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Disaster-proof your home
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Have working smoke detectors in each bedroom, as well as each level of the home, says Lopes. But don't put them in the kitchen or garage, where you're liable to have frequent false alarms.

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Also, consider installing a separate carbon monoxide detector in the bedrooms or near a gas or oil heater. Test both -- by pushing the test button -- once a month.

"Smoke is the danger," says Lopes. "It's rare people actually burn in a fire."

In a fire, the most important thing is just to get out of the home quickly. Have a fire evacuation plan for your family and practice at least twice a year. Pinpoint two exits in every room and be able to reach them blindfolded, says Lopes. In a fire, thick smoke often makes it impossible to see, so family members need to be able to stay low and find the exits without being able to see them.

As part of the plan, include a meeting place that everyone goes to immediately so you can count heads. Make special provisions for family members who have trouble getting around -- babies, toddlers and elderly relatives.

"Make pets part of your plan, too," says Lopes. But, as much as you love them, never put off getting out -- or risk going back in -- for an animal.

Call for help only after you're outside. Says Lopes, "Never delay an exit to call for help."

Some tips:

  • Avoid overloaded electrical outlets and never run wiring under the carpet.

  • Keep exits clear and unobstructed. That means not letting junk pile up in rooms and keeping windows and doors oiled and working.

  • If you have a fire extinguisher, ask your local fire department to teach you how to use it properly. Extinguishers typically only work "for 10 to 15 seconds," says Lopes. "They are designed for very small fires." To protect your home, you need to learn to make the most of that time.

  • During blackouts and emergencies, choose flashlights over candles. Especially in quake areas, aftershocks can send candles tumbling.

  • If you use a space heater, make sure it's more than three feet from anything that can burn (drapes, bed linens, etc.) Never hang clothes on it to dry.

  • Your local fire department will often offer free home fire inspections, and firefighters can help you correct any problems in the home.

If you live in a flood-prone area, you need to have flood insurance. If you're not sure, consult your state or local emergency management team. If floods are a problem in your area, make sure that your foundation has been treated with a good flood-proofing product to keep as much moisture out as possible, says Lopes.

If you're under a flood watch, and haven't been ordered to clear out, move valuables to the upper level of the house.

Other than some basic steps, you may not be able to protect your home from a flood. So when authorities evacuate your area, take your loved ones and leave.

Next: "... Lightning loves water and height ..."
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Disaster proof your finances
Cost-effectively disaster proof your home
What's flood insurance?
Home equity can be used to buy car
Interest Rate Roundup
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