3 common home disasters and how to prevent them

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | September 2, 2015

Just about everyone has heard the phrase "when disaster strikes," but as a homeowner, how much thought have you really given the topic? Most people who own a home have insurance to cover losses incurred from a potential disaster, but it can be difficult to put a monetary value on some items that may be priceless to you and your family. How much are those paintings done by your mother worth? Or how about the ball, bat, and glove used when you first taught your children how to play baseball? It's almost impossible to replace items of sentimental value. For that reason, preventing disasters before they happen and having a home security system that can alert you in their earliest stages can be even more comforting than the very best homeowners insurance coverage.

Common home disasters

According to the American Red Cross, the most common home disaster is fire, of which they respond to about 70,000 each year. But while fires may be the most numerous, gas leaks, burst plumbing pipes, carbon-monoxide build-up, and furnace failures can also wreck havoc on a frequent basis. If Mother Nature is added to the mix, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, high winds, and extremely low temperatures can cause millions of dollars of damage to homes each year. Evacuating your family is often the only option when a natural disaster approaches, but many household catastrophes can be prevented or contained with proper preventative maintenance and having a home security system in place.

Getting the jump on household catastrophe

Perhaps the best way to head home catastrophes off at the pass is to be aware of what is going on in your home. If you smell smoke or gas inside the house, there's a pretty good chance that something isn't right, and that dripping you hear could be the first sign that a pipe is about to break. Here are three of the most common home disasters, how to guard against them, and home security systems that may mean the difference between a minor problem and major event:


Few things strike fear into a family like seeing their home in flames. Not only can fires totally destroy all belongings, they can also be deadly. West Virginia, in an effort to reduce their above average number of fires per household, offers these recommendations:

  • While cooking, never leave things unattended on the stove
  • Never smoke in bed
  • Don't overload electrical circuits or wall receptacles
  • Combustible objects should be kept at least three feet away from space heaters
  • Wood stove flues and fireplace chimneys should be inspected and cleaned every year
  • Keep matches and lighters out of the reach of children

In addition, smoke detectors should be installed as per building code and batteries checked every six months. For added protection and peace of mind, especially if you happen to be away, just about all home security companies offer fire and smoke monitoring systems. In the event your alarm is triggered, they will contact your local fire department.


Imagine returning home to see water pouring from underneath your front door. Unfortunately, it's a scene many families have experienced, especially those who live where temperatures can nosedive during the winter months. While pipes can occasionally break or joints loosen in any weather, freezing temperatures can greatly increase the odds if the lines aren't adequately protected. Before winter arrives, all outside lines including those used for irrigation should be drained and water pipes in unconditioned spaces such as crawl spaces and attics should be checked for proper insulation.

In the event of a major leak, the water can be shut off at the main valve where it enters the home, usually in the basement or first floor utility room. But what if you're not home? Many home security manufacturers offer leak sensors that can be added to their systems. Devices such as the Fibaro Flood Sensor and the Utilitech Water Leak Detector may not be able to stop the flooding, but they can alert you that it's happening.

Carbon monoxide leakage

Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer for a reason: it's colorless, odorless, and very deadly. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 170 people die in their home from carbon monoxide poisoning every year. It's caused by the incomplete burning of fuels such as natural gas, propane, coal, wood, oil, and kerosene. If you have appliances that use these fuels, they should only be serviced by a qualified technician. Heating systems that use these fuels should be inspected for proper operation every year and all chimneys, flues, and heating system vents checked for blockages annually as well. When a portable generator is used during power outages, it should never be placed indoors. For added protection against this silent killer, carbon monoxide alarms can be added to almost all home security systems and are highly recommended.

Home catastrophes can be devastating to a family even if they have insurance. Preventative measures and an appropriate home security system can greatly reduce the odds of one happening to you.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.