Preventing water damage is a whole lot cheaper than paying for repairs. Here are three easy prevention tips.
Clean your gutters.
Direct downspouts 5-10’ away from the house.
Test your sump pump once a year.
Fix all water leaks.
Replace missing roof shingles.
Water damage is the No. 1 culprit that weakens your home’s foundation and the very core that holds your house together.
You’ve heard about core strength for your body. Well, water damage hits at the core strength of your house, eventually causing serious structural damage. Damp wood invites termites and carpenter ants; plus, it causes mold and mildew.
Here’s how to prevent water damage using three easy strategies that will give you peace of mind the next time heavy storms hit.
#1. Ensure Good Drainage
Why it matters: Poor drainage weakens your foundation, causing cracks, uneven settling, and pathways for water to enter your home.
How to do it:
Clean your gutters routinely. A clogged gutter will send cascades of water down the side of your house, damaging your siding and foundation.
Ensure your downspouts direct water 5 to 10 feet away from your house.
Make sure your yard is sloped at least 6 inches over a 10-foot span away from your foundation. That slope keeps water from getting down right next to your foundation, where it could cause walls to lean, crack the masonry, and create leaks. (For crawl spaces, keeping water away makes sure excess water doesn’t pool underneath your floor, making for damp conditions that encourage mold, rot, and insects.)
But don’t let the soil get too dry, either. Long dry spells let the soil around your house dry out and shrink. A big rain may make the soil expand, putting pressure on your foundation walls. In a drought, run a soaker hose at least 6 inches from the foundation and 3 inches under the soil to keep the soil from contracting and expanding.
Maintenance cost: Very little. Cleaning gutters can be a no-cost DIY job, or you can hire a pro for $50 to $250, depending on the size and height of your home. To get the soil slope you need, you might have to buy some additional topsoil.
Worst case if you put it off: Your foundation could settle, cracking your basement walls. The cost to stabilize, repair, and seal deteriorated foundation walls is a whopping $15,000 to $40,000.
#2. Test Your Sump Pump Regularly
Why it matters: Sump pumps come to life during storms. That’s not when you want to realize yours isn’t working properly. You should check it at least once a year, and ideally perform several checks during heavy storm seasons.
How to test your sump pump:
Slowly fill the sump pump pit with water. Watch for the “float” (similar to the float in your toilet) to rise, which should turn on the pump. Then watch to make sure the water level falls.
Test your backup pump the same way, but unplug the main pump first.
If you don’t have a backup pump — or a generator — and are on municipal water, get one that runs on water pressure. If you’re on well water, your only option is the battery kind.
Maintenance cost: Testing is free; a water-powered backup sump pump, including installation, costs $150 to $350; a new battery for a battery-operated sump starts around $200.
Worst case if you put it off: Your basement could flood, ruining everything in it, including drywall and carpeting. (Did you know your regular insurance doesn’t cover flooding?) Plus you run the risk of mold and mildew — which can also be a very expensive problem.
#3. Check for Water Leaks and Fix Them
Why it matters: Persistent leaks lead to mold and mildew, rot, and even termites and carpenter ants (they like chewing soggy wood, since it’s soft). Yet if you fix a leak soon after it starts, there may be no long-term damage at all.
How to check for leaks:
Check for dark spots under pipes inside sink cabinets, stains on ceilings, toilets that rock, and of course drips.
At least once a year, inspect your roof. Repair missing, loose, and damaged shingles. Repair any cracked caulking and check for leaks around flashing.
Maintenance cost: Negligible for a simple fix, such as a new washer. A visit from a plumber might set you back $250; a roof repair, a few hundred dollars to $1,000.
Worst case if you put it off: Drips ruin the cabinet under the kitchen sink, and run down into the floor sheathing and joists underneath, so you need a structural repair, plus new cabinets and new kitchen flooring. Or the roof rots, so you need a new roof and repairs to rooms directly beneath.
So now you know how to prevent water damage — and add years (and lower maintenance costs to your home!).
Bathroom Mold and Mildew
Photo Credit: Chastity Cortijo
Plagued by excess moisture and lack of ventilation, bathrooms are especially susceptible to mildew. The fungus typically appears on walls, tile, or grout, and it can trigger a slew of health problems, including allergies and other respiratory issues. The best method for combating mildew is preventing it from growing in the first place. To stop this scourge in its tracks, check out these 8 ways to mildew-proof your bathroom.
Choose Mildew-Resistant Paint
After you enjoy a steamy shower, your bathroom walls absorb the lingering moisture, which can spur the growth of mildew. Choose a paint that resists mildew, or one that has a mildew-resistant additive mixed into it, to give your walls an extra measure of protection.
Keep It Well Ventilated
Mildew thrives in damp places, which makes the notoriously wet bathroom a prime breeding ground. To eliminate excess moisture, turn on the exhaust fan while you're showering and let it run for 30 minutes after you shut off the water. This ensures that the walls and ceilings will dry properly. If you have a window in the bathroom, open it a crack to air out the room as well.
Let In Light
Mildew loves darkness, so homeowners should think twice before shutting off the bathroom lights directly after showering. Leave curtains open whenever possible or even put the lights on a timer to ward off the pesky fungus.
Mop Up Water
Nip mildew in the bud by getting rid of excess water as soon as possible. After a bath or shower, grab the squeegee to take care of drips on the tub or tiles, and mop up puddles with a towel.
You may be great about cleaning up the obvious pools of water by the sink and shower, but don't forget to deal with smaller drips as well. Take care of leaks under the sink or by the toilet as soon as you notice them. Putting off repairs lets more moisture into the room and can over time turn a small mildew problem into an even bigger headache.
Seal Grout Lines
Constantly exposed to water and porous to boot, grout is extremely hospitable to mildew. Scrub your grout every few weeks to keep mildew at bay, and reseal it annually to help it stand up to water.
Clean Items Around the Shower
It's not enough to just mop the floor and scrub the tiles. You also need to pay attention to items that are kept around the shower. Clean underneath shampoo bottles, regularly toss the shower curtain and hand towels into the wash, and replace your loofah often. Mildew loves to hide in these neglected places.
Keep It Clean
The best way to prevent mildew is to clean your bathroom regularly. If you don't clean often enough, you're encouraging mildew to grow and creating more work for yourself down the road.
Pass It On
Put these methods into practice to prevent mildew from growing, so then you don’t have to go through the icky job of cleaning it up. And be sure to share these tips with your friends and family to save them from the task, as well.
Mold and mildew (mold in its early stage) are fungi that happily and quickly grow anywhere there is moisture. They serve an important purpose in our environment by helping to destroy organic materials such as leaves, thereby enriching the soil. But that same attribute can cause a serious health issue for people living in a moldy home: respiratory problems; sinus congestion; eye, nose, or throat irritation; and headaches. Infants, children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people with existing respiratory conditions are at a higher risk for these problems.
Check for areas in your home where there could be high humidity or water damage, such as a damp basement or crawl space. Mildew and mold can grow on wood products, ceiling tiles, cardboard, wallpaper, carpets, drywall, fabric, plants, foods, and insulation. These growths can begin to develop on a damp surface within 24 and 48 hours and produce spores that travel through the air. They will break down and destroy whatever they're growing on and can cause mild to severe health problems for you and your family.
The problem won't go away on its own. Learn how to remove -- and prevent -- mold and mildew with these simple tips.
Arm Yourself with the Right Tools
Planning on doing battle with mold and mildew? Make sure you have these cleaning tools on hand.
Latex or rubber gloves
Buckets and brushes
Vacuum with brush attachment
Mop and sponges
Nonammonia detergent, soap, or commercial cleaner
Disinfectant chlorine bleach
Keep Your Bathroom Fresh
Few rooms in the home see as much moisture and humidity as the bathroom. Be sure your bathroom stays well-ventilated. An exhaust fan will help circulate the air and remove moisture more quickly. These additional actions will help keep your bathroom fresh and mold-free.
Spread towels out after use so that they dry more quickly.
Minimize containers left in the shower for cleaning ease and better circulation.
Wipe down the shower with a clean towel or squeegee after its last daily use.
Choose shower curtains that dry and clean easily to help avoid soap residue, which fosters mold.
If you're dealing with a mildewed shower curtain made of durable fabric, follow these steps for cleaning it.
Wash using a solution of 1/2 cup liquid disinfectant to 1 gallon of hot water.
Rinse with a mixture of one cup lemon juice and one cup salt to a gallon of hot water.
Wash with detergent and bleach (using color-safe bleach on color fabrics).
Rinse in clear water.
Freshen Fabric and Upholstery
Avoid sending mold spores into the air and throughout the house by first taking fabric and upholstery that's mobile outside. Brush off as much of the mildew as possible. Then treat these pieces individually as follows.
Fabric should be laundered in chlorine bleach and hot water. If chlorine bleach is not a safe option for the material, soak it in oxygen bleach and hot water for a half hour, then wash as directed. Take it outside to dry in the sun if possible.
Upholstery that you can't take outside should be vacuumed first. Replace the vacuum bag or take the canister outside to clean. Then mix 1 cup of ammonia with 1 cup of cool water. (Chlorine bleach and ammonia should never be combined due to the resulting toxic fumes.) Using a clean white cloth, sponge the stains with the ammonia solution. Blot until all the liquid is absorbed. Repeat the process until the stain disappears. To remove the resulting ammonia solution, sponge the area with cold water and blot. Dry thoroughly with a fan or hair dryer set on cool.
Clean Mildew-Stained Carpets
Start by thoroughly vacuuming the affected carpet to remove as much of the mildew as you can. After you are done, either throw away the bag or clean the canister outside. Then proceed as follows.
Briskly mix 1 tablespoon of liquid laundry soap and 2 cups of cool water.
Apply the suds to the stained area with a damp cloth, sponging lightly.
Repeat until the stain is gone, then rinse.
Dry the area completely.
Revive Stored Wooden Furniture
Vacuum mildewed wood furniture with a soft brush to remove any loose spores. After you are done, either throw away the bag or clean the canister outside.
Quickly wipe off any stains using a light touch.
Rinse the area with a damp cloth, let dry, then polish.
Prevent Spores from Getting a Stronghold
Help keep your home free of mold and mildew with a few preventive measures.
Use dehumidifiers, fans, and open windows to help reduce the moisture in your home. Be especially vigilant during hot, humid months.
Fix plumbing leaks as soon as possible.
Do what you can to prevent rain water from seeping into your home. Check potential problem areas regularly.
Clean the fabrics in your home routinely and keep them dry.
Store items in dry, well-ventilated areas.
If It's Too Late, Don't Hesitate to Toss
If the mold and mildew on your fabric, upholstery, carpet, or furniture is beyond cleaning and drying, throw it out or call a professional cleaning service. Don't take a chance with the potential health risks that mold and mildew can cause you and your family.
If spring is in the air, don't let a musty house spoil it. Here are seven tips for giving the season the welcome it deserves.
The best refrigerator cleaner is a combination of salt and soda water. The bubbling action of the soda water combines with the abrasive texture of the salt to make a great cleaner.
The best way to get rid of lime buildup around the faucet it is to lay paper towels over the fixture, soak it with vinegar and let it set for an hour. The deposits will soften and become easier to remove.
Clean screens with a scrap of carpeting. It makes a powerful brush that removes all the dirt.
Clean windows with a rag and soapy water, and then dry them with another rag. You can also go to an auto-parts store and buy a windshield squeegee, which cleans very well.
If drapes are looking drab, take them out of the window, remove the hooks and run them through the air-fluff cycle in the dryer along with a wet towel (to draw off the dust) for 15 minutes. Hang them back in the windows immediately.
Clean the blades of a ceiling fan by covering them with a coat of furniture polish. Wipe off the excess and lightly buff.
Sometimes comforters, blankets and pillows don't need to be cleaned, but they do need to be aired out after a long winter in your closed-up home. Take them outside and hang them on a clothesline for a day.
You may think a house fire will never happen to you. But what if it does? Are you prepared?
Figuring out what to do after a home fire can be a very stressful and overwhelming process, and it can be hard to decide what to do first. With a little help from your insurance agent, though, you may be able to settle your claim more quickly and get your life back to normal.
Here are the six things you should do after a home fire.
1. Call your insurance agent immediately. You will be getting calls at all hours of the day from public adjusters and contractors who will try to offer you a deal on putting your house back together. These calls can create a lot of stress and confusion. I suggest you speak to no one but your agent to discuss your options at this point in the process.
2. Ask about restoration companies that can help with cleaning up soot, boarding up windows, and other construction. Immediately after a fire, especially if it is a minor one, you’ll need to clean up any soot or water damage. It is important to hire a reputable service to deal with these issues. Ask your agent or insurance adjuster to recommend a few different companies. They deal with these situations more often than you do and likely know of some businesses that fit your needs. Many of these restoration companies have connections to good contractors, engineers, and architects, as well.
3. Separate damaged property from undamaged property. The insurance company will need a detailed inventory list from you after they inspect the loss. Separating your damaged property from your undamaged property will make it easier for you to make a list of your damaged items. This list needs to include the date you purchased each item, the brand name, the price you paid, and the serial number, model, or description of each item. If the item was a gift, be sure to indicate that as well.
It’s a good idea to submit your receipts with this inventory list. If the receipts were destroyed in the fire, or you didn’t keep any receipts, request copies of prior bank statements. This can make obtaining duplicate receipts easier. Keep in mind that photos of any damaged items are always helpful if receipts are not available.
4. Save undamaged property from further destruction. Any items that are not damaged should be put in a safe place, even if it means putting them in storage. Insurance adjusters are typically fair when it comes to adding additional costs for storage.
5. Cooperate fully with the insurance company’s investigation. When a fire claim is reported to an insurance company, it is given top priority. Usually the adjusters come out to see the loss within 24 to 48 hours. To help settle your claim in a timely manner and to your satisfaction, be sure you are available and on time for all meetings, that you return calls promptly, that any requested paperwork is completed as quickly as possible, and that you contact the company or your agent immediately with any questions.
6. Find somewhere to stay if you can’t live in your home. Most homeowner’s policies include “Loss of Use or Loss of Rents” coverage, which will pay for the food, clothing, and shelter that you and your family may need for a specified period of time. Keep in mind that your policy will pay for “like kind and quality” living arrangements. You may want to save the Ritz for a special occasion and instead stay in a more reasonably priced hotel.
What to do before disaster strikes
• Review your homeowner’s policy to be sure you have replacement cost coverage, loss of use coverage, and adequate dwelling coverage. The last thing you want to hear after a fire is that you were underinsured.
• Save all your receipts and put them in a metal fireproof box or in a storage facility off the premises, such as a safety deposit box. Better yet, scan the receipts and save them to a computer file. Taking a video of your entire home and the possessions within it is the next best thing to receipts. This will show the insurance company what sort of lifestyle you had prior to the claim.
• Be sure to have smoke detectors in every room of your home to ensure that everyone gets out of the house or apartment safely in the event of a fire. Have exit ladders and fire extinguishers handy, and know how to use them.
• Discuss escape strategies and plans with your family prior to a fire, and consider a fire drill to help ensure everyone’s safety.
Take steps to protect yourself and your loved ones during your cleanup after a hurricane, flood, or other natural disaster. Follow our cleanup tips and monitor your radio or television for up-to-date emergency information.
General Safety Tips
Get the right safety gear
N95 masks (or a respirator with a higher protection level)
Heavy work gloves
Waterproof boots with steel toe and insole (not just steel shank)
Earplugs or protective headphones (if you’re working with noisy equipment)
At least two fire extinguishers (each with a UL rating of at least 10A)
If sewage is involved, make sure to wear the following during your cleanup:
Use teams to move heavy/bulky objects
Have teams of at least two people work together to move heavy or bulky objects.
Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds (per person).
Cleaning up your home can be a big job. Be sure to take care of yourself:
Rest when you need to.
Decide which cleanup tasks are most important, and focus on those first. That way, you’re less likely to be overwhelmed.
Get help lifting heavy or bulky objects. If you lift too much on your own, you could hurt yourself.
Try to work with other people, so you aren’t alone.
Get support from family members, friends, counselors, or therapists.
Take precaution when using a chainsaw
When using a chain saw, always follow manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure to wear appropriate protective gear, and be sure that bystanders are a safe distance away.
Avoid contact with power lines, and take extra care in cutting trees or branches that are bent or caught under something else.
Use extreme caution to avoid electrical shock when using an electric chain saw.
In hot weather, try to stay cool by staying in air-conditioned buildings, taking breaks in shaded areas or in cool rooms, drinking water and nonalcoholic fluids often, and wearing light and loose-fitting clothing.
Clean up and dry your home quickly after the storm or flood ends- within 24 to 48 hours if possible.
Air out your house by opening doors and windows. Use fans to dry wet areas. Position fans to blow air out doors or windows.
Throw away anything that you can’t clean or dry quickly (such as mattresses, carpeting, carpet padding, rugs, upholstered furniture, cosmetics, stuffed animals, baby toys, pillows, foam-rubber items, books, wall coverings, and paper products).
Remove and discard drywall and insulation that has been contaminated with sewage or flood waters.
Thoroughly clean all wet items and surfaces with hot water and laundry or dish detergent. For example, you’ll want to clean any flooring, concrete, molding, wood and metal furniture, countertops, appliances, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures.
Fix any leaks in roofs, walls, or plumbing as soon as you can.
Clean up mold with a mix of bleach and water
Never use bleach in a closed space. Open windows and doors first.
Remember that anything that’s had contact with floodwater could carry germs. To keep your kids safe, make sure their toys are clean:
Make a cleaning fluid by mixing 1 cup of bleach in 5 gallons of water.
Wash off toys carefully with your cleaner.
Let the toys air dry.
You may not be able to kill germs on some toys — like stuffed animals and baby toys. Throw out toys you can’t clean.
Wash up with soap and water
Wash up with soap and water once you’re done cleaning.
If there is a boil-water advisory in effect:
Use water that has been boiled for 1 minute (allow the water to cool before washing); or
Use water that’s been disinfected for personal hygiene:
When using5-6% unscented liquid household chlorine bleach – add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon (8 drops or about 0.5 milliliters) per 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, add a little less than ¼ teaspoon (16 drops or about 1 milliliter) per 1 gallon of water.
When using 8.25% unscented liquid household chlorine bleach – add a little less than 1/8 teaspoon (6 drops or about 0.5 milliliters) per 1 gallon of clear water. Stir well, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. If the water is cloudy, add 12 drops (or about 1 milliliter) per 1 gallon of water.
If you have any open cuts or sores that were exposed to floodwater, wash them with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent an infection.
Seek immediate medical attention if you become injured or sick.
Wash all clothes worn during the cleanup in hot water and detergent. These clothes should be washed separately from uncontaminated clothes and linens.
Be careful with floodwater- it can contain dangerous bacteria
Floodwater can contain dangerous bacteria from overflowing sewage and agricultural and industrial waste. While skin contact with floodwater doesn’t pose a serious health risk by itself, eating or drinking anything contaminated with floodwater can cause diseases.
If you have any open cuts or sores that will be exposed to floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and applying an antibiotic ointment to discourage infection. (See also Clean Hands Save Lives: Emergency Situations)
To reduce cold–related risks when standing or working in water which is cooler than 75 degrees F (24 degrees C), wear insulated clothes and insulated rubber boots, take frequent breaks out of the water, and change into dry clothing when possible.
Stay away from any damaged buildings or structures until a building inspector or other government authority has had a chance to examine it and certify that it’s safe.
Wait until daylight to return to buildings so it’s easier to see and avoid any hazards- especially if the power is out.
Leave your home or other building if you hear any shifting or strange noises- this could mean it’s about to fall.
If you smell gas or suspect a leak, leave your house/building and contact emergency authorities right away! Don’t turn on the lights, light matches, smoke, or do anything that can cause a spark. Don’t return to the building until you’re told it’s safe to do so.
Keep children and pets away from the affected area until cleanup has been completed.
Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Never use generators, pressure washers, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, or camper—or even outside near an open window, door, or vent. Carbon monoxide—an odorless, colorless gas from these sources that can cause sudden illness and death—can build up indoors and poison the people and animals inside.
If electrical circuits and electrical equipment have gotten wet or are in or near water, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. If you must enter standing water to access the main power switch, then call an electrician to turn it off.
Never turn power on or off or use an electric tool or appliance while standing in water.
Do not connect generators to your home’s electrical circuits without the approved, automatic-interrupt devices. If a generator is on line when electrical service is restored, it can become a major fire hazard and it may endanger line workers helping to restore power in your area.
According to OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration), more people are killed by falling trees every year (100+) than are killed by sharks (about 4-7 per year).
Falling trees kill or injure more people than lightning. Although the numbers of tree fall fatalities are relatively low compared with other fatalities, the numbers for property damage from falling trees is much higher, ranging in the hundreds of thousands. According to the National Storm Damage Center, falling trees are the main causes of roof damage, costing more than $1 billion in property damage each year. So, chances are if you are a homeowner with lots of trees in your yard, you may encounter tree damage of some kind in your lifetime and in that situation, you will need to know what to do if a tree falls on your home:
If you’re in the house when a tree falls, leave the house and the property as soon as possible. Beware of downed electrical lines, and if you have gas lines, do not use your cell phone to call for help until you are away from the house. Use the safest route possible to get away from the house.
Call 911 or emergency services. They will send fire or appropriate responders to ensure the house is safe. If anyone has been injured or killed, let the dispatcher know this when you call. Remain at the scene unless you are injured. Seek medical care or wait for an ambulance if you have been injured.
Call your insurance company as soon as possible so they can agree to cover any emergency costs, removal or other details covered in your homeowner’s policy. If your tree has fallen on your neighbor’s property, your neighbor will need to make a claim on their insurance policy, but your insurance company should be aware of the damage as well.
Contact a roofing contractor, tree surgeon, tree removal company, builder or any other home professional to examine any damage, to remove the tree and secure the home so there is no additional damage to your property or possessions. Even if the tree misses the house, tree roots can extend under a property, causing damage to the foundation. So, have your builder or contractor check inside the house for cracks in the drywall, or the outside for cracks in the brickwork. Lowes’ experts say, “Don’t attempt to deal with the tree removal or roof repair yourself. Even if the fallen branches or tree seems small, you never know the extent of the storm damage or if the framework or structural integrity if your home has been compromised.”
If you are unable to live in the house during repairs, make sure any damaged areas are secured to prevent looting and theft. Put valuables in temporary storage, and board up broken windows, holes in the wall etc.
Once the tree has been dealt with, what steps can you take to ensure it doesn’t happen again?
Make sure your trees are healthy
Other than raking leaves, building treehouses, or picking up fallen branches, twigs and debris, most homeowners don’t think about their trees very often. Even fewer know the signs of an unhealthy, dying, or dead branch or tree. Here a few signs from RTEC Treecare, one of the companies that take care of the trees at the mall in Washington, DC to pay attention to:
Large branches attached with tight, V-shaped forks. These branches are prone to failure and may need to be lightened or removed.
Cracks in the trunk of the tree or in major limbs
Fungi growing from the base of your tree or under its canopy. This could be a sign of root decay.
Branches that are pointing/hanging downwards these damaged branches can easily fall during storms.
Partially attached limbs hung up in the high branches that could fall.
Large cavities in the tree trunk.
Wires in contact with tree branches.
Other things you can do to ensure you and your family are safe from tree falls:
Have an arborist inspect your trees every year, or whenever there’s been an injury or damage to a tree – such as a lightning strike, hit by a motor vehicle, or a pest infestation.
Do preventative pruning, and ask your neighbors to do the same. Preventative pruning reduces wind resistance and removes dead branches. This reduces the risk of the tree or the tree’s limbs snapping under the force of wind gusts.
Make sure your trees are mulched correctly if you mulch them. Mulch protects the root system of the tree and allows water and nutrients to drain down through the soil to the roots. This keeps the root system healthy which helps the tree stay strong during storms. Unhealthy root systems can lead to trees uprooting and snapping in heavy winds.
Wrap your young trees to prevent sunscald. Sunscald is winter damage that is commonly seen on young trees, newly planted trees, and thin-barked trees (cherry, crabapple, honey locust, linden, maple, mountain ash, plum). Sunscald causes the tree bark to dry and crack.
Legal issues regarding who pays for damages or home repairs etc. to your house from a falling tree in your yard, or from a neighbor’s yard, vary greatly from state-to-state, county to county and insurer to insurer. It’s best to talk to your insurance agent before anything happens to determine if you are covered in the event of a tree fall.
Smoke detectors and fire alarms may be some of the most important items in your home when it comes to your family’s safety. These early warning devices may help alert your family to fire and dangerous smoke while there is still time to evacuate, but they need to be periodically tested to help ensure proper function.
Why Do It?
Electronic devices are not infallible. Batteries die, and other parts of the smoke detector can wear out over time. Testing them regularly and replacing batteries (or the entire device) is one way to help ensure your family stays safe should there be a fire in your home.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), smoke detectors should be tested at least once a month and batteries should be replaced at least twice a year. A good way to help remember to do this is to change your batteries when you change your clocks for daylight saving time — when you spring forward or fall back. Make sure to review your smoke detector’s user manual — you may need to check more often if any of the following apply:
The detector often gives false alarms.
The alarm emits short beeps regularly without anyone touching it.
Frequent kitchen smoke has caused it to activate often, which may wear it out faster.
There are two main types of smoke detectors, according to the USFA:
Battery-powered: This type can be susceptible to defective or worn-out batteries. Monthly testing is critical. Never put old batteries into your smoke detectors and fire alarms.
Hardwired: These detectors are powered by your home electrical system, but they usually have back-up batteries so the device can remain operational in a power outage. Hardwired smoke detectors still require monthly testing to help ensure that both batteries and parts are functioning properly.
How to Test It
You should always check the manufacturer’s instructions for the proper method of testing your smoke detector and fire alarm. But, in general, most battery-powered and hardwired smoke detectors can be tested in the following way:
Step 1. Alert family members that you will be testing the alarm. Smoke detectors have a high-pitched alarm that may frighten small children, so you’ll want to let everyone know you plan to test the alarms to help avoid frightening anyone.
Step 2. Station a family member at the furthest point away from the alarm in your home. This can be critical to help make sure the alarm can be heard everywhere in your home. You may want to install extra detectors in areas where the alarm’s sound is low, muffled or weak.
Step 3. Press and hold the test button on the smoke detector. It can take a few seconds to begin, but a loud, ear-piercing siren should emanate from the smoke detector while the button is pressed. If the sound is weak or nonexistent, replace your batteries. If it has been more than six months since you last replaced the batteries (whether your detector is battery-powered or hardwired), change them now regardless of the test result, and test the new batteries one final time to help ensure proper functioning. You should also look at your smoke detector to make sure there’s no dust or other substance blocking its grates, which may prevent it from working even if the batteries are new.
Remember, smoke detectors have a normal life span of 10 years, according to the USFA. Even if you’ve performed regular maintenance, and your device is still functional, you should replace a smoke detector after the 10-year period or earlier, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions.
Installing smoke detectors can be a great way to help keep your family safe, but assuming they are working may lead to a dangerous situation. Taking a few minutes to check them regularly can help ensure they’re working properly.
Got a leaky toilet? Believe it or not, it’s a common problem. Continue reading to find out the likeliest causes and the easiest ways to remedy the situation.
First, some of the washers between the bowl and tank may have failed. Shut off the supply valve, empty the tank with a flush, then remove the nuts, bolts, and washers from the underside of the tank. Lift the tank, position it on its side, and see if the washers need replacing.
Another culprit may be faulty fasteners securing the fill valve and ballcock to the bottom of the tank. Before you replace those parts, however, first try simply tightening the nuts and bolts holding them in place—that often solves the problem.
On the other hand, if the leak seems to be coming from the base of the tank, chances are the wax ring that seals the toilet to the floor has failed. Replacing the wax ring is a much bigger job, since it involves removing the entire toilet from its base. If you decide to replace the wax ring yourself—preferably with a friend to help with the lifting—take the extra step of also replacing any bolts that show signs of corrosion. And, once you have the toilet back in place, don’t forget to add a bead of caulk around the base.
It’s not a shock when mold shows up behind drywall after a flood or covers baseboards in damp basements. But mold can surprise you and hide in unexpected places, making it harder to detect and wipe out.
To get rid of mold, think like a fungus and search out these six moist places where mold likes to grow.
Why mold grows there: Brick crevices collect water, dirt, and other organic debris. Rusted chimney caps and faulty flashing lets in rain and snow, encouraging mold to grow.
How to wipe it out: First, replace rusted caps and fix flashing. Then, call a chimney sweep to give your chimney a thorough cleaning. A $200-$300 annual visit from a chimney sweep not only removes mold, but also keeps your chimney free of dangerous creosote and helps it operate at peak efficiency.
2. Refrigerator Drip Pans
Why mold grows there: It’s a rarely noticed place under your fridge that collects moisture and food spills, a perfect environment for mold to grow.
How to wipe it out: Cleaning drips pans should be part of your annual deep cleaning ritual. Spray the pan with a hydrogen peroxide solution (1 teaspoon hydrogen peroxide in 1 cup water). Wipe clean with a rag soaked in white vinegar. Also, clean the floor beneath the pan.
3. Front-Loading Washing Machines
Why mold grows there: The gasket around the door on front-loading washing machines often stays wet because the door is usually closed when not in use. Add some lint to the moisture, and mold happily munches and multiplies.
How to wipe it out: Wipe the gasket and glass dry before you shut the door. If you spot mold, run a hot water wash with some chlorine bleach (no clothes), which will kill the fungi.
4. Window Sashes and Seals
Why mold grows there: Condensation provides the moisture mold loves; dirt and dust supply food.
How to wipe it out: After heavy rains, open windows and wipe moisture from the bottoms of sashes and window sills. If seals between panes are failing, you’ll have to repair or replace window sashes to prevent condensation. Regularly clean windows to deprive mold of food.
Why mold grows there: When you stack dishes that are a little wet and a little cruddy, mold has the perfect environment to grow — especially if you don’t use those dishes every day.
How to wipe it out: Run moldy dishes through the dishwasher, and wipe cabinets with a vinegar-soaked rag. Completely dry dishes before you store them.
6. Air Conditioners
Why mold grows there: Air conditioning units trap dust and pollen (a good meal for mold) and grab moisture from the air. If you don’t run your AC unit at least every 24 hours in warm weather, humidity in your house climbs and mold may grow in AC ducts and drain pans, and on coils.
How to wipe it out: If mold grows in your central air conditioning unit, you’ll have to hire a mold remediation pro to clean out the system ($400-$1,000). If mold shows up in a window AC unit, remove the front plate, clean the blower with a HEPA filter vacuum, and flush out the coils and clean the drain pan with a 1:1 solution of bleach and water.
Of course, prevention is the best remedy. Run your AC for at least 10 minutes every day to keep air circulating when it’s hot and humid outside, and keep the humidity in your home below 55%.