Monthly Archives: September 2016

Build Your Home a No-Smoking Zone

There’s really no debating it: All homes should be smoke-free spaces. Not only does cigarette, pipe, and cigar smoke expose other people in your home to the dangers of secondhand (and third-hand) smoke, it sharply increases the chances of a house fire and makes your home less desirable to live in and visit.

The Dangers of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is more dangerous than it sounds. Declared a human carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke exhaled by the smoker and the smoke coming from the tobacco product itself. This double whammy increases the risk of serious health complications and death.

A smoker in your home compromises his life and the life of everyone around him. And that includes pets: Cats exposed to secondhand smoke have double the risk of developing malignant lymphoma.

Many state governments are taking the health risks of secondhand smoke and indoor air pollution so seriously that they have banned smoking in most public areas, including restaurants, workplaces, and bars. More than half the states and the District of Columbia have put comprehensive smoke-free laws into place.

Some of the specific potential health effects of secondhand smoke include increased risk of:

  • Lung cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Pneumonia
  • Bronchitis
  • Pregnancy complications
  • Coughing
  • Excess phlegm production
  • Wheezing
  • Ear infection
  • Reduced lung function
  • Severe asthma symptoms

Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to infants and young children, since their developing bodies are especially sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke.

A Smoking Ban Should Be Part of Your Fire Safety Plan

Another way smoking in the home can endanger your family is by increasing the chances for a house fire. Smoking-related fires are the leading cause of house fire deaths — just one more excellent reason to ban cigarettes and smoking of any kind in the home.

If that’s not possible, be sure to never allow smoking in bed and carefully dispose of each cigarette that is smoked in and around your home.

What About Third-Hand Smoke?

The smoke from cigarettes, cigars, or a pipe not only seeps into hair and clothing, but can also get into rugs, upholstered furniture, curtains, and other fabric surfaces. Once these particles settle in, they stay long after the smoker has finished smoking. This type of long-term effect is now sometimes referred to as “third-hand smoke” — years later, people who were not even acquainted with the original smoker are still breathing in the smoke residue.

If you smoke or spend a lot of time around a smoker, you might not notice the unpleasant odor of stale tobacco smoke, but any guests you have certainly will. So resolve to stop smoking in your home, remove ashtrays, and ask that others refrain from smoking when they visit — politely ask that he or she smoke outside if they must.

A smoke-free environment will make your home a safer, healthier, more pleasant place for you, your friends, and your family.

Home Security To Prevent Burglaries

Ever wonder if your home is a target for burglaries — if burglars look hungrily at your poorly lit, flimsy front door? View your home the way a burglar would, and think about what you see. Boosting your home security will give you peace of mind, and help prevent a robbery.

How to Make Your Home More Secure

You don’t have to barricade your doors and windows to keep burglars out of your home. But you do need to make sure that your home is protected, with no weak spots where burglars can enter or hide out. Here are some ways to strengthen your home security:

  • Door security. Use solid metal or wood doors with deadbolt locks, and hinges without removable pins when possible. If you have sliding glass doors, secure them with screws that keep them from being lifted off their tracks and lock them with a deadbolt lock. Make sure all doors in the house, including patio and side doors, are secured at all times.
  • Close the garage. Keep your garage doors and windows closed and locked, including those doors leading from the garage into the home.
  • Light your home. Make sure doors and windows are well lit. Exterior and interior lighting is important for deterring burglars. No burglar wants to get caught trying to break in through a door or window with a light shining brightly on him or her.
  • Lock windows. All windows on the main floor of your home — which are probably pretty easy to get into — should be securely locked. Also secure all screens and storm windows, and basement windows as well.
  • Protect upper floors. If you home is two stories or higher, don’t underestimate a burglar’s ability to climb up to get inside. Keep trees trimmed away from windows to prevent climbing in, and make sure there is no access to a ladder. If upper windows have locks, use them; if they don’t, consider installing them.
  • Trim shrubbery. Don’t give burglars a place to hide by allowing landscaping to get too lush or overgrown, blocking windows and doors. Keep all trees and bushes around your home neat and trimmed.
  • Talk to neighbors. If you are concerned about home security and burglaries, talk to trusted neighbors. Neighbors can do more than lend a cup of sugar — ask them to let you know if they see anyone suspicious around your home, and offer to do the same for them.
  • Fence in your yard. A fence, particularly one with only a narrow gate, may deter burglars. A fence makes it more difficult to get in and out, especially lugging big, awkward items like a TV out of your home.
  • Consider a burglar alarm. An alarm can certainly scare off burglars and offer you peace of mind. A loud alarm will sound when your home is broken into, and some alarms automatically call the police or a security company when triggered.
  • Take a self-defense class. If you’re worried about how to react if an intruder breaks in, consider taking a self-defense class. You’ll learn how to surprise a burglar, and have him heading for the door — and you’ll feel more confident in your abilities.
  • Get a dog. Most dogs make a lot of noise when they hear something suspicious, and the last thing a burglar wants is for people to be made aware of his presence.

Home Security When You Travel

You may be particularly concerned about home protection while you’re traveling or on vacation, and rightly so. Burglars look for good opportunities, like plenty of time to break in without worrying about someone coming home and disrupting them.

Take these extra precautions before heading out of town so that you don’t leave your home vulnerable to burglary:

  • Make sure all doors and windows are securely locked.
  • Leave lights on inside and outside your home, such as front porch lights, and side and back door lights.
  • Turn on a radio to make it seem like someone is home. Better yet, install a timer to turn on lights and a radio or TV at specific times of the day.
  • Instead of boarding your dog, leave Fido home and hire a pet sitter to care for your dog – and your home.
  • Have mail and newspapers collected every day, or stop delivery ahead of time.

What Kids Should Know About Home Security

Security measures should become second nature for every member of the family, even the youngest ones. Try these strategies:

  • Teach children to be careful about keeping doors locked, and not be careless about forgetting to lock or close a door or window here or there.
  • Make sure children know not to open the door for strangers. This can never be repeated enough.
  • Once old enough, kids should know how to operate the burglar alarm system, and have it on when they’re home alone.

Home security is a family affair. It takes everyone’s involvement. No matter how safe your neighborhood, don’t be careless around your home — someone may be waiting to take advantage of it.

The Ways Make Your Older Home a Safe Home

Homes built today must adhere to strict safety codes. Older homes, while offering plenty of charm and character, are more likely to have safety issues — potential problems can range from lead paint and asbestos to faulty wiring and wobbly stairs.

But you can make an older home a safe home. Educate yourself about some of the dangers associated with old homes and take any necessary action to transform your older house into one that’s as safe as possible.

The Dangers of Lead Paint and Asbestos in Older Homes

Certain materials used to build and remodel older homes are no longer used today because of safety concerns associated with them. These materials include:

  • Asbestos.Asbestos was used in insulation, shingling, millboard, textured paints, and floor tiles in older homes to make them resistant to fire. But when asbestos becomes airborne, it can be inhaled and can accumulate in your lungs, potentially leading to lung cancer, mesothelioma, and fatal scarring of the lungs. Since asbestos-containing materials are usually not dangerous when they are in good condition, it is usually best to leave these materials alone. But if you’re planning on remodeling your home and removing them, you will need to contact local environmental health officials to find out how to have these materials properly removed and, equally important, properly disposed of. If you aren’t sure if you have asbestos-containing materials in your home, a professional asbestos inspector can do an assessment and advise you.
  • Lead paint.Lead-based paint was once commonly used to paint homes, but health professionals now know that airborne lead can lead to serious health problems, such as damage to the brain, nervous system, blood cells, and kidneys. Exposure to high levels of lead can cause convulsions, coma, and even death. If your home was built prior to 1960, there is a good chance it contains lead paint. Like asbestos-containing materials, surfaces with lead-based paint are usually not dangerous if they are in good condition. But lead paint that is chipping or disturbed by friction or remodeling can cause lead poisoning. You can hire a professional who has been trained in dealing with lead paint problems to test your home and help you remove it or make your home safer. If you have children and you suspect your home contains lead-based paint, have them tested for lead exposure.

If you are considering purchasing an older home, you should first determine if asbestos or lead is a problem, especially if you are planning on renovating or restoring the home. Always make sure qualified professionals inspect the house and determine the extent of the problem.

Fire Safety Hazards in Older Homes

Another potential problem that can keep an older home from being a safe home is an outdated electrical system. While older electrical systems had no problems supplying enough power in previous years, many have trouble keeping up with today’s increased power demands. This can result in electrical fires — in fact, electrical fires are three times more likely to happen in homes that are more than 40 years old compared to homes that are only 11 to 20 years old.

Signs that your home’s electrical system may be outdated include:

  • Your circuit breakers trip often
  • You need to replace fuses frequently
  • Your lights are dim or flickering
  • You have seen sparks in your electrical system
  • There are unusual sounds coming from your electrical system, such as buzzing or sizzling
  • There is an unusual burning smell, which could be a sign of a hot wire inside your wall
  • Your switch plates or electrical covers are hot
  • You have experienced a mild shock from your electrical system

If you suspect your electrical system may be outdated, have a licensed electrician inspect it. This is especially important when you are deciding whether to buy an older home, since updating an electrical system can be costly and may affect your decision. The following electrical upgrades often need to be made in older homes:

  • Two-hole outlets should be replaced with three-hole outlets
  • Ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets need to be installed in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Add extra outlets to eliminate the need for extension cords
  • Circuit breakers should be replaced with an arc fault system

These changes do not usually need to be made all at once. For budgeting purposes, fix the most dangerous elements first and the others over time.

4 Musts for Maintaining Your Older Home

The longer you live in your home, the more likely you’ll need repairs and renovations to make it safer. Consider the following:

  • Make sure your stairs are stable and secure
  • Ensure that your stair handrails, treads, and risers are up to code
  • Install good lighting throughout your home
  • Change smoke alarm batteries every year and replace the alarms every 10 years

It’s important to keep your home in good repair and to make safety updates over time. Keep a log of all improvements and create a schedule to help you stay on track.

The Tips to Safeguarding Your Home From Flooding

Flash flooding can literally happen in an instant, and even nonviolent, slow-moving thunderstorms can overwhelm creeks and rivers, leading to serious flooding. Regardless of the cause, flooding can jeopardize your family’s safety and well-being.

Flood Control Measures to Consider

It may be impossible to prevent flooding, but flood control is possible. Follow these practical flood control tips to limit potential damage inside and outside your home:

  • Keep gutters clean and make sure downspouts drain water away from your house.
  • Maintain clear paths for storm water to travel, ensuring that storm drainage ditches are free of sticks, rocks, and other debris and can alleviate overflow that damages homes and surrounding property.
  • If you can, install a small floodwall or use sandbags to regrade your yard.
  • As a flood control precaution, install check valves and backup sewer valves to prevent water from backing up in your home’s drains.

Planning and Preparation Help Reduce Losses

Considering flood control as you perform routine maintenance on your home is the first step in safeguarding your family and property in the event of a flood. Being prepared for flooding if or when it occurs is just as important.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend these steps and precautions:

  • Know your home’s projected flood elevation and place electrical sockets and other components at least 12 inches above that point.
  • Situate your furnace, washer and dryer, and other appliances on concrete blocks or otherwise raise them so they, too, are at least 12 inches higher than you home’s projected flood elevation point.
  • Create a flood plan and “flood file” with must-have information, such as your insurance policy number and agent’s contact numbers, and friends and relatives you can contact in case of emergency. Keep the file in a safe (high and dry) place, and let caregivers and babysitters know where to find it.
  • Stock a waterproof box with at least three days’ worth of canned foods, bottled water, medications, first aid supplies, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, and fresh batteries (or a hand-powered generator), basic cleaning supplies, some cash, and any other essential items you will need in case of an emergency. If you have pets, remember their needs as well.

Flood Safety Tips to Remember

Unfortunately, the best laid plans and flood control precautions can’t prevent flooding. To keep yourself and your family safe during a flood:

  • Never walk through flowing floodwaters; even seemingly shallow flows can be powerful enough to knock adults off their feet.
  • Never drive through flowing floodwaters. Most flooding deaths occur in cars. If you are in a car during flooding conditions, get out and head (on foot) for higher ground.
  • Avoid contact with downed power lines.
  • Be wary of wild animals — when flooded out of their homes, they may take refuge in yours.
  • If advised by authorities to do so, turn off the main gas supply and power switches to utilities and do not operate them until an electrician has inspected and approved the system.
  • Until you know your water supply is safe, boil water for drinking and food preparation.
  • When in contact with floodwaters or cleaning items that have been in contact with floodwaters, wear boots and gloves, and wash your hands frequently, using soap and clean water.
  • Mold can grow quickly. Remove wet items immediately to prevent mold from developing in your home.

Flooding is a topic everybody, especially homeowners, need to know about. Armed with the proper tools and information, you can minimize the effects of flooding on you and your loved ones.