Category Archives: Home

How to Make Barbecue Safely

Did you know that the type of grill you own impacts the way you should care for it?

  • Position the grill well away from siding, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Place the grill a safe distance from lawn games, play areas, and foot traffic.
  • Keep children and pets away from the grill area by declaring a 3-foot “kid-free zone” around the grill.
  • Put out several long-handled grilling tools to give the chef plenty of clearance from heat and flames when cooking food.
  • Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below grill so it cannot be ignited by a hot grill.
  • Use only outdoors! If used indoors, or in any enclosed spaces, such as tents, barbecue grills pose both a fire hazard and the risk of exposing occupants to carbon monoxide.

Charcoal Grills

  • Purchase the proper starter fluid and store out of reach of children and away from heat sources.
  • Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals or kindling have already been ignited, and never use any flammable or combustible liquid other than charcoal starter fluid to get the fire going.

Propane Grills

  • Check the propane cylinder hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year. A light soap and water solution applied to the hose will reveal escaping propane quickly by releasing bubbles.
  • If you determined your grill has a gas leak by smell or the soapy bubble test and there is no flame:
    • Turn off the propane tank and grill.
    • If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again.
    • If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.
  • If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not attempt to move the grill.
  • All propane cylinders manufactured after April 2002 must have overfill protection devices (OPD). OPDs shut off the flow of propane before capacity is reached, limiting the potential for release of propane gas if the cylinder heats up. OPDs are easily identified by their triangular-shaped hand wheel.
  • Use only equipment bearing the mark of an independent testing laboratory. Follow the manufacturers’ instructions on how to set up the grill and maintain it.
  • Never store propane cylinders in buildings or garages. If you store a gas grill inside during the winter, disconnect the cylinder and leave it outside.

For Water Quality Do You Need a Water Filter

Are you concerned about the water quality in your home, or do you yearn for better tasting water from your kitchen faucet?

First, consider whether you really need a water purification system in your home. More than 90 percent of the water supply in the United States is safe to drink from the tap, according to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA).

However, some people may need to consider a water purification system to improve water quality in their homes for health safety reasons, including those who have:

  • A high level of lead in their water, as shown by water testing
  • A high level of a contaminant in their water, such as radon in water from a well
  • An extremely compromised immune system, such as those with HIV or who are on chemotherapy

Water purification systems can help to eliminate contaminants that can make you sickor affect the taste or feel of your water supply. Water filter systems may be able to remove:

  • Microbes, including viruses, bacteria, and parasites, such as cryptosporidium and giardia
  • Lead
  • Radon
  • Radium
  • Nitrates
  • Arsenic
  • Pesticides
  • Byproducts of the disinfection process

Water Filter Options

There are a number of factors to consider when deciding on a water filter system. Look for a water purification or filter system that has been certified to meet standards of water quality set by the EPA, as well as one that meets your specific needs. Not every system can remove every contaminant. If you’re concerned about a particular contaminant, like bacteria or radon, find the water filter system that works best at removing that particular contaminant from your water supply.

A water purification system can be either point of use (POU), meaning it filters the water at the particular faucet it is attached to, or point of entry (POE), in which the water supply is filtered as it comes into your home so that you have purified water at every faucet. The system might include a filter, a piece of material that “catches” contaminants like microbes and chemicals in the water, or it might remove or destroy contaminants in another manner.

Point-of-entry water filter options include:

  • Water softeners. A water softener uses an exchange system to correct water “hardness.” Tap water contains calcium and magnesium, which can make the water very hard. This water filter uses sodium or potassium ions to replace the calcium and magnesium ions, which makes the water softer.
  • Aerators. These water filter devices use jets of air to remove certain chemicals, like radon and chemical components of gasoline.
  • Adsorptive media or water filtration. These are often carbon-based filtering systems that trap both solids and liquids in the material of the filter.

Point-of-use water filter options include:

  • Distillers. These devices boil water and remove the contaminant-containing water vapor from the drinking water. This water filtration process removes many of the minerals naturally found in water, but may change the taste.
  • Reverse osmosis units. These devices filter water through a membrane, using pressure that pulls out chemicals and microbes. These systems use a lot of water, but they do remove all microbes that cause disease and a lot of chemicals. This is an extremely effective system for purifying water.
  • Filtered water pitchers. These pitchers come equipped with a replaceable (usually every three months) filter that traps chemicals and other contaminants. You simply fill the pitcher from your tap and wait while the water flows through the filter. These are affordable and easy to use, and will also improve the taste of tap water.

Water Filter Alternatives

If you aren’t ready to buy a water purification system, there are other ways to remedy some (but not all) drinking water problems without a water filter:

  • When turning on water for the first time in a few hours, turn on the cold water tap and let it run for several minutes. This can help flush lead out of the water.
  • Boil water for one to three minutes, then put it in a clean pitcher and put it in the refrigerator. This should kill microbes, like cryptosporidium.
  • Put tap water in a pitcher or another container and refrigerate it. This can help improve the taste of overly chlorinated water.

If you’re concerned about water safety, you can take steps to improve water quality at home, and make sure that what you’re drinking is safe for you and your family. Once you figure out the problems you need to address, you can find the best system to improve your water quality.

Warning The Bed Bug Insecticides Causing Sickness

Bed bug infestations are bad enough, but a new report finds that more than 100 Americans have become sickened from exposure to the insecticides used to eliminate the pests.

The cases happened across seven states, researchers said, and bed bug insecticide exposure may have even contributed to one death.

“The majority of cases involved misuse,” said report co-author Dr. Geoffrey Calvert, a medical officer at the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

Although the issue is not yet a major public health problem, he did offer one key recommendation for folks battling bed bugs.

“If you can’t control bed bugs with non-chemical means, such as washing and vacuuming, that means it’s probably going to be difficult to eradicate them, and we would recommend that people enlist the services of a pest control operator,” Calvert said.

The findings are published in the Sept. 23 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Bed bugs have made a notable comeback over the past few years across the United States and beyond. In San Francisco, for example, reports of bed bug infestations doubled between 2004 and 2006, one study found.

In the new study, the researchers looked at data on illnesses linked to bed bug eradication efforts reported via a federally funded pesticide illness surveillance program between 2003 and 2010. They found 111 such cases across seven states.

Most of the cases, 93 percent, were among people who tried to solve a bed bug problem at home. Most of the illnesses involved headache and dizziness, pain while breathing, difficulty breathing and nausea and vomiting, according to the report. Many of those who fell ill were workers — such as EMS technicians and carpet cleaners — who visited homes but had not been told that insecticides had recently been used.

Most of the illnesses did not require medical treatment and resolved in about a day, Calvert stressed. But about 18 percent of cases were more severe and required medical attention, he added.

One associated death was reported: In 2010, a woman in North Carolina who had a history of heart attacks, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and depression died after her husband used too much pesticide to try to kill bed bugs. The pesticide turned out to be ineffective against bed bugs and was used inappropriately over several days — the woman even sprayed the pesticide, plus a flea insecticide, on her hair, arms and chest before going to bed, the report’s authors said.

In another case in Ohio in 2010, an uncertified exterminator used malathion up to five times a day over three days in an apartment to treat a bed bug infestation. The product used was not registered for indoor use, and so much was dispensed that beds and floor coverings were saturated, according to the report. The result: Children living in the apartment required medical help and were unable to live there again. The exterminator pleaded guilty to criminal charges, was fined and put on probation.

Calvert noted that the cases documented in his team’s report are most likely only a fraction of actual illnesses, since most people affected probably never reported their symptoms and got better on their own.

If consumers attempt to control the pests on their own, Calvert advised they first make sure that the pesticide they use is made specifically for controlling bed bugs. Second, they should read the label before using the pesticide and follow the directions carefully. In addition, people living in or visiting the treated space should be notified that a pesticide has been used before they enter, he said.

In some cases, professional help may be necessary.

Overall, the findings “draw attention to the necessity of effective bed bug control by a licensed, qualified pest professional,” said Missy Henriksen, a spokeswoman for the National Pest Management Association.

Because bed bugs are one of the most difficult pests to control, eradicating them can require a partnership between a consumer and a qualified and licensed pest professional who will effectively inspect and treat an infestation, she said.

“Treatment may incorporate the use of professional-grade products as well as non-chemical measures such as heating or cooling rooms, vacuuming, laundering and disposal of items,” Henriksen said.

The Tips To Survive a Hurricane

Hurricane season arrives every year toward the end of summer, and the first storm of the 2011 season — Irene — is threatening the U.S. East Coast. Though it’s too early to determine exactly where the storm will hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced that if you live along the Atlantic coast, you should start preparing well before the storm comes to your area.

While many who live in hurricane-prone areas already consider themselves pros at hurricane prep, it’s a good idea to review these safety precautions before a storm rolls in.

Before the Hurricane:

A joint report from FEMA, the American Red Cross, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) suggests that you plot out the safest and most effective evacuation routes before a storm strikes. Once you have an evacuation strategy in place that will keep you, your family, and your pets safe, don’t neglect these important, but easy-to-forget steps.

“Remodel” your home. Purchase plywood and other materials to board up your windows, and install straps to fasten your roof to the frame structure — this should help minimize roof damage. And don’t forget to trim those trees and bushes; doing so can cut down on the amount of post-hurricane debris you’ll have to clear.

Fill up your tank with gas. In the event of an evacuation, the last thing you’ll want to do is wait in line at a gas station — that’s why you should fill up before a storm gets close and keep your tank filled throughout hurricane season. Also, if the gas stations in your area become inoperable, filling up in advance will ensure that you still have enough gasoline to get out of town.

Stock your pantry with good-for-you foods. Once a hurricane hits your town, you can expect power outages and limited access to grocery stores — which means you need to prepare a healthy meal plan in advance — one that includes foods with a relatively long shelf life. For protein, stock up on canned tuna, chicken, or salmon, as well as beans and nuts. Keep fruits and vegetables like apples and potatoes on hand; frozen fruits and veggies will keep in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours after power goes out. Stock up on healthy snacks, such as high-fiber, low-sugar cereals, rice cakes, and energy bars (which offer a lot of healthy calories in a small package). Most important: Don’t forget about hydration. The National Hurricane Center recommends storing enough drinking water — one gallon per person per day for three to seven days.

Have a pet plan. Do you know what to do with Fido and Fluffy in the event of a hurricane? The National Hurricane Center suggests keeping a current photograph of your pet on hand and ensuring that your pets have collars with identification (in case you get separated). And don’t forget to consider your furry friends in your evacuation strategy — if you’re planning on staying in a hotel along your evacuation route, locatepet-friendly hotels or pet shelters nearby before you leave.

Keep your documents dry. Important documents — such as birth certificates, insurance information, and social security cards — should be kept in a safe, dry place (even if that means taking them along with you in an evacuation).

Insure yourself. Make an inventory of the contents in your home (consider documenting them in a video diary), in case you need to file an insurance claim after the storm. Be sure to include your most valuable and expensive assets, such as electronics. Also, review your homeowners’ insurance plan. In a press release, Weather Channel’s hurricane expert Dr. Rick Knabb noted that flooding is not covered under most policies.

Create a hurricane supply kit. Stock up on emergency food, water, and equipment, and don’t forget to test everything to make sure it works. According to the National Hurricane Center, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Water (1 gallon per day per person for 3 to 7 days)
  • Food (non-perishable packaged and foods, baby food, utensils, and healthy snack options) — don’t forget the non-electric can opener!
  • Prescription medications
  • A first aid kit
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Battery-powered cell phones
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Clothing and rain gear
  • Battery-operated radio
  • Toiletries
  • Pet food, pet medications, a pet carrier or cage, and a leash
  • Tool set
  • Blankets and pillows
  • Toys, books, and games

During the Hurricane

If you’re in a “watch area” or a “warning area,” stick by your radio or television for official weather bulletins — and leave immediately if officials instruct you to evacuate. If you live in a mobile home, high-rise building, or on the ocean, you should strongly consider leaving — people and property in these areas are most at risk. Be sure to unplug all small appliances like toaster ovens and alarm clocks; you may be directed to turn off utilities and your propane tank as well.

If you choose to stay at home, go to a small interior room — away from windows and doors. During the “eye” of the storm — the period of calm found at the center of the hurricane — remember that the storm is not over. Winds will pick back up as soon as the eye passes.

After the Hurricane

Steer clear of closed roads, bridges, and areas with downed power lines — and don’t reenter an evacuated area until it’s declared safe. When inspecting your home, check your gas, water, and electrical appliances for damage (and be sure to use a flashlight during your inspection — not a candle, which could easily start an accidential debris fire and lead to even more damage). Also, stay away from tap water until you hear from health officials that it’s safe.

This A Guide to Healthy Eating in Extreme Winter Storms

Big winter snowstorms, like nor’easters and blizzards, bring on extreme cold, major snow accumulation, and other immobilizing conditions. Winter storm experts at theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American Red Cross offer advice on how to prepare and stay safe and healthy during blizzards and other winter storms.

In addition to dressing appropriately for the weather, experts recommend stocking up on disaster supplies: flashlights, batteries, candles, waterproof matches, a radio, a first-aid kit, sand or rock salt for icy walkways, a snow shovel, and extra blankets.

However, your most crucial disaster supplies will be your food, water, and any prescription medications you, your family, or your pets need. Even if your home doesn’t suffer any storm damage, you could have trouble getting to the supermarket, pharmacy, or doctor during extreme winter weather conditions.

Healthy Meal Plans in Extreme Winter Snowstorms

A bad snowstorm or blizzard doesn’t have to derail your regular healthy eating regimen. As soon as you hear a winter storm warning, start stocking up on emergency water and healthy, shelf-stable and frozen foods that your family will enjoy. Be sure to pay special attention to the diet-specific needs of family members with health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, celiac disease (gluten sensitivity), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

It is essential for people with health conditions like these to pay attention to their diets during winter storms. People with diabetes must stay on a regular eating schedule to keep their blood sugar stable, and people with high blood pressure must remember to stick with low- or no-sodium canned goods and packaged foods — not the high-sodium prepared foods that are typically set aside for times when the electricity goes out.

Read the shopping lists and sample menus below to get more ideas about how you and your family can eat healthfully during a winter emergency.

Shopping Lists and Sample Menus by Condition and Special Food Plans

These healthy-eating plans help those with medical conditions, as well as people who choose a vegetarian diet, make it through in good health.

Healthy eaters/high blood pressure/heart disease

Diabetes

Celiac disease (gluten-free)

Pregnancy

Vegetarians and vegans

Healthy-Meals Kit for Blizzards and Winter Snowstorms

Part of your emergency plan to stay nourished and hydrated during severe winter storms should include creating a healthy-meals kit. Joy Bauer, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert for Everyday Health and NBC’s Today show, recommends preparing your healthy-meals kit at the start of winter, in anticipation of blizzards and snowstorms. “Doing it at the beginning of the season is especially important if you don’t regularly keep nonperishable foods on hand year-round,” says Bauer. Choose foods for the kit specific to your health conditions and make sure they remain properly sealed until you’re ready to use them. “At the end of winter, you can add whatever you didn’t use back into your main pantry,” suggests Bauer.

Your kit should contain a supply of shelf-stable foods, frozen essentials, and bottles of water sufficient for several days. “I also recommend keeping a small stash of high-calorie, shelf-stable food in the trunk of your car in case you get stranded in the snow,” says Bauer.

Fill up your blizzard healthy-meals kit with the following:

  • Shelf-stable foods: These include low-sodium canned beans and soups; peanut butter (or other nut or seed butters); pasta sauce; canned light tuna, salmon, and sardines; fat-free evaporated skim milk (in cans); turkey jerky; dried fruits and nuts, trail mix, and nutrition bars; boxed cereal and whole-grain crackers; fruit canned in 100 percent juice; and applesauce cups.
  • Frozen essentials: Stock your freezer with an extra loaf or two of whole-grain bread, some healthy frozen meals, and frozen vegetables and fruits.
  • Emergency water: Amass at least one gallon of water per person (and pet) per day — and keep at least a three-day supply, so your family can stay hydrated. For a family of five, that amounts to 15 to 20 gallons.
  • Tools: Be sure you have a manual can opener, since power outages can prevent you from using an electric one,. Also keep on hand a battery-powered hot pot or, alternatively, a gas camping stove. “Just don’t cook with it inside the house!” warns Bauer, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from improper ventilation. You’ll also need thermoses in which you can store hot soup and tea or coffee; a cooler and ice packs for foods that need to be kept cold; a food thermometer; disposable plates, cups, and utensils; and aluminum foil to cook over a camping stove, grill, or an open fire outdoors.
  • Medication: Set aside a five- to seven-day backup supply of all your family’s prescription medications. Carefully note the expiration dates and replace as necessary. Anyone who is regularly taking medication should continue to follow the prescribed directions.
  • Backup supplies: If you have pets or a baby, maintain a backup supply of pet food and baby food and formula. Choose ready-to-drink formula if possible, so you don’t have to add water — if necessary, use bottled water to prep the formula.
  • Car trunk stash: Keep a small kit of emergency food in the trunk of your car in case you ever get stranded in a blizzard. Fill it with nutrition and granola bars, bottles of water filled halfway (to allow for expansion when freezing), trail mix, turkey jerky, and similar camping foods. Replace the emergency food at the start of every winter.

“If you have power or a heating source, you’ll have far more options,” says Bauer. She recommends preparing healthy comfort food while you’re snowed in — a pot ofturkey-bean chili, lentil stew, minestrone soup, or pasta with sauce and Parmesan cheese. If you end up losing power, you can still prepare cereal, sandwiches, bean salads, and many other healthy meals without a heating source.

Jessica Fishman Levinson, registered dietitian and founder of Nutritioulicious, also suggests that throughout the winter you make a habit of regularly buying vegetables and fruits that don’t need to be refrigerated (for example, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, apples, and oranges). Keeping them on hand will ensure that you have a source of fresh fruit and veggies during winter emergencies.

Here You Go An Expert Resource for the Conscious Consumer

Imagine a marketplace where retailers and manufacturers are compelled to make only safe,environmentally sustainable products from ethically sourced raw materials, produced by a fairly treated workforce. For Dara O’Rourke, it’s not an abstract idea; it’s his vision for the future. As associate professor of environmental and labor policy at the University of California at Berkeley, O’Rourke is a co-founder of GoodGuide.com, an online consumer resource that uses scientific calculations to create sophisticated ratings and assign “health” scores to thousands of products and companies.

Sound complicated? It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s O’Rourke’s way of giving consumers the information they need to understand the personal and social health costs that may go in to producing that household cleaner they’re using, the baby’s diaper, the jeans they’re wearing — the list includes more than 115,000 products so far.

“The idea for GoodGuide came about while I was putting sunscreen on my then 3-year-old daughter’s face. I started wondering about the ingredients in her sunscreen, so I went back to campus at UC Berkeley, where I teach, did some research, and found out that the sunscreen contained traces of potentially toxic chemicals. I then researched the rest of my daughter’s stuff and found that her shampoo, her favorite toys, and even her furniture contained ingredients with potential health hazards. This surprised and angered me,” O’Rourke says. “I realized that even though I have a Ph.D., and study products and supply chains full-time, I knew almost nothing about the products I was bringing into my own house. This motivated me to create GoodGuide, to give consumers the information they need to make better decisions about which products best match their health, environmental, and ethical concerns.” O’Rourke shares more of his findings and story here.

My health breakthrough: I grew up never really thinking about health issues. My family was luckily always very healthy and active. I was a swimmer and water polo player growing up and through college. My father is still a masters runner (in his seventies). So I honestly didn’t really think much about health issues until I was in my twenties conducting research in factories in Southeast Asia. While living and working in Southeast Asia, I got sick a number of times from poor water and hygiene. But more importantly, I saw firsthand the incredibly tough health conditions of workers in factories producing shoes, clothes, electronics, even food for the U.S. market. Over a number of years in the mid-’90s, I was able to get inside these factories and conduct research on worker health and safety conditions. This research ultimately led to a report on the working conditions of Nike workers in Vietnam, which ended up as a front page story in The New York Times and helped spur my interest in health conditions around the world.

My health impact overseas and in the classroom: Since the mid-’90s, I have worked in Asia and Latin America on issues related to the health and safety of the workers who make the goods we consume here in the United States. More recently, I have tried to conduct research that connects impacts across global supply chains, from workers to consumers.

In my role as a professor at UC Berkeley, I also teach a large undergraduate course on environmental justice. The course ends up focusing a lot on environmental health issues in the United States, in particular on inequitable distributions of health and environmental outcomes.

My health projection: GoodGuide.com is still in its early days. We see a trajectory — in the not-too-distant future — of fully personalized, fully localized tools that empower consumers to shop their values whenever and wherever they make decisions. I believe in the next two to three years, people will be able to walk into any retailer, or land on any e-commerce site, and get instant advice on the products that best match their own values. We see long-term potential to really cut through marketing and advertising to provide consumers with exactly the information they need to make the best possible decisions.

My favorite healthy habit: Swimming. I try to swim three to four times per week, about 2,000 yards per session. I also love surfing whenever I can (which isn’t that often these days!).

My health heroes: I have a long list of people I think are doing amazing work related to health issues. Take just one example: the obesity epidemic in the U.S. People like Dr. Kelly Brownell, Dr. Marion Nestle, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, and many others have been doing amazing work to raise awareness about our food system, agricultural policies, subsidies for certain crops, and food marketing (in particular to children).

I have also been amazed at what I’ve learned from GoodGuide members. These are busy parents working hard to change their lives — to protect their families’ health and safety — and ultimately to try to make a difference in the marketplace.

Seasonal Tips for Clean Your House

Indoor air quality may be invisible, but it still has an impact on your family’s health and your home safety. Levels of many pollutants can be far higher indoors than they are outdoors — and indoor pollutants can seriously affect your health. Major factors impacting indoor air quality and home safety are air circulation and moisture levels.

Ted Schettler, MD, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says that air filters, which help capture particulate pollution, play a major part in home air quality.

Clean, efficient fans and filters on dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, and other appliances allow them to function efficiently and can also reduce moisture in the air and minimize particulate pollution in your house.

Similarly, for home safety, it’s important to vacuum or dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors frequently, as spider webs and dust can limit their effectiveness. While you’re dusting, take a moment to test them and make sure the batteries are still working.

Take these steps throughout the year to improve the air quality inside your home:

  • Be sure air vents between the indoors and the outside aren’t blocked by snow, leaves, dirt, or other debris, depending on the season.
  • Vacuum rear grills on refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean drip trays to prevent mold growth.
  • Be diligent about fixing any plumbing leaks — even small drips can create favorable conditions for mold growth and affect air quality.
  • Clean clothes dryer exhaust ducts and vents.

What’s in Your Garage?

In general, air circulation inside a home should be encouraged, but air shouldn’tcirculate freely between an attached garage and your family’s living space. Car exhaust and other pollutants found in garages can have a serious, negative effect on the air quality inside your home and on your home safety. Make sure the door between the garage and your home seals completely, and keep weather stripping in good repair.

Tips for Year-Round Home Health

These seasonal tasks can help improve your home’s “health:”

Spring

  • Clean your air conditioner and have it serviced as necessary, at least every two years; clean and replace the filters as necessary.
  • Turn off the gas furnace and fireplace pilot light if applicable.
  • Check your home’s sump pump to ensure it’s functioning properly before the spring thaw.
  • Clean ceiling fans so they don’t spread accumulated dust particles throughout the house.

Summer

  • Inspect and repair vermin screens on chimney flues.
  • Inspect chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures for bird nests, which can prevent ventilation of combustible gases, decreasing air quality and posing potential fire hazards. Repeat this task in the fall.
  • Inspect the outside perimeter and trim shrubs and bushes away from the house, foundation, and roof, as growth that’s too close to the house can promote algae and mold.

Fall

  • Clean humidifiers in preparation for seasonal use.
  • Remove screens from windows where they might trap condensation on glass, promoting mold growth.
  • Sweep the chimney to remove creosote buildup and inspect for necessary repairs.
  • Seal any openings on the exterior of the house to prevent rodents and other pests from entering.

Winter

  • Test for carbon monoxide and radon levels.
  • Clean humidifier(s) regularly when in use.
  • Clean air vents on heating systems and space heaters, and be sure to service your furnace/heating system at least every other year.

Following these maintenance tips can help you and your loved ones breathe easy all year long.

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.