see how this might be a problem. Vacuum cleaners also use a lot of power, as do Christmas tree lights when you have a large quantity of them.

Today's kitchens need at least five dedicated circuits. If you have a 50-year-old kitchen, it only has one, so you might want to think about upgrading your electrical service to current building standards. My advice would be to hire an electrician to inspect your wiring. He’ll charge nothing for the inspection and changing all the wiring on a typical house will cost about $3,000.

How to prevent termites, roaches and other pestsCertain areas are prone to different pest problems because of climate, architecture and local industry. Carpenter ants are usually found in the moisture of roof boards. Termites are only identified when they swarm in the spring. Don’t stack firewood up against your house; you’ll welcome the carpenter ants in. Here are a few tips on how to keep the pests at bay:

  • Repair any water leaks or dripping outdoor faucets. 

  • Remove or elevate all wood that is in direct contact with soil (like firewood).

  • Repair or cover all foundation vents with insect screening ($3 a foot).

  • Caulk your home’s exterior to fill all the cracks ($10 for a tube).

  • Replace white light bulbs, which attract insects, with yellow or pale-amber ones in your outdoor fixtures ($1.99 each).

  • Store pet food in airtight containers, then the pests can neither smell nor eat your pet’s dinner.

  • Get rid of boxes and paper mess. Roaches like eating cardboard more than food.

If these things fail and the invasion happens anyway, you will want to hire a professional exterminator. If his bid seems unreasonable, ask him to justify his cost. For example, if he’s going to charge you $6,000 to get rid of the problem, ask him how long it will take him to do the job and how much the materials will cost. Also ask him for a five-year termite-free guarantee.

How to prevent everyday mold and fungus
Chances are you already know the answer to this problem. It's called elbow grease. I wish I had a magic method I could share with you that would keep the mold away for good, but this stuff is persistent. You have to fight it head-on. Bleach works best, and regularly cleaning with bleach will make life impossible for molds. If you do not like bleach, you can use vinegar.

Here’s where fungus likes to hang out: on your shower curtain, in your bathtub grout, under the faucets, cracks in the wall or floor and in your dish drain. It also thrives under damp and dirty carpets; one solution is to sprinkle baking soda on the carpet for a few hours and then vacuum it up.

One last thing: Don’t paint over mold (paints with mildicide don’t do the job and can cause toxic black mold, a much more serious problem). Like I said in the beginning, there are no shortcuts to this problem, you have to get stuck in and make war with the horrible fungly beasts.

If, even after all your efforts, you end up with toxic black mold, you’ll need to correct the moisture problem that caused it in the first place. Consider waterproofing your foundation, or finding a way to get air to move through your basement. For a 500-square-foot basement loaded with black mold, it can cost you $15,000, because you need to tear out the damp walls before you can get rid of the mold.

Prevention is better than cure, so if you don’t currently have any of these problems, act now to ensure you never do!