Monthly Archives: December 2016
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
- Clothing and rain gear
- Battery-operated radio
- 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.
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
- Pregnancy complications
- Excess phlegm production
- 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.
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:”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Of the thousands of people who perish each year in fires, the overwhelming majority – 84 percent – succumb in their own homes. House fires can flare for many reasons, including electrical problems, outdoor fires, and unattended candles. The most common cause of death from house fires, however, is from cigarettes that have been left carelessly lit.
Keeping Your Home Safe From Fire
Many house fires start because of carelessness and can be prevented by taking simple fire safety measures to protect your home. Follow these fire safety tips to reduce the risk of house fires:
- Be careful in the kitchen. Fire safety and prevention is especially important in the kitchen, so keep kitchen appliances unplugged when you’re not using them (of course, that goes for appliances elsewhere in the house, too). Never leave the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop, and keep flammable items away from the stovetop.
- Use heaters wisely. Have your furnace or heating system inspected annually, and avoid potentially dangerous causes of fire like kerosene heaters. Always use a screen in front of an indoor fireplace to keep flames away from furniture and drapes, and be cautious when using space heaters — follow all directions to the letter.
- Be vigilant about cigarettes. If you or a guest in your home is a smoker, watch those butts. Always use a deep, sturdy ashtray. For fire safety, never smoke cigarettes in bed. And before bed or heading out the door, do a quick scan around and under the furniture and linens to make sure there are no still-lit cigarette butts.
- Clear up the clutter. Don’t let highly flammable materials clutter up your home. Regularly clean out old newspapers, magazines, and other things likely to quickly catch and spread a fire.
- Go easy on electrical outlets. Never plug too many appliances into one outlet, and don’t use extension cords permanently. Don’t use light bulbs that are too powerful for the lamp or fixture.
- Blow out the candles. Only light candles in a room where you can keep an eye on them, and never leave a room with a candle burning. Blow out all candles before bed or leaving the house, and use candles with a sturdy base that aren’t likely to fall over.
Preventing Outdoor Fires
Fires that happen outside the home can quickly become house fires if you don’t take care to stop the spread and protect your home:
- Practice safe grilling:
- Always keep a fire extinguisher or a hose near the grill.
- Never grill indoors, not even in your garage.
- Don’t use gasoline to get a fire going.
- Always store and use a barbeque grill at least 15 feet away from your home, car, garage, trees, and shrubs.
- Keep propane gas tanks away from the home.
- Never spray lighter fluid onto an existing fire.
- Practice fire-safe landscaping:
- Keep the landscaping around your home thin to prevent fueling any fires.
- Don’t store firewood near your home.
- Landscape with fire-resistant shrubs and plants.
- Avoid small shrubs and trees beneath or near larger trees.
- Clear any dead trees, shrubs, leaves, and plants away from your home.
- Keep grass and trees near your home watered, especially if you live in a dry area.
- In addition to all these tips, take extra precautions if you live in an area prone to wildfires; get in touch with your local fire department for specific advice.
Fire Extinguishers and Other Fire Safety Equipment
Protecting yourself by being prepared for a fire emergency in your home is one of the best fire prevention steps you can take. Stock up on this basic fire safety equipment to protect yourself in the event of a fire:
- Working smoke detectors on every level of your house and in crucial areas, like the kitchen and near bedrooms
- Fire extinguishers throughout the house (always one in the kitchen)
- A safety ladder to help your family get out of the house from floors above ground level
- A sprinkler system installed in your home
- Easy-to-open windows and screens
You can’t always prevent house fires, but so many of the tragedies that occur each year could have been prevented with a little care and preparation. Protect your home, your life, and your family by being fire-safety savvy and reducing your risk of house fires.