Broken or loose bricks in steps, loose treads in wood stairs, loose electric light sockets, frayed wires, cracked panes of glass, chairs with a weak leg, a loose board, a broken linoleum edge, are all minor defects that the average man can and should take care of if he values the safety of his family and himself. Each small item means only ten minutes here or an hour there.
Fire safety is a tremendous subject, and one which cannot be covered in a few paragraphs or even in a few books, but as it applies to the home, this much can be said. You must be sure of the condition of your heating plant and fireplace flues. You must have screens for the fireplaces if they are ever left unattended while in use. You must be sure of the condition of your electrical system, which includes all plugs, sockets and wires. You must get rid of all accumulations of trash, old furniture, papers, boxes or other inflammable material, particularly in attics or basements. Every time you put another cardboard box in the basement, you increase the fire hazard. Keep your house clean and you go far toward keeping it safe.
When we speak of comfort in the house, we do not particularly mean the comfort of adequate heat or of sufficient water supply, as those items have been dealt with in previous chapters; but we mean the smaller things which add to our ease, or the lack of which causes us discomfort. Here again is a problem which resembles that of safety; and in order to handle it properly, you must make another survey or make a list of the little things which are lacking or the small things which annoy.
We lived in a house some years ago which was well built, well heated, had two bathrooms and a downstairs lavatory, nice bedrooms and a completely equipped kitchen; but it was the most uncomfortable house that you could imagine. Everything seemed to be there, but never in the right spot. If a house could possibly have an irritating personality, that one had it. As an example, the telephone was in a small library off the living room. If you happened to be upstairs when it rang, you had a trip downstairs across the living room, and to the end of the library before you could answer. The house had a stairway, with a landing a few steps up, which was just about in the very center of the lower floor. It was equally distant from kitchen, dining room, and library. We had the telephone moved and placed on a small table on the landing, and we frankly believe that everyone's disposition changed immediately for the better. You could reach it at one jump from any of the rooms downstairs, and by coming halfway downstairs if you were on the second floor.
This house had a very fine electric refrigerator in the kitchen, but if an expert had been paid to figure out the most inconvenient place for it, he could not possibly have done any better. It was in the farthest corner away from the service door, and in the farthest corner away from the range. In short, if you wanted anything out of it while you were cooking you had to walk entirely across the kitchen to get it, and you also had to carry everything that was brought into the house entirely across the kitchen to put it in the refrigerator. The cabinets for storing the china and glass-ware were as far away from the sink as it was possible to put them. The plug for the toaster was at the opposite end of the room from the range, so that you had to fry eggs at one end and toast bread at the other.
The living room was another annoying area. There were several base-plugs for lamp cords, but they were all located at points where no one could possibly think of placing a chair or locating a table. There were quite a few windows, but they were all in one wall and badly placed at that.
It took about a year to iron that house out so that we were not annoyed at every hand's-turn, and it took a bit of planning too. In the end, however, we had a comfortable house with things where they belonged.
The above is what we mean by making a house comfortable. You can take each room of the average home and study it. You cannot change window or door locations without considerable expense, but you can rearrange a room so as to take the best advantage of what it does offer. You can locate conveniences where they should be, you can change doors so that they swing differently, you can have additional electrical outlets installed with little expense, and do a hundred things to make the house more livable. Closet space is one of the chief needs where the family is large, and although your closets may be small ones, you will find that additional shelves and scientific planning will double the capacity.
You can never tell about a house until you have lived in it; and after a few months' occupancy you should know what there is about it that you do not like or that annoys you. From there on you can work away at your annoyance list, and eliminate the discomforts one by one. The building and equipment fields are full of new and clever ideas for better and more comfortable living, and undoubtedly you will find among them the answer to each of your problems. Be sure though before you buy; and do not be like the woman who was annoyed because her husband had so many hats in the coat-closet, that there was no room for her own. She bought a beautiful chrome-plated hat-rack which she presented to him. It would hang on the back of the door and accommodate six hats; but when he went to put it up, it was four inches too wide for the door.
A stair landing can be a dangerous spot in any home, but it loses the hazard and acquires quite a bit of interest when it is lighted by a glass-block panel.
(See Chapter XII.)
Entrance halls and foyers are difficult areas at best, but when they are treated as shown here, they become features of the house and add much to the general air of good taste. (See Chapter XII.)
Few people are aware that a thoroughly insulated house is a house which it is almost impossible to burn down. Insulation offers protection against the loss of heating energy, the admission of excessive heat in summer and the progress of fire. When attics, walls, and floors are insulated, combustion has a hard job making headway.
(See Chapter XII.)