Archive for the Home Safety Category

Use Your Fireplace Safely and Effectively This Winter

Posted in Around Your Home, Energy Efficiency, Home Safety, I Wish I'd Thought About That with tags , , , , on December 18, 2013 by Pat Hansen

During the winter months, many families gather around their home’s fireplace. A fire in the fireplace creates a warm and cozy atmosphere, but don’t expect it to add heat to your home. As little as 10 percent of the heat from a fire in an open masonry fireplace radiates into the house.

The National Association of Home Builders’ MyHome Press has published a handbook for home owners, “Home Maintenance Made Easy,” and the excerpt below contains helpful advice on how to safely build fires and maintain your fireplace.

Wood Burning Fireplaces

Your fireplace will add elegance and warmth if you use it safely and have it cleaned by a chimney cleaning professional at least once every five years (two years if you use it frequently). A wood-burning fireplace should be equipped with andirons (or a grate) and a well-fitting screen. It may have glass doors as well.

Gathering Room (Fairfield New Home), Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones Homes
If you are in a newer home
with a fresh air vent to supply the fireplace with combustion air, open it and the damper before you start a fire. Then remember to close both when you are not using the fireplace so warm air will not escape in the winter and cool air will not escape in the summer.

Build fires on the andirons or grate—not directly on the fireplace floor. Seasoned hardwood is the best fuel. Do not burn pine logs in your fireplace; they contain a tar that can start a fire in the chimney if it accumulates. Do not burn trash in the fireplace. Never use kerosene, gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid, or other highly flammable liquids to start a fire.

Begin with a small fire to allow the components of the fireplace to heat up slowly. Burn kindling and newspaper under the grate; stack two to three layers of logs with air space between them, placing the largest logs to the rear. You can burn one sheet of paper atop the stack to help the chimney start to draw.

If the fire is still burning but you are finished enjoying it, close the glass doors if you have them to prevent heated air from being drawn up the chimney (until you can close the damper). But don’t close glass doors over a roaring fire, especially if you are burning hardwoods like oak or hickory; the heat could break the glass. When you close the doors over a burning fire, open the mesh screens first. This prevents excessive heat buildup on the mesh, which might warp or discolor it. Be sure the fire is out each night before you go to bed.

Gas Fireplaces

A gas fireplace provides the comfort and style of a wood-burning unit, but requires far less maintenance. Many gas fireplaces are also far more efficient than wood-burning and as a result, produce less pollution.

Family Room (Galleria New Home), Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones HomesGas fireplaces may have a chimney or may vent exhaust gases (mainly water vapor and carbon dioxide) directly outside without a chimney. Others are ventless; there is no flue. If your gas fireplace is vented, the flue or vent should be closed when the fireplace is not in use. Use the same safety precautions with a gas fireplace that you would with any other gas appliance.

There will be a slight delay after turning the switch on before a flame ignites. Flames should ignite gently and silently. If you notice any deviation from this or any gas smell, immediately shut off the switch and report the problem to the gas company.

For more home maintenance advice, go to for publications on current topics including social media, home design and more.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Fire Safety for the Holidays

Posted in Around Your Home, Electrical, Holidays, Home Safety, Lifestyle with tags , , , on December 4, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Live TreeMore than 33 million American homes have a natural tree for the holidays (per the U.S. EPA). Nothing compares to the fragrant scent a natural tree provides. The scent and atmosphere provided by a natural Christmas tree brings back cherished memories of Christmases past.

Choosing a Christmas Tree

If you are cutting down your own tree at a Christmas tree farm, you know how fresh the tree is. If you choose a tree at a local Christmas tree lot or a nursery lot, you need to choose a fresh tree by looking for the greenest tree with the fewest brown needles; however, many shipped-to-lot trees have been colored prior to shipping. This is a common practice and will not negatively affect a tree’s freshness.

  • Perform the “drop test”. Raise the Christmas tree a few inches and drop it on the stump end. Fresh, green needles should not drop off. Take hold of a branch and lightly pull your hand toward you allowing the branch to slip through your fingers. Most, if not all of the needles, need to stay in place. The trunk should be sticky to the touch.
  • Tree BaseInspect the tree’s base. Make sure the “handle” (the first eight inches of the stump) is relatively straight. This part of the tree is extremely important when securing the tree in a stand.

Keeping your Christmas Tree Fresh: Water, Water, Water

  • Refresh the tree by making a straight cut, taking one inch off the bottom of the stump and immediately place in water. This will improve water uptake.
  • Place the tree in a stand that can hold at least 1 gallon of water. Expect the tree to take up additional water. Water the tree until water uptake stops.
  • Always keep the base of the tree in water. If the base dries out, resin will form over the cut end and the tree will dry out quickly. You don’t need to add anything to regular tap water. Research has shown that plain old water will keep a tree fresh; no additives are necessary.

Christmas Tree Fire Hazards:

  • Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree, causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks. Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree. Do not have lit candles near the tree. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
  • Inspect Christmas tree lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in insulation, broken or cracked sockets and excessive kinking or wear before putting them on the tree. Only use lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory.
  • Power, Surge ProtectorDo not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect lights to a power strip equipped with a circuit breaker and surge protection. If you are building a new home or remodeling, determine the most likely spot for your Christmas tree and install a switched outlet. No more crawling behind the tree to turn on Christmas tree lights!
  • Do not leave holiday lights on unattended or overnight.
  • All tree decorations should be non-flammable or flame-retardant and placed away from heat vents.

Christmas trees accounted for 230 fires between 2006-2010, resulting in 4 deaths, 21 injuries and more than $17.3 million in property damage (per the National Fire Protection Association). The most common causes of tree fires are shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles. Well-watered trees are not a problem; the drier the tree is, the more likely it is to catch on fire.

Follow these precautions and have a safe and happy holiday.

Crime Prevention Month Tips to Protect Your Home

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Safety with tags , , on October 9, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Owning a home is the most valued long-term investment most Americans ever make. And owning your home is much more than a material asset, homeownership builds a sense of stability, pride, accomplishment and peace of mind. So protecting your home—and your loved ones that live in it—is a top priority for most families.

During Crime Prevention Month in October, here are some tips from the National Crime Prevention Council ( to keep your home and your family safe from crime.

Inside your home:

  • Alarm (pippalou |

    Alarm | Photo credit: pippalou |

    If you have an alarm system, don’t write your passcode on or near the alarm keypad.

  • Install key locks, pins or other secure locks on every window and sliding glass door.
  • Secure windows and sliding doors with secondary blocking devices such as a stick or broom handle.
  • Use anti-lift devices to prevent windows and glass doors from being lifted out.
  • Use high quality Grade-1 or -2 locks with a bolt that extends at least one inch into the door frame to resist prying open or forceful entry.
  • Use automatic timers to switch indoors lights on and off if you’re going to be away from home overnight.
  • Keep a home inventory of valuables including serial numbers, pictures and sales receipts and keep a copy of the inventory in a safe place somewhere other than your home.

Outside your home:

  • Padlock (mconnors |

    Padlock | Photo credit: mconnors |

    Lock gate latches, garage doors and sheds with high-security, laminated padlocks.

  • Keep your yard, porch, garage doors, pathways and entrances well-lit at night, either with permanent lighting or motion-detecting lights that turn on when someone comes within a certain distance.
  • Trim plants and shrubs that could serve as hiding places for criminals away from windows and doors.
  • Cut back tree limbs that could provide a way for thieves to climb into second-story or higher windows.
  • Display alarm company signs and decals on the windows and lawn.
  • Don’t hide a key outside your home. Leave a key with a trusted family member, friend or neighbor instead.
  • If you’re going to be away, stop your mail and newspaper delivery, or ask a neighbor to pick them up for you.
  • Ask a neighbor to park their car in your driveway while you’re away.
  • For items that need to be left out in the open, such as grills and bicycles, use a tarp to hide them from view and securely lock them to a stationary point such as a railing or post.

For more information about home safety, visit

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Playing it Safe While Using a Ladder

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Safety, Worth Repeating with tags , , , on October 2, 2013 by Pat Hansen

With the advent of fall, comes the need to do fall chores. Gutter cleaning, window washing, removing tree branches and limbs on the roof, can all be hazardous without following some simple safety rules for using a ladder:

  • If you feel tired or dizzy, or are prone to losing your balance, stay off the ladder.
  • Do not use ladders in high winds or storms.Ladder safety
  • Wear clean slip-resistant shoes. Shoes with leather soles are not appropriate for ladder use since they are not considered sufficiently slip-resistant.
  • Before using a ladder, inspect it to confirm it is in good working condition.
  • Ladders with loose or missing parts should be rejected.
  • The ladder you select must be the right size for the job.
  • The Duty Rating of the ladder (maximum weight it can carry) must be greater than the total weight of the climber, tools, supplies and other objects placed upon the ladder.
  • The length of the ladder must be sufficient so that the climber does not have to stand on the top rung or step.
  • When the ladder is set-up for use, it must be placed on firm, level ground and without any type of slippery condition present at either the base or top support points.
  • Only one person at a time should be permitted on a ladder—unless the ladder is specifically designed for more than one climber, i.e. a trestle ladder.
  • Ladders must not be placed in front of closed doors that can open toward the ladder. The door should be locked or blocked open.
  • Never jump or slide down from a ladder or climb more than one rung/step at a time.
  • Face the ladder when climbing up and down; keep your body centered between both side rails.
  • Don’t get too ambitious and over extend your reach. Make sure you keep your weight evenly distributed.

Holiday decorating is just around the corner and many families often use ladders to spread holiday cheer to the highest places, such as roofs and rooftops, trying to get those decorations just right. Unfortunately, as helpful as they are, people often underestimate the dangers associated with ladders – more than 163,000 people make emergency room visits every year due to ladder accidents.

Playing It Safe During An Electrical Storm

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Safety, I Wish I'd Thought About That, Worth Repeating with tags , on August 21, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Proper storm safety measures are vital to avoiding injury from lightning strikes during a thunderstorm. When a thunderstorm roars, go indoors.  As the thunderstorm approaches, residents should take several measures to avoid injury or damage from a lightning strike, including:

  • Lightning DamageUnplug appliances. To avoid damage from a lightning strike, unplug all appliances – even those that are connected to a surge protector. Surge protectors are often ineffective in the event of a direct or near-direct lightning strike.
  • Move cars into the garage or away from trees. If a garage is available, park the car(s) inside to avoid damage from hail, downed tree limbs or wind-blown signs and debris.  If no garage is available try to relocate the car to a location that is out in the open to prevent damage from downed trees or limbs.
  • Stay away from water and pipes.  If a lightning bolt strikes nearby, the electricity can travel through water pipes.  Prevent electrocution, by avoiding the sink, toilet, shower and bath tub.
  • Don’t use the telephone.  Lightning strikes can send a surge of electricity traveling through phone lines. Be sure to have a fully- charged cell phone available.
  • Stay away from windows.  There have been many cases involving people who have been struck by lightning while standing near a window.  A downed tree or limb could come crashing through a window, resulting in serious injury for anyone standing nearby.
  • Remain in an interior room during a severe thunderstorm. Some severe thunderstorm systems have been known to produce tornadoes. Bring children and pets into an interior room or hallway. The goal should be to place as many walls as possible between the residents and the outdoors.
  • Have a battery-operated radio or TV within arm’s reach. This will enable residents to stay informed about any life-threatening developments, such as a tornado

If you think your house was struck by lightning:

  • Make sure everyone is accounted for and immediately evacuate the house.
  • Lightning DamageCheck all around the interior and exterior to make sure that it did not start a fire. If you smell or see smoke, use your cell phone to call 911. The fire department is dispatched in all cases of lightning strikes. The fire department will assess the damage and use thermal imaging cameras to make sure there are no fires within the walls.

If your house was struck by lightning:

  • Call the insurance company.  Check with the insurance agent before you discard any items you plan to claim as damaged. Find out what is covered and what is needed to file a claim.
  • Call an electrician.  Have the electrician check the entire house including all the appliances, wall outlets, outside receptacles, attic fans, doorbell and garage door opener. Damage may be random; some items may be harmed, others may be spared.

According to the National Weather Service, more than 100,000 thunderstorms occur each year in the U.S., with lightning striking more than 30 million points on the ground. The chances of a U.S. home being struck by lightning is one in two hundred, and the insurance industry estimates 6.5% of all property/casualty claims are related to lightning strikes.

How To Keep Wasps Away From Your Home

Posted in Home Safety, Pest Control with tags , on March 20, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Wasps can be a nuisance to humans, but they do benefit the yard and garden because they prey on other insects that can destroy landscaping. However, if you are allergic to their venom, or if they get too close for comfort, wasps can become a problem. While there are no surefire techniques to prevent wasps from building a nest, you can take steps to discourage nest building near your home this spring:

  • Wasp (Mem666 |

    Photo credit: Mem666 |

    Search your home for open entry points. Check for cracks in door frames and window frames, unsealed vents and torn screens. Paper wasps can build nests inside your walls, so use a sealant to close off all possible means of access.

  • Buy a garbage can with an airtight lid. Wasps will forage for food anywhere, and if discarded food is easy for them to find, they are likely to build nests nearby.
  • Wipe any spills and clean up any crumbs after eating outdoors. If wasps find anything worth eating on your patio, they will come back. In late summer and early fall, the food preference for wasps turns to the sweet. Their behavior is also more aggressive. Open cans of pop, fruit juice, fallen apples beneath fruit trees and other sweet food sources will attract wasps. Remove any fallen fruit rotting on the ground.
  • Place decoy wasp nests around your home. You can buy them at a gardening supply store or online. Wasps tend to avoid other wasp nests, so the fake ones will trick them into staying away. Decoy nests are a safe and environmentally friendly alternative to using pesticides.
  • Hang clothes dryer sheets around your home. Dryer sheets seem to repel wasps.
Wasp Nest (DuBoix |

Photo credit: DuBoix |

If you feel you must spray store-bought chemical pesticides around your home, keep pets and small children away from the areas you spray. Protect your eyes, mouth and skin from the chemicals with goggles, mask and gloves.

If you are stung, the wound should be washed with water which helps remove some of the venom, and treated with an anti-sting product or antihistamine cream which can reduce the pain and spread of the venom.

If the sting is in the throat or mouth, or if an allergic reaction occurs, seek medical treatment immediately. Anyone with a history of hypersensitive reactions should have a sting emergency kit available. High-risk persons should wear a medical alert bracelet.

Fireplace Safety Tips

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Safety with tags , on January 23, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Galleria Plan Family Room | New Homes in Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones HomesFireplaces, whether they are wood-burning or gas, are both fashionable and functional additions to many homes. Families gather around decorated hearths for holiday celebrations as they build lifelong memories. During the cooler winter months, fireplaces, wood stoves and other fuel-fired appliances are often used as primary heat sources in homes.

But sadly, fireplace safety can be neglected, sometimes with tragic results. Everyone has seen the news stories about homes burned to the ground and lives lost due to improperly disposed-of fireplace ashes. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), heating fires account for 36% of residential home fires in rural areas every year.

Here are some tips to make sure your fireplace remains a safe, enjoyable feature of your family’s home:

  • Have your chimney Chimney | Lot 400, Manors of Deerwood | New Homes in Clarkston, Michigan | Robert R. Jones Homesthoroughly cleaned once a year. Flammable residue that accumulates in the flue can lead to fires in the chimney, and cracks or gaps in the flue can decrease the draft required both for combustion and to carry toxic gases away from your home. You can find a certified chimney specialist by visiting the Chimney Safety Institute of America website (
  • Cover the top of your chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester, and keep the roof clear of leaves, pine needles and other debris. Also cut away any branches that are hanging above the chimney.
  • Never use flammable liquids to start a fire, or burn cardboard boxes, trash or debris in your fireplace. Use only seasoned hardwood, non-seasoned (or green) wood tends to smoke more and burn less efficiently, and can leave significantly more resin and soot in your chimney. Never burn any part of fir or pine trees in a fireplace. The sap can explode, and the needles can ignite quickly which could send sparks into the room or into the chimney where creosote deposits could catch fire.
  • Use either a metal mesh screen or glass doors – or both – as a barrier between the fireplace and hearth. If you have glass doors, leave them open while burning a fire so that the fire receives enough air to ensure complete combustion and keeps creosote from building up in the chimney. Always keep the mesh screen closed when a fire is burning to keep embers or sparks from getting into the room.

    Fireplace + Metal Screen (mconnors |

    Photo credit: mconnors |

  • Never leave a fire unattended, and make sure the fire is completely out before going to bed or leaving the house. Douse and saturate ashes with water, and never empty ash directly into a trash can. Place completely cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container and keep the container at least 10 feet away from any building.

You can find more fire safety tips on USFA’s website at

Taking these steps will help to ensure that the time you spend around your fireplace is enjoyable, and your family and home is safe.

This article is courtesy of the National Association of Home Builders.

Treating Ice on Sidewalks and Driveways

Posted in Around Your Home, Home Safety with tags , on January 15, 2013 by Pat Hansen

Dealing with icy sidewalks and driveways is a fact of life in northern climates where snow and winter conditions are common. There are many different ways to deal with ice, whether using one of many chemical compounds to melt it or using more environmentally friendly products to provide traction and slippage.


Ice MeltIce melt products attract moisture to themselves to form a liquid brine which generates heat and melts ice. The product must reach the pavement to become effective. Once on the pavement, the brine can spread out and break the bond the ice has with the pavement. As the ice is loosened, it can more easily be shoveled away.

Kinds of De-icer

Every year there are more and more choices when it comes to de-icers. A lot of the choices are very similar and differ only in marketing with each product claiming to be the best. 95% of all de-icers are made from one, or a blend of five products. Typically, blends are made to try and combine the best advantages of each chemical.

  • Calcium chlorideThis is basically traditional ice melt. It will melt ice to temperatures of -25º F. It gives off heat as it dissolves, which melts the ice quicker but leaves a slimy residue. It is corrosive to metal and can be damaging to vegetation if overly applied. Magnesium chloride is a very similar product and is becoming more popular. It is less corrosive and safer on concrete and plants.
  • Sodium chloride (rock salt)Rock salt is the least expensive and very efficient. It will melt ice to temperatures of 20º F. Effective at drying out icy surfaces, and not as harmful to concrete as others products, but can be damaging to vegetation and is corrosive to metal.
  • Potassium chlorideIt is more expensive than other products and works well when mixed 50/50 with rock salt. It will melt ice to temperatures of 12º F. It is relatively safe, but can still cause plant damage if it is overap-plied.
  • UreaIt is commonly used as a fertilizer, but is also an effective ice melter. It will melt ice to temperatures of 15º F. Over application can harm vegetation.
  • Calcium magnesium acetate (CMA)It is made from dolomitic limestone and acetic acid, which is the main compound in vinegar. It has little effect on plants and concrete, but its performance decreases at temperatures below 20º F. It works differently than other materials in that it does not form a brine-like salt. CMA helps prevent snow particles from sticking to each other on the road surface. It prevents re-freezing more than it melts ice and tends to leave a slush.

Are they harmful?

Given the alternative of dangerous conditions, the benefits can outweigh potential disadvantages. All de-icers have the potential to damage vegetation, concrete and to corrode metal. Moderate use combined with adequate rainfall to dissolve and wash away the product should be enough to protect vegetation and hard surfaces.

Damage to concrete occurs not from the effects of the salt, but from the effects of the freezing point of water. When the freezing point of water is lowered by creating a brine, the number of freeze/thaw cycles increases and the expansion of freezing water or hydraulic pressure can exceed the strengths of concrete.

Natural Alternatives

Other, more natural, products can be used to treat icy sidewalks and driveways. Although they are generally less effective, they pose less harm to the environment and pets. Natural alternatives like sand, sawdust, wood shavings and kitty litter are mainly effective for their gritty, anti-slip qualities. They provide better traction for walking on the ice, but do not actually melt ice. They are often mixed with ice melt products as a way to use fewer chemicals.

There is a product called “Magic Minus Zero” which is a liquid de-icing agent made from a blend of magnesium chloride combined with an agricultural by-product of the distilling process. It is non-toxic, bio-degradable and has a corrosion index lower than distilled water. “Magic Minus Zero” can be applied directly to paved surfaces in advance of a winter storm, or can be sprayed onto regular rock salt.

De-icer Precautions

  • Do not over apply; follow instructions on the label.
  • Do not try to melt everything. Clear snow first.

    Snow Covered Drive (ostephy |

    Photo credit: ostephy |

  • Wear gloves. Ice melts are an irritant.
  • Do not use on new concrete that has not fully cured.
  • All products have some effect on the environment. Flush area with water if over-use is suspected or damage appears on plants.
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