The Ultimate Guide To Home Protection

Preventive maintenance can save you a lot of time and money
over the life of your home. This interactive guide can help you
identify potential problems before they arise, reducing your
stress and letting you more fully enjoy your home.

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3Third
Floor
Roof & Attic
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Close Roof

Chimney

Action: Install a chimney cap.
Why: This little device, which usually has a metal roof and screened walls, sits atop the opening of your chimney. It’s very effective at preventing birds and animals from getting inside where they can build nests, says contractor Beth Allen. It also prevents rain from going down the chimney and creating a wet, dark place for mold to flourish. Have it professionally installed to avoid problems with the chimney’s draft.

Get more tips about fireplace and chimney care.

Close Roof

Shingles

Action: Inspect shingles annually.
Why: Missing, loose or rotting shingles can cause leaks, says contractor Beth Allen, and leaking water can result in a lot of damage to your home.

Close Attic

Insulation

Action: Install 10–14 inches of loose fill or a layer of rolled fiberglass insulation.
Why: Without a healthy layer of insulation in this usually drafty part of the home, heat from below will escape here, says contractor Beth Allen. Insulation also helps absorb sound, provides a layer of fire resistance and controls moisture to help prevent mold growth.

Get more tips on prepping your home for cold weather.

Close Attic

Vents

Action: Remove any blockages.
Why: Blocked vents could lead to mold and mildew, says contractor Beth Allen. Attic vents also let hot air escape in warmer weather, and that can help lower summertime energy bills.

Close Attic

Walls

Action: Seal up any openings or gaps.
Why: Loose siding, vinyl edging and side vents at roof peaks are entry points for rodents and bats, says contractor Beth Allen. And once they’re in, pests can do things like chew through electrical wiring. Close up any gaps with screws or caulk as needed. For added protection against rodents, stuff a clump of steel wool into cracks before you caulk.

Close Roof

Gutters

Action: Clean gutters in the spring and fall.
Why: Gutters, which channel rainwater away from your home, can get clogged with leaves, sticks and other debris. The backup could result in water damage to your roof, walls and foundation (increasing the likelihood of basement flooding), which encourages mold growth, says Beth Allen, a contractor and DIY expert in Pennsylvania. In colder weather, that slow water flow can also create ice dams that could damage your home’s exterior.

Get more tips on prepping your home for cold weather.

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2Second
Floor
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Close Hallway

Stairs

Action: Have an exit strategy.
Why: In case of emergency, have a home fire escape plan in place, recommends FEMA. Draw a floor plan of your home that shows all the doors, windows and smoke detectors in each room. For each room, mark two ways to get out—and do drills with your family twice a year.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Close Hallway

Near Window

Action: Install a fire extinguisher near an exit window.
Why: Extinguishers are essential tools in case of a fire. Upstairs, have one close to a window that could act as an escape route, recommends Philip Zaleski, executive director of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance. That way, if a fire is out of control by the time you reach the extinguisher, you won’t have to struggle to get out of your home. (And consider keeping a fire ladder handy, in case you have to evacuate from an upper floor.) Mounting the extinguisher isn’t always necessary, but do keep extinguishers out of reach of children.

Read more about how to operate a fire extinguisher.

Close Hallway

Ceiling

Action: Install a smoke detector.
Why: Smoke detectors provide an essential warning in case of fire. Place them in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area. FEMA recommends using either a combination of ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms or dual-sensor smoke alarms. If the detector uses a 9-volt battery, change it at least once a year; if it has a 10-year lithium-ion battery, replace the detector when that time is up. Either way, test it at least once a month, says FEMA.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Close Hallway

Wall

Action: Install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that’s also highly toxic. Unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning causes more than 400 deaths per year and some 20,000 visits to emergency rooms in the U.S., according to the CDC. So:

  • Install CO detectors in places where they will wake you if the alarm goes off, like outside each bedroom.
  • Carbon monoxide doesn’t rise the way smoke does, so keep the detector at knee level—or, if you have 
pets or little ones, at chest level.
  • Test the detector at least once per month; if it’s 
battery operated, change the battery twice a year.
Close Bedroom

Closet

Action: Catalog your possessions.
Why: Creating a home inventory is key in case of damage or theft; you’ll want a record for your insurance company. In the case of clothing, Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute says you can group it together—for example, six pairs of jeans or 10 pairs of shoes.

Read more about how to create a home inventory.

Close Bedroom

Dresser

Action: Protect your jewelry.
Why: Proper storage for jewelry helps keep it safe from thieves—and the elements. Air and humidity can cause pieces to tarnish, says McKenzie Santimer of the Gemological Institute of America, so keep pieces in individual soft pouches or a lined jewelry box with places for each piece. Also consider investing in a safe with a UL burglary and/or fireproof rating; keep it in a concealed spot (the master bedroom is one of the first known targets for burglars). And help protect your collection with jewelry insurance.

Get more tips on how to care for your jewelry.

Close Bathroom

Sink Cabinet

Action: Insulate pipes if they’re against an outside wall.
Why: Pipes closer to the outdoors are most at risk of freezing in cold weather, says Joseph Plitnick, plumber and owner of Plitnick Plumbing. Wrap them with foam or fiberglass insulation. On especially cold days, leave the cabinet doors open to allow for heat circulation. If you have children, however, keep the doors closed or empty the cabinet.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing..

Close Bathroom

Cabinet

Action: Secure medications and cleaning supplies.
Why: Nearly 80,000 children went to emergency rooms for unintended poisoning in 2016, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Laundry detergents and pods, medicines, cleaning products and even mouthwash were some of the culprits. Use safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers that are filled with potentially dangerous products, and don’t assume that kids can’t open childproof caps.

Get more childproofing tips for your home.

Close Bathroom

Shower

Action: Look for mold.
Why: Any indoor mold may cause health problems. It often looks like spots, comes in many colors and can smell musty, says Peter Duncanson, a mold specialist at ServiceMaster Restore. To treat areas smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet, wear gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask, and spray soap and water or hydrogen peroxide on the mold. After a few minutes, scrub it away with a bristle brush, then dry. To help prevent mold, keep indoor humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent and fix water leaks quickly.

Close Home Office

Desk

Action: Safeguard documents and technology.
Why: Some 375,000 people were victims of identity theft in 2017, according to the FTC. You may not be able to stop data breaches at major companies, but there are steps you can take to minimize exposure at home. Install and update antivirus software. Use different, impossible-to-guess passwords for all accounts. (Here’s how to create the perfect password.) And keep a close eye on your credit score. An affordable identity protection plan through the GEICO Insurance Agency can help monitor your credit and assist you in the recovery process if your identity is stolen.

Read more on the warning signs of identity theft.

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Fireproofing

Here’s how to help
keep fires from starting
in your home.

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1First
Floor
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Close Living Room

Chimney

Action: Have it inspected and cleaned annually.
Why: Call in a chimney sweep before your first fire of the season, suggests contractor Beth Allen. They’ll look for blockages in the chimney as well as evidence of creosote, a tarlike buildup that can lead to chimney fires.

Get more tips about fireplace and chimney care.

Close Living Room

Walls

Action: Catalog artwork.
Why: In case of fire or theft, you’ll want to have a record of valuable items for your insurance company, says Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute. Keep all receipts, and take photos; use an app and store everything in the cloud, or put records in a fireproof safe.

Read more about how to create a home inventory.

Close Living Room

Walls

Action: Listen for scratching sounds.
Why: Bees, raccoons, squirrels, birds, mice and rats have all been known to find a home in houses, says Atlanta-based realtor Bruce Ailion. And it could happen on any floor. Search the outside of the wall for anything unusual. If you don’t find anything but the noise persists, consider setting traps or calling an exterminator.

See more house noises you should never ignore.

Close Living Room

Window Blinds

Action: Keep window-blind cords from dangling.
Why: One child dies every month from strangulation caused by window-blind cords, while another suffers near-strangulation, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Instead, install cordless blinds. They’re easy to find—almost all stores that sell blinds carry cordless versions.

Get more childproofing tips for your home.

Close Living Room

Window

Action: Tint windows.
Why: Tinting uncovered windows and doors that face the sun can keep heat out during the summer months, says Gary Wollenhaupt, editorial director of ProudGreenHome.com, a site geared to helping homes become more energy efficient. Applying a thin, reflective film on clean glass keeps out much of the heat without sacrificing the view.

Get more tips on ways to slash your energy bill.

Close Living Room

Lights

Action: Watch for flickering lights.
Why: If lights dim when dishwashers or garage doors are operating, it’s probably a normal power surge, says contractor Beth Allen. But if lights are truly flickering, you may have a problem. Turn off the affected circuit to that outlet or fixture until an electrician can 
inspect it.

Close Living Room

Outlet

Action: Don’t overload outlets; keep them covered if you have kids.
Why: Overloading wall outlets or power strips can increase the risk of fire, says FEMA. Plug large appliances (like big-screen TVs) directly into the wall outlet; small appliances can be plugged into power strips, but don’t connect any appliance with an extension cord. And don’t daisy-chain multiple power strips and/or extension cords; it’s a major fire hazard. Also, help prevent accidental shocks and electrocution by covering outlets or installing tamper-proof outlets. If you use covers, make sure they’re large enough to cover the plates (and not be a choking hazard) and that they fit securely.

Get more tips on how to fireproof your home.

Close Kitchen

Wall

Action: Install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas. And CO poisoning can occur when a fuel-burning appliance or machine, like a furnace, heater or generator, isn’t working or vented properly, according to FEMA. Install a CO detector and test it at least once per month; if it’s battery operated, change the battery twice a year.

Close Kitchen

Appliances

Action: Catalog appliances, and always plug them directly into a wall socket.
Why: You’ll want to have a record of these valuable assets to give your insurance company in case of fire or theft, says Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute. Collect makes, models, serial numbers and purchase prices of all appliances, as well as receipts, and take photos of them. Use an app and store everything in the cloud or keep records in a fireproof safe. Meanwhile, FEMA advises, never plug appliances into an extension cord or a power strip; it increases your risk of a fire.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Close Kitchen

Pantry

Action: Store a fire extinguisher.
Why: Keep your first-floor fire extinguisher in the kitchen, where a fire is most likely to happen—and close to the stove, recommends Philip Zaleski of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance.

Read more about how to operate a fire extinguisher.

Close Kitchen

Ceiling

Action: Install a smoke detector.
Why: As home fires are most likely to originate in the kitchen, a smoke detector there is a must. Install it at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance, recommends FEMA, so regular cooking doesn’t trigger it. Test the detector at least once a month, using the test button; if the detector is battery operated, replace the battery at least once a year.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Close Kitchen

Stove

Action: Never leave the stove unattended while cooking.
Why: Home cooking fires most often start when people leave the kitchen while food is cooking on the stove, says FEMA. Keep tabs on anything in progress. Also, two-thirds of home cooking fires start when food or other cooking materials catch fire. If you do accidentally set off a grease fire, never throw water on it; instead, cover it with a lid. In the case of an oven fire, turn off the oven and keep the door closed until it’s cool.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Close Kitchen

Cabinet

Action: Secure household cleaning supplies.
Why: Nearly 80,000 children went to emergency rooms for unintended poisoning in 2016, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This includes accidental ingestion of laundry detergents and pods, medicines, cleaning products and even mouthwash. All of these, along with matches and lighters, should be kept out of reach and out of sight. Use safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers filled with potentially dangerous products.

Get more childproofing tips for your home.

Close Kitchen

Sink Cabinet

Action: Insulate pipes if they’re against an outside wall.
Why: Plumber Joseph Plitnick recommends installing foam or fiberglass insulation on exposed indoor pipes. Cover them as best you can with insulation and secure it with duct tape. Keep cabinet doors open during especially cold weather. If you have children, however, keep the doors closed or empty the cabinet.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing.

Close Front Entrance

Front Window

Action: Install and check lock.
Why: Another popular entry point for burglars? Windows, says the Department of Justice, which homeowners may leave open during warm weather. When you’re not home, keep windows shut and locked. For extra protection, install double-pane glass; it’s harder to break (plus it can make your home’s heating and cooling more efficient).

Read more about protecting your home from burglars.

Close Front Entrance

Front Door

Action: Install and maintain a deadbolt.
Why: There were nearly 950,000 home burglaries in the U.S. in 2016, according to the FBI. (Average loss: $2,273.) And when nobody was home, nearly 40 percent of the time thieves got in through an unlocked door or window, says the Department of Justice. Be sure to have a deadbolt—but even a locked screen door can help discourage thieves. And keep the area outside the door well-lit and free of shrubs, so neighbors can better see any suspicious activity.

Get more tips on how to protect your home while you’re on vacation.

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Burglar-
Proofing

Get smart tips to
help keep thieves out
of your house.

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BBasement
& Garage
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Close Garage

Generator

Action: Maintain it.
Why: Regular maintenance helps ensure that your generator is fully operational in case of emergency, says Jeffrey Yago, an engineer and emergency preparedness expert. Check your owner’s manual to learn the proper intervals for changing the oil and filter, either on your own or by a certified technician. Running the generator for about 30 minutes every few months keeps moving parts lubricated and the fuel and air passages clear. To avoid the annual maintenance, consider a battery backup system.

Read more about how to buy and maintain a generator.

Close Garage

Mower

Action: Winterize it.
Why: With proper care, a lawn mower can last up to 20 years, says Kris Kiser of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Before you put it away for the season, make sure to clean the grass from the undercarriage and sharpen the blades. Then run the machine until the gas tank is empty, to prevent corrosion. If your mower is electric, remove the batteries and store them in a dry, temperature-controlled location over the winter to avoid a loss of efficacy.

Read more about how to winterize your garage.

Close Garage

Gas

Action: Store it correctly and dispose if necessary.
Why: Keep spare fuel in a steel jerrican equipped with a flame arrestor, and label it with the date of purchase; never store it for more than 30 days, says Kris Kiser of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Any gas with ethanol will need to be mixed with a stabilizer to prevent deterioration.

Read more about how to winterize your garage.

Close Garage

Exposed Pipes

Action: Insulate pipes.
Why: Install foam or fiberglass insulation on exposed pipes to prevent them from freezing, says plumber Joseph Plitnick. Clean off any dirt or grease on the pipes, then cover them with insulation and secure with duct tape. Problem areas? Apply electric heat tape or cable along the pipe. For hard-to-access pipes, call a plumber.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing.

Close Garage

Door

Action: Add weather stripping.
Why: This easy DIY project helps keep out cold air and snow, and provides another layer of protection for valuables.

Read more about how to winterize your garage.

Close Yard

Trees

Action: Monitor and prune.
Why: Examine trees regularly and remove small dead or broken branches, to prevent them from falling and damaging your house during a storm, says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at the Tree Care Industry Association. Have potentially problematic large branches professionally removed. And keep a lookout for signs of disease or infestation.

Read more about how to protect your home from falling trees and branches.

Close Yard

Septic Tank

Action: Get tank inspected every three years.
Why: Your septic tank is one thing you really don’t want to break down. Pros will look for leaks, corrosion, root invasion, sludge and other specifics, says contractor Beth Allen.

Close Yard

Standing Water

Action: Check for puddles.
Why: Standing water can be a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, as well as mold and mildew, says contractor Beth Allen. And check your yard for water collecting in kiddie toys and gardening pots.

Close Yard

Fence

Action: Install and maintain.
Why: To keep nibbling critters at bay, install a fence at least four feet high and extending six inches into the ground, says Clyde Sorenson, professor of entomology at NC State.

Get more tips on how to control pests.

Close Yard

Downspouts

Action: Extend them out and away from your home.
Why: During heavy rains, tropical storms and nor’easters, add a gutter extension tube to help prevent basement leaking and flooding, says contractor Beth Allen. Afterward, collapse the tube and store it for the next heavy rain.

Learn more about flood safety preparedness.

Close Yard

Dog

Action: Keep your dog leashed and away from walkways.
Why: Protect your guests and delivery people from possible bites. Nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog requires medical attention, according to the CDC.
Action: Inspect pets routinely for pests.
Why: Some pests can carry diseases and cause skin irritation, hair loss or serious illness, says Dr. Jorge P. Parada, medical advisor for the National Pest Management Association. And help protect Fido with pet insurance.

Take the quiz What’s that pest on my pet?.

Close Yard

Walkway

Action: Shovel snow.
Why: Keeping your walkway free of snow helps protect everyone from slips and falls. The freeze and thaw between night and day temperatures can cause ice to form on walkways; treat with ice melt to prevent this from happening. Also use ice melt pre- and post-storm, and follow these shoveling tips to minimize risk of injury.

Close Basement

Ceiling

Action: Install a smoke detector.
Why: Smoke detectors are essential warning devices, says FEMA—and it’s important to have one in the basement. Test it at least once a month, using the test button; if it’s battery operated, replace the batteries at least once a year.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Close Basement

Wall

Action: Install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas. And CO poisoning can occur when a fuel-burning appliance or machine, like a furnace, heater or generator, isn’t working or vented properly, according to FEMA. Install a CO detector and test it at least once per month; if it’s battery operated, change the battery twice a year.

Close Basement

Washer/Dryer

Action: Remove lint.
Why: Clean out the lint filter each time before using the dryer, recommends FEMA; fires caused by lint blockages are not uncommon. Twice a year, clean out the dryer vent duct (having an aluminum duct is preferable). Make sure dryers vent outside to discourage mold growth indoors, says contractor Beth Allen. And always plug major appliances like these directly into a wall socket—never use an extension cord or power strip.

Read more about how to fireproof your home.

Close Basement

Floor

Action: Look for mold.
Why: Carpeting can hold moisture that it sucks in from the air, which could eventually spawn mold spores, says contractor Beth Allen. If your family suffers from chronic allergies or respiratory issues, consider mold as a potential trigger.

Close Basement

Walls

Action: Inspect for cracks.
Why: Cracks could be an indication of damage to the foundation, says contractor Beth Allen. Have your walls inspected by a licensed contractor.

Close Basement

Storage

Action: Properly store items.
Why: Put photos and valuable files in a waterproof container on a high shelf or in a safe, to help protect these items from any flooding.

Close Basement

Sump Pump

Action: Inspect annually.
Why: Make sure sump pumps are plugged into a GFI or GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet, have a backup power source and are covered, says contractor Beth Allen. Water should discharge 20 feet away from the house (and not end up in your neighbor’s yard).

Close Basement

Circuitry

Action: Watch for tripped circuits.
Why: If electrically powered appliances and devices aren’t performing properly, check the outlet or switch: If you see dark discoloration, feel them overheating or smell a burning odor, it could mean a problem, says contractor Beth Allen. Call a licensed electrician to check your circuit panel.

Get more tips on how to fireproof your home.

Close Basement

Air

Action: Check for radon annually.
Why: Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has been linked to lung cancer, even among nonsmokers, says the EPA, which also lists options 
for how to test for it.

Close Basement

Furnace/Boiler

Action: Inspect and service annually.
Why: Furnaces can collect soot and debris, suffer blockages or have gas-ignition issues that might go undetected. The result could be no heat on a cold day or, much worse, the release of carbon monoxide into your home, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Have a heating contractor check the furnace or boiler, including the venting system, as well as its electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls and automatic safety switches.

Close Basement

Pipes

Action: Insulate pipes.
Why: Install foam or fiberglass insulation on exposed indoor pipes, suggests plumber Joseph Plitnick. Clean off any dirt or grease on the pipe with a damp rag. Then cover the pipes as best you can with insulation and secure it with duct tape.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing.

< SWIPE LEFT OR RIGHT >

Weather-
Proofing

Follow these steps to
help protect your home
from the elements.

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Close Garage

Generator

Action: Maintain it.
Why: Regular maintenance helps ensure that your generator is fully operational in case of emergency, says Jeffrey Yago, an engineer and emergency preparedness expert. Check your owner’s manual to learn the proper intervals for changing the oil and filter, either on your own or by a certified technician. Running the generator for about 30 minutes every few months keeps moving parts lubricated and the fuel and air passages clear. To avoid the annual maintenance, consider a battery backup system.

Read more about how to buy and maintain a generator.

Toggle
Close Garage

Mower

Action: Winterize it.
Why: With proper care, a lawn mower can last up to 20 years, says Kris Kiser of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Before you put it away for the season, make sure to clean the grass from the undercarriage and sharpen the blades. Then run the machine until the gas tank is empty, to prevent corrosion. If your mower is electric, remove the batteries and store them in a dry, temperature-controlled location over the winter to avoid a loss of efficacy.

Read more about how to winterize your garage.

Toggle
Close Garage

Gas

Action: Store it correctly and dispose if necessary.
Why: Keep spare fuel in a steel jerrican equipped with a flame arrestor, and label it with the date of purchase; never store it for more than 30 days, says Kris Kiser of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. Any gas with ethanol will need to be mixed with a stabilizer to prevent deterioration.

Read more about how to winterize your garage.

Toggle
Close Garage

Exposed Pipes

Action: Insulate pipes.
Why: Install foam or fiberglass insulation on exposed pipes to prevent them from freezing, says plumber Joseph Plitnick. Clean off any dirt or grease on the pipes, then cover them with insulation and secure with duct tape. Problem areas? Apply electric heat tape or cable along the pipe. For hard-to-access pipes, call a plumber.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing.

Toggle
Close Garage

Door

Action: Add weather stripping.
Why: This easy DIY project helps keep out cold air and snow, and provides another layer of protection for valuables.

Read more about how to winterize your garage.

Toggle
Close Yard

Trees

Action: Monitor and prune.
Why: Examine trees regularly and remove small dead or broken branches, to prevent them from falling and damaging your house during a storm, says Tchukki Andersen, staff arborist at the Tree Care Industry Association. Have potentially problematic large branches professionally removed. And keep a lookout for signs of disease or infestation.

Read more about how to protect your home from falling trees and branches.

Toggle
Close Yard

Septic Tank

Action: Get tank inspected every three years.
Why: Your septic tank is one thing you really don’t want to break down. Pros will look for leaks, corrosion, root invasion, sludge and other specifics, says contractor Beth Allen.

Toggle
Close Yard

Standing Water

Action: Check for puddles.
Why: Standing water can be a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, as well as mold and mildew, says contractor Beth Allen. And check your yard for water collecting in kiddie toys and gardening pots.

Toggle
Close Yard

Fence

Action: Install and maintain.
Why: To keep nibbling critters at bay, install a fence at least four feet high and extending six inches into the ground, says Clyde Sorenson, professor of entomology at NC State.

Get more tips on how to control pests.

Toggle
Close Yard

Downspouts

Action: Extend them out and away from your home.
Why: During heavy rains, tropical storms and nor’easters, add a gutter extension tube to help prevent basement leaking and flooding, says contractor Beth Allen. Afterward, collapse the tube and store it for the next heavy rain.

Learn more about flood safety preparedness.

Toggle
Close Yard

Dog

Action: Keep your dog leashed and away from walkways.
Why: Protect your guests and delivery people from possible bites. Nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog requires medical attention, according to the CDC.
Action: Inspect pets routinely for pests.
Why: Some pests can carry diseases and cause skin irritation, hair loss or serious illness, says Dr. Jorge P. Parada, medical advisor for the National Pest Management Association. And help protect Fido with pet insurance.

Take the quiz What’s that pest on my pet?.

Toggle
Close Yard

Walkway

Action: Shovel snow.
Why: Keeping your walkway free of snow helps protect everyone from slips and falls. The freeze and thaw between night and day temperatures can cause ice to form on walkways; treat with ice melt to prevent this from happening. Also use ice melt pre- and post-storm, and follow these shoveling tips to minimize risk of injury.

Toggle
Close Basement

Ceiling

Action: Install a smoke detector.
Why: Smoke detectors are essential warning devices, says FEMA—and it’s important to have one in the basement. Test it at least once a month, using the test button; if it’s battery operated, replace the batteries at least once a year.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

Toggle
Close Basement

Wall

Action: Install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas. And CO poisoning can occur when a fuel-burning appliance or machine, like a furnace, heater or generator, isn’t working or vented properly, according to FEMA. Install a CO detector and test it at least once per month; if it’s battery operated, change the battery twice a year.

Toggle
Close Basement

Washer/Dryer

Action: Remove lint.
Why: Clean out the lint filter each time before using the dryer, recommends FEMA; fires caused by lint blockages are not uncommon. Twice a year, clean out the dryer vent duct (having an aluminum duct is preferable). Make sure dryers vent outside to discourage mold growth indoors, says contractor Beth Allen. And always plug major appliances like these directly into a wall socket—never use an extension cord or power strip.

Read more about how to fireproof your home.

Toggle
Close Basement

Floor

Action: Look for mold.
Why: Carpeting can hold moisture that it sucks in from the air, which could eventually spawn mold spores, says contractor Beth Allen. If your family suffers from chronic allergies or respiratory issues, consider mold as a potential trigger.

Toggle
Close Basement

Walls

Action: Inspect for cracks.
Why: Cracks could be an indication of damage to the foundation, says contractor Beth Allen. Have your walls inspected by a licensed contractor.

Toggle
Close Basement

Storage

Action: Properly store items.
Why: Put photos and valuable files in a waterproof container on a high shelf or in a safe, to help protect these items from any flooding.

Toggle
Close Basement

Sump Pump

Action: Inspect annually.
Why: Make sure sump pumps are plugged into a GFI or GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet, have a backup power source and are covered, says contractor Beth Allen. Water should discharge 20 feet away from the house (and not end up in your neighbor’s yard).

Toggle
Close Basement

Circuitry

Action: Watch for tripped circuits.
Why: If electrically powered appliances and devices aren’t performing properly, check the outlet or switch: If you see dark discoloration, feel them overheating or smell a burning odor, it could mean a problem, says contractor Beth Allen. Call a licensed electrician to check your circuit panel.

Get more tips on how to fireproof your home.

Toggle
Close Basement

Air

Action: Check for radon annually.
Why: Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has been linked to lung cancer, even among nonsmokers, says the EPA, which also lists options 
for how to test for it.

Toggle
Close Basement

Furnace/Boiler

Action: Inspect and service annually.
Why: Furnaces can collect soot and debris, suffer blockages or have gas-ignition issues that might go undetected. The result could be no heat on a cold day or, much worse, the release of carbon monoxide into your home, says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Have a heating contractor check the furnace or boiler, including the venting system, as well as its electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls and automatic safety switches.

Toggle
Close Basement

Pipes

Action: Insulate pipes.
Why: Install foam or fiberglass insulation on exposed indoor pipes, suggests plumber Joseph Plitnick. Clean off any dirt or grease on the pipe with a damp rag. Then cover the pipes as best you can with insulation and secure it with duct tape.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing.

Toggle
Close Living Room

Chimney

Action: Have it inspected and cleaned annually.
Why: Call in a chimney sweep before your first fire of the season, suggests contractor Beth Allen. They’ll look for blockages in the chimney as well as evidence of creosote, a tarlike buildup that can lead to chimney fires.

Get more tips about fireplace and chimney care.

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Walls

Action: Catalog artwork.
Why: In case of fire or theft, you’ll want to have a record of valuable items for your insurance company, says Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute. Keep all receipts, and take photos; use an app and store everything in the cloud, or put records in a fireproof safe.

Read more about how to create a home inventory.

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Walls

Action: Listen for scratching sounds.
Why: Bees, raccoons, squirrels, birds, mice and rats have all been known to find a home in houses, says Atlanta-based realtor Bruce Ailion. And it could happen on any floor. Search the outside of the wall for anything unusual. If you don’t find anything but the noise persists, consider setting traps or calling an exterminator.

See more house noises you should never ignore.

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Window Blinds

Action: Keep window-blind cords from dangling.
Why: One child dies every month from strangulation caused by window-blind cords, while another suffers near-strangulation, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Instead, install cordless blinds. They’re easy to find—almost all stores that sell blinds carry cordless versions.

Get more childproofing tips for your home.

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Window

Action: Tint windows.
Why: Tinting uncovered windows and doors that face the sun can keep heat out during the summer months, says Gary Wollenhaupt, editorial director of ProudGreenHome.com, a site geared to helping homes become more energy efficient. Applying a thin, reflective film on clean glass keeps out much of the heat without sacrificing the view.

Get more tips on ways to slash your energy bill.

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Lights

Action: Watch for flickering lights.
Why: If lights dim when dishwashers or garage doors are operating, it’s probably a normal power surge, says contractor Beth Allen. But if lights are truly flickering, you may have a problem. Turn off the affected circuit to that outlet or fixture until an electrician can 
inspect it.

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Outlet

Action: Don’t overload outlets; keep them covered if you have kids.
Why: Overloading wall outlets or power strips can increase the risk of fire, says FEMA. Plug large appliances (like big-screen TVs) directly into the wall outlet; small appliances can be plugged into power strips, but don’t connect any appliance with an extension cord. And don’t daisy-chain multiple power strips and/or extension cords; it’s a major fire hazard. Also, help prevent accidental shocks and electrocution by covering outlets or installing tamper-proof outlets. If you use covers, make sure they’re large enough to cover the plates (and not be a choking hazard) and that they fit securely.

Get more tips on how to fireproof your home.

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Wall

Action: Install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, toxic gas. And CO poisoning can occur when a fuel-burning appliance or machine, like a furnace, heater or generator, isn’t working or vented properly, according to FEMA. Install a CO detector and test it at least once per month; if it’s battery operated, change the battery twice a year.

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Appliances

Action: Catalog appliances, and always plug them directly into a wall socket.
Why: You’ll want to have a record of these valuable assets to give your insurance company in case of fire or theft, says Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute. Collect makes, models, serial numbers and purchase prices of all appliances, as well as receipts, and take photos of them. Use an app and store everything in the cloud or keep records in a fireproof safe. Meanwhile, FEMA advises, never plug appliances into an extension cord or a power strip; it increases your risk of a fire.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

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Pantry

Action: Store a fire extinguisher.
Why: Keep your first-floor fire extinguisher in the kitchen, where a fire is most likely to happen—and close to the stove, recommends Philip Zaleski of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance.

Read more about how to operate a fire extinguisher.

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Ceiling

Action: Install a smoke detector.
Why: As home fires are most likely to originate in the kitchen, a smoke detector there is a must. Install it at least 10 feet from a cooking appliance, recommends FEMA, so regular cooking doesn’t trigger it. Test the detector at least once a month, using the test button; if the detector is battery operated, replace the battery at least once a year.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

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Stove

Action: Never leave the stove unattended while cooking.
Why: Home cooking fires most often start when people leave the kitchen while food is cooking on the stove, says FEMA. Keep tabs on anything in progress. Also, two-thirds of home cooking fires start when food or other cooking materials catch fire. If you do accidentally set off a grease fire, never throw water on it; instead, cover it with a lid. In the case of an oven fire, turn off the oven and keep the door closed until it’s cool.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

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Cabinet

Action: Secure household cleaning supplies.
Why: Nearly 80,000 children went to emergency rooms for unintended poisoning in 2016, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. This includes accidental ingestion of laundry detergents and pods, medicines, cleaning products and even mouthwash. All of these, along with matches and lighters, should be kept out of reach and out of sight. Use safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers filled with potentially dangerous products.

Get more childproofing tips for your home.

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Sink Cabinet

Action: Insulate pipes if they’re against an outside wall.
Why: Plumber Joseph Plitnick recommends installing foam or fiberglass insulation on exposed indoor pipes. Cover them as best you can with insulation and secure it with duct tape. Keep cabinet doors open during especially cold weather. If you have children, however, keep the doors closed or empty the cabinet.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing.

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Front Window

Action: Install and check lock.
Why: Another popular entry point for burglars? Windows, says the Department of Justice, which homeowners may leave open during warm weather. When you’re not home, keep windows shut and locked. For extra protection, install double-pane glass; it’s harder to break (plus it can make your home’s heating and cooling more efficient).

Read more about protecting your home from burglars.

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Front Door

Action: Install and maintain a deadbolt.
Why: There were nearly 950,000 home burglaries in the U.S. in 2016, according to the FBI. (Average loss: $2,273.) And when nobody was home, nearly 40 percent of the time thieves got in through an unlocked door or window, says the Department of Justice. Be sure to have a deadbolt—but even a locked screen door can help discourage thieves. And keep the area outside the door well-lit and free of shrubs, so neighbors can better see any suspicious activity.

Get more tips on how to protect your home while you’re on vacation.

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Desk

Action: Safeguard documents and technology.
Why: Some 375,000 people were victims of identity theft in 2017, according to the FTC. You may not be able to stop data breaches at major companies, but there are steps you can take to minimize exposure at home. Install and update antivirus software. Use different, impossible-to-guess passwords for all accounts. (Here’s how to create the perfect password.) And keep a close eye on your credit score. An affordable identity protection plan through the GEICO Insurance Agency can help monitor your credit and assist you in the recovery process if your identity is stolen.

Read more on the warning signs of identity theft.

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Stairs

Action: Have an exit strategy.
Why: In case of emergency, have a home fire escape plan in place, recommends FEMA. Draw a floor plan of your home that shows all the doors, windows and smoke detectors in each room. For each room, mark two ways to get out—and do drills with your family twice a year.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

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Near Window

Action: Install a fire extinguisher near an exit window.
Why: Extinguishers are essential tools in case of a fire. Upstairs, have one close to a window that could act as an escape route, recommends Philip Zaleski, executive director of the Illinois Fire Safety Alliance. That way, if a fire is out of control by the time you reach the extinguisher, you won’t have to struggle to get out of your home. (And consider keeping a fire ladder handy, in case you have to evacuate from an upper floor.) Mounting the extinguisher isn’t always necessary, but do keep extinguishers out of reach of children.

Read more about how to operate a fire extinguisher.

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Ceiling

Action: Install a smoke detector.
Why: Smoke detectors provide an essential warning in case of fire. Place them in every sleeping room and outside each separate sleeping area. FEMA recommends using either a combination of ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms or dual-sensor smoke alarms. If the detector uses a 9-volt battery, change it at least once a year; if it has a 10-year lithium-ion battery, replace the detector when that time is up. Either way, test it at least once a month, says FEMA.

Get more tips on fireproofing your home.

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Wall

Action: Install a carbon monoxide detector.
Why: Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that’s also highly toxic. Unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning causes more than 400 deaths per year and some 20,000 visits to emergency rooms in the U.S., according to the CDC. So:

  • Install CO detectors in places where they will wake you if the alarm goes off, like outside each bedroom.
  • Carbon monoxide doesn’t rise the way smoke does, so keep the detector at knee level—or, if you have 
pets or little ones, at chest level.
  • Test the detector at least once per month; if it’s 
battery operated, change the battery twice a year.
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Closet

Action: Catalog your possessions.
Why: Creating a home inventory is key in case of damage or theft; you’ll want a record for your insurance company. In the case of clothing, Michael Barry of the Insurance Information Institute says you can group it together—for example, six pairs of jeans or 10 pairs of shoes.

Read more about how to create a home inventory.

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Dresser

Action: Protect your jewelry.
Why: Proper storage for jewelry helps keep it safe from thieves—and the elements. Air and humidity can cause pieces to tarnish, says McKenzie Santimer of the Gemological Institute of America, so keep pieces in individual soft pouches or a lined jewelry box with places for each piece. Also consider investing in a safe with a UL burglary and/or fireproof rating; keep it in a concealed spot (the master bedroom is one of the first known targets for burglars). And help protect your collection with jewelry insurance.

Get more tips on how to care for your jewelry.

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Sink Cabinet

Action: Insulate pipes if they’re against an outside wall.
Why: Pipes closer to the outdoors are most at risk of freezing in cold weather, says Joseph Plitnick, plumber and owner of Plitnick Plumbing. Wrap them with foam or fiberglass insulation. On especially cold days, leave the cabinet doors open to allow for heat circulation. If you have children, however, keep the doors closed or empty the cabinet.

Read more about how to protect your pipes from freezing..

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Cabinet

Action: Secure medications and cleaning supplies.
Why: Nearly 80,000 children went to emergency rooms for unintended poisoning in 2016, says Karla Crosswhite of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Laundry detergents and pods, medicines, cleaning products and even mouthwash were some of the culprits. Use safety latches and locks on cabinets and drawers that are filled with potentially dangerous products, and don’t assume that kids can’t open childproof caps.

Get more childproofing tips for your home.

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Shower

Action: Look for mold.
Why: Any indoor mold may cause health problems. It often looks like spots, comes in many colors and can smell musty, says Peter Duncanson, a mold specialist at ServiceMaster Restore. To treat areas smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet, wear gloves, safety glasses and a dust mask, and spray soap and water or hydrogen peroxide on the mold. After a few minutes, scrub it away with a bristle brush, then dry. To help prevent mold, keep indoor humidity levels between 30 and 50 percent and fix water leaks quickly.

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Vents

Action: Remove any blockages.
Why: Blocked vents could lead to mold and mildew, says contractor Beth Allen. Attic vents also let hot air escape in warmer weather, and that can help lower summertime energy bills.

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Walls

Action: Seal up any openings or gaps.
Why: Loose siding, vinyl edging and side vents at roof peaks are entry points for rodents and bats, says contractor Beth Allen. And once they’re in, pests can do things like chew through electrical wiring. Close up any gaps with screws or caulk as needed. For added protection against rodents, stuff a clump of steel wool into cracks before you caulk.

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Gutters

Action: Clean gutters in the spring and fall.
Why: Gutters, which channel rainwater away from your home, can get clogged with leaves, sticks and other debris. The backup could result in water damage to your roof, walls and foundation (increasing the likelihood of basement flooding), which encourages mold growth, says Beth Allen, a contractor and DIY expert in Pennsylvania. In colder weather, that slow water flow can also create ice dams that could damage your home’s exterior.

Get more tips on prepping your home for cold weather.

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Insulation

Action: Install 10–14 inches of loose fill or a layer of rolled fiberglass insulation.
Why: Without a healthy layer of insulation in this usually drafty part of the home, heat from below will escape here, says contractor Beth Allen. Insulation also helps absorb sound, provides a layer of fire resistance and controls moisture to help prevent mold growth.

Get more tips on prepping your home for cold weather.

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Shingles

Action: Inspect shingles annually.
Why: Missing, loose or rotting shingles can cause leaks, says contractor Beth Allen, and leaking water can result in a lot of damage to your home.

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Chimney

Action: Install a chimney cap.
Why: This little device, which usually has a metal roof and screened walls, sits atop the opening of your chimney. It’s very effective at preventing birds and animals from getting inside where they can build nests, says contractor Beth Allen. It also prevents rain from going down the chimney and creating a wet, dark place for mold to flourish. Have it professionally installed to avoid problems with the chimney’s draft.

Get more tips about fireplace and chimney care.

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    • Editor (GEICO) says,

      Hi Susan,
      You can give us a call at 1-800-841-3000 to talk to an agent about your coverage options.
      Thanks!