Your home can be a dangerous place for a crawling baby or curious toddler, but there's a lot you can do to make it safer.
Heavy appliances and furnishings alone pose a serious peril. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that a child is killed every two weeks due to unsecured TVs, appliances and furniture tipping over.
After consulting with childproofing experts, our consumer research team suggests basic steps for making your home safer, including:
• Secure furniture, especially bookcases, to walls with metal angle brackets or anchors.
• Place outlet covers over all unused outlets. Secure cords along the wall or behind furniture. Don't allow cords to hang off edges of tables or countertops. A child can pull a cord and be hit by an appliance or lamp.
• Latch or lock kitchen cupboards and pantry doors. Make sure all hazardous cleaners and other materials are out of the reach of children.
• Use safety gates to protect children from going up or down stairs. Avoid using pressure-mounted baby gates on the top of stairs and consider hiring a handyman to install a gate if your stair openings have nonstandard features such as uneven, hollow walls, wrought iron or molding. Gates can also keep little kids out of rooms that contain hazards.
• Make sure window treatments don't pose a strangulation risk. Cords should be secured and tucked up high, away from little hands. They should never be near a crib.
• Install window guards so children can't fall through an open window.
• Use toilet locks, pool fencing and other water-hazard protections.
• Cover furniture edges and other corners that can cause injury.
Many families view childproofing as a do-it-yourself job, and it certainly can be. But there are experts who provide childproofing as a service. Among the advantages of hiring an experienced pro:
• He or she may be able to identify potential safety risks you might overlook, and should have the most recent information about the best products and options, as well as specific solutions for unusual aspects of your home, such as a loft or bay window.
• An expert should be able to efficiently install more challenging safety equipment, such as gates, pool fences and furniture anchors.
To find reputable, reliable childproofing experts, consult relatives, friends, neighbors, as well as online reviews from a trusted source. Questions to ask before you hire anyone include:
• Does the company specialize in child safety? Any contractor can claim expertise. But if not installed properly, some products may actually pose an increased risk to your child. Be sure to request, and check with, references.
• How many homes have they childproofed? Are they a member of the International Association for Child Safety? Do they use products that have received the stamp of approval from the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association? Ask about insurance and licensing, if required.
• What does the service cost? The cost of hiring a professional is often determined by the amount of childproofing you want and the size of your home. Many companies offer free in-home evaluations, others charge $50 or less. Be sure to get an itemized, written estimate detailing charges for materials and labor.
Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, a resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home repair to health care (www.angieslist.com).