How Safe Is The Home You're Buying?

A pre-purchase home safety inspection may reveal multiple safety hazards lurking within your dream home …

How do you know how safe the home you’re buying is? You just signed your contract. You’re flushed with the excitement of owning the home of your dreams. However, unless you have ordered a pre-purchase inspection, multiple safety hazards might be lurking within your dream home!

Common safety hazards are frequently found during home building inspections

A significant number of people receive serious injuries in their homes every year. Amazingly, a few simple precautions could have prevented many of these accidents. The first of these precautions you can take is to have a full pre-purchase building inspection, which will reveal any safety hazards in your potential new home.

Although a building inspection is not a safety audit, building inspectors often see safety issues that need urgent action.

A pre-purchase building inspection can tell you how safe the home you’re buying is by checking for these common safety issues:

  • Inadequate pool fencing – Your swimming pool or spa needs to be fully enclosed on all sides by a compliant pool fence which has been certified by a licensed pool fence inspector. This fence should be at least 1.2 m high, with no ability to be climbed and you must have a self-closing, self-latching gate. Any items that can be used to either prop the gate open or scale the fence should be removed.

Both the pool fence and the gate should be regularly checked and maintained.  There should also be a clearly visible, laminated cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) poster within the pool or spa area. A licensed pool inspector should be consulted for advice.

  • Lack of smoke alarms – Smoke alarms that meet Australian Standards should be installed in all homes and units by a licensed electrician. These should be tested annually and kept dust-free.
  • Absence of fire extinguishers – There should be a fire blanket or fire extinguisher in the kitchen. It should be handy to the oven and cook top.
  • No safety guards – Safety guards should be attached to walls surrounding fireplaces, fuel stoves, and heaters.
  • Excessive buildup of stored goods – These may pose health and fire hazards. If built up against exits, they may also prevent escape to safety in case of an emergency.
  • Poorly installed roof batts around LED downlights – These may pose a fire risk in the roof cavity.

    pre-purchase home inspection shows dangerous live electrical cabling
    Pre-purchase home inspection shows dangerous live electrical cabling. The home did not have a safety switch, so there was NO protection for the residents.
  • Inadequate or absent electrical safety switches – All switches should be installed by a licensed electrician on each of the home’s circuits. If the home was built before 1992, it may not have any safety switches installed. It will pay you to have a licensed electrical inspection. Otherwise, an annual safety switch check by a licensed electrician is advised.
  • Absent hot water tempering devices – As of February 2013, all residential hot water storage systems must be heated to a minimum of 60° Celsius to prevent the growth of bacteria such as Legionella.

Tempering devices are installed to ensure that hot water is delivered to taps of all sanitary fixtures including showers, baths and basins at a maximum 50° Celsius. This is to reduce the risk of scalding-related injuries. Consult with a licensed plumber in homes where these devices have not been installed.

Poorly safeguarded high-risk structures

  • Balustrading – All structures over 1 metre high that pose a fall risk e.g. balconies, decks, stairs, retaining walls, should be intact, well-constructed with adequate fixing, stable, well-braced, and protected with appropriate balustrading. Construction materials such as timber or concrete should be of adequate strength and weatherproof.

These materials should not be compromised by fungal decay, missing boards, missing fixings or deterioration. Fixings like nails or bolts should have appropriate size and spacing, and not missing or affected by corrosion. Balustrades need to be vertical without climbing footholds, at least 1200 mm high and spaced such that a 125 mm sphere cannot pass through.

  • Lack of barriers in stairs – Barriers and gates should be placed at the top and bottom of steps or stairs whenever young children are in the home.
  • Unsafe stairs – Stairs should have a landing every 18 steps, with each step of uniform height and depth to prevent trips and falls. They should be kept dry and moss-free if made of rock or stone.
  • High-risk structures such as decks, balconies, retaining walls, stairs and landings –  These should be checked at least annually by a licensed builder. These structures needs to be kept well-maintained, free of termite damage or fungal decay and rot.
  • Steep and slippery paths or driveways – These hazards may expose children to traffic. They can also pose a problem for vehicle parking or cause falls, especially in the elderly.
  • Poorly lit stairwells – Stairwells should be kept well-illuminated with lights and the globes should be replaced regularly as required.
  • Slippery Floors – All wet areas e.g. bathrooms and laundries should have slip-resistant surfaces to prevent falls.
  • Floor injury hazards – All floor nails should be punched in and stoppered with timber filler to prevent injury.
  • Window fall hazards – Upper-storey windows should be fitted with safety glass. These windows need to have a restricted opening of 125mm or externally fitted security screens or window guards. These window guards can be pushed out by an adult in case of fire.
  • Substandard sliding glass doors – Sliding glass doors should meet Australian Safety Glass Standards. Most homes constructed prior to the mid-1970s do not have these installed though. However, a glazier can retrofit a thin sheet of polyester laminate to one side of the glass panel to make windows and doors safer.
  • Absence of glass safety stickers – Safety stickers should be installed on the glass at eye level for all sliding glass panels.
  • Unreadable house address numbers – House numbers should be clearly visible from the street at all times. Thid is including nighttime for emergency vehicles.
  • Bedroom furniture hazards – Furniture, especially cots, beds and bunk beds, should be kept away from hazards such as upper-storey windows, hanging blinds and cords, and ceiling fans to prevent falls, strangling and chopping injuries.

    pre-purchase safety inspection reveals roof full of asbestos
    Pre-purchase safety inspection revealed a roof full of asbestos!
  • Incorrect hot water and air conditioning systems placement – Avoid placing these systems  in proximity to upper-storey windows, balustrading, pool fencing, hanging blinds and cords, and ceiling fans.
  • Inaccessible toilets – Toilet doors should be fitted with lift-off hinges for an easy rescue in case of emergency.
  • Hazardous play areas – Play areas need to be separated from the driveway or road by a gate or barrier. Fifty-percent of a pool or play area should be protected from the sun by either natural shade or shade structures.
  • Damaged asbestos roofing – The roof sheeting image on the right side was decomposing fast. It is releasing killer fibers into the air where they can be inhaled or ingested.

If a home has been built, modified or renovated without certification or compliance to the Building Code and Australian Standards, then you want to seek legal advice and have searches conducted before you buy because non-compliance can cause serious safety risks and financial stress.

Call Paul Cavallo from Independent Building Inspections for your pre-purchase home safety inspection – 0419 868 008

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