Most homeowners, landlord or tenants would not even think about having a full-blown Risk Management Plan drawn up to address the risks on their property. It can seem like a daunting task just for a home, but it could save you thousands of dollars and keep you and your belongings safe. Unless you have many properties in your charge it may not be worth it to call in an expert for a Risk Assessment, but one should be done just the same. You can do it yourself, or have someone you know join with you in this task.

There are two types of risks in a residential property: hazards that can be a danger to health of anyone on the property and hazards that can damage or cause loss to the property. To be thorough, the assessment that is done should take into consideration both types of risks.

There are hundreds of things that can put a person’s health at risk in a home environment, but the top risks to health on a residential property are falling, poisoning, fires/burns, choking and suffocation, and drowning.

To start a Risk Assessment, take a walk through your property with a clipboard in hand, and pretend you are new to the property. Go through every area of the home/building/property and watch for anything you think could be a hazard. Be sure to write down anything you think might be a hazard. Later you can evaluate your list to see if you can reduce the risks for these hazards.

Questions to ask as you walk through the property

  • Is there any loose material, debris, worn carpeting on any of the floors?
  • Are there any protruding walkways, holes in the yard, or other tripping hazards around the building?
  • Are any of the floors slippery, oily or wet?
  • Are the stairs clear and unblocked?
  • Are stairways well lighted?
  • Are handrails, handholds in place on all stairways?
  • Is the furniture safe? (i.e. worn or badly designed chairs?, sharp edges on desks/cabinets?, crowding?)
  • Are any ladders that are used safe and well-maintained?
  • What types of cleaning products are used in the home? Are they stored safely?
  • Are there any dangerous substances and are they clearly labelled?
  • Are there carbon monoxide detectors? Are they working?
  • Are there fire alarms? Are they working?
  • Is there a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (where most home fires happen)? Is it up to date?
  • Are washrooms and kitchen areas clean?
  • Are there proper toilets, showers, potable water, clothing storage?
  • Is there an outside light for entering the premises at night?
  • Are there any storage shelves that are overloaded or improperly secured?
  • Are exits and entrances clear of obstructions?
  • Are there any extension cords exposed where someone might trip?
  • Are there areas where too many extension cords and electrical appliances plugged into one outlet?
  • Are there any wall or ceiling fixtures that are not fastened securely?
  • Is there a pool? Is it secured/locked?
  • Are there any waterways nearby? Is there any fencing to separate the property or enclose the waterway?

There are many more questions that could be listed, but these are some of the basics. This also does not mean that all these things must be in place, but this is about comprising a list of hazards that can be fixed, repaired or transferred. Being aware of all the risks surrounding the home or property is the first step to creating a safer place for everyone to live.

Risks to Property Damage or Loss

Much like the risks for health, there are many things that can cause damage or loss on your property. Water damage accounts for over 50% of the claims for damage to property in residences across Canada. The top risks for property loss or damage are:

  • Water damage (i.e. frozen or burst pipes within the home and/or leaks)
  • Sewer back-up
  • Overland flooding (i.e. heavy rainfall, rapidly melting snow, overflowing river/lake)
  • Fire
  • Theft/Vandalism

It is advisable to do the health risks assessment and the damage/loss to property risk assessment separately, as you would be looking for different things during these two assessments. During this second assessment, you will be watching for any signs that the above-mentioned risks may happen or have happened already, thereby leaving weak areas for future incidents.

Questions to ask while re-evaluating your property

  • Is there proper grading and drainage away from the home?
  • Is there any evidence of standing water near the house?
  • Are there any known leaks from the septic tank or septic system?
  • Are there any large branches or trees or overhanging the house that could fall during a storm?
  • Are the downspouts directed away from the structure?
  • Do the sides of the house appear straight; not bowed or sagging?
  • Does the visible foundation appear in good condition; appears straight, plumb and has no significant cracks?
  • The siding has no cracking, curling, rot or decay where water may be able to enter?
  • Are the windows double-pained, in good condition, caulked properly and do they have drip caps over the top of them?
  • Is the roof in good condition; nothing is broken or damaged, no more than two layers of shingles, no excess roofing cement/tar/caulk, or missing or broken shingles?
  • Is the chimney straight, properly flashed, fully intact (no missing/cracked/damaged bricks)?
  • Is there any evidence of leaking on the inside of the attic? (Staining, rotting or cracks?)
  • Are there any open electrical splices in the attic?
  • Are there any significant cracks in walls or ceilings? Any staining to indicate leaks?
  • Is there a fireplace? Is there any cracking, damaged masonry, evidence of back drafting (staining on the fireplace façade)? Does the damper operate properly? Has the flue been cleaned? Is the flue lined?
  • Is there Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protection for electrical outlets within 6 feet of the sink(s) in the kitchen?
  • Does the stove exhaust fan work and is it exhausted properly to the outside of the building?
  • Are there any leaks under the kitchen sink or surrounding the dishwasher? Any staining that would indicate past leaks?
  • Does the bathroom have any signs of leakage? Is the toilet stable? Does it have stains around the base? Is the caulking around all bathroom pieces in good repair?
  • Is there any evidence of moisture in the basement?
  • Are there any areas where the foundation is exposed in the basement? Are there any major cracks, stains, damage or decay in the basement walls/floor?
  • Visible pipes: no damage, no evidence of leaks, no signs of stains on materials near pipes; drain pipes slope slightly down towards outlet to septic/sewage system?
  • If there is a cistern, is it in good repair? Any cracks or leaks?
  • Is there a septic emergency back flow valve installed, so septic water does not flow into the dwelling?
  • Is the electrical service panel adequate capacity for the home?
  • Is the visible wiring in good condition? Is there any “knob and tube” wiring in the home? Any visible/exposed splices?
  • Is there any type of security system at the residence? Is there outdoor lighting? Motion lights?
  • Do you have a complete, itemized list of all the belongings in the home?

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of questions that you can be asking yourself as you tour your property. Once you go through this list you will have a better idea of what areas of your residence could use some improvement.

If there are items that you have discovered are not in good order and could cause property loss or damage, you need to make a new list of things that need repair or should be added. Then, prioritize which of these items you can take care of immediately. Always start with the things that are the most likely to happen and will cause the most damage. If flooding is a possibility, based on your location near a waterway, then a sewage backflow device may be one of the top priorities. If there is exposed or damaged electrical wires, then this would be something to repair immediately.

Your final list can seem overwhelming, as all homes have things that need to be repaired, but knowing which risks are the most pressing and tackling those first will allow you to feel safer and less vulnerable. No one can eliminate all risks; it’s about trying to mitigate the ones you can and knowing you did all you could to avoid disaster.