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Christmas Tree Safety

There’s no denying that the holiday season is upon us. From music in stores to lights appearing on houses, it’s just about time to get yourself a Christmas tree. But before you do, let’s go over some Christmas tree safety so you can avoid any risk of having a Christmas tree fire. 

Christmas trees are the cause of an average of 160 home fires, and most of them are completely avoidable. Whether you have an artificial tree or a live tree, the first rule is to keep the tree away from heating sources. This should be a no-brainer. While a tree may look romantic situated by the fireplace, it’s a fire hazard and a bad idea. Find a place away from heat—this includes candles and even the tv—and you’ll be able to enjoy your tree with a lot less worry. 

If you’re shopping for a live tree choose the freshest one you can. A dryer tree may be cheaper, but it also poses a fire hazard. You want the trunk to show sap and for the needles to bend, not break. 

Make sure your tree stand resists toppling over and keep it full of water if you have a live tree. Again, a moist tree is a safer tree, so keep the water coming. 

Don’t just toss any electrical lights on the tree. Your tree lights should be low-energy UL-listed lights. And always check for frayed wires or damaged bulbs before stringing them on. 

If you’re leaving the house, unplug the tree. The same goes for bedtime. If you’re not around to supervise, your lights should be unplugged.

Never use real candles on a tree, be it real or synthetic. 

Finally, keep a fire extinguisher nearby at all times and make sure everyone in the household knows where it is and how to use it. 

By following these tips you’ll give yourself the chance to have a happy holiday and reduce the risk of a house fire this holiday season. 

Thanksgiving Fire Safety

It’s hard to believe but the holidays are almost here; and while the main focus is family, merriment, and a day for home cooking, it’s important to remember that along with the holidays comes the potential for cooking fires. In 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,630 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving—the peak day for such fires. So let’s go over some Thanksgiving safety tips. 

Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires due to the fact that so many people are cooking so much food, often with children underfoot. In order to reduce the risk of a Thanksgiving fire try following these fire safety tips and help keep your Thanksgiving safe. 

When preparing for any large family feast, be it Thanksgiving or another day of the year, plan ahead so you’re not trying to rush. Properly timing each aspect of the meal can help make things less frantic and you’ll be less likely to have an accident.

If possible, keep children out of the kitchen. There are a myriad of dangers including hot stoves, food, and liquids.

Make sure you have a properly working fire extinguisher nearby whenever you are cooking so you can quickly address any cooking fires on Thanksgiving or any other day. 

Always stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stove. The vast majority of fires occur when stovetops are unattended, and the distractions of the day are a big reason why Thanksgiving is the prime day for such fires. Just because cooking is a leading cause of home fires doesn’t mean your home-cooked meal has to involve one!

If you should have an oven fire, turn off the heat, keep the oven door closed, and call 911. Remember, no dish is worth the safety of your family!

The National Fire Protection Association strongly discourages the use of turkey fryers. A frequent cause of home fires on Thanksgiving, the hot oil can not only cause extreme injuries, but it can also cause fires that are very hard to put out. If you must use one keep the oil level low and keep children far away from the cooker. 

Keeping Gutters Clear

It’s important to keep your gutter system clear for a number of reasons. First, maintaining your gutters is key to keeping your walls and foundation protected from water damage. Second, unkempt gutters can become a haven for small animals that can do damage to your roof and home. In short, having clean gutters protects your home. 

Gutter guards or a gutter cover can help prevent leaves from clogging your gutters. However, even if you have them installed you should still check your gutters to make sure they aren’t clogged with the small debris that can get through. 

You should clean your gutters at least twice a year. Once in the spring and once in the fall. The first thing to do when clearing your gutters is to remove large leaves and other debris. You’ll want to wear work gloves for this task because it can be very dirty. Remove any gutter cover and use a garden trowel or gutter scoop to get all of the debris out that you can. 

After you’ve removed most of the debris, grab your garden hose and flush the gutters. You want to make sure that water flows into the gutter from one end to the other, and that water is flowing through gutters and downspouts unimpeded. If the water doesn’t seem to be draining quickly through your downspout, you can feed the hose UP the downspout. This will help dislodge any clogs that may have happened while cleaning. If you still have a clog you may need to use a plumber’s snake to get in and pull out the blockage. 

Your downspout is a critical part of your home’s drainage system; so to protect your home and landscaping, make sure it is clear of blockages and your downspout is long enough to divert water away from your foundation. You can also get a downspout extender if you feel yours isn’t long enough. 

Finally, after you’ve made sure that your rain gutter is clear and that water is running through quickly, you can seal any leaking seams or joints with gutter sealant. If you’ve got gutter screens you can replace them once this is done. If you don’t, you might want to consider getting them to help minimize the task in the future. 

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.