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Grilling Safety

Warmer weather is here and that means it’s time to get grilling! While breaking out the grill generally means a good time is to be had, it’s important to follow certain safety tips to make sure your delicious meal doesn’t become a fire hazard. Remember, from 2013 –2017 outdoor grilling caused an annual average of 10,200 home fires according to the National Fire Protection Association. Luckily, there are precautions you can take to help protect yourself and your family.

First of all, lighter fluid: don’t use it. You may be tempted to start a charcoal fire with any old lighter fluid but you should only use charcoal lighter fluid in very small amounts to start your fire. Consider using a charcoal chimney starter instead because it uses newspaper to start the fire instead of starter fluid. You’ll even get a better taste from your food that way.

Next, make sure your grill is outside! You’d be surprised but some people think it’s ok to grill in a garage when the weather is bad, but don’t do it. You’ll end up with carbon monoxide poisoning and you will wind up with people going to the emergency room instead of having a good time in the yard.

Additionally, never leave a grill unattended. A grilling fire can start quickly, especially when grilling fatty meats. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher nearby and keep your grill clean; accumulations on the grate can add to the fire risk. Use soap and water to remove grease and fat buildup and make sure you clean the grill grates at least once a month, depending on how heavy your usage is. Moreover, if your gas flame goes out turn it off and wait at least five minutes before turning on the gas again to reduce the risk of a fire.

Finally, and most obvious, don’t forget you’re working with a hot grill! Both charcoal and gas grills get extremely hot, particularly the grill lid. Don’t leave anything plastic anywhere near your grill (think a package of hot dog buns!) and be careful not to touch hot surfaces with bare hands.

By following these tips you’ll ensure not only that your barbecue stays safe, but that there won’t be any need to call the fire department or your insurance company when it’s over.

Seepage Prevention Tips

Water seepage in the basement is a very common problem, particularly here on Long Island where the water table is so high. Seepage can be a huge problem depending on how severe it gets and even worse, it isn’t covered by insurance. Constant water leak problems can cause water damage to property and mold issues that can spread and make your home dangerous; so it’s important to take steps to prevent seepage issues and water damage before they happen, if possible.

Checking your gutters is an important first step to prevent water from entering your home. The job of your gutters is to direct water away from your home’s foundation walls so they need to be clear of obstruction and undamaged so that water flows where you want it to. Your downspouts should lead water at least 5 –10’ away from your house or water will end up seeping right back in through the basement walls.

Make sure your home is graded so that the water flows away from your home. The dirt around your house should be sloped about 2 inches for every foot. This helps to keep water away from your home naturally.

Inspect your foundation walls for cracks in your basement. If these are visible, wait until the dry season and apply a construction-grade epoxy with a caulk gun to the cracks. Make sure it gets deep into the cracks to ensure that the holes are filled. This can help prevent leaks from hydrostatic pressure. Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure of the water in the soil around your foundation. This pressure alone is often enough to press water through your foundation and into the basement walls. To prevent seepage from hydrostatic pressure, it may be necessary to apply basement waterproofing to the walls of the basement. This should also be applied in the dry months to ensure a secure bond with the walls. Professionals can also be hired to inject waterproofing around the outside walls of your basement to further prevent seepage from hydrostatic pressure.

Another option for basement water is the addition of a French Drain. In a French Drain, a trench is dug around the interior foundation that is graded to direct water toward a single corner. A sump pump is then connected to water pipes to direct water outside of the house.

Basements with a French Drain may have higher humidity levels and excess water year-round, so it’s important to ensure that mold growth does not take place. Have a mold remediation company come and inspect your situation if you are concerned about mold growth. Many of them are able to offer help with seepage control issues and may find other sources of incoming water to help you further prevent leaks.

Preventing Water Damage to Your Home

Spring is here and with it comes the rain. While those April showers may bring May flowers they can also cause water damage to your home. To help keep that from happening here are a few home maintenance tips you can follow to protect your home from water damage.  

Exterior Sources

While some water damage risks come from the inside (think burst pipes and leaky hot water heaters) there are many that come from the outside of your home. To prevent water damage from these sources common-sense steps are important. 

Maintain Your Gutters

Taking the time to clean your gutters at least twice a year is always a good idea. Improperly draining gutters can allow water to seep into your foundation walls, which can cause a lot of damage to your basement or crawl spaces. Spring and fall are the perfect times to do this easy, but sometimes tedious, chore. If you’re worried about climbing up on a ladder call a local gutter cleaning company to do the work for you. 

Inspect Your Roof

Your roof is the first line of defense in keeping water out of your home. At least once a year be sure that the shingles are in good shape and free of moss or visible damage. If you are unsure of what to look for call a professional roofer for an inspection. 

Test Sprinkler Lines

Water leaks in your sprinkler supply line can lead to more than just a big water bill. Those water losses can create a major headache if they flood your lawn or leak into your foundation. 

Interior Sources

Burst pipes are unlikely once we’ve reached March, but they’re still possible if the weather takes a dip. Make sure all pipes in cold areas are insulated and protected from the cold weather. 

Know How to Stop It

It’s very important to know how to shut off the water at your main water supply valve in case of a burst pipe or water leak. Install water loss detection devices (which can measure the amount of water you typically use and alert you to water losses) to be especially safe and catch leaks early. 

Be Proactive

If you have a basement or crawl space that’s prone to water seepage install a French drain or sump pump to get the water out as quickly as possible. 

Spring Home Maintenance Tips

After all the rain and cold this winter, we’re all looking forward to a bright, sunny spring. However, along with spring comes spring home chores. Avoiding them is tempting, but by taking a little bit of time to go over this spring maintenance checklist you can save a lot of headaches in the future. 

Follow these home maintenance tips to make sure your house is ready for spring!

Check the Roof

Spring is a good time to inspect your roof. Winter snow and ice can damage shingles, as can the hot summer sun. To make sure your roof is ready for spring and summer rains check the shingles to ensure that none were lost or damaged during winter storms. Additionally, if there are cracked or buckled shingles you will likely need to repair or replace them. To go that extra mile, have the flashing around skylights and vents examined by a professional roofer. 

Examine Gutters and Downspouts

Gutters are your foundation’s first line of defense. Improper drainage can lead to costly repairs as water is directed through your foundation toward your crawl space or basement. Water damage can happen quickly, so make sure to give your gutters a real spring clean clear out, and make sure that they aren’t loose or leaky. 

Check Hoses and Your Sprinkler System

Cold weather can do a number on your sprinkler system if it isn’t drained properly. When restarting your system open the main valve very slowly to allow your system to fill with water gradually. High-pressure surges can cause them to crack or burst. If you have garden hoses outside be sure to check them for dry rot as well. 

Inspect Windows and Doors

Check screens for holes that may lead to a pest control problem once the weather breaks. Be sure the weather stripping on doors is still in good shape and not cracked from the cold. You’ll be wasting air conditioning and allowing bugs in if they are. 

Service Your Cooling System

Finally, you’re going to want your air conditioning system in tip-top form once summer is here, so now is the time to have a technician come to service your cooling unit. Making sure the coils are clean and unobstructed and that it’s functioning efficiently will help with your energy bills later in the season.

Space Heater Safety – Staying Safe and Warm

The cold weather is officially here and despite a few warm days here and there, it really is winter. For lots of us, there’s at least one room in the house that just stays chilly no matter what you do or what kind of heating systems you have. That’s where portable space heaters can come in handy to provide that supplemental heat that can take a room from chilled to cozy in minutes. Before you break out the heater, it’s a good idea to review some safety tips to reduce the fire hazards in your home. 

Plugging It In

Power strips and extension cords are a big no-no when it comes to space heater safety. Electric space heaters can become extremely dangerous when plugged into these items; they even have the potential to catch on fire. Power strips and extension cords are not built to handle the extra current flow needed to power a space heater, so keep it safe and plug it directly into the wall. From 2009 to 2013 heating equipment was involved in an estimated 56,000 reported U.S. home fires. This accounted for 16 percent of the total, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Nearly half of all home heating fires occurred in December, January, and February with space heaters accounting for two of every five of home heating fires.

Finally, make sure the plug is not in a walkway, or that it can become a tripping hazard.

Safety Features

Be sure that your space heater, whether it’s a traditional portable electric or an oil-filled space heater, has safety features such as tip-over turn off—which automatically shuts off the heater should it tip, and alerts for tip-over. If these stop working do not use that space heater in your home. Your space heater should also have been tested and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. If it has you will find a tag to this effect on the cord.

The Right Heater for the Right Space

Never use a fuel-burning heater indoors. While electrical heaters are as safe as any other home appliance when it comes to fumes, combustion heaters can produce carbon monoxide, which is unsafe indoors and can kill. 

Other appliances that can be a carbon monoxide hazard are:

  • Non-electric hot water heaters
  • Gas ranges and ovens
  • Gas clothes dryers 
  • Oil, propane, or natural gas furnaces

These appliances MUST be properly vented to be considered safe for indoor use. 

Finally, when using a space heater, give it SPACE. There should be no furniture, loose fabric (such as curtains), or anything else within 3 feet of a space heater. Keep children and pets away from your space heater and use common sense. Never leave a space heater unattended. When you are finished using it unplug the heater, don’t just shut it off.

By following these tips, and using the proper heating equipment for your home heat, you can ensure that you stay snuggly AND safe all season long. 

Winter Is Here, Here’s How to Handle Frozen and Burst Pipes

Every year people experience thousands of dollars in damage when a pipe bursts in their home. When water freezes in unheated crawl spaces or other areas where warm air doesn’t reach, the risk of a burst pipe goes up dramatically. Now that the cold weather is here let’s go over what to do if you get frozen or—in the worst case—burst pipes. 

Find It.
If your pipes have frozen but haven’t yet burst there’s still time to fix the issue. Open cabinet doors, and check crawlspaces and unheated basements. These are the places where exposed pipes generally freeze. If you can find the frozen spot use a hairdryer to gently heat the frozen pipe until it opens up and then be sure to insulate that pipe by sealing up any leaks in the area and wrapping the pipe with insulation.  

Shut It Off.
If the pipe has already burst it’s vital to find your shut off valve and shut the water supply for the house off to prevent even more water damage. After you shut off the water open all of your plumbing fixtures—both sink taps and shower or bathtub fixtures—to help release the pressure that has built up in the pipe. Make sure to open the cold taps first. After that is done shut off the hot water heater and open all of your hot water faucets. If your sink or shower has a single control for both temperatures open those last and set it in the middle. 

Document It.
Take pictures and document any damage before you get around to the cleanup. Your insurance company will want proof of any and all damage; so make sure to photograph everything that has been affected by the water flow. Don’t throw anything away, no matter how ruined, as the insurance company will want proof of the damage. 

Stay Safe.
Mold can form very quickly on wet surfaces, and flooded carpet and drywall are a perfect medium for it to grow on. Once you have called your insurance company and a plumber call in a mold remediation company such as Branch Services. They’ll be able to assess the damage and find out if you have a mold issue. If you do they can remove it. If you don’t, they can help you with the removal of damaged materials and the rebuilding that will have to be done after the cleanup. 

A burst pipe can be a huge hassle, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. The most important thing to remember is to stay calm, shut off the water, and call the experts! They’ll make the experience as painless as possible.

Outdoor Fire Safety

Fire pits are wonderful in the fall. They can be beautiful to look at, and sitting around one with friends makes for a perfect fall evening (not to mention the s’ mores!). With more and more people adding a fire pit to their backyard landscaping it’s important to go over some safety tips when having an outdoor fire. 

Keep Your Distance.

Make sure your fire pit is at least 10 feet from any structure, such as a house or shed. Keep flammable liquids far away from your fire pit, and never leave your fire unattended. 

Keep an Eye Out.

If you have children in the yard with your fire, make sure their outdoor activities are kept a good distance away from the fire. Accidents can and do happen and children are as attracted to fire as adults, so watch them closely if they want to sit around the fire. 

Prepare the Area.

Cleanup around the fire pit is important. Make sure there are no leaves or branches that can catch fire if a spark lands outside the pit. You may want to dampen the ground around the pit before lighting your fire for further fire safety. 

Use the Right Fuel.

Never use flammable liquids like lighter fluid to start a fire. Instead, use crumpled paper or kindling and make sure you use seasoned woods. Never use construction materials like pressure-treated wood or plywood, as they can release toxic fumes when burned. Make sure logs are smaller than the fire pit so they don’t tumble out accidentally. This can cause grass, leaves, and other debris to catch fire and that fire can spread quickly—particularly on a windy day. 

Put It Out. 

When you’re done with your fire make sure to extinguish it properly. If you have a metal or ceramic fire pit water can damage it, so review the instructions it came with before using a hose.

How to Handle a Wet Basement

Spring and fall tend to bring heavy rains to Long Island and, as many of us have recently seen, that means a wet basement. When entering your basement you may encounter visible signs of flooding, or you may experience something as fleeting as a musty odor. Either way, it spells a wet basement. Before calling for help take a look around the outside of your house to see if you can solve the problem yourself.

Check your gutters to see if they’re clogged. The job of a gutter is to move water away from the foundation and if they can’t do their job they can cause a wet basement. Next, check the ground outside the foundation. How is it sloped? If it slopes towards the house that is going to cause you to have basement water. Regrading the ground outside your house can go a long way toward keeping your basement dry. 

If the ground slopes away from your house and the gutters are working, you may have an issue called seepage. That means that surface water is going through the foundation wall.

If you do not use your basement or crawl space, water problems that are ongoing can be addressed by utilizing a drainage system such as french drains or a sump pump. This is particularly useful if you have water dripping down the basement wall. 

However, all of this changes if your basement is a living space. If your basement is finished you may need to consider basement waterproofing by a professional company, as a sump pump solution won’t work in a living space. 

Another issue you will encounter with a wet basement is mold. Mold is present everywhere in the environment but once it is given the chance to take hold and spread—which will occur when there is flooding or even a slow, steady drip in the basement—it can become a dangerous issue. When that happens you should call a mold testing and remediation company to handle the mold before the area is waterproofed. They will come and test to confirm if there is mold and then remove any affected materials, clean what can be cleaned, and spray a preventative coating on remaining materials. Then rebuilding and waterproofing can begin. 

If you have experienced a wet basement or any other flooding issue, call Branch Services. They have extensive experience with mold and water damage and can make your space safe to live in again.

October Is National Fire Prevention Month; So Let’s Talk About Fire Safety.

October is National Fire Prevention Month, making it the perfect time to solidify that your home is a safe place for your family. You can also take the opportunity to teach children a few basic fire safety tips. 

Fire prevention is key to your family’s safety and observing some common-sense rules can help stop some of the most easily preventable fires. For example, keep matches and lighters away from young children; never leave your stove or lit candles unattended; follow all directions on portable and space heaters; make sure you keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and clean dryer vents regularly and never leave the house when the dryer is running. Following these tips can keep fires from happening, or letting fires that do happen from spreading.

If a fire does occur, fire alarms are one of the best ways to ensure your family’s safety.  There should be alarms on every level of your home, particularly near sleeping areas. Make sure you either have dual fire and smoke alarms or install smoke alarms in addition to fire alarms, as smoke tends to spread more quickly than fire and can be the first sign of trouble. Remember, only working smoke alarms will help you, so when you turn back the clocks change those batteries! Having a smoke detector in your home will greatly reduce the chance of fire-related deaths. 

To ensure that everyone gets out safely in the event of a fire, every member of your family should be aware of your home fire escape plan. They should know which doors and windows make for a safe escape option and where to meet once they exit the home. Children should also be taught to never return to the home once they have exited and they should be taught to “stop, drop, and roll” in the event that their clothing should catch fire. You should also annually practice fire drills so that your whole family knows what to do in case of a fire.

By employing a little bit of common sense and a dash of prevention, you can help to keep your home and your family safe from the dangers of fire. 

Should a fire break out in your home make sure to exit immediately, remain outside, and call for help. Once everyone is safe call Branch Services to take care of any smoke, water, or fire damage. We’ll help you get back to normalcy as quickly as possible,

Fall Home Maintenance Tips

Fall Home Maintenance With summer coming to an end it’s just about time to get to those Fall Home Maintenance tasks you may have put off. Before the winter months are here and it gets too cold to do too much outside work, it’s a great time to prepare for the snow and ice that are sure to come in just a few months.

Fall is a good time to prepare your chimney for cooler weather fires, by calling a chimney sweep company and having your flue cleaned. Creosote can build up over time, which can be a danger to your home and family because it can cause chimney fires. A chimney sweep will be able to remove that for you so you can enjoy nights by the fire safely. You should also see about having your heating system checked, and make sure you change the filters so you’re ready for those cold fall nights.

Another fall home maintenance task you’ll want to do to get ready for winter is to drain your garden hoses and store them for the winter, as well as your outdoor furniture. If you have a basement or storage shed to keep them from the ice and snow, your furniture will last a lot longer. Plus, you won’t need to worry about it blowing around in a Nor’easter and possibly breaking a window.

To make sure your heating bill doesn’t get too high, it’s a good idea to check your windows and doors for leaks and utilize weather stripping if you find any. Extreme temperatures can worsen these leaks so it’s a good idea to address them before the cold weather really sets in. Storm windows are another smart idea to help you save energy. Make sure screens are switched out for storm windows so you get that extra layer of insulation.

Finally, before the weather gets too cold, make sure you clean out your gutters and downspouts. This is a job you’ll want to do after most of the leaves have already fallen, to make sure that they are able to handle winter storms. Clean gutters and downspouts are better able to handle the runoff from snow and winter rain. This can help to prevent ice damming, which can damage your roof and cause leaks.

Just a few hours of preparation during the fall can make a big difference in preventing fires, water, and flood damage during the winter.