Safety is a very important part of fixing anything, whether you are performing gas furnace repair, roof repair, yard trimmer repair, gas cooktop repair, electrical cord repair, or even jacket repair. In one infamous example, technicians decided to find out what would happen if they tried to run the system with the various safety mechanisms defeated–at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Fixing your toaster won’t start a mushroom cloud of nuclear waste, but it can hurt you if you don’t apply some common-sense safety rules:
Houses built before 1978 may contain lead paint. Before disturbing any surface, get a lab analysis of paint chips from it (about $5 per sample). Contact your public health department for information on how to collect samples and where to send them.
- Make sure the power source is disconnected before working on any electrical or gas system.
- Turn the water off ahead of the fixture before working on plumbing.
- Wear gloves if using caustic chemicals.
- Wear safety glasses if using a saw blade or any tool that can throw debris.
- Wear a breathing mask if working around dust or strong chemicals.
- Never place a body part where it can get hurt.
- Don’t use a tool for any task but its intended purpose.
- Don’t stand on something that won’t support you.
- Don’t try to fix anything when your thinking is impaired by lack of sleep, emotional stress, alcohol, medications, or illness.
- Plan it before you do it.
Aluminum wiring was used in home construction during the 1960s and early 1970s — until it was discovered that its interaction with copper and brass electrical terminals was causing some house fires! The metals expand and contract at different rates and the aluminum wire was pulling away from the copper terminals. How can you tell if your house has aluminum wiring instead of copper? Aluminum wire is dull gray or silver; copper wire is dull orange. “AL” may be imprinted on the wire sheathing (covering). What can you do about it? You may want an electrician to upgrade your home’s wiring with new aluminum-compatible connectors or by adding copper pigtail wires to the end of all electrical connections. You may be able to do it yourself, but do so under the direction of a licensed electrician.
Should you worry about asbestos? Asbestos is a fireproof, non-conducting mineral that was used in building materials for many decades–until OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) determined that asbestos fibers are a health hazard. Tiny asbestos fibers can readily break away from building materials and the fine dust can be inhaled or swallowed. And asbestos was in many types of materials that are now in homes today. Should you worry? To be a health hazard the fibers must be friable or loose in the air. Disturbing asbestos insulation or breaking up products that have loose asbestos fibers is a health hazard and requires an asbestos-removal expert. However, products like roofing that has asbestos impregnated in it (because it’s fireproof) aren’t a significant health risk.