Safety and security
- Safety means preventing accidents; security means preventing crime.
- The way you design and fit out your home can affect its safety and security.
- Your kitchen and bathroom are key areas that can be unsafe. Take care to incorporate safety features to help prevent accidents, especially as you get older.
- Avoid features inside your home that might cause tripping, slipping or burns.
- The security of your home can be improved with design features that minimise access and opportunities to hide. Paying attention to exterior design in particular can reduce the risk of crime.
Understanding safety and security
Good building design can help achieve a safer and secure living environment. These design features can be incorporated upfront in the design and construction phase or through ongoing modification and maintenance.
A safe home is one that is designed to minimise accidents. Most accidents occur in the home. The design of a house, construction methods, materials, finishes, appliances, and maintenance all influence home safety. Safety issues can relate to:
- other interior features (for example, doors, windows and hot water systems)
- outdoor areas
- fire risk prevention.
A secure home is one that discourages crime. The view that crime prevention and security is only a matter for law enforcement agencies is no longer true. Individuals, neighbourhoods, local authorities, and planners can all play a role in reducing the incidence and fear of crime.
Appropriate design of individual dwellings and their relationship to one another and to the surrounding neighbourhood can help to reduce crime rates. This approach is often referred to as ‘crime prevention through environmental design’ and there is a lot of evidence to show that it works.
Photo: Nic Granleese
Keeping your home safe
Most domestic accidents occur in the kitchen and bathroom. Apply the following general design tips to reduce the likelihood of accidents in the kitchen:
- Design for unobstructed access to the work triangle (the area containing the stove, sink and fridge).
- Eliminate or reduce cross traffic through the work triangle.
- Protect hot plates with a guardrail or deep setback and use fire resistant finishes adjacent to and above the cook top.
- Round off bench edges and corners.
- Design heatproof benchtops or inserts either side of oven and grill for rapid set down of hot dishes and trays.
- Locate microwave ovens above the eye level of children or at the back of a bench to prevent them gazing into it. Have older microwaves checked periodically for microwave leakage, and always replace or repair a damaged microwave.
- Provide a night light or movement-sensitive light switch in the passage for safe access to the toilet at night.
- Use slip-resistant flooring and avoid steps.
- Install handles and bars near baths, in showers and adjacent to toilets for elderly and disabled users.
- Design and install child-resistant cabinets for medicines and hazardous substances.
- Comply with Australian Standards that specify minimum distances between water sources (baths, basins, tubs) and power points.
- Ensure that privacy locks on bathroom doors can be opened from the outside in the case of an emergency.
- Comply with National Construction Code requirements for outward opening of toilet doors, or install sliding doors or hinges that allow doors to be removed from the outside. This means that if something happens to the occupant (for example, heart attack), the door can still be opened to help them.
Other interior features
- Install self-closing (but not self-locking) screen doors at external entrances.
- Place internal door handles 1m from the floor so young children cannot open them.
- Consider latch rather than knob handles for ease of use by weak or disabled people.
Floors, stairs and ramps
- Use nonslip, impact-absorbing floor surfaces where possible, especially on stairs or ramps and in wet areas.
- Avoid changes of level within the house and between the house and the outside. Where changes of level are necessary, ensure that they are clearly visible with a colour change in the floor covering.
- Use ramps instead of stairs where possible.
- Use optimum rise-to-run ratios for stairs as specified in Australian Standard AS1657:2018 Fixed platforms, Walkways, stairways and ladders.
- Ensure that stair rails and balustrades comply with the National Construction Code. Balustrades with maximum 125mm gap between balusters must be provided where the finished floor level is higher than 1m above the ground level.
- Design windows with easy access for opening, closing and cleaning.
- Ensure that all new glazing complies with relevant Australian Standards and bears a manufacturer’s stamp certifying compliance.
- In areas of a building that have a high potential for human impact, use grade A safety glazing. Glazing in high human impact areas should be marked to make it readily visible according with Section 188.8.131.52 of the National Construction Code.
Windows should comply with requirements of Australian Standard AS 1926.1-2012 Swimming pool safety: Part 1 Safety barriers for swimming pools, in situations where the window overlooks or opens to a swimming pool area.
Wiring and electrical
- Carefully plan the location of power outlets and develop an electrical layout plan with your designer.
- Provide adequate power points and circuits to eliminate the need for power boards, which can overload circuitry, and reduce the need for cords across walkways to avoid tripping or electrocution.
- Install earth leakage devices and circuit breakers to all power outlets.
- Ensure that the switchboard can be easily accessed at night. Use safety switches on indoor and outdoor circuits.
- Set hot water storage systems to above 60°C to inhibit growth of harmful bacteria such as Legionella. Incorporate a fail-safe mixing valve on both the bath and shower to avoid scalding.
- Install a tempering valve or an outlet shut-off valve in your existing system to reduce the flow of water to a trickle if it is too hot. When cold water is added and the temperature becomes safe, the valve opens and the flow returns to normal. This can prevent accidents if you have small children or elderly people in your home.
Set thermostats on instantaneous hot water systems at 50°C or less to help prevent scalding. For more information refer to Australian Standard AS/NZS 3500.4:2018 Plumbing and drainage: Part 4 Heated water services.
- Ensure fan heaters have a safety switch to cut power off if the fan stops or heater overheats.
- Never leave a heater unattended.
- Position the heater to avoid intake blockage or material falling on it.
- Take care to stop pets lying close to heaters, where they can accidentally knock bedding, mats and other materials onto the heater.
- Position ceiling fans at least 2.4m above floor level to reduce risk of injury.
- Install solar powered or movement-sensitive outdoor lighting along paths, especially near steps or bends.
- Provide safety fencing around pools and ponds in accordance with the National Construction Code and state regulations to prevent access by unsupervised children.
Fire risk and prevention
House fires can often be prevented through careful design and maintenance.
- Use fire-resistant materials, linings, finishes and furniture, particularly in kitchens. Ratings are available for many items and include indexes for flammability, spread of flame and smoke generated. Various construction systems have fire ratings that determine how long they withstand a fire and retain structural integrity. Ask your local council for full details.
- Install smoke alarms and check annually that batteries are fitted correctly and still charged.
- Equip the home with fire extinguishers.
- Consider installing a domestic sprinkler system.
Keeping your home secure
The principles for crime prevention through design for individuals and neighbourhoods include:
- territoriality — outdoor spaces should be designed to foster a stronger sense of ownership and communality. In apartments, for example, residents need to feel that public spaces such as halls and elevators belong to them
- natural surveillance — surveillance should be a part of the normal and routine activities of individuals and neighbourhoods. It can be enhanced by positioning windows for clear sightlines so streets, footpaths and play areas can be watched
- target hardening — improve building security standards. Many burglaries are opportunist crimes. A burglar only needs to spot an open window or an unlocked door or gate to make their move. Locks and security screens should be installed to deter thieves. Doors, windows and halls should be made more secure, and the quality of exterior doors, door frames, hinges and locks must be high. Exterior lighting and alarm systems can add to security
- access control — use real or perceived barriers to discourage intruders. Real barriers include a picket fence, a brick wall or a hedge. Perceived barriers can be created by a flower garden or a change in level or design between the public space of a footpath and private front yard.
- Install an intruder alarm system according to Australian Standard AS 2201.1-2007 Intruder alarm systems: Part 1 Systems installed in client’s premises.
- Display security system notices prominently.
- Select a security system with low standby power consumption.
- Direct infrared activated security lights towards likely access and egress areas to illuminate potential offenders.
- Set buildings back from the verge to create a perception of semi-private space.
- Clearly delineate property boundaries using gardens, distinctive paving, lawn strips, ramps and fences.
- Avoid or modify trees, carports and lattices that can act as ‘ladders’ to upper storeys.
- Ensure that external storage areas, laundries, letterboxes and communal areas are well lit and observable from inside.
- Build low or open fences and walls to improve observation and maximise sunlight. Ensure vegetation does not obscure building entrances, windows and other vulnerable areas.
- Provide pleasant, well-defined pedestrian routes overlooked by neighbouring houses and employ traffic calming measures to slow cars and encourage pedestrian activity where possible (for more information refer to Streetscape).
Photo: Getty Images
- Design or modify your home to eliminate dark corners, narrow pedestrian walkways and hidden recesses.
- Ensure that entrances are clearly private and well illuminated.
- Ensure that perimeter doors and windows are of solid construction and fitted with quality deadlocking devices.
- Fit the main entry doors with viewing ports to allow identification of visitors.
- Glass should be reinforced with shatter-resistant material to prevent entry.
- Design balconies and windows to maximise natural observation of vehicle and pedestrian movement.
- Ensure that skylights and roofing tiles cannot be easily removed from the outside.
- Install sensor lighting or timed lighting that can be controlled from within the dwelling.
- Join or establish Community Safe House programs in your area.
- Use lighting and sound to show that you are active in the home.
- Encourage casual use of public and semi-private open spaces during evening hours so they can be ‘animated’ with legitimate activities.
References and additional reading
- Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee (2013). Inquiry into the application of safer design principles and crime prevention through environmental design: final report. Parliament of Victoria, Melbourne.
- Geason S and Wilson P (1989). Designing out crime: crime prevention through environmental design. Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra.
- Kempsey Shire Council (2008). Crime prevention through environmental design: guidelines [PDF].
- Secured by design, UK.
- Review Streetscape for more ideas on exterior design
- Explore The liveable and adaptable home for ideas on keeping safe in your home as you age
- Go to Buying a home off the plan to find out what to look for when you are searching for a home
Principal author: Scott Woodcock
Contributing authors: Stuart Waters, Geoff Milne, Chris Reardon