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Stepping into Safety

Neither rain, nor sleet nor dark of night should keep you from safely climbing your outdoor steps. During summer months, when steps are generally dry and covered only in the rays of the sun, they are easy to see and quick to climb. This may be exactly the right time to take another look at a part of your home that is often overlooked until someone has a spill.

Making your steps safe is actually quite simple, and something a "do-it-yourselfer" can accomplish in a short time, and at moderate expense. One of the simplest ways to make steps safer is to make sure your steps are well lit. Bright, powerful lights aimed at the path to your door are a good way to prevent falls.

What about those nights when you're the first person home, long after the sun has set? Consider porch lights that go on automatically. Some automatic lights run on timers, while others have ambient light sensors or motion detectors. Lights that run on timers will turn on and off at particular intervals. One drawback timers have is how easy it is to forget to reset the timers as the days grow longer or shorter. If you tend toward the forgetful side, purchase outdoor lights that have built-in ambient light sensors. This allows the lights to come on as the daylight diminishes, which is also helpful for early evening storms, when skies turn dark. Another option is a light that includes a motion detector that triggers the light to turn on as you approach the house.

Railings are also helpful in preventing falls. Consider wood or metal railing assembly kits available at your local home supply store. Instructions are provided, and generally the only additional tool required is a drill. When shopping for railings, remember to bring the dimensions of your steps and a quick freehand drawing of the area for easy reference.

Lastly, the use of slip-resistant surfaces is also helpful. You have several options in this area. Anti-slip tape has a rough surface like sandpaper, and comes in one-inch, two-inch or four-inch widths. Generally, the two inch tape works well for steps. The tape should be installed on dry, clean surfaces, when the weather is warmer than 50 degrees. Cut the tape to the length that matches the width of the step and fasten the first strip about an inch from the front edge of each step. Additional strips of tape should be fastened at one inch intervals behind the first strip. Three strips of tape provide good traction for most steps. Be sure to press the strips firmly against the surface of the step with a wallpaper seam-roller or a pastry rolling pin.

Rubber stair treads with molded anti-slip surfaces are another option for preventing accidents on stairs. These treads are about two feet wide and 10 inches deep. They can be fastened to wood steps with tacks or staples, and to masonry steps with a waterproof construction adhesive or an adhesive sealant.

Finally, you can coat your steps with a skid-resistant paint. This paint contains a gritty material that provides a rough surface to walk on. The grit can be added to water-based or oil-based paint at most home supply stores. Be sure to use an exterior paint that is designed for heavy-wear surfaces, which will typically be labeled "porch and floor" or "porch and deck" paints.

A safe home is important to homeowners. With a few easy steps, your steps can be easy and safe to climb.

Sources: Gene Austin, The Washington Post

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