For many of us, part of the appeal of owning a home is having a nice backyard for our children and pets to play. It provides us with a perfect space to spend some quality family time during the evenings and weekends. However, it doesn’t come without risks.
Just like there are hidden hazards within the house, the backyard holds many potential dangers that you might not think of at first. For example, at our current house, we have coyotes that occasionally make their way up to the backside of our house, and from what we can see, they’re fearless.
In other homes, you might find old trees with large branches ready to crack or a fire pit with sharp pieces of glass or metal (this was the case at our current house as well, right when we moved in).
These are just a few examples of the dangers that you might encounter outside, but there are plenty more. In this article, I’m going to point out many of these potential hazards and provide you with simple ways to keep your family safe.
How to Keep Your Children and Pets Safe in Your Backyard
1 – Check for Weak Tree Branches
One of the most hazardous items in your backyard happens to be a natural one that you simply can’t always control. Over time, some trees become very large, but just because they’re big doesn’t mean they’re sturdy and safe.
Kids love to climb, so if you have climbable trees in your yard, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the trees to make sure they’re in good health. Especially keep an eye out for branches that may be prone to snapping.
Not only are weak branches a problem if your children happen to be climbing on them, but they’re potential falling objects that could land on a friend, family member, or pet.
If you have large trees near your house, it’s important to make sure that they’re healthy and that you keep the branches trimmed. It’s very common for trees or branches to land on top of houses, or nearby power lines, during large storms.
2 – Maintain the Structure of Your Deck
Many of us have wooden decks in our backyard. When we moved into our current house a few years ago, it was clear that the deck had never been properly cared for. We had several boards that were rotting and others that were severely warped with nails sticking up all over.
To preserve the structural integrity of our deck, we replaced all of the boards that were clearly past their prime. We also sealed the deck after pressure washing it. Sealing the deck helps to protect the wood from the elements, extending the life of your deck.
All wooden structures will deteriorate over time. Make sure to regularly check for cracks or weak areas in your deck, then repair or replace as needed. If you see boards or nails sticking up, make sure to secure these as well.
The last thing you want is for your child or pet to get injured while spending time on your deck.
3 – Become Familiar with the Wildlife in Your Area
At our current house, we have a couple acres of land. Across the street is a corn field, and behind us is a wooded area.
Less than a mile on the other side of the wooded area is a main road with a bunch of businesses, so when we moved in, we never expected to see much wildlife. Well, we were wrong.
Not only do we occasionally have deer run through our backyard, but in the winter, we have some coyotes that make their way up toward the house. With two small children, two dogs, and a cat, this is obviously a concern.
Luckily, there are many ways to protect your family from wild animals. Just keep in mind that wild animals do unpredictable things, so no method is foolproof.
An ideal way to keep large animals out is with a fence. Fences come in all sorts of heights and styles, so if you go this route, it’s important that you get one that will keep the animals in your area out of your yard.
Just know that some animals can dig, others can jump or climb, and many can get through tiny spaces. Fences won’t keep everything out (snakes, for example).
Another option is to use an animal deterrent. Some deterrents, like the PredatorGuard, use flashing lights to deter potential predators, while others use water, sound, or a combination of these methods.
4 – Keep an Eye Out for Neighborhood Pets
While we’re on the topic of animals, not all animals that you’ll encounter in your backyard are of the wild variety. In fact, a neighbor’s pet dog is just as likely, if not more likely, to unexpectedly enter your yard.
Even domesticated animals can be unpredictable, especially around people or other animals they’re not familiar with. With that being said, it’s important to be aware of the pets in your neighborhood and whether or not their owners let them roam unattended.
Just like with wild animals, a fence provides a good way to keep your neighbors’ pets out of your yard, but you have other options as well. The animal deterrents mentioned above can also work for dogs and cats.
If it comes down to it, a conversation with your neighbor might be necessary. Although it might be uncomfortable to discuss with them, it’s important that your neighbors know that you have safety concerns about their pets.
5 – Prevent and Treat Insect Infestations
In the two houses that we’ve owned, insects, mostly wasps, have been a surprising large issue for us. I’ve been stung several times, each time my body part swelling up to about twice the size of normal.
While most people probably know to check their gutters for nests, not everyone knows that some stinging insects burrow in the ground as well. Keeping your lawn healthy and watered helps to guard against these types of insects.
If you do find an infestation of some sort, make sure to treat it right away. Just make sure to keep your children and pets away from the insecticides that you use.
6 – Safely Use and Store Your Grill
Backyards and grilling go hand in hand for many people. If you’re one of those people that loves to grill, be aware of their potential dangers.
Even a properly cared-for grill can shoot flames high into the air. Make sure you keep it away from your house and anything else that can potentially catch on fire. Teach your kids fire safety as well, and make sure your pets know that they need to stay away from the grill when it’s being used.
When your grill’s not in use, make sure to close the gas valve and store it in a safe and secure location where your kids and pets can’t get to it. Regularly check for gas leaks as well, as they can occur over time.
7 – Take Proper Precautions with a Fire Pit
Not much is better than sitting around a campfire in your backyard with your children while roasting some marshmallows. At the same time, not much is worse than starting an uncontrollable fire in your yard.
Make sure your fire pit is actually a fire pit and not just a random spot in your yard. Create a barrier around the pit with fire resistant materials to contain the fire. Also, make sure that you locate the pit away from your house and any trees in your yard.
Don’t let your fire get too tall, and don’t start a fire on a windy or dry day. Always make sure to completely extinguish your fire when you’re done for the night.
Spending time around a fire pit is the perfect time to teach your children about fire safety. Help them understand that while fires can be fun, they can be very dangerous as well.
8 – Regularly Check Play Equipment
We recently bought a wooden playset for our two children, and in the instructions, it outlined a schedule for checking the bolts to make sure they’re tight.
While the schedule in the instruction book might be a bit excessive (probably to prevent a lawsuit), the recommendation is sound.
Whether they’re swinging or climbing up the slide, kids can be pretty rough when they’re enjoying their play equipment. Even if your playset goes untouched for an extended period, the weather will cause some wear and tear on the various connections.
As much of a pain as it might be to check each nut and bolt several times throughout the summer, it’s absolutely worth it to make sure nothing has loosened. Aside from checking the bolts, look for weak points in the structure as well.
We have a wooden set, and even on day one, there were some cracks in the wood. This is something that we’re going to watch carefully over time.
You shouldn’t have issues quite as quickly with a metal set, but even then, you’ll eventually see some rust start to develop.
9 – Understand the Risks Involved with Trampolines
Every year, thousands of people report injuries that occurred while on a trampoline. While endlessly bouncing up and down can be a ton of fun, it’s important to do so safely.
The first rule, and probably the most difficult to abide by, is to only allow one person on the trampoline at a time. Adding a second or third person leads to unpredictable bouncing, which can cause people to crash into each other or to bounce off the trampoline completely.
Next, make sure to add padding around the edges to cover the springs. While you’re at it, put up a barrier that goes around the outside of the trampoline to prevent someone from bouncing off.
Also, make sure to routinely check the frame, springs, and trampoline mat for holes, cracks, or general weaknesses. Jumping on a trampoline puts a lot of strain on these parts, which can wear them down over time.
Finally, spend time with your children, and their friends, teaching them how to use the trampoline safely. Let them know that they need to stay near the center and that they shouldn’t try doing any flips.
10 – Stay Alert When Using Power Equipment
Power equipment, like a lawn mower or weed eater, are great for quickly and efficiently getting a job done in your yard. However, these tools can become very dangerous if used improperly or if used by someone who doesn’t understand how they work.
Ideally, whenever you use power equipment, keep your pets and children inside. Although you might think they are safe 20 feet away from you while you’re mowing the lawn, all it takes is for you to hit a rock and fling it in their direction to cause some serious harm.
If your pets or children must be outside with you, make sure someone else is watching over them and from a safe distance. Also, stay aware of their location at all times, in case they wander away from the person keeping an eye on them.
Lastly, spend some time with your children teaching them about the dangers of using power equipment. Show them how they work, and explain to them how they can be used in a safe manner.
11 – Safely Store and Secure Power Equipment
Power equipment isn’t only dangerous when it’s in use. It can be a serious safety hazard when not in use as well.
Children are a curious bunch, so if you leave a power tool out in a location that they can get to, they’re likely to poke around to figure out what it is. These tools often have grease on them as well, which you obviously don’t want your kids or pets ingesting.
The best place for your power equipment is in a locked shed or garage that only adults have access to. If you don’t have a shed or garage, you might have to fence off a small area of your backyard.
The goal is to simply put these tools out of the reach of your loved ones to keep them safe.
12 – Be Mindful of Toxic Plants
While we all love having a nice looking backyard with plenty of beautiful plant life, some of that plant life very well may be toxic to our children and pets.
If you’re going to have these plants in your yard, make sure they’re located somewhere where they’re only accessible by adults, like behind a garden fence.
Many of these poisonous plants, such as rhododendron and hydrangea, are commonly found in back yards, placed there intentionally by the home owner. Others, like poison ivy or poison oak, might have made their way onto your property naturally.
If you’re dead set on keeping these plants in your yard, make sure you never leave your children and pets unattended.
13 – Go Light on the Pesticides
While we’re on the topic of plants, be mindful of the chemicals you use on them. This includes your lawn as well. These chemicals can cause all sorts of health issues in humans and animals.
Make sure to abide by the waiting period listed on the warning level of any pesticide that you use. Ideally, you’ll wait longer than the time period listed, and you’ll also spray your plants down with water or wait for a nice rain.
In our case, we try to avoid them altogether in our backyard. For us, it’s just not worth the risk of exposing our dogs and children to these chemicals.
14 – Properly Secure Your Pool
Having a pool in your backyard provides you and your family with a great way to cool down on those warm, summer days. However, owning a pool comes with a lot of responsibilities that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Pools are a major safety hazard for both children and pets, so it’s important that you take appropriate safety measures to keep everyone safe. Even if a child or animal knows how to swim, they should never be left unattended. Let me repeat. NEVER leave a child or pet by themselves in or around a pool.
Your pets and children might be your number one concern when it comes to pool safety, but owning a pool also means you’re responsible for the safety of your neighbors’ children and pets. The best safety measure you can take is to put up a fence around your pool with a gate that can be locked.
Aside from physically securing the pool, teaching your children and their friends about pool safety is a must. The more you can do to create safety awareness around your pool, the better.
These same rules apply if you have a hot tub.
15 – Watch Out for Standing Water
Pools and hot tubs aren’t the only places you might have water in your backyard. Standing water can collect in all sorts of areas, such as on play equipment, in decorative containers, or in low-lying areas in your lawn.
Standing water is a breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, and even without the mosquito problem, you don’t want your pets and children drinking this water.
After a heavy rain, make sure to dump out anything that’s holding standing water. If you have low spots in your yard, fill them in and level the lawn.
As always, teach your children the importance of staying away from standing water as well.
16 – Always Keep an Eye on Your Children and Pets
This might be last on the list, but it’s probably the most important. Don’t leave your children and pets unattended in the backyard, if at all possible.
I’ve listed quite a few potential dangers in this article, but you can’t prepare for everything. Some dangers are simply unpredictable, so it’s important that when these things happen, you are there to act as quickly as possible.
If you can’t physically keep an eye on them, at least put yourself in a position where you can easily listen to them and check on them occasionally.
Leave the back window open and make sure you can hear your kids playing, then call out to them every few minutes to check on them while they’re out there.
The backyard is a great space to spend quality time with your family, but as you can see, it can house quite a few potential dangers. That doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed safely.
By following the recommendations outlined above, you can make your backyard a safe and comfortable getaway that you and your family can enjoy, without worry, all summer long.
Ben has a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. When not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies, you can find him at home with wife and two daughters. Outside of family, He loves grilling and barbequing on his Big Green Egg and Blackstone Griddle, as well as working on projects around the house.
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