Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gut(ter) Check

For most homeowners,
cleaning the gutters is near the bottom of the proverbial to-do list. But keeping your gutters clean can really save you a lot of headaches; overflowing gutters can damage roofs and wreak havoc on your

Keeping the water flowing properly isn’t as big a deal as you might think. And if you clean your gutters every six months, you’ll save yourself time and money.

According to www.hgtv.com, you can tell
if a gutter needs cleaning by looking up at
the gutter’s top, outside rim. If it is
discolored, there’s a buildup
and water is not flowing as it

• To clean the gutters, use
a ladder. Make sure to be
safe and cautious around
power lines. If you feel
unsafe or uncomfortable,
hire a professional.

• There are several ways
to clean gutters. One is
to simply put on a pair
of gloves and dig the
debris out by hand and
rinse it with your hose.
Or you can use barbeque
tongs or make a scoop by
cutting a plastic, two-liter
soda bottle.

• To dispose of the debris, hang a
bucket on the ladder with a bungee
cord or lay a tarp on the ground to
catch the falling debris. When you’re
done, just roll up the tarp and empty it into
the trash.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


In response to rising energy costs, some homeowners are using alternate sources to heat their homes. While wood-burning stoves, space heaters and fireplaces are popular options, especially in colder climates, they can be fire hazards.

Wood stoves made of plate steel or cast iron are best. Use only seasoned wood for fuel, and avoid green wood, artificial logs or trash. Inspect and clean the pipes and chimneys annually, and check monthly for damage and obstructions. Keep combustible objects at least three feet away from the stove.

Space heaters that feature the Underwriter Laboratory certification are recommended. Use a heater with a thermostat control mechanism that can switch off automatically if the heater falls over. Don’t dry clothes or store objects on top of the heater. Like wood stoves, keep combustibles at least three feet away. Always unplug the device when it is not in use.

Clean fireplaces frequently to prevent creosote from building up in the chimney. Also inspect the chimneys for obstructions or cracks. Never burn trash, paper or green wood, which can cause heavy creosote buildup. Don’t wear loose-fitting clothes near open flames, and make sure the fire is completely out before leaving the house or going to bed.

Finally, make sure smoke detectors are working properly, and replace batteries every six months.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is Your Home Ready for Winter?

The change of seasons signals a time to prepare your home for winter, no matter what climate you call home. Taking the following steps now can not only save money, but provide added warmth and peace of mind.

Clean the gutters. Remove leaves and other debris from the gutters using your hand, a scraper or spatula, then rinse down with a hose. Also check that the downspouts are carrying water away from the house’s foundation, where it could cause flooding or water damage.

Seal the leaks. If your home feels drafty, cold air may be seeping in from around the window and door frames, electrical outlets and recessed lighting. Apply caulk around these areas, and use door sweeps to close spaces under exterior doors.

Test smoke detectors. Make sure smoke detectors operate properly and replace the batteries, if needed. Also invest in a carbon monoxide detector, and make sure the fire extinguisher works.

Take care of windows. In colder climates, remove window screens and put up storm windows, which will add warmth and protect your home from the elements. If you don’t have storm windows and the windows are leaky or drafty, consider updating to more efficient ones. Or for a low-cost solution, use a window insulator kit to keep out cold air.

Inspect the chimney. Before using the fireplace, have the chimney inspected for creosote buildup, and if needed, cleaned. When the fireplace is not in use, keep the chimney damper closed to keep out cold air.

Add insulation. Most homes in the U.S. need a minimum of 12 inches of insulation in the attic regardless of the climate.

Check the furnace. Before the coldest temperatures set in, turn on your furnace to make sure it’s working properly. Check the filters monthly and change them if they are dirty. A dirty filter impedes air flow and could cause a fire in extreme circumstances.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Fight the Flu Bug

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-related complications. The first and most important step in protecting against the flu is a yearly flu vaccine. The 2011-2012 vaccine will protect against all three strains of flu viruses expected to circulate this season, the CDC says.

Vaccinations are especially important for populations that are at risk, including children, pregnant women, people over age 65, and people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease. Children under the age of six months are also at risk but are too young to be vaccinated, so people who care for them should be vaccinated instead.

Germs spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing or other close contact. Infected individuals can infect others beginning one day before their symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. To minimize the spread of germs, cover the nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and immediately toss it into the trash. Wash hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water isn’t available. Avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth, where germs are most likely to spread, and avoid close contact with those who are sick.

Once symptoms occur, prescription antiviral drugs can help decrease the symptoms and shorten the duration. Experts suggest that infected individuals should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine).

The best course of action is prevention. Get plenty of rest, eat properly, drink lots of fluids, manage stress and stay physically active. Practicing healthy habits can beat the flu before it starts.