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Avoiding Hurricane Damage

Hurricane season runs from June through October, but late August and September are typically when things really heat up. Ocean waters are warm and storms off of Africa are plentiful and that means up here in New York we need to keep an eye out in order to prevent hurricane damage. 

Damage from hurricanes ranges from wind damage and water damage to downed power lines and damage from flying debris. Taking preventative measures can help prevent damage from hurricanes. Here are a few tips for how you can prepare for a hurricane and the heavy rains and winds they bring. 

Hurricane straps can help to keep your roof on during the high winds of a hurricane. These are galvanized metal straps that attach to the roof. You may need a contractor to help you with this project but it can be worth it in the long run!

To protect your home from flying objects it’s important to secure outdoor furniture and items such as grills that can become airborne and break windows and glass doors. 

Storm shutters can also be useful in protecting windows and doors. You can either buy them pre-fabricated out of wood, steel, or aluminum or you can make them yourself out of 5/8 inch exterior grade plywood. Install them over windows, glass doors, skylights, and French doors for best results. 

Reinforcing your garage door before a storm hits can be an excellent idea before a hurricane, as winds can be strong enough to blow in the door and ruin anything you have inside. This isn’t a quick project, so be sure to do it before there is a hurricane warning. 

Heavy rain and storm surge aren’t something you can stop, so be sure to have flood insurance especially if you live in coastal areas. This insurance isn’t available through every company, so be sure to call your company and find out if you can receive coverage. 

Finally, in the event of a power outage from a hurricane or any other natural disaster, it’s a good idea to install a generator in your home. At the very least, a generator can power your essential home appliances, heating, cooling, and lighting. Remember to always keep an adequate supply of fuel on hand and use extreme caution when operating it inside of a building or attached garage as carbon monoxide poisoning can cause death. 

How to Keep Your Air Conditioner From Freezing Up

Ironically enough, even on a sweltering summer day, you can find your AC unit coil or refrigerant lines encased in ice! So how can you keep your coil from freezing?

The first thing you can do is make sure you don’t have a dirty air filter. Good airflow is vital to keep your air conditioner from freezing. Changing your filter at least 4 times a year (if not monthly) will also help your indoor air quality and improve the performance of your heating and cooling system, saving you money in the long run as dirt in the filter can be preventing air from flowing freely through the system. 

Another step you can take to ensure your HVAC system doesn’t freeze over is to have your professional HVAC service technician check for low refrigerant levels and refrigerant leaks. When your AC unit is low on refrigerant it works much harder, and the drop in pressure within the unit can cause the evaporator coil to freeze over. 

Alternatively, your condensate drain line can be causing an issue and contributing to your air conditioner’s freezing. As your air conditioner cools warm air it absorbs the heat out of the air and transfers it outdoors. As this happens, water vapor moisture is condensed out of the air and is delivered through the condensate drain line. If the line becomes clogged with debris the water can back up, causing a leak. Additionally, the remaining humid air in the environment can make the evaporator coil more likely to freezing over. So in order to keep your AC freezing risk low, make sure that the drain line is clear!

Next, you need to check those vents! Make sure that both your supply registers and the return vents are clear and that no furniture is blocking them. Make sure no more than 2 or 3 vents are closed at any given time. Restricting too much airflow in your AC system can also cause your system to freeze up. 

Finally, make sure the blower fan on your HVAC system is working properly. Remember, airflow is key to keeping your AC unit from freezing, so a damaged or underperforming blower fan may be a sign that it’s time to call an AC repair tech. 

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Lightning

While rare, lightning kills an average of 49 people each year in the United States, and hundreds more are injured. Beyond that, lighting can cause severe damage to your home’s electrical systems and electronic equipment as well as everything else should a fire break out if your home is struck by lightning. 

Lightning is the most dangerous and frequently-encountered weather hazard that most people experience each year, according to the National Severe Storm Laboratory. So how can you best protect yourself, and your home, during a lightning storm? By following these tips. 

According to the National Weather Service, lightning rods and their accompanying systems are a great help in protecting your house from lightning-initiated fire. A properly installed lightning protection system will protect your home by diverting lightning strikes safely into the ground. It will also protect against power surges and lightning damage to vulnerable appliances. If you live in an area where severe storms are relatively common, consider installing a lightning protection system. 

Be sure to check your insurance policy to see if your insurance company covers lighting damage. If you live in a storm-prone area and that coverage is optional, seriously consider adding it on. 

When indoors during a storm, at the first clap of thunder, make sure you:

avoid water (don’t shower or take a bath), avoid using electronic equipment, and avoid corded phones. Lightning can travel through the electrical system of your house and injure or kill you in this way. 

If you are outdoors when lightning storms are nearby try to get to an indoor location. If that is not possible, keep away from tall objects—including trees and utility poles. Find a low-lying area and crouch down with your hands on your knees until the storm has passed. This will reduce your chances of being hit by lightning and keep you in minimal contact with the ground. 

What Is a Red Flag Fire Warning?

Before you fire up the grill or the fire pit this summer, be sure to check and see if there are any red flag warnings or fire weather watches. A fire weather watch is issued when weather conditions are favorable for dangerous fire conditions. A red flag fire warning means that fire conditions such as dry or windy weather are currently happening and a fire could very easily spread and become out of control. Extreme caution is urged during these times. 

These warnings are issued for weather events by the national weather service and while you may think of brushfires and the woods when you hear about these warnings, you should also consider your own backyard. Extreme fire behavior can happen absolutely anywhere, and fires driven by high winds tend to spread quickly and without warning. These weather conditions could exist most of the year, but spring, summer, and fall are the most common seasons for watches and red flag warnings. 

If, for example, your lawn is dried out, an abandoned cigarette butt could ignite the dry grass, especially in strong winds. Warm, windy weather is considered critical fire weather, and fire departments are on high alert during those times. Once a red flag warning is issued the extreme fire danger can occur within 24 hours. During these weather watches and red flag warnings, you should refrain from making any fires in your yard including fire pits and barbecues, especially charcoal barbecues. All it takes is one spark to fly loose and catch on any of the dry fuels in your yard, such as dry grass or leaves, and you could have an out-of-control fire on your hands that could be extremely dangerous to both life and property. 

Fire watches and warnings are reviewed daily and as soon as weather patterns change they can be altered or lifted. Once they are lifted it is considered safe to have carefully supervised fires, so break out the hot dogs and hamburgers again and be sure to stay safe!

Dealing With Mold in Your Home

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) our indoor environment is two to five times as toxic as the outdoor environment. One of the causes of toxins in our environment comes from mold. Mold can cause allergies, eye irritation, skin and throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, and other health problems; it also can lead to the destruction of building materials within the home. To prevent mold growth it is vital to assess and address high humidity levels in your home. Mold can grow on any surface where there is a moisture problem. Bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, basements, and crawl spaces bode the perfect settings for a mold problem. Worse, other areas may also develop issues. 

Improperly vented clothes dryers can release humidity into the air, so it is important to make sure your dryer is properly vented to an outdoor area. Similarly, it is important to ensure that the exhaust fan in your bathroom is working properly and the vents steam to the outside. To further aid in preventing mold growth in the bathroom you may want to open a window to let some of the steam escape after a shower. It’s possible to see mold in the form of mildew on wall and ceiling tiles, as well as other types of mold in more hidden places like under the sink. 

Fresh air is key to keeping mold from growing in your home. Open doors and windows relatively often to aid in air exchange. In the summer, running your air conditioner can help to lower humidity levels, in turn allowing it to remove water from the air while simultaneously cooling the area. An air conditioning system is essential in helping keep mold out of your home.

Should you have a flood or a leak in your home be sure to remove water-damaged materials as soon as possible and go to the hardware store to get supplies to fix the cause of the water damage. Leaks need to be addressed right away and items such as carpet and drywall may have to be thrown away if they become moldy. Small spills and leaks can sometimes be fixed at home, however, if the damage is severe you may need to contact a mold remediation company. 

Protect Your Home From Spring Flooding

Most of us are happy to see that the spring thaw has arrived and warmer weather is upon us. However, melting snow and spring rains can wreak havoc on our homes. In order to prevent water from seeping in, and the water damage that follows, it’s important to know how to prevent flooding from reaching our foundations in the first place. After snowmelt, rainwater is the biggest culprit when it comes to spring flooding problems invading your home’s foundation. For snowmelt the solution is easy: just pile the snow far away from the base of your home to give it time to absorb into the ground before it reaches your house. For rainwater, the answer is a little more complicated. 

The first thing to do before heavy rain is to check your gutters and downspouts to make sure they’re clear. Clogged gutters allow water to seep down around your foundation and if there is a foundation crack the water will find a way in. If you see foundation cracks use a concrete patch to fill those holes. If you find a larger issue, however, you may want to call in a professional to ensure that the foundation is repaired in the proper way. 

If you have not installed them, downspout extensions are a good idea to keep water away from your home. Make sure they are at least several feet long so that water is directed away from the foundation. Remember, flood insurance doesn’t cover seepage, so if the ground is so wet that it seeps through your foundation and causes flooding your insurance coverage will likely be little or nothing. 

Making sure your sump pump is in good working order is a good way to protect your home from basement floods. The key is to keep water flowing away from the home; so make sure that the sump pump drains on a downhill that runs away from your foundation.

It’s also a good idea to check the grading around your house every spring. Again, make sure that the grade keeps the water flowing away from your house. This may involve some digging and moving dirt, but it’s worth it to keep flooding away from the house. 

Finally, make sure window wells are covered. While they do allow light and ventilation to your basement, without covers they can also let floodwaters in and that’s a mess that no one needs. 

Do I Need to Replace Water Damaged Drywall

Whether you’ve had a washing machine leak, a leaky water supply line, or an AC unit leak into the ceiling, water damage to drywall is bad news. 

Drywall is made of white gypsum mineral rock sandwiched between thick exterior paper. While it’s a great construction material due to its ease of use and versatility to create walls and ceilings, it is also a material that readily absorbs water, making it a health risk under certain conditions. Drywall is used for interior walls and therefore is it often the first thing to become damaged during a water leaking incident. 

Drywall is an extremely absorbent material. The gypsum interior soaks up water like a sponge and the paper outside helps it to retain that moisture. Even on drywall that has been lightly affected by water, you’ll notice ugly water stains that must be repaired and painted. This is particularly true of the drywall ceiling. 

The moisture inside drywall can infest wall cavities with mold growth. If wetted drywall is not addressed right away drywall’s main weakness will be exposed. Wet drywall will lose structural integrity. This can lead to walls and ceilings collapsing. 

Do you always have to replace drywall once it gets wet? That depends on the amount of water involved. If it is only a small amount and you can get the wall completely dry (as in a moisture meter deems it safe) then it is possible to salvage drywall with a coat of spackle and paint. However, if there is more water involved and the drywall is deformed or severely stained you may never be able to get the moisture out. In that case, water damage restoration must be done to eliminate mold spores that take hold in water-damaged drywall. 

How To Keep Pipes From Bursting in the Winter

The coldest part of winter has yet to reach us, but it will be here soon and that means that water pipes are in danger of freezing and causing tremendous water damage when they do. While exposed piping is most at risk, it is possible for both hot and cold water pipes on the inside to freeze as well if there is a deep cold spell where the temperature drops to well below freezing. 

There are some things you can do during these cold spells to prevent pipes from freezing and to help ensure that your pipes don’t burst due to cold weather. 

Cold air is the enemy when it comes to burst pipes because the air surrounds the pipes causing the water inside to go still—such as at night when no one is using the water. This is when the air is at its coldest, causing the pipes to freeze and swell allowing water pressures to build up behind the blockage. The next thing you know the pipes freeze and burst and you have a HUGE mess on your hands that can cause thousands of dollars in damage to the house. 

Keeping cold air from touching your pipes is the number one way to prevent them from freezing. On nights when you know the temperature will dip to dangerous levels, consider opening under-sink cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around the pipes. Another thing you can do is to turn on a faucet and let the water drip through the night. While yes, this is a waste of water, it can save you in the long run by keeping the water flowing in the pipes. 

Exterior walls are at particular risk for freezing in the winter, so keeping the water flowing in these pipes can make a big difference. In accessible areas, you can also use pipe insulation or heat tape to keep your pipes flowing in winter. 

If you have an area of frozen pipe in an accessible area, such as under the sink, and you catch it before it bursts you can thaw frozen pipes by using a hairdryer to apply heat to that section of pipe. Gently wave the dryer on the hottest setting back and forth over the pipe until water comes out of the faucet again. If you are unable to thaw it do NOT wait until it bursts. Call a plumber and get help before the disaster happens because if you wait until it bursts you will likely regret it. 

Installing Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Carbon monoxide detectors are an important part of any home security system. Whether you have a centrally monitored system that includes a monitor, or you have a stand-alone battery operated monitor, these monitors are key to keeping your family safe all year long. 

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can be extremely dangerous when levels build up. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream. When too much carbon monoxide is in the air your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This can lead to serious tissue damage or even death.

Carbon monoxide detectors are exactly what they sound like: small machines that monitor levels of carbon monoxide in the air. When the levels get too high an alarm sounds and you have time to exit the home before any injury takes place. If your alarm ever does go off, make sure all people exit the home and call 911 immediately. 

You should have one carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home, including the basement and attached garage. They should be placed outside of sleeping areas, as the middle of the night is when you’re most likely to be caught off guard. 

You should make sure that a detector is placed near any fuel burning appliance in your home, including your hot water heater, however, they should be several feet away. If they are too close to the appliance they may go off as appliances emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon start-up.

Keep them out of humid areas and away from fans, ac vents, or heating vents because they can blow the carbon monoxide away from the area, causing the carbon monoxide to not reach the sensor.

Unlike your smoke alarm which is likely housed near the ceiling, you should install carbon monoxide detectors at knee height so that the carbon monoxide alarm goes off before the level builds up too much. 

Be sure to test your carbon monoxide detector regularly to ensure that it is working properly. Press and hold the “test” button on the monitor until you hear two beeps. If you don’t hear the beeps, or if they are weak, it’s time to replace the batteries. If that doesn’t work it’s time to get a whole new detector. You should ideally test your CO monitors monthly to ensure that they are in good working condition and are able to protect your family from danger.

Choosing, and Using, a Space Heater

What are the safest space heaters? Fall is here and with it comes the chilly weather. If there’s a room in your house that you just can’t get warm, you may want to consider a space heater. Space heaters are the perfect way to heat up a small or a single-occupied room to offset utility costs come winter. Portable space heaters can be perfect for rooms like home offices that may not be used very often. 

There are many types of heaters—from ceramic heaters and infrared heaters to oil filled radiator heaters—and some are more energy efficient than others. Ceramic heaters heat up a ceramic plate inside which evenly diffuses heat over an area. Infrared heaters heat up objects (people, furniture) rather than heating the space around them. Oil filled radiators are shaped like radiators and are filled with a heating element that warms oil that is circulated through the chambers. 

A 1,500 watts space heater can heat approximately 150 square feet. Consider this when choosing a heater for your space. Another thing to consider in choosing a space heater is how many safety features it has. A safe space heater will have overheat protection and a tip over switch that automatically shuts it off if the unit is knocked into. Some space heaters are also cool to the touch, but not all—particularly oil filled radiator heaters. 

When unattended, be sure that—if the heater has one—the remote control is out of the reach of children, and that heat settings are set to off. It is very important when using electric space heaters to never use extension cords. They increase the risk of overheating and fire, so always plug them directly into a wall outlet. 

Finally, make sure that heaters are at least 3 feet away from anything flammable like papers, clothing, or furniture; and be sure to have a smoke alarm on every floor of your home and outside all sleeping areas. Space heaters can make a room warm and cozy, but if used improperly they can be a hazard in the home. Follow all directions and warning labels and use common sense and you’ll be able to stay warm AND safe.