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. 

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.