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. 

Lead Abatement

Lead abatement is the process of removing or reducing the level of lead in a home or business. When lead abatement is done in a home the process is designed to permanently eliminate lead paint-based hazards. These work practices are important to prevent children and adults alike from being lead poisoned. The only way to prevent lead poisoning is to remove lead from the environment. Once the lead is abated the lead risk is gone and a home can be considered “lead safe”.

Renovation and Lead

In houses built prior to 1978 lead abatement activities are very important when any kind of renovation is taking place. Paint chips or even the lead dust from sanding lead paint can create an extreme hazard leading to elevated blood lead levels. During the renovation, repair, and painting of these homes, it is important to have a lead abatement contractor work on the job. An experienced lead risk assessor should be present to determine if lead paint stabilization, paint abatement, or a full lead abatement project need to occur. 

Lead is not only dangerous when swallowed. It is also dangerous when it is inhaled. That means that even if the paint is not peeling it can be a problem. Lead paint is very dangerous when it is being stripped or sanded.

The work performed during lead paint removal can be extremely dangerous and difficult. The EPA requires individuals and firms who perform abatement projects in pre-1978 target housing and child-occupied facilities to be certified and follow specific work practices.

If you decide to attempt to tackle this dangerous project on your own you can look to our previous blog posts for tips on the best way to contain and remove lead-based paint. However, it is highly recommended that you consider hiring a Certified RRP (Renovation, Repair, and Painting), Contractor. Remember, ANY dust leftover from your renovation can be a risk to your family and pets, so take this risk seriously and give the professionals a call.

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.