November 15, 2015

Safety for Homeowners: Emergency preparation.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 11:25 am

Every household should be prepared for emergencies. Sometimes planning for them will help to prevent them from ever happening. But if you should experience a true emergency, planning and training for it ahead of time will enable you to deal with it in a calmer, more capable, more effective and helpful manner. As they say in the world of competitive sports, “train hard to compete easy.” When the seconds are ticking past and you are in a real life and death situation, the experience will be much easier on everyone if they have at least some prior training. Otherwise people get scared because they don’t know what to do. They panic, and that makes the situation many times worse. Precious time can be lost while people are confused, indecisive, or downright incapacitated by the stress of it all. Here are some tips to help you get prepared for an emergency.

Seek Out Training

• There is no reason to rely on your own intuition or guesswork when it comes to emergencies, because the experts have already done all the research. Every community, no matter how small, is going to have nearby resources to help train you and your family members.

• The Red Cross, for example, offers great medical first responder training. You can find classes at local community colleges and through your fire department. The police department also offers help to educate you about how to prepare for emergencies.

• There are also many great free resources you can access online from the convenience of your computer. These are offered by all sorts of legitimate, official organizations including, for example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

• Take advantage of these sources of information, and if possible have every member of your household get certified through a class in CPR and first aid. Both of these classes can usually be taken in one day. You’ll get a certificate for each of them that can also make you more marketable if you’re seeking employment.
Get Supplied
• While training you’ll also learn what supplies you need for medical emergencies, natural disasters, or events like fires or being a victim of crime.

• Make a checklist of necessary items to have ready and accessible. Buy the core items – like bandages, flashlights, fire extinguishers, and emergency food and water supplies – right away.

• Then budget so that you can gradually expand your inventory and have a robust list of helpful items stored away in your home – with smaller kits in each of your vehicles.

• The investment will pay for itself in immediate peace of mind, and can pay of itself millions of times over if you find yourself in a serious emergency.
Drill Your Plan
• Even if you have training and supplies, you need to refresh your emergency preparedness at regular intervals. Not only does this help you stay sharp and know what to do, but it is also valuable for training you emotionally and psychologically.

• In a real emergency, especially an urgent, life threatening situation, it can be surprisingly hard to function. Adrenaline rushes through the body, making it difficult to think in a calm and rational way.

• Even police officers, for example, often report that when they are in a fearful situation for the first time it is hard to do simple tasks like using a key to open a car truck. Their hands are too shaky and fine motor skills become difficult to manage.

• But by doing drills and putting your body and mind through the motions ahead of time, you will be able to respond much more effectively in a dire emergency. You’ll know what important steps to take so that you can get control of the situation, alert the proper authorities, and get yourself and others to a safe place while help is on the way.
Emergencies happen, and they might happen to you or one of your neighbors. So take a little time to plan for the unexpected. That way it won’t feel so unexpected, and you’ll have more peace of mind and confidence to arm you for dealing with situations that might otherwise rattle your nerves and threaten your health and safety.

May 15, 2014

A Factsheet on Home Electrical Fire Prevention

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:34 pm

Electrical fires in our homes claim the lives of 280 Americans each year and injure 1,000 more. Some of these fires are caused by electrical system failures, but many more are caused by incorrectly installed wiring and overloaded circuits and extension cords.
The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) would like consumers to know that there are simple steps you can take to prevent the loss of life and property resulting from electrical fires.

The Problem
During a typical year, home electrical problems account for 26,100 fires and $1 billion in property losses. About half of all residential electrical fires involve electrical wiring.

The Cause
• Most electrical distribution fires result from problems with “fixed wiring” such as faulty electrical outlets and old wiring. Problems with cords (such as extension and appliance cords), plugs, receptacles, and switches also cause many home electrical fires.
• Light fixtures and lamps/light bulbs are also leading causes of electrical fires.
• Many avoidable electrical fires can be traced to misuse of electric cords, such as overloading circuits, poor maintenance, and running the cords under rugs or in high traffic areas.
Safety Precautions
• Routinely check your electrical appliances and wiring. Replace all worn, old or damaged appliance cords immediately. Do not try to repair them.
• Buy only appliances that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
• Major and small appliances should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord. Unplug small appliances when not in use.
• If an appliance has a three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or extension cord.
• Replace any electrical tool if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out or gives off smoke or sparks.
• Use only surge protectors or power strips that have internal overload protection and have the label of a recognized testing laboratory.
• Keep clothes, curtains, and other items that can catch fire at least three feet from all portable electric space heaters.
• Use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage on the lamp or fixture.
• Avoid putting cords where they can be damaged or pinched by furniture, under rugs and carpets, or across doorways.
• Extension cords are for temporary use only. Have a qualified electrician determine if additional circuits or wall outlets are needed.
• Electrical work should be done only by a qualified electrician. Call an electrician if you have any of the following:
Recurring problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers
A tingling feeling when you touch an electrical appliance
Discolored or warm wall outlets or switches
A burning smell or rubbery odor coming from an appliance
Flickering lights
Sparks from a wall outlet
Cracked or broken wall outlets

Finally, having a working smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a fire. And remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your family.

April 17, 2013

Homeowner Safety: Tips for creating the ultimate first responder kit.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 10:38 am

When thinking about homeowner safety we often think about equipment like smoke detectors and burglar alarms. Or we strategize about procedures such as fire escape plans and ways to cope without electricity during a storm. But one of the most fundamental home safety steps is the creation of a great first aid or first responder kit.

Accidents and illnesses can strike suddenly and dangerously and when that happens, your first aid kit may be your very first line of defense. Sometimes you just need to treat a simple scratch to avoid infection. But there may be a life-threatening situation where how you respond and what items you have at your fingertips determine the difference between survival and death.

Consult the Red Cross, your local fire department, or your family doctor for tips on what to include in your first responder kit. In the meantime here are some tips on helpful items to include:

  • Bandages (various sizes including butterfly bandages)
  • Roll of Gauze
  • Absorbent Compression Bandages (bulk wound dressings)
  • Triangular Bandages
  • Adhesive Tape
  • Topical Triple Antibiotic Cream
  • Antiseptic Towelettes
  • Non-Sting Antiseptic Spray (especially for children)
  • Nitrile Rubber Gloves
  • Ace Bandage
  • Instant Cold Pack (chemical ice pack)
  • Insulated Space Blanket
  • Tylenol
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Non-glass, No-Mercury Thermometer
  • Bottled Water

You should also include in the kit a copy of the great publication “First Aid Manual: The step-by-step guide for everyone.” (compiled by the American College of Emergency Physicians and published by DK Ltd.) With color-tabbed pages that make it easy to access condition-specific information and first aid procedures in a hurry, plus full-color photos and quick at-a-glance summaries, this is one of the best emergency first aid books on the market. It’s also a handy size and is routinely updated with new editions that contain the timeliest medical info.

You can store your items in a Tuppleware-type box, in a paramedic’s style carry bag, or in one of those hard plastic tool boxes available at home improvement stores. Just make sure it is secure, moisture-resistant, and never stored in a way that allows unwanted access to it by children. Label it in a conspicuous way to identify it as a first aid kit, and also tape emergency numbers to the outside of like those of your doctor and the national poison hotline. Of course you can also buy an off-the-shelf first aid kit at your local pharmacy or through agencies like the Red Cross.

It’s a good idea to keep one on each floor of your home and one in each vehicle. Smaller versions are also great for taking with you on hiking trips, excursions to the beach, and other short outings. You should also familiarize yourself with how to use the items in the kit. The best method for this is to attend a first responder certification class or workshop like those offered by local chapters of the Red Cross. Everyone old enough to attend should take advantage of these classes to learn first aid procedures including emergency CPR techniques. Study the first aid manual, too, because it has a wealth of information. The more you read and review the more knowledgeable and familiar with the responses you will become, and that will allow you to act decisively, calmly, and confidently in a real emergency.

Don’t procrastinate when it comes to setting up a first aid kit in your home and each of your vehicles. You can usually have them ready to deploy within an hour or two, just by making a couple of trips to the local drugstore. Then all you have to do is maintain them by keeping the items that have an expiration date on them fresh. That hour invested to build your kit could save a life – which makes it one of the highest-yield invests you can make.

Are there Silent Killers in Your Home?

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 10:35 am

Many homeowners unwittingly live with silent killers inside their homes in the form of environmentally hazardous substances such as radon gas, toxic mold, and formaldehyde. That’s why every home should be checked by a qualified environmental inspector, just to make sure that these dangers are not present.
Here are some of the things that you can request an inspector to look for and include in the inspection report:

mold

Toxic Mold
There are many kinds of mold that can live and thrive in your home, and they are especially attracted to dampness that occurs during months like April when rain and humidity is plentiful. Some of these create an obnoxious musty odor that can be alleviated by controlling moisture in your home and ensuring proper ventilation of fresh air. But other forms of mold can make you sick, and some are even lethal. You may not realize they are growing in your house and that you and family are breathing the poisonous spores until it is too late, so when in doubt have your home inspected.

radon

Radon Gas
Radon is a naturally occurring and radioactive gas that is given off by certain kinds of underground mineral deposits as they decay over time. When the gas is released it travels upward, and oftentimes it can enter your home from deep in the ground beneath the home’s foundation. You won’t know it unless you test for it, thought, because radon is invisible and odorless. It was not until the 1980s that scientists became aware of this potential threat to our health and linked radon gas exposure to lung cancer. In fact radon gas is second only to cigarette smoke in terms of causing lung cancer and it is estimated that radon kills approximately 25,000 every year in the United States alone.

You can get a do-it-yourself radon test kit from your local home improvement store. You set the test kit in your basement or other low-lying room for a few days and then mail it off to a testing lab that will send you the results. Or you can hire a qualified environmental inspector to do a radon check of your property and explain the findings in a written report.

Some homeowners who have granite counter tops in their kitchens and bathrooms become concerned when they learn that granite also produces these kinds of radioactive elements. But the Environmental Protection Agency and other groups that report on potential environmental hazards have issued statements explaining that there is no need to be worried about the granite in your home. The radioactive particles are so insignificantly small that they are never concentrated enough to pose a problem, so if you have granite counters you are really experiencing no more exposure than you would otherwise.

formaldehyde

Formaldehyde and Asbestos
But your older particleboard furniture or mobile home may be a potential source of trouble, because many forms of particleboard and many mobile homes are manufactured with glues made from the chemical formaldehyde. You may be familiar with this chemical from high school biology class, because formaldehyde used to be commonly used to preserve the frogs and other specimens that students dissected. These days it is recognized as a potential health hazard, however, and if you have formaldehyde in the furniture or building materials of your home you may be inadvertently exposing yourself and your family to this volatile chemical.

Similarly, asbestos used to be used as an insulator or building material in homes. If your home is old enough you may have it around the heating pipes, for example, or the siding shingles or floor tiles may be made from asbestos. Once the particles are airborne you can breathe them and suffer potentially life-threatening consequences. That’s why it is also a good idea to have your environmental inspector include formaldehyde and asbestos on the checklist of unwanted hazards to look for in your home.

March 28, 2013

Homeowner Safety: Is your webcam watching you?

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 9:40 am

A recent news item – first published by the high-tech news site “The Verge” –alarmed lots of homeowners who read it, because it described how there is security flaw in some web cams or Internet cameras that can leave you and your home vulnerable to spying.

Many web cams use TRENDnet technology, but hackers who know how to exploit a flaw in systems sold as recently as last year can get past the software’s security wall and turn on your web cam, even without your knowledge. Then they can basically peer through it across cyberspace and see whatever is going on within the view of that computer camera.

Here’s how the scary issue was describe by journalist Leo Kelion, who is a technology reporter for the BBC News agency.
“Feeds from thousands of Trendnet home security cameras have been breached, allowing any web user to access live footage without needing a password. Internet addresses which link to the video streams have been posted to a variety of popular messageboard sites. Users have expressed concern after finding they could view children’s bedrooms, among other locations.”

Once the word got out about the security flaw, websites and blogs devoted to the topic began to pop up around the Internet. Some of them showed comments publicly posted by people who had peered into the homes of complete strangers. One person explained how they watched someone getting ready to take a shower, for example, while others said they looked across cyberspace and realized they had a full view of a vacant home while the homeowner was away on holiday. To make matters even worse, some websites linked the location of the faulty web cams to Google Maps. That made it possible for anyone in the world to stare into a home through one of those web cams while also finding the exact location of the home on a map. So if somebody with bad intentions, for example, wanted to case your home prior to burglarizing it they had a great tool at their disposal.

The good news is that TRENDnet recently offered a security patch download to plug the gap and stop unwanted people from peering into your house through your TRENDnet engineered web cam.

But it won’t do you any good unless you download it and install it, and many homeowners who haven’t heard about this issue have not bothered to take that preventative safety measure. Although the company said that it has sent out notices to all registered users of these products, many consumers but items but never register with the manufacturer. If you are one of those folks then the company that made the web cam has no way to get in touch with you. Sometimes people move, too, and it could be that a consumer alert was mailed or emailed to you at an address that you no longer use.

When you purchased your web cam is also important, because not all cams made by TRENDnet are susceptible to this kind of uninvited voyeurism. It is believed that only the 20 or so different models of cams that were made between April of 2010 and February of 2012 were vulnerable. So it could be that your particular unit falls outside those dates and is not at risk, even without the security patch download.
In the BBC article it was also noted that TRENDnet was responding to the problem in a proactive way. The story said that on TRENDnet’s home page, for example, there was a link to this statement: “It is Trendnet’s understanding that video from select Trendnet IP cameras may be accessed online in real time. Upon awareness of the issue, Trendnet initiated immediate actions to correct and publish updated firmware which resolves the vulnerability.”

So what can you do? First of all you can unplug your web cam when you aren’t using it. If it is not powered up or connected to your computer it’s not going to be a portal for anyone to see through into your home. Or you simply cover the camera’s eye with something like a piece of fabric to block it, the way you block a regular camera’s lens with a lens cap. But what if you use your web cam for 24 hour security purposes and do not want to turn it off or block its view? In that case you have to rely on the manufacturer. Buy the best, highest rated, most secure unit you can afford, be sure to register it with the company, and keep yourself informed about any developments like new security patch downloads.

January 18, 2013

Homeowner Safety: Checking heat sources at winter’s end.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 1:23 pm

Now that February has arrived, the end of winter is on the horizon and it is time to start gearing up for spring – the way the clothing stores at the mall are doing. Homeowners should know that although it seems ironic, this is the actually an ideal time to do a safety check of your heating system. Most people postpone this chore until late fall or early winter, because that’s the time of year when they start to feel the urgency to heat their homes. That may seem like the natural and appropriate time to address the issue, but it’s much easier to do it at the end of winter as you head into spring. Put in on your list now and be ready to do it by this time next month.

Boilers
If you have a boiler, it’s time to drain the old water out of the unit and refill it with clean, fresh water. You should also run the boiler and check the valves on each steam radiator to make sure they are in good working order. Oftentimes a radiator that doesn’t work is easily fixed by just replacing these valves – and a $40 or $50 repair can have them working like new again. Scheduling boiler repairs as springtime approaches is easy, too, since contractors are entering the slowest season of their year.

Gas Furnaces
Homeowners with a conventional gas furnace need to be sure that the heat exchanger is in tip-top condition. Some furnaces have one and others have more than one, but all of them need to be checked by an expert. Why is this so important? Over time they degrade and develop tiny cracks that can leak, sending poisonous carbon monoxide up into your heat ducks and home. Leaks in heat exchangers cause dozens of accidental deaths every year, and carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible. So this checkup is not just to be sure you stay warm during the colder months but also to guarantee that your family is not in danger of this silent and deadly killer.

Fireplaces and Chimneys
Those who have fireplaces should have their chimneys swept or stove pipes cleaned or replaced to avoid creosote accumulation. Creosote is a naturally occurring chemical deposit that looks like charcoal flakes and will cake the walls of the pipe or chimney. Leave it there until there is enough of it and it can ignite like charcoal, causing a catastrophic fire. The build-up also chokes off the air circulation, making it harder to build a fire and easier to create a blockage that will send smoke back into the interior of your home – where it can ruin furniture upholstery and paint jobs.

Heat Pumps
If you have a heat pump make sure the filter is always kept clean. You should also have it checked once a year to make sure its functioning properly and that all the ductwork is properly sealed and insulated. Not only does that contribute the safe operation of the unit but is also helps to substantially lessen your energy loss – which lowers heating and cooling cost.

The reason for doing these projects in late February or March, not October, is twofold. First of all, you’ll find contractors who are eager to come right over and do the job. Wait until next fall or winter and they will all be busier and charging higher fees for service calls. You’ll face potential long delays, and if your system checkup reveals problems then you may also have to deal with higher repair costs. Meanwhile the weather could change suddenly and you and your family that will be huddling in the house in your woolens, just trying to stay warm until the system gets fixed. Do it now. Then perform a simple check of the unit next winter before you fire it up again, to look for any minor maintenance that may need to be done.

December 17, 2012

Safe Emergency Electricity for Your Home

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 12:13 pm

Millions of people across North America will face unexpected power outages this winter, and you will most likely be one of them. Having at least partial backup electrical power in that kind of situation can be really helpful and convenient – and can, in some cases, save lives.

The options and techniques for providing “off the grid” electrical power are numerous – and the topic is a huge one that can quickly get complicated and highly technical. But one aspect of the fascinating subject is relatively simple, and fundamentally critical – namely, safety. So here are some helpful tips for staying safe when using emergency sources of electrical power in your home.

• Gas Generators and Carbon Monoxide

When operating a gas-powered generator, one of the most dangerous threats is carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year people die because they place their generators too close to their living space and inhale the odorless but deadly fumes. Don’t use a generator in a garage, for example, or in close proximity to a window or door.

• Automotive Battery Safety

Using vehicle batteries for extra power is a good way to provide backup electricity, and you can do that with devices such as electrical inverters that change direct current (DC) to common household alternating current (AC). But standard auto batteries give off fumes including volatile hydrogen. So unless you want to accidentally create a hydrogen bomb in your home, don’t ever store or use one of these batteries in an enclosed space. They need to stay in a well ventilated area – otherwise a spark, flame, or static electricity could cause the battery to explode.

• 12 Volt Chargers

There are small 12 volt gadgets you can use to tap into your automobile battery’s electrical energy source, and these are useful for recharging flashlights, smart phones, laptops, and other low-wattage accessories. You just plug one end into your car’s electrical port (what used to be commonly referred to as the cigarette lighter). The other end plugs into your gadget to charge it. You can use these without actually cranking the car’s engine, but be careful not to drain your car’s battery by doing that for extended periods of time.

• Juice Up

Charging through your car will only work if you have a fully charged battery, so maintain your auto battery – especially in winter when batteries exert lots more energy in order to crank an engine. Auto batteries have a limited shelf life, so check the date on your battery and replace it if it has lost its power and become inadequate. Your car battery will also get drained when it sits idle for long periods or when you drain the juice off of it with charger gadgets.

• Gas Up

The good news is that by driving your vehicle the battery will get recharged, as long as it is not too severely drained and it is not otherwise defective. Of course running a vehicle depletes the fuel in its tank – which can create other problems, especially in an emergency. So the first thing to do if you expect a storm is to charge all your portable electrical gadgets such as cell phones and fill up the gas tanks in all your vehicles.

There are plenty of compelling reasons to have a safe backup system for your electrical grid. But telephones that work, a radio or TV to keep track of the news, a DVD player to keep you entertained, or a laptop that puts you in touch with the rest of the world is more than just handy. That small amenity in your household can actually make you and your family feel much less vulnerable and isolated – and that is a priceless asset in an emergency.

Even an inexpensive 12-volt gadget charger that works in an automobile or a reliable flashlight can have a really positive impact during an extended power outage. So do some research, come up with a plan you can afford, and then invest in your own electrical backup system. You’ll be glad you did when the lights suddenly go out this winter.

November 5, 2012

Safety for Homeowners: Emergency preparation.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 8:34 am

Every household should be prepared for emergencies. Sometimes planning for them will help to prevent them from ever happening. But if you should experience a true emergency, planning and training for it ahead of time will enable you to deal with it in a calmer, more capable, more effective and helpful manner. As they say in the world of competitive sports, “train hard to compete easy.” When the seconds are ticking past and you are in a real life and death situation, the experience will be much easier on everyone if they have at least some prior training. Otherwise people get scared because they don’t know what to do. They panic, and that makes the situation many times worse. Precious time can be lost while people are confused, indecisive, or downright incapacitated by the stress of it all. Here are some tips to help you get prepared for an emergency.

Seek Out Training
• There is no reason to rely on your own intuition or guesswork when it comes to emergencies, because the experts have already done all the research. Every community, no matter how small, is going to have nearby resources to help train you and your family members.

• The Red Cross, for example, offers great medical first responder training. You can find classes at local community colleges and through your fire department. The police department also offers help to educate you about how to prepare for emergencies.

• There are also many great free resources you can access online from the convenience of your computer. These are offered by all sorts of legitimate, official organizations including, for example, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

• Take advantage of these sources of information, and if possible have every member of your household get certified through a class in CPR and first aid. Both of these classes can usually be taken in one day. You’ll get a certificate for each of them that can also make you more marketable if you’re seeking employment.
Get Supplied
• While training you’ll also learn what supplies you need for medical emergencies, natural disasters, or events like fires or being a victim of crime.

• Make a checklist of necessary items to have ready and accessible. Buy the core items – like bandages, flashlights, fire extinguishers, and emergency food and water supplies – right away.

• Then budget so that you can gradually expand your inventory and have a robust list of helpful items stored away in your home – with smaller kits in each of your vehicles.

• The investment will pay for itself in immediate peace of mind, and can pay of itself millions of times over if you find yourself in a serious emergency.
Drill Your Plan
• Even if you have training and supplies, you need to refresh your emergency preparedness at regular intervals. Not only does this help you stay sharp and know what to do, but it is also valuable for training you emotionally and psychologically.

• In a real emergency, especially an urgent, life threatening situation, it can be surprisingly hard to function. Adrenaline rushes through the body, making it difficult to think in a calm and rational way.

• Even police officers, for example, often report that when they are in a fearful situation for the first time it is hard to do simple tasks like using a key to open a car truck. Their hands are too shaky and fine motor skills become difficult to manage.

• But by doing drills and putting your body and mind through the motions ahead of time, you will be able to respond much more effectively in a dire emergency. You’ll know what important steps to take so that you can get control of the situation, alert the proper authorities, and get yourself and others to a safe place while help is on the way.
Emergencies happen, and they might happen to you or one of your neighbors. So take a little time to plan for the unexpected. That way it won’t feel so unexpected, and you’ll have more peace of mind and confidence to arm you for dealing with situations that might otherwise rattle your nerves and threaten your health and safety.

October 4, 2012

Deck Safety: Are you lounging atop a disaster waiting to happen?

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 4:56 pm

Film director Alfred Hitchcock made a name for himself by creating movies that scared the living daylights out of people. But instead of conjuring up fantastic scenarios with larger-than-life monsters and villains, Hitchcock had an effective knack for taking ordinary, everyday events and turning them upside-down to make them terrifying. You may have seen in recent months how that kind of Hitchcock style horror unfolded in real life for people who were posing for photos on a prom night or wedding day when their decks collapsed.

The potential for that to happen to anyone who owns a deck is so great that CBS even ran a special news feature about deck maintenance and safety. So here is some information to help you understand the issues surrounding decks and their structural integrity in order for you to ensure that yours isn’t going to pose a problem.

Here are some of the weak links in deck construction to beware of and keep an eye on as your deck ages and weathers.
• Corroded hardware.

One of the biggest culprits is corroded hardware, so that’s the first place to look for trouble. Many decks are made with connections, fasteners, and bolts that are not capable of withstanding years of exposure to the elements.

• Nails or screws.

If your deck is held together by nails and screws – no matter how sturdy, long, big, or strong they appear to be – you are probably already in the red zone in terms of a structural hazard. There is an extraordinary amount of weight and pressure on these vital fasteners, and as they corrode or rust they lose their strength. All decks should instead be held together with heavy duty bolts properly installed and rated for heavy duty service through years of inclement weather.

• Rotted wood.

Although your deck may appear to be in solid shape, wood boring insects or moisture being wicked into the wood from the atmosphere could be attacking it and created rot. You can do a visual inspection yourself, looking for telltale signs of rot. You may also want to tap along the wood with a mallet and listen for signs of softness that indicate internal decay. But with your family’s safety on the line it is wise to skip the do-it-yourself approach. Hire a pro who can do a careful evaluation and either give your deck a clean bill of health or recommend appropriate remedies where rot is a potential hazard.

• Inadequate foundation.

Even when the deck above ground is solid as a rock, it could be in danger of crashing to the ground if it is build atop an unstable foundation. Sometimes homeowners erect a deck on top of an original foundation, for example, but then later add more weight by adding additional deck features. But an experienced engineer, inspector, or contractor who is familiar with load-bearing foundations can do some tests to try to be sure that the foundation is sturdy, level, and adequate.

• Unstable railings.

Unstable railings are always an accident waiting to happen, no matter where you find them. If you have a deck railing that’s getting a little loose or shaky you are just inviting danger and problems. Don’t procrastinate. Railings need to be repaired immediately, before you use the deck again, because until they are fixed someone could take a bad tumble.

• Railings that are set too low.
Low railings are another problem on some decks, especially those designed without proper attention to building safety codes. People hanging out and enjoying themselves on your deck will tend to lean against the railings, which is only natural. But if the top of the railing or banister hits them below the waist it can be really easy for them to lose their balance and fall overboard.
Sometimes the biggest threat to your home and family isn’t the kind that you avoid by putting up a taller fence or installing a better burglar alarm. While you are relaxing on your deck you could be actually flirting with potentially lethal danger. That’s because decks that have not been inspected within the past 10 or 12 years could be ticking time bombs. If your deck is nearing that age – or if you aren’t sure how old it is or when was the last time it was inspected – do yourself a favor. Call a qualified contractor or a trusted building inspector. For a nominal fee they can check it out and make sure it’s ship-shape. That will give you peace of mind and added security, and it might prevent exposure to huge liability, serious injury, or an outcome that is even more tragic.

September 3, 2012

Home Safety and Security: Getting to know your electrical system.

Filed under: Home Safety — Chuck @ 8:10 am

Electricity surrounds us no matter where we go and what we do. But it remains rather mysterious. In many ways electricity is familiar to us all, but in significant other ways it is an unexplained phenomenon. Electricity facilitates the smooth, comfortable, convenient operation of our households. But we usually appreciate it the most when the lights go out and we suddenly realize the extent to which we are totally dependent upon that magical juice that powers our homes.

Yes, indeed, electricity and its unique behavior remain a continual source of wonder and scientific research, because it is one of the most fundamental forces and puzzles of our universe. The good news is that as a homeowner you don’t have to understand much about it in order to enjoy the benefits of it. But you should know enough about electricity to fully recognize both its value and its potential danger. It’s fine to forget about it and let it do its work silently as it powers up your gadgets, light fixtures, and appliances. But don’t get lulled into thinking that you can completely neglect the electrical system of your home just because the high voltage currents that circulate through your home are unseen and silent.

Every year homes are damaged or destroyed because of faulty wiring or inadequate or outdated electrical systems. Many people are seriously injured or electrocuted to death due to accidents that could be prevented by maintaining their home electrical systems in a more prudent manner. Plus there are millions of dollars wasted each year because costly electrical devices were not properly protected from unexpected electrical surges. In other words it may not be a house fire caused by a deteriorated wire in the attic that wreaks havoc on your home. Sometimes it’s something as simple as not having a powerful enough surge protector installed when an electrical storm passes through the neighborhood and fries your fancy home theater equipment, computer, or video games.

Unless you’re a trained electrician you may find yourself in a baffling situation as a homeowner. When a light bulb burns out, you’ve got that covered. But when the electrical outlet stops providing power, you may not be sure how to troubleshoot and correct that problem. What does it mean when you turn on a hair dryer and the lights go out because the device flipped a circuit breaker? When your fridge cycles on at night do the lights in the kitchen suddenly dim and then go back to normal brightness? Is that a symptom of a more serious and potentially hazardous issue related to your wiring or electrical circuit capacity? What about those outlets with the red push buttons in the middle of them? They can prevent electrocution, and you need to have them at every outlet that is exposed to water – such as in your kitchen and bathroom areas.
But did you know that just having the right faceplate with the little red button is no guarantee that the built-in circuit breaking protection is actually working? Many people put those plastic faceplates or outlet covers in their homes, but they don’t wire them correctly. In that case it is just like having a smoke detector in your home that doesn’t have any batteries to make it work – the special outlet cover is just cosmetic and does absolutely nothing to make you and your family safer.

So what do you do? Fortunately, that’s the easy and affordable part. Just give a licensed electrician or a home inspector who can check your electrical system a call. Make an appointment to have them come to your home and spend a little time walking around with you and evaluating your home’s wiring and electricity. Ask them questions, and pay attention to their recommendations. The cost of the inspection or analysis isn’t much when you factor in how much peace of mind and added security it will give to you and your family. But don’t wait until you notice little scorch marks on your electrical outlets or see sparks fly when you unplug the vacuum. Do it now. Then you won’t have to do it again for a while, and in the meantime you’ll be glad you did.

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