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Fall Home Improvement – September 2017

Prevent fires at home this winter

Winter is synonymous with many things, but few people would rank home fires atop their list of things that remind them of winter. However, according to the United States Fire Administration, more than $2 billion in property loss occurs in winter home fires each year, and more than 900 people per year lose their lives to winter home fires.

Perhaps the most troubling thing about those statistics is that winter home fires are entirely preventable. By taking certain precautions, men, women and children can greatly reduce the risk of home fires.

· Have the furnace inspected. Ideally, furnaces should be inspected and any problems addressed before the arrival of winter. But many homeowners forget this routine maintenance until that first cold day when it’s time to turn the heat back on. If you have not yet had your furnace inspected, schedule an inspection with a local HVAC professional, who can make sure all controls and emergency shutoffs are fully functioning. If you discover an issue during a self-inspection, call a professional to make the repairs. Unless you have experience in HVAC repair, it’s best to let the pros handle any repairs because the stakes are so high. Home fires often result from faulty equipment, so only trained professionals should be inspecting and repairing your home furnace.

· Be especially careful when using portable heaters. Portable heaters can warm up those areas of the house that always seem to be too cold in winter, and such devices also provide a backup plan in case of a broken heating system. But the USFA notes that, in 2011, heating equipment was involved in more than 53,000 home structure fires in the United States, accounting for 14 percent of all reported home fires. When using portable heating equipment, such as space heaters, radiators and portable fireplaces, do not place such devices anywhere close to items that can burn. Upholstered furniture, bedding, mattresses and clothing can ignite in seconds, so keep portable heating devices away from such items. And always turn portable heating devices off when leaving the room where they are in operation.

· Address frozen pipes correctly. Water pipes in a home can freeze depending on how cold the home gets. It might be tempting to thaw such pipes with an open flame, but such an approach is highly dangerous, as the pipe may begin to conduct the heat and ignite the wall structure inside the space. When addressing pipes you suspect are frozen, thaw them with hot water or even a laboratory-tested handheld dryer rather than an open flame.

· Treat your fireplace with kid gloves. Fireplaces make great gathering spots for families in the winter, but only when they are operated safely. Before lighting the first fire of the season, have the fireplace and chimney inspected and cleaned to reduce the risk of fire. Once the time comes to spark your first fire, do not use flammable liquids to start or accelerate the fire and make sure you have installed a screen in front of the fireplace to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out of the fire and possibly igniting any nearby items or materials.

· Inspect smoke alarms. Properly functioning smoke alarms can save both your home and your life. When functioning properly, smoke alarms can alert you to a fire early on, giving you time to extinguish a small fire before it spreads or to escape a larger fire before it threatens your life. Inspect your smoke alarms periodically regardless of the season and make sure you have at least one functioning alarm on each level of your home.


Some bugs overwinter indoors

Winter weather may not be enticing to some people, but many people enjoy the absence of insects when the mercury drops. When temperatures dip, insects that do not have the benefit of body fat need to find different methods to riding out the chilly weather. Like bears and groundhogs, some insects hibernate, while others move to warmer locations for survival. Although insects may be less prevalent outdoors, homeowners often see an increase of insect activity indoors during the winter, when bugs seek out more cozy accommodations.

The following are some of the insects homeowners may see more frequently as colder weather arrives.

Stink bugs

As the autumn air turns cold, brown marmorated stink bugs move indoors. According to Mike Raupp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, data points to high numbers of stink bug populations in 2013. Home invasions may be greater than in years past thanks to favorable conditions this summer.

Stink bugs, which are native to areas of China and Japan, have a sustained presence in North America, having been observed in 41 states, including Hawaii. In parts of Maryland, West Virginia and Delaware, scientists have observed high numbers of stink bugs found piled six inches deep in some traps.

To keep stink bugs out, seal any cracks around the windows and doors with caulk. Patch any tiny holes in the walls and use foam sprays to patch up holes around outdoor electrical outlets.

Ladybugs (Ladybird beetles)

Ladybugs, with their vivid red-and-black markings, may not cause concern when found in gardens. But when found in large numbers inside of the house, ladybugs should cause concern. They do not pose any health or infestation risks, but they can be pests in large numbers indoors. Many ladybugs will leave the home in the spring when they’re done hibernating. Otherwise, you can sweep them outdoors or remove them another way.

Box elder bugs

These insects can enter the home through tiny cracks or under doors. They also can sneak in on clothing or bags from outside. Box elder bugs are largely harmless, as they will not eat anything in the home or reproduce. But many people are put off by any black insects running around their homes. As with many other insects, finding the point of entry and sealing it up is the key to keeping them out.

Camelback crickets

The camelback cricket, also known as the camel cricket or spider cricket, is a strange-looking bug. It has the body of a cricket, but the long, arched legs of a spider. They are brown or striped, but unlike other types of crickets, these insects do not have wings, so they are silent and will not alert you to their presence with the familiar chirping noise. Furthermore, camelback crickets have spectacular jumping abilities.

They have poor eyesight and usually jump toward a predator attempting to scare it away. This can make the cricket seem aggressive. It will not harm people, but because they are omnivores, camelback crickets can eat just about anything in your home and also will eat their own. They like dark, warm, damp environments, so removing these conditions can reduce the number of crickets you find indoors.

To further prevent indoor insect populations, take preemptive measures in the fall. Spray the exterior of the home with an insecticide and keep mulch or damp leaves away from the perimeter. If insects become troublesome, consult with an exterminator.


Home improvement projects for your fall to-do list

Homeowners know that maintaining a home can be a year-round job. No home is immune to wear and tear, and homeowners who want to protect their real estate investments should try to stay two steps ahead to ensure their homes do not succumb to the elements or become outdated and unappealing to prospective buyers.

Fall has become a season that’s synonymous with home improvement, but homeowners need not wait until the leaves begin changing colors to start planning their next projects. The following are a few items homeowners can add to their fall home improvement to-do lists.

Roof inspection

Less precipitation tends to fall during the warmer months than during the late fall and winter. As a result, homeowners may not be aware of leaky roofs until autumn has come and gone. But waiting until winter to inspect the roof can prove disastrous, as weather conditions will not be conducive to inspection and increased precipitation may result in potentially costly damage. Leaky roofs can be easily identified by looking for water stains on interior ceilings. Once you see a stain, you can climb onto the roof to identify the location of the leak and fix it before winter rains and snowfall turn the problem into something much larger. Inspect your ceilings for signs of leaking after a strong rainfall, and then address any leaks immediately.

Gutter cleaning

While some homeowners prefer to delay their gutter cleaning projects until late fall, those whose homes are surrounded by trees may need to schedule two such projects. Gutters clogged with leaves and other debris can cause serious roof damage, and that damage can extend all the way inside a home. In addition, clogged gutters make great nesting areas for insects or critters. Always stand on a ladder when cleaning gutters, wearing gloves to remove items by hand and dropping leaves and debris into a trash can below. Standing on the roof and leaning over gutters greatly increases your risk of injury. If the gutters are clear when you first examine them in early fall, you can wait until later in the season to give them a complete and thorough cleaning. Once you have finished clearing the gutters, you can use a hose to run water through them and the downspouts to confirm everything is functioning properly.

Window and doorway inspection

Before temperatures start dropping once again, homeowners will want to inspect their windows and doorways for leaks. Over time, cracks can develop around windows and doorways, and while such cracks are rarely noticeable when the weather outside is warm, they can be quite obvious and very costly if they remain unsealed come the start of winter. Cold air can enter a home through cracks around windows and doorways, and many homeowners who don’t suspect leaks may respond by turning up the thermostats in their homes. That can prove quite expensive over a full winter. Choose a windy autumn day to place a hand by windows and external doorways in your home to see if you can feel drafts. If you can, seal these cracks as soon as possible.

Patio cleanup

Patios are popular hangouts during spring and summer, and that can result in a lot of wear and tear. Once you store patio furniture for the winter, inspect your entire patio to determine if it needs any refurbishing. While certain patio projects may be best left for spring, you can still clean any stained areas around the grill and look for cracks in the sidewalk that need to be addressed.

Preparing for fall home improvement projects ahead of time can help homeowners complete projects in a timely manner and ensures they won’t be forced to brave the winter elements when refurbishing their homes.

Get your home fall & winter-ready

If boots, a warm hat and a tuned-up snow blower are the only items on your winter preparation list, your home maintenance plan may need a makeover. These simple home maintenance projects can help lower your energy bills, prevent more costly repairs and/or increase the lifespan of your home.

1. Heating & Ventilation — Examine your fireplace and chimney system to ensure that no soot or creosote has collected. Any cracks or voids could potentially cause a fire. Before you turn the furnace or boiler on, replace the air filter and hire a professional to inspect the unit more thoroughly. These steps will improve the efficiency and life of your furnace and will ensure stable indoor air quality.

2. Seal Windows and Doors — If not properly sealed, windows and doors can be a major culprit for heat loss. To keep the warm air inside, inspect the weather-stripping around your home’s windows and doors for leaks, rot or decay. Repair or replace structural framing, and caulk inside and out, if necessary.

3. Insulate well — One of the easiest and most effective defenses against heat loss is proper insulation. Prevent cold drafts from entering and the loss of heated air through basement headers, which, when left exposed, can make your furnace work harder. Look for a moisture-resistant product offering high thermal performance, such as Roxul Comfortbatt insulation. This type of mineral wool insulation makes installation simple. All that’s needed is a serrated blade or bread knife. Cut the batt to fit the cavity and press into place. The insulation will help improve energy efficiency as soon as it’s in place and provide savings over the lifetime of your home. Comfortbatt can also be used to top or replace old attic insulation. Aim for an R-50 or a depth of 16 inches.

4. Backyard Care — Save your property from potential damage by trimming overgrown trees and shrubs to prevent ice-laden branches from thrashing against electrical wires and your home’s exterior. Drain/shut off any exterior faucets and sprinkler systems to prevent freezing. Ensure rain or snow drains away from the house to avoid foundation problems.

5. Roof and Gutters — Inspect your roof for shingles that are warped, damaged or even missing to prevent a future leak. Use roofing cement and a caulking gun to seal joints where water could penetrate, such as around the chimney, skylights or vent pipes. Make sure that your gutters and downspouts are securely fastened. Downspouts should extend at least five feet away from the home to prevent flooding.

When it comes to preventative maintenance, a little time and effort can save thousands in energy costs and repair bills over the lifetime of your home.

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