Tips for childproofing an older home

While many homeowners love the unique charm and beauty that can only be found in an older home, the truth is that older houses present challenges to keeping everyone safe, especially little ones. For any house where children are being raised, or where they may spend a lot of time, it’s a good idea to take stock of some potential hazards — before they cause a danger to any infant or child.

Test for lead

Many houses built decades ago may contain lead not only in the paint, but also in the water pipes. You can have both your water and paint tested for lead. If lead is present, speak with a licensed contractor about ways to remove lead safely to protect everyone in your home.

Examine windows — including window coverings

Older windows can pose a number of risks to young children. Never place furniture such as a crib or anything that a child could climb on underneath a window. Installing strong window guards over any windows that could pose a threat to your child, not just in their bedroom, can give you peace of mind.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, corded window coverings are one of the top five hidden hazards in the home. Older, corded window coverings such as blinds may have looped pull cords or accessible inner cords that pose a serious strangulation risk to small children.

The Window Covering Safety Council (WCSC) urges parents and caregivers to check corded window coverings for potential cord hazards and to replace them with today’s safer products. Government safety officials and the WCSC recommend that only cordless window treatments be used in homes where infants and young children live or regularly spend time. Tasseled pull cords also need to be as short as possible, to be well out of reach of children.

A new U.S. Safety Standard requires that all stock products be cordless or have inaccessible cords. So if you need to replace older window coverings with new ones, look for the “Best for Kids” certified label. Products with the Best for Kids label have gone through third-party testing and are designed for use in homes with young kids.

Consider heat sources

For any older home, heat sources such as radiators can pose a risk of burns. Space heaters used in chilly houses can also be dangerous around young children. Safely cover, insulate — or simply don’t use — any heat sources that could harm a young child.

Uneven floors and walls

Some old houses have irregular walls, uneven floors and less than straight or well-designed staircases. This can create the following difficulties for childproofing your home.

  • Installing baby gates. If a baby gate relies on pressure to secure it, uneven floors, walls or banisters can make it far from secure. Instead, get the kind of baby gate that needs to be installed using secure hardware — and hire an expert if you’re not confident of your skills to get the job done safely.
  • Stabilizing large furniture. Uneven floors make it hard to keep furniture like dressers or bookcases safe from curious crawlers. Recent reports of dressers and shelves falling on toddlers are alarming for any parent, so it’s best to bolt or anchor furniture securely to prevent accidents. When the floor is uneven, you may need to use shims beneath the furniture to help you get it as close to the wall as possible. Earthquake proof furniture straps are an option if it’s tough to align the furniture tightly enough to anchor to the wall or floor using anchor brackets.

Any house, old or new, can contain potential hazards for kids of all ages. While it may seem overwhelming to anticipate every possible danger spot, there are plenty of resources available to help you be prepared. Visit WindowCoverings.org for useful information on product safety, parenting tips, childproofing and more.

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