For home-shoppers who are making a life-changing decision about whether or not to purchase a home, one of the most important reasons to hire a certified home inspector is to learn about hazards that may be lurking inside and out.
This includes reporting on everything from potentially fatal electrical shock and fire hazards (e.g., sagging service drops, exposed wires, uncovered junction boxes, and missing service panel knockouts, etc.) to added services which check for the presence of radon, carbon monoxide, lead paint, toxic mold, and asbestos.
While falling hazards in or around a home may not sound as dire as fires and deadly poison exposure, statistics reveal otherwise—especially if you're an older adult. The National Council on Aging reports that a senior visits the emergency room due to a fall every 11 seconds, resulting in 2.8 million injuries, 800,000 hospitalizations, and 27,000 deaths annually. Further, studies found that 35% of people age 65 or older fall at least once in their home every year. This rises to 50% for individuals over 75. But any younger homeowner who has ever taken an untimely tumble in a bathroom or bedroom knows that falls can happen regardless of age.
The home inspectors at a-pro are acutely aware of high-risk areas in a home. Here is a brief checklist of falling, slipping, and tripping concerns that will be scrutinized during the inspection:
Guardrails: The home inspector will note the stability and height of guardrails around the perimeter of decks and porches, along staircases, and around landings. Common defects include a lack of guardrails altogether; short guardrails that, when sat upon by a homeowner, pose the risk of falling backward; ladder-like deck guardrails that can be climbed by a youngster; and guardrails that are loose, have missing pieces or are in disrepair. Guardrails are required for surfaces that are at least 30 inches above grade. Per most residential codes, guardrails should be no less than 36 inches in height (42 inches for commercial purposes).
Stairways: Interior stairways pose perhaps the greatest risk of falling in a home. While minor variations in the height of steps in the same stairway are permissible, the difference between the tallest and shortest steps should be no more than 3/8 of an inch. Other issues include steps that are too steep; insufficient stairwell lighting; improper handrail height (they should be between 34 and 38 inches above the tread); loose or missing handrails; treads that are split, tilted, sagging, or broken; inadequate stairwell headroom; stair carpeting that slides or has bumps; and missing, cracked, badly repaired, or loose leading edges.
Beyond taking steps to repair construction defects, it's worth remembering the importance of following common-sense measures to avoid falls on stairways, including NEVER leaving objects on steps, not rushing up or down, and making good use of handrails.
Exterior Stairs: The inspector may observe exterior steps that allow water to pool on the treads, causing a potential slipping hazard. The inspector will also report on conditions such as deteriorating concrete, missing or loose handrails, cupping on wood deck stairs, missing bricks, dangerous variations in riser height, and insufficient landing depth.
Flooring: Uneven flooring presents a common tripping hazard. Dips and bumps in a wood floor—caused by structural issues below or poor installation—can also lead to unexpected falls. Pronounced cracks in floor tiles or loose, wooden floorboards can be problematic as well. The inspector will check to make sure transitions from one surface to another do not present an obvious tripping concern.
Driveways, Patios, Walkways: During the exterior portion of the inspection, the inspector will note heaving concrete walkways, uneven pavement, missing or uneven bricks, and driveway cracks and potholes.
Recommendations: If you are in a high-risk age group for falls or have elderly relatives, there are a number of actions you can take to reduce the risk. These include ensuring that there is ample lighting throughout the home and that lights are always turned on when walking up or downstairs; securing loose rugs; keeping high-traffic paths clear of furniture and other objects; adding grab-bars and replacing the regular shower and tub mats with non-slip mats; putting in toilet seats with armrests; using a sturdy shower seat instead of standing; installing handrails on both sides of the interior and exterior stairs; and affixing non-slip treads to uncarpeted wood steps.