Barbecues, days by the pool and warm evenings on the porch—summer is certainly a wonderful time of year! Unfortunately, like all seasons, summer does come with its own risks. From scorching temperatures to disease-carrying pests, there are seasonal hazards to watch out for. Luckily, you can take steps to prepare your home and reduce your chances of running into problems!
This guide will lead the way to a safe, fun-filled summer by helping you prepare your home from top to bottom. It will help you find vulnerabilities on the outside and inside, as well as special considerations to keep in mind for children, seniors, those with special needs and pets. Many of these steps can easily be done by you, but don’t hesitate to consult a professional for the big tasks. Remember, it’s only true prevention if it’s done right.
Preparing the Inside of Your Home
With the higher temperatures of summer weather, your entire family is more susceptible to the risk of hyperthermia, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. Though you might think there’s no danger of overheating while indoors, being inside doesn’t eliminate your risk completely. It’s easy to simply crank up the air conditioner, but there are plenty of other ways to keep your house cool and comfortable (without breaking the bank on electric costs).
Your east- and west-facing windows are going to be allowing in a lot of excess heat, so ensure they’re properly shaded with blinds, blackout curtains, or even glass tinting. Your house should be kept tightly closed during the day to avoid letting the cool air out and the heat and humidity in. If your region cools down significantly at night, you can ventilate naturally by opening a few windows, using fans, or a combination of the two. Ceiling fans are another great way to keep air circulating, and can even be used with higher thermostat settings at night to cut back on energy. When possible, try to postpone heat-generating processes like running the clothes dryer until cooler evening temperatures hit.
Be sure to clean or change the filter on your air conditioner every month since buildup can have a negative effect on air flow. If you have a window unit, try to keep the area it’s in somewhat shady to boost its efficiency. And don’t forget to turn it off if you leave the house for more than an hour — unless you have a pet! You can still knock the thermostat down a bit when leaving pets, but don’t increase it any further than you’d be comfortable in. Your pets can’t cool themselves off as easily as you can, so don’t sweat them out while you run errands!
An air purifier can help prevent high pollen levels from creeping into your home, and dehumidifiers can reduce the muggy feeling in more tropical climates. Just avoid running them at the same time as the air conditioner when possible, otherwise it increases the unit’s cooling load and forces it to work harder and use more energy.
Check the weather sealing on windows and exterior doorways, as well as the sealing of the AC ducts around your home. If your air conditioner came with a warranty that includes inspections, keep up with scheduling them and don’t be afraid to call for a check-up if something seems off. Not only can problems make your unit less effective, they could cause it to use more energy than needed, cranking up your electric costs.
Preparing the Outside of Your Home
You’ve checked your windows from the inside, so now it’s time to take a look from the outside. Ensure all screening is secured properly and any holes are patched. Even the smallest rips can allow mosquitoes — which can carry diseases like the Zika virus — into your home, so look carefully. If you have storm windows or shutters, make sure they’re in good working order now so you don’t have any issues in the midst of a weather emergency later. If you think you’re still struggling with heat entering through your east- and west-facing windows, consider installing awnings to give them even more shade.
Ideally, your backyard should have some shady spots to give you an easy oasis out of the direct sun. You can plant a big, shady tree if you have space, install an extended awning on your porch, or even just buy a few outdoor umbrellas to break out on the extra-hot days. Having a few spots in which to cool off without having to go all the way inside can help you and your family make the most of outdoor time without risking too much heat exposure.
To reduce the amount of pests around the outside of your home — and further reduce the likelihood of their appearance indoors, as well — avoid letting trees and shrubs grow closer than two feet from the exterior walls. Plants growing against the house can not only host a laundry list of pests big and small, it can keep siding damp, creating a wet, bug-friendly environment. Mulch also has the tendency to trap moisture, so don’t let it get piled too close to your windows, siding, or other wood around the exterior of your home.
You’ll also want to eliminate any sources of standing water like overturned garbage can lids, tree hollows, tires, and even children’s toys left in the yard. Insects need a steady water supply to survive, so deplete the area around your house of any potential sources, whether big or small. Avoid the temptation of installing a bug zapper — they aren’t effective at getting rid of the pests you’re aiming for, plus they can be a major hygiene problem. Instead, try products that use herb extracts like Citronelle or clove as natural deterrents.
If you have a pool, be sure to keep the water clean and the chemicals at the proper levels. Make sure all steps and ladders are in good, safe working order, and install barriers as needed to prevent children or older pets from falling in. Use a safety cover and, when possible, remove ladders or other access points when it’s not in use.
And since summer is the season of barbecues, don’t forget to practice safe grilling. Never use a grill indoors, and be sure it’s a safe distance from your home and any railing or porch furniture.
Special Considerations for Your Loved Ones
If you have children, you may need to take some additional steps to guarantee their safety for the season. Keep in mind that with the summer break, your kids will likely be spending a lot more time at home and could let curiosity prompt them to explore cabinets and closets. You may need to move cleaning supplies and other household items and products that could be toxic, as well as remove long cords that could present a tripping or strangling hazard.
If you have a pool, there should be a four-foot safety fence around the perimeter with a self-closing, self-latching gate. Keep all your doors locked (potentially with child safety locks) during the day, and be sure that no pet doors allow access to the pool area. A determined child can find all kinds of ways out, so walk through your home and look for possible security risks. Even if you think it’s unlikely he’ll try a particular route, secure it anyway; it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to protecting your kids!
Pre-hydrate before going outdoors and keep plenty of handheld fans and water misters handy while you’re out. Children’s bodies produce less sweat than those of full-grown adults, and thus have a tougher time cooling down. An excited child may not realize he’s overheating and won’t be able to warn you that he’s in danger. Give him plenty of easy opportunities to stay cool while he plays, and be sure to keep some water or Gatorade on-hand so he can replenish his fluids. Because he won’t sweat as much regardless of his body’s condition, it will be more difficult to tell if he’s getting too hot, so make it a habit to call him in for a cool-down period every 30 minutes or so.
Children With Special Needs
On top of his body struggling to cool itself, a child with special needs may not realize he’s getting too hot or be able to communicate it to you. Pre-hydrate before going outside, and introduce him to the heat gradually so he can become acclimated without getting overwhelmed. Extend the time and work your way up to more physical activity as he adjusts, and keep replenishing his fluids. If he’s resistant to constant drinking, make hydration more fun (and summer appropriate!) by making a refreshing slush or popsicles.
In addition to previously mentioned pool safety measures, you may want to install a pool alarm that will go off any time someone enters the water without warning. This is an especially important consideration if your child is on the autism spectrum — drowning is one of the leading causes of death for autistic children, due in part to their tendency to wander and for some, to the added fascination with water. Try establishing a specific routine with your child before going to the pool: he gets a towel, changes into his bathing suit, puts on sunscreen, then waits for you at the dining room table, for example. This will add another layer of safety for children who like routines; he won’t be as likely to go outside unattended if it’s not in the regular process.
Store a first aid kit by the pool, and post directions for child CPR outside. (Ideally, everyone in your family should be trained in CPR.) You should also post a list of pool safety rules to keep everyone aware at all times, but never leave kids in the pool unattended. Drowning takes only seconds, so stay on vigilant watch no matter what. If you come across a required distraction, taking an important phone call for example, have your child come indoors until you’re able to give full focus again. Don’t rely on the kitchen window to keep an eye on him — you could lose precious seconds in your attempts to get back outside if he does encounter a dangerous situation.
If you have a senior family member living in your home, keep in mind that similar to children, seniors’ bodies have a difficult time regulating temperature. Be sure your loved one’s bedroom gets adequate air circulation, and communicate with her regularly about her comfort level. You may opt to keep the temperature slightly cooler throughout the house.
If she enjoys going outside, give her a designated spot on the porch that’s just for her: a shady seat near the door with easy access to handheld fans, water misters, and mosquito repellant. If the porch has a ceiling fan, make sure to keep it on while she’s outside to help keep cool air moving. And be sure the yard is free from tripping hazards — toys, water hoses, and even pet toys all have a way of hiding in the grass and can present major hazards to someone with mobility limitations.
Make sure all pets have access to plenty of water both inside and outside. Outdoor water bowls should be kept somewhere shaded and cool, ideally right by the door so you can easily monitor its level. If let outside on a regular basis, your pet will need at least a couple of shady spots to rest. If you’re limited with trees, set up an outdoor umbrella to give him a cooling spot. Never leave a pet outside while you leave the house, even if it’s just for an hour. Between rising temperatures and the potential for sudden summer storms in many areas, it’s never worth the risk! If you have pets but no children, you may still want to consider a safety fence around your pool, especially if your pet is older.
Pests can be especially tricky when it comes to domestic animals. Treat your pets for fleas and ticks monthly (or as recommended by your veterinarian), and inspect them each time they come inside. Bathe dogs after visits to the lake, beach, or any other dips in water or hikes through wooded areas. There are insect repellents for pets, but you should never use one without first consulting your vet. And don’t forget to keep up with your vacuuming throughout summer — it’s one of the most effective ways to fight flea infestations.
Summer comes with its share of risks, but with the proper home preparation, your family has nothing to worry about. May this guide help you on your way to your best summer.