Owning a home comes with many responsibilities, including being aware of potential hazards. While homes provide shelter and comfort for families, they can also pose safety risks if homeowners are not vigilant. Houston’s hot and humid climate, risk of flooding, and prevalence of clay soils create particular vulnerabilities that homeowners should understand. Here are some of the hidden dangers specific to Houston homes that all homeowners should know about.
Foundation and Structural Issues
Houston’s clay-rich soils expand and contract considerably with changes in moisture content. This shrinking and swelling can crack foundations, leading to settling and structural problems if not addressed. Here are some foundation hazards Houston homeowners should look for:
- Cracks in walls or ceilings: Can signal foundation settlement that needs investigation.
- Doors or windows stick or jam: Possible signs of foundation shift.
- Floors feel uneven: This may occur from settling and unbalanced foundation.
- Exterior cracks near the foundation: This could mean foundation movement underground.
Inspect foundations annually for signs like these and consult a structural engineer at the first indication of problems. Address minor settlement quickly before it compounds into major foundation failure.
As Hurricane Harvey demonstrated, Houston faces a substantial risk of flooding. Homeowners should:
- Check flood-prone areas: Many properties lie in 100 or 500-year floodplains. Review flood maps to see if your home is at high risk.
- Inspect for water intrusion: Look for signs like water marks on walls, mildew smells, or warped floors that indicate past flooding.
- Improve drainage: Ensure downspouts direct water wells away from your foundation and the lot slopes away from your home.
- Consider flood insurance: Flood damage usually isn’t covered by standard homeowner insurance, so purchase separate flood insurance.
- Prepare an emergency plan: Have a plan to protect valuables and evacuate if flooding is forecast.
Faulty electrical wiring is the source of many home fires. Red flags include:
- Frequent tripped circuit breakers or blown fuses when certain devices are used.
- Wall outlets that feel warm or make crackling noises.
- Light switches or outlets that show signs of arcs or burns.
- Flickering lights that indicate loose connections.
- A musty odor that suggests old, brittle wire insulation.
Consult an electrician immediately if you notice these warning signs of potential electrical fire hazards.
Toxic Mold Growth
Houston’s hot, humid climate encourages mold growth. While all molds have the potential to cause health problems, black mold is especially toxic. Warning signs in your home include:
- Musty, earthy smells.
- Spots with black, gray, or greenish fuzz on walls, tile grout, or other surfaces.
- Peeling paint or drywall from moisture damage.
Any mold growth should be addressed quickly by identifying and eliminating moisture sources, and then thoroughly cleaning with products that kill mold. Extensive black mold may require professional remediation.
Cockroaches, mice, termites, and other pests are common in Houston homes. Beyond being a nuisance, pests can spread disease, damage possessions, and compromise the structural integrity of your home. Routinely inspect the interior and exterior of your home for evidence of pests and address problems immediately. Ensure food waste is well sealed, repair cracks and crevices, and avoid clutter that gives pests places to hide and nest.
Air Quality Issues
Indoor air pollution often contains higher concentrations of contaminants than outdoor air. Houston homes are prone to issues like:
- High radon levels: Radon gas from the soil can seep into homes and accumulate to dangerous levels. Have your home tested for radon and install a mitigation system if needed.
- Mold spores circulating through HVAC systems. Changing filters regularly and proper duct cleaning can improve indoor air quality.
- Pollution from attached garages: Carbon monoxide and noxious garage fumes can migrate into living areas if not properly sealed off.
Being aware of potential air quality problems allows Houston homeowners to take steps to improve health and safety.
Aging or Defective Systems
Like any complex mechanism, home systems like roofs, plumbing, and electrical wiring degrade over time. Homeowners should be alert to signs of aging that indicate needed repairs or replacements, including:
- Aging roof with cracked, curled, or missing shingles. A roof older than about 20 years likely needs replacement.
- Leaking or corroded pipes, water heaters, and fixtures.
- Faulty electrical systems, like outdated panels unable to handle modern power demands.
Routinely inspecting home systems and promptly addressing defects is essential for safety and preventing costly breakdowns.
In summary, Houston homes face an array of potential hazards due to the local climate, common soils, prevalence of floods, and other factors. Homeowners can protect their families by learning to recognize warning signs of foundation problems, flooding risks, pests, mold growth, air quality issues, and aging systems. Conducting thorough annual home inspections in Houston and addressing problems early is key to keeping Houston homes secure havens. With vigilance and prompt action, homeowners can identify dangers before they turn into disasters.