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Fall Home Maintenance

Fall is here and while the evenings are chilly there’s still some nice weather during the day to take care of the home improvement and home repair tasks you need to do to your home before winter sets in. 

First, let’s look at the home maintenance tasks to be done on the outside of the house. 

  • Once leaves have fallen, it’s a good idea to clean your gutters and downspouts. Winter snow will need somewhere to go as it melts, and when it backs up due to clogged gutters and downspouts it can cause damage not only to the gutters but to the roof. 
  • You should make sure exterior faucets are turned off and insulated to keep pipes from bursting in freezing temperatures. 
  • Drain and put away garden hoses to keep them in good shape for next year. 
  • Make any exterior repairs. Take a walk around your house and see if anything looks damaged. The roof, foundation, and siding should all be repaired before the bad weather comes. 

On the inside of your house, it’s time to get a chimney cleaning before the winter heating season comes. Call a chimney sweep to be sure it’s fully cleared of creosote (a deadly chemical that builds up with chimney use and can lead to house fires).

On a similar note, change out the batteries in your smoke detectors at daylight savings time. Do this twice a year and you’ll always remember to do it and have fresh batteries in the detector to keep you safe. 

Fall is also a good time to get windows and doors ready for winter. Check around the edges for leaks and drafts and use weatherstrip and caulk to close up any gaps you may find. You’ll also want to seal around any other small gaps you find to keep creatures such as mice out of the house. 

Finally, if you have a snowblower, be sure it’s filled with gas and kept right at the garage door. That way you won’t have to work too hard to get it ready once the snowy weather hits.

Outdoor Fire Hazards

When people think of a fire breaking out they usually think about the inside of their house. However, many house fires actually begin outside of the home. By taking care of the fire hazards that may be outside the home and practicing fire safety tips you can avoid an outdoor fire. 

The grill is one of the biggest fire hazards outside the home. It is important to keep a fire extinguisher nearby when using a grill and to clean it regularly. Grills that are not regularly cleaned can develop a buildup of grease and food particles that can ignite during cooking and cause a grease fire.

Make sure children and pets are kept at least 3 feet away from the grill while it is on to avoid injury and make sure everyone knows how to “stop, drop, and roll” in case a fire starts.

 When deciding where to place your grill make sure it’s at least 3 feet away from siding or decking because it can burn. A hot grill can easily scorch or ignite certain types of home siding.  

Also, never use flammable liquids to ignite your charcoal. Either use a charcoal starter chimney or quick start coals. 

Fire pits are another safety hazard when it comes to an outdoor fire. Sparks can easily hop out of the pit and onto nearby flammable debris. Your fire pit should be at least 10 feet from your home or any other combustible object. Before lighting your fire pit clean the area around the pit. Make sure there are no leaves or twigs lying nearby and wet down the ground around the pit with a hose. This will help to put out any sparks that escape the fire. Never use flammable liquids to start your fire pit; instead, use paper and kindling. 

Garages can be an often overlooked source of fire. Do not store gasoline, paint, or other flammable liquids inside as the possibility of them igniting puts the house at risk. For paint and gasoline, an outdoor shed is a safer location for storage. The biggest risk for a home fire in the garage is a space heater. Every year in the United States space heater fires cause more than 300  fire deaths with more than 6,000 Americans receiving hospital ER care because of space heaters. 

To be safer with your heater there are several precautions you can take. First, never plug a space heater into an extension cord. Space heaters were designed to be plugged directly into the wall. Next, be sure the area around the space heater is clear. Never drape anything over your heater or leave it too close to anything that will cause it to be an ignition source.  

When looking for a space heater choose one that includes safety features such as overheat protection, auto shutoff, and a cool touch housing. 

Air Conditioner Water Damage

If your air conditioner is in your attic you may experience a leak that can come through the ceiling. If the AC unit is not in the attic it can leak onto the floor and into the walls. This is not only a bother, but it can also cause water damage and mold damage to your home that requires water damage restoration and mold remediation.

So, why does this happen and how can you avoid the problem and prevent water damage to your home?

HVAC systems contain evaporator coils. These cool the warm air in your home as it is blown over them. When that happens condensation forms on the coil. In the best-case scenario, this condensation then drips into the drain pan and finally runs through the condensation drain line outside of your house.

Sometimes, the AC leak is due to the condensation drain line becoming clogged. Dirt, debris, mold, or even spider webs can clog up the line causing water to back up into the house. If that’s the case, having an HVAC professional come to clear the line is your best bet.

Another reason you may experience a leak is an old drip pan. If your AC system is older than ten years it’s possible that your drain pan has become damaged or rusted. In that case, the water is no longer being directed to the drain line and simply spills all over the house. That means that the pan needs to be replaced.

Broken condensation pumps can cause a leak if your air conditioning unit is in the basement. The condensation pump pumps the water up and outside of your basement. So, if it is broken, the water builds up and makes a mess. Your HVAC specialist will need to replace the pump if this is the case.

Finally, if your air filter is dirty, or you have a refrigerant leak, you may develop low pressure in your system causing the coils to freeze over. When the unit turns off the coils will defrost and you’ll have an AC leak that leaks water all over. To ensure this doesn’t happen, make sure you change your filters regularly and make sure you’re not leaking refrigerant. How will you know if you’re leaking refrigerant? Your air conditioner won’t cool as well and you may hear noises like hissing or bubbling. If these things are happening, you will either have to repair the leak or replace the whole AC unit. Your HVAC professional will know for sure which is the better option for you.

Some AC units have a float switch that can turn off the system if the water is spilling out. If yours doesn’t have one you can ask to have one installed to avoid water damage from occurring in the first place.

How to Remove Lead Paint

Lead-based paint in your home is dangerous as lead paint chips can come loose, making them dangerous and a cause of lead poisoning. Removing it can be even more dangerous because when done improperly you can create dust that can spread lead throughout your home. Your best bet and the safest choice for lead paint removal is to contact a qualified and certified contractor to do the job, but if you want to try to remove lead-based paints from your home here are a few tips to help you get the job done right.

The three main points to remember when removing lead paint are: control dust, work wet, and clean up completely. Doing these properly will take time and patience so go slowly and carefully to reduce the danger.

The first thing you’ll need to do is seal off the work area with plastic to help contain lead dust that’s created when removing the paint. If possible, get yourself a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter for the room you are working in. To seal off the room you’ll need 6mil plastic and duct tape. For the rest of the job, you’ll need medium and coarse sanding sponges, a scraper, a respirator, rubber or neoprene gloves, and a HEPA vacuum.

After you’ve completely sealed off the room you’ll want to cover the floor COMPLETELY with your plastic sheeting. Once lead dust gets into the carpet it’s virtually impossible to remove, so make sure you cover every last inch with plastic and seal it off with duct tape. Remove as much from the room as possible. Rugs and furniture are all places dust can settle. If it can’t be moved you should cover it with poly sheeting and tape the edges to the floor. You should also keep the windows closed to keep dust from blowing around.

After donning your gloves and respirator, and turning on your HEPA filter, you’ll begin by spraying down the painted surface with a spray bottle filled with water. Then you can begin wire brushing, scraping, and wet sanding to get the paint off. Work from the top to bottom, and regularly collect the sludge and put it into a garbage bag to be removed later.

Safety tip: NEVER use a heat gun or an open flame torch near your paint as it can vaporize into the air and be inhaled.

Make sure you continue working wet the entire time until you are finished, and use the hose from your HEPA vacuum to clean up any dust that collects—this includes cracks and crevices.

Once all the paint is gone, including dust and any loose particles, you’ll want to use a heavyweight paper towel and some all-purpose cleaner and wipe down the entire area you have just cleaned. After this, you’ll rinse the area again with a towel and clean water. Rinse the towel in a bucket of clean water and replace the water in the bucket often.

Next, wet down all of the plastic you’ve just used from top to bottom. Working from outside to inside, ball up all of the plastic and put it in a garbage bag that you should then seal with duct tape.

Finally, you should use your HEPA vacuums and vacuum all of the cracks and edges along the floor. After that is done you should wash the floor with an all-purpose cleaner and a cloth, always wiping in the same direction to avoid recontamination.

The process may seem long and tedious—and it is—but it is for the safety of yourself and anyone else living in your home so never skip a step.

Again, your best bet is to call a professional who is certified in lead paint removal like Branch Services. That’s the best way to make sure you’re not exposed to lead, and your home is lead-free after the project is done.

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.