Consumers are accustomed to looking for labels that certify a product as organic, environmentally sound or grown without pesticides or hormones. Yet, rarely do many think about the safety of a product labeled "green" or "environmentally friendly" because those terms promise safety. This is false, and in fact home safety risks are rising. Taking a few simple steps can help ensure that a home not only looks good but is genuinely safe.
Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time inside, and indoor air often is 10 times more polluted than outside air, according to the Greenguard Environmental Institute, which aims to improve indoor air quality and reduce chemical exposure. Lots of gases circulate indoors, introduced by everything from new carpeting and fabrics to cleaning products, and they can be hazardous to one's health.
Homeowners looking for products they can safely use around children, or that won't harm indoor air quality can check the Greenguard site (greenguard.org), which features a directory of products that meet the institute's indoor air quality standards. This is especially helpful if you're buying new furniture, renovating after a storm, remodeling, or building a new home because you'll be able to select products you can count on.
Fires are more deadly today
The same products that often are implicated in reduced indoor air quality are also connected to household fire fatalities.
"Since the 1970s, fires have been cut in half, but the number of fire deaths hasn't gone down," says Chris Hasbrook, vice president of building materials, fire and life safety for Underwriters Laboratories.
Today's homeowners have an increased risk of dying in a fire, despite widespread use of smoke alarms, he says, because of the increased number of synthetic- and petroleum-based building and furnishing products over the past several decades.
"A generation ago, it took 29 minutes for a living room to become fully engulfed in flames," Hasbrook says. "Today, it only takes three to four minutes."
Simply put, there is significantly less time to get to safety in the event of a fire. And if there is a fire in the home, people are at greater risk of dying as a result.
"No one thinks a fire can happen to them," says Hasbrook, "until it happens to them."
This is why checking on the safety of the products used in the home is so important; it could save your life and that of your family.
Improve your chances in a fire
Hasbrook points to a number of factors that can help a home withstand a fire. A fast way to improve home fire safety? Finish the basement.
"A basement with engineered wooden I-beams that catches fire can cause a house to collapse in six minutes, as opposed to 16 minutes with traditional lumber," says Hasbrook. For that reason, he recommends putting gypsum-containing drywall, which is relatively fire resistant, around any exposed beams -- especially if they're made of engineered wood, which burns faster and hotter than standard wooden beams.
Overall, Hasbrook says, the best way to improve your odds of surviving a home fire is to have a monitored fire alarm.