Whether you’re a home owner or renter, there are a few safety features in your home that can help prevent big problems. To make sure they’ll work properly when you need them, it’s important to test these items regularly.
1. Smoke and carbon dioxide detectors
Hopefully you’ll never need to use these life-saving devices, but because they’re so critical, it’s best not to wait for the annoying beep or chirp that tells you your smoke detector batteries need to be changed.
At least twice a year (every three months is ideal), press the “test” button on your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors. If the alarm goes off, everything is good; if not, change the batteries, check the battery terminals, and test again. If the alarm still doesn’t sound, replace the carbon dioxide or smoke detector.
2. Garage door auto-reverse
Since 1993, federal law has required garage doors with automatic openers to reverse automatically when they sense an object under the door or blocking the photoelectric sensors next to the door. This mandate was put in place after several children were killed after being pinned underneath an automatic garage door.
Every three months, use a 2×4 or similar sturdy object to test your garage door’s auto-reverse feature. Place the 2×4 on the ground underneath the garage door and then press the button to close it. Once the door touches the wood, it should go back up. Test the sensors by pressing the button to close the garage door and then moving the block of wood in front of one of the sensors. The door should go back up immediately.
3. Water heater temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve
The TPR valve prevents your water heater from exploding due to high temperatures or a buildup of pressure. Over time, minerals, rust, and corrosion can build up inside the water heater and prevent the TPR valve from working, so it’s important to test it twice a year.
To test the TPR valve, just raise and lower the test lever, which is located on top of the water heater and connected to the drain pipe that extends down the exterior of the tank. After a few tries, hot water should come out of the drain pipe. If it doesn’t, or if there’s only a trickle of water coming out, the TPR valve will need to be replaced.
4. Sump pump
Most homes in the Wichita, Kansas, area have a sump pump in the basement or crawl space. The sump pump collects groundwater through a drain pipe buried around the exterior of the house, then pumps the water up and outside, away from the foundation. If the sump pump fails to turn on during a heavy rain or big snow melt, excess ground water can build up in the sump pit until it floods the home.
You should test your sump pump twice a year, in spring and fall. First, check the drain pipe outside the house first to make sure there’s no ice or debris built up at the end. Inside your home, check the pump itself for damage and remove any debris in the sump pit. Make sure the unit is plugged in and the cord is in good shape. Slowly pour about 5 gallons of water into the sump basin until the pump kicks on and starts pumping out the water. The pump should start when the water is 8-12 inches below the floor.
If your sump pump has a float, it should rise and activate the pump when the water gets high enough. You can also manually move the float up with your hand to make the pump switch on and ensure the float moves correctly.
5. GFCI outlets
The outlets in your kitchen, bathroom, and other areas in your home that are near water should be ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). They’re the ones that have the “test” and “reset” buttons, and they’re made to cut the power to the outlet if it detects the current is flowing through something like a person or water. GFCI outlets should be tested once a month.
You can test GFCI outlets made from 2006 to now by simply pressing the test button to cut the power to the receptacle, and then pressing the reset button to restore power. When these outlets fail, they usually stop the electrical current completely. GFCIs made before 2006 require the use of a circuit tester. Just plug in the tester and press the test button on it, then press the reset button on the outlet to turn the power back on.
Finding and fixing problems early can help prevent damage and protect your family.