Lightning Safety

Each year in the United States, about 20 people are killed by being struck by lightning. There are about 25 million lightning strikes each year in the United States, hitting about 3,000 people. Lightning victims who survive can experience chronic pain, neurological disabilities, and depression because lightning damages the body’s central nervous system. 

Recently outside of the U.S. Capitol, three people were killed after being struck by lightning. While no one can see the future, it’s possible that a few precautionary measures could have prevented this tragedy. Read on to see how you can reduce your risk when outdoors. 

Before any outing, be sure to check the weather forecast. If there are thunderstorms predicted, you may be in danger, so avoid visiting elevated areas, and avoid open fields. 

The National Weather Service likes to use the phrase “when thunder roars, go indoors” as a way to remind people to take shelter from the potential danger of lightning deaths. 

When retreating indoors, be sure it is a fully enclosed area, open structures, such as a porch aren’t enough. You want to be inside a building or hard-top vehicles. 

In the DC tragedy, the victims huddled under a tree which led to them being struck. During storms, lighting tends to strike the tallest object around, so trees, and utility poles, etc. should be avoided at all costs as they will draw in lighting. If you should find yourself in a field and lightning is around, lie flat. Lying flat on the ground will offer you some protection, however, the best practice is if you hear thunder, seek shelter and avoid elevated areas when storms are in the forecast. 

Remember, lighting can travel, so even if you are indoors, don’t use corded phones as lightning can travel through the lines in your home. 

Following these tips will help to protect you from lighting strikes and keep you safe, however, to keep your home safe, you’ll want a lighting rod. Properly installed, lightning rods intercept strikes, providing a safe path for lightning current into the ground. They do not decrease the likelihood your home may be struck, but provide a direct path to the ground, preventing damage to your home from fire, explosion, and electrical surges that can result from lightning strikes.

Avoiding Mulch Fires

One of the most satisfying parts of landscaping can be putting down a new layer of mulch each season. It’s an instant facelift to gardens and beds and it also helps to prevent weeds and allows plants to retain moisture for longer during the hot summer days. However, something that not everyone knows about mulch is that mulch can spontaneously combust, causing fires that can quickly damage your home. 

Mulch is a combustible material, it can catch fire easily, particularly in hot, dry weather. Shredded wood or wood chips, which are most commonly used for landscape mulch beds are not only easily ignited, but piles of mulch can also auto-ignite, due to the heat that builds up inside them. This can create smoldering tunnels that when they reach the surface, can burst into flame. This is most likely to happen when mulch is more than a few inches deep, so before you put down new mulch, it is best to remove the mulch leftover from last year. 

Keeping mulch damp can help to reduce the risk of fire. When you water your plants, water your mulch as well! 

Preventing mulch fires is not difficult, but it is important as flammable mulch materials can quickly spread fire to surrounding areas. To prevent this, some municipalities require a crushed rock barrier of 18 inches between organic mulch material and residences. This way, if the mulch catches fire, it has less opportunity to spread to the home. 

The number one cause of mulch fires is improperly discarded smoking materials. Disposing of smoking materials in a proper receptacle is vital to keeping embers from forming in your mulch. Just one dropped cigarette can get a fire started, and if there are high winds present, you can have a serious problem on your hands. So make sure that all cigarettes, ash, etc. are placed in a fire-proof container. Improperly disposing of these materials is just asking for trouble. 

Finally, maintain proper clearance for electrical devices, such as timers and decorative lights, by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Always check for fraying of wires as well to prevent sparks in your mulch. 

By following these tips you can keep your yard, and your home, safe from mulch fires. 

Leaky Hose Danger

Summer is here and for one reason or another, your hose is likely on just about every day. Unfortunately, it is the nature of hoses to leak and while you may be tempted to ignore small hose leaks, these small leaks can cause big problems down the line. 

In addition to inflating your water bill and lowering your water pressure, all of the excess water from your house, leaky hose spigot, or connection can pool around your foundation. This not only can cause water seepage into a basement but even structural damage.

If you have a leaky hose it is important to replace it as soon as possible. If the leak is coming from the hose bibb, the first thing you should do is check the washer. There is usually a rubber washer inside your hose bibb and most of the time that’s where the problems are. If that doesn’t work you’ll have to shut off the water supply to the bibb to replace it. 

Wasted water is hard on the environment and your wallet, so taking care of these leaks while they’re small is your best bet. 

Remember, small leaks aren’t just an issue in the summer months. In freezing temperatures small leaks can cause dangerous, icy conditions that expand cracks in your foundation and even lead to pipes bursting. So don’t ignore that hose leak! Take care of it now before it drains your wallet later.

Summer Fire Warnings

As we head into summer it’s important to be aware of fire warnings that the National Weather Service may post. In New York, fire season runs from March 16th through May 14th. However, there are days all the way through until winter, when weather conditions can create a dangerous situation that can threaten not only woodland but also your home.

When most people hear “forest fire,” they think of the west, where fires are extremely common; however, Long Island also has a lot of wild areas that can, and have, fallen victim to wildfires. In August 1995 the area burned by the Sunrise fire covered 4,500 acres of pine barrens and required fire departments from 10 states to put out. 

Dry conditions combined with high temperatures and wind are considered fire weather and may call for a red flag warning. A red flag warning is a weather forecast issued by the National Weather Service to indicate that conditions are ideal for wildfires. This puts the forest service on alert and should be a warning not to use fire pits or other open burn sites. 

When the fire danger is high, be careful using your barbecue or any other outdoor fire source as small sparks can create large fires that quickly get out of control. Be sure you take precautions such as making sure the area is clear of brush and other flammable items before lighting your grill to ensure the safety of your family and home. 

When Do You Need a New Roof?

When was the last time you checked on your roof? How long has it been since you had a new roof installed? Is it time for a new one? 

How long your roof will last varies based on roofing materials used, location, and exposure to the elements. A roof that never sees snow or ice may last a lot longer than one that does. 

Your roof is your home’s first line of defense against the elements and as such it undergoes a lot of wear and tear. Rain, storms, snow, and hail damage can lead to roof damage and a leaky roof; but just because you have a roof leak doesn’t mean you need an entirely new roofing system. On the other hand, letting a repair go because “it’s just a little leak” can cause extensive damage and lead to a replacement that could have been avoided.

Generally speaking, a properly installed asphalt shingle roof should last at least 25 years, depending on the style of roofing shingles that have been used. A metal roof will last between 40 and 70 years before you need a roof replacement, but you should still regularly check for signs of damage that can shorten the life of any roof.

Take a good look at your roof. Each layer of shingles should lie flat against the roof. If they’re not, you could have a problem. Additionally, sagging, moss or cracked flashing can also be signs of potential issues. While cracked, damaged, or buckled shingles can cause a leaky roof, how do you know if you need a repair or a replacement? 

Roofing contractors are your best bet to determine which you will need, however, don’t just go with a local “roofing guy”. You want to use licensed and insured roofing companies with a good track record so that you don’t end up getting a new roof installed when a repair would have worked just fine. Sometimes all it takes is a coat of roofing cement to repair the flashing or loose shingles, but a licensed roofer is the best person to make that determination.

Preventing Mold in the Bathroom

Mold loves to live in warm, moist environments so your bathroom is the perfect place for mold to grow. Excess water from the sink, shower and even toilet can cause the humidity to reach a level where mold becomes an issue. To help keep your bathroom mold-free, follow these tips!

Excess moisture is what causes mold in your bathroom, so it’s important to help it escape particularly after a shower. When you shower use the exhaust fan and keep it running for about 30 minutes after you’re done to help get the moist air out. 

After your shower or bath keep the door open to help dissipate moisture into the rest of the house. Opening a window if you have one can also help get moist air out of the bathroom. 

After your shower, make sure you keep your shower curtain open to allow moisture to drain off more easily. 

To prevent mold from taking hold, regularly clean your bathroom surfaces with a mold and mildew remover. Take a scrub brush and go over the tile and grout in your shower in particular, as that is the most common place to find mold growth. 

After your shower, use a squeegee on the walls and shower doors to help get rid of excess water. 

Hang towels, washcloths, and poofs up to dry; never let them sit in a puddle of water. 

All in all, the number one thing to remember is that mold needs moisture to grow, so the more moisture you can remove by creating more ventilation or wiping up excess water, the better your fight against mold and mildew will go!

Keeping Water Out of the Basement

With all the snow and rain we’ve been having, and the promise of a wet spring ahead, it’s important to go over how to keep water from entering your basement. Melting snow and rain can do a tremendous amount of damage as it creeps into your home’s foundation through cracks in the foundation and foundation walls via hydrostatic pressure. 

Basement flooding can cause mold and other issues to spread through your house, so it is important to prevent water from accessing your home. 

Hydraulic cement can be used to patch holes in your foundation or basement walls to help prevent water from seeping through. 

Utilizing downspout extensions to allow gutters to drain further away from the home may help prevent a wet basement. 

Ensuring that your home has proper grading can go a long way toward keeping water out of the basement and should be your first step in creating a drainage system. Ideally, the ground should drop one inch for every one foot that you move away from the house for the first 5 to 10 feet around your house. While this is not always possible, the ground should never be sloping upwards as you move away from your house foundation. When the ground slopes upward the water will flow downward, right into your foundation where hydrostatic pressure will eventually push it through the foundation. 

Having a french drain for your basement or crawl space, or installing and maintaining footing drains, can help water from building up and covering your basement floor. A french drain is a ditch in the ground inset with perforated piping under gravel. The pipe funnels water to a central location where it can be pumped away using a sump pump attached to a garden hose or other system. A footing drain is a similar system but is installed outside the perimeter of your home to help keep water out and prevent water problems. Whichever drainage system you utilize, it is important to maintain it, as tree roots and debris can clog them and render them useless.

Space Heater Safety Tips

With space heater safety in the news, it’s a good time to go over some space heater safety tips. 

According to the consumer product safety commission, portable space heaters are responsible for an average of 1,200 house fires every year. 

Home heating system fires can be deadly; causing 490 civilian deaths, 1,400 civilian injuries, and one billion dollars in direct property damage. 

The National Fire Protection Association lists heating as the second leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries every year. 

To prevent becoming a statistic, here are a few things to know about space heaters and how to use them. 

  1. Always be sure your space heater is a recent model that is UL rated. UL (Underwriters Laboratories) is a global safety certification company that ensures the safety of electronics, such as electric heaters. They do safety testing on space heaters and thousands of other electric appliances. 
  1. When plugging in space heaters make sure to always plug them directly into a wall outlet, never into extension cords or power strips. Using a power strip can cause the outlet to overheat, leading to it short circuiting or potentially catching fire. Never try to override the safety features of a space heater such as automatic shut off or tip over switches. Those features are there for your safety. Remember, the heating element in a space heater can get up to 600 degrees, which can very easily cause a house fire. 
  1. Never leave a space heater unattended, and keep it at least 3 feet from furniture, rugs, beds, clothing and curtains. A three foot rule is standard. 
  1. Make sure your space heater isn’t a tripping hazard and is kept away from young children and pets. 
  1. If your space heater or its power cord is hot to the touch, turn it off and unplug it ASAP. Don’t plug it back in until you’ve had it repaired, or you can replace it with a new heater. Do not donate an overheating space heater to charity. You don’t want to pass on the danger to another family. 

Remember, when it’s cold outside, a space heater can help take the edge off a chill and create a comfy living area, but it is important to stay safe while using them to prevent the risk of fire or death. 

Winter Home Safety Tips

During the winter months, there are several things you should do to keep your family and home safe. Here’s a checklist of the top five winter safety tips to keep in mind. 

  1. Be wary of carbon monoxide. Warm your car up outside. Even if the garage door is open, it isn’t safe to do it inside and you risk carbon monoxide poisoning. Space heaters are another carbon monoxide risk. Use them with caution. Purchase and maintain carbon monoxide detectors, and take note of their expiration dates.  If no expiration date is listed, keep in mind that the average CO detector has a life expectancy of 3–5 years, while smoke detectors need to be replaced every 8–10 years.
  2. Freezing temperatures don’t have to mean burst pipes. Water pipes on exterior walls or in unheated spaces such as a garage or attic are particularly susceptible to winter weather damage, so consider investing in pipe insulation and make sure you close the shut-off valve for outdoor faucets. Consider opening cabinets and closet doors to circulate warm air into the area. In extreme cold weather, you may need to leave the cold water tap dripping. This makes freezing pipes less likely to occur. 
  3. Schedule a furnace inspection. Part of preparing your home for winter weather is ensuring that you can keep your home warm. Finding out about any issues you may have early in the season is much better than being stuck on the coldest day of the year without heat. Additionally, replace furnace filters and check your outdoor exhaust vents to make sure they are clear of snow and ice at all times. 
  4. Before snow falls make sure that your gutters are free of leaves and debris. This will prevent ice dams which can cause water damage when winter storms overflow gutters. 
  5. Check your trees for branches that overhang power lines. During the winter season accumulating snow can cause damage or even a power outage when a branch breaks. 

Spending a little bit of time now preparing for winter will allow you to spend more time safely, inside, and in the warm this winter. 

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.