Exercise Equipment Dangers

by Nick Gromicko
Want to feel less guilty about not working out as much as you planned in 2018?  We are here to help! 😊  Before you make your resolutions list for 2019 check out this article to stay safe around that exercise equipment!
Exercise equipment is inherently dangerous.  Various types of home gym devices are typically large and have moving parts. Accidents, whether to adults who misuse the equipment or to children who gain unsupervised access, can be avoided through preventative measures. Gym equipment is also a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens, particularly in commercial gyms where users share the equipment.

Physical Injury

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that about 8,700 children under 5 years of age and 16,500 children between the ages of 5 and 14 are injured by exercise equipment each year. Some of these injuries are burns.  In fact, an Australian study found that treadmill friction injuries account for roughly 1% of all pediatric burns.

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Safety Measures to Prevent Physical Injury

  • Never leave free weights, especially barbells, in an unstable position.
  • Clip the treadmill safety key onto your clothing.  Do not leave it dangling or wrapped around the handle. All treadmills come with safety clips that will turn the treadmill off if the runner falls. When the treadmill is not in use, keep the safety key out of reach of children, as it is required to activate the machine.
  • Accelerate and decelerate gradually. It’s a good idea to start a treadmill on the lowest speed setting possible and then increase the rate gradually, as some treadmills can accelerate with surprising speed. When you’re finished exercising, lower the speed of the belt gradually and step carefully to the non-moving platforms at the sides of the machine.
  • Discourage children’s access to gym equipment through the following measures:
    • Keep gym equipment in a room that has a door which can be locked.
    • Position the equipment so that you have a clear view of your surroundings, and avoid distractions by music or television, especially when children may be present.
  • Keep folding machines stored and secured in the folded position.

Parents should keep home exercise equipment locked and unplugged so that children can’t activate the machines on their own.  In 2009, the daughter of former professional boxer Mike Tyson was found accidentally strangled by the power cord of a home treadmill. While it may be inconvenient to unplug an apparatus after every use, this practice can save children’s lives.

Pathogens

Germs are found in high numbers virtually everywhere in a gym, from the weightlifting bench to the sauna. Sweaty residue on workout equipment, particularly the machines often used by several people in quick succession, such as weights and exercise bikes, provide the moisture that encourages the spread of germs. In a study published by Men’s Fitness Magazine, a quarter-sized site harbored 132 million bacteria, and the average site tested yielded 16 million. On the same area of a toilet seat, you can expect to find just 500 bacteria, according to the study.

Pathogens found on gym equipment can lead to a number of ailments, ranging from minor skin infections, such as pimples, to life-threatening diseases, including meningitis, endocarditis and sepsis. Staphylococcus aureus is perhaps the most serious pathogen found in commercial gyms, as it is resistant to antibiotics.  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it killed 18,000 people in 2005.

Good hygiene is the best way to prevent the transmission of pathogens around exercise equipment, especially in commercial facilities.  Practice the following precautions when working out:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after exercise. After touching weights and machine handrails, try your best to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, ears and mouth until you can lather up.
  • Wipe down the machines and communal yoga mats with disinfectant before and after use. Commercial gyms ordinarily disinfect equipment on a regular basis, but you should not rely on the competence of the staff. It’s also bad etiquette to make the next user swim through a pool of your sweat.
  • Bring your own sweat towel, and use it. In fact, it’s better to bring two, as you can place one on machines and benches to protect yourself when you sit down, and use the other to periodically wipe down your body. Don’t trust the towels provided by the gyms, since they are not governed by the same stringent standards that hospitals are.  Hospitals must adhere to strict regulations regarding the temperature at which towels must be laundered.
  • Wash and sterilize your water bottle regularly.
  • Don’t go barefoot in a gym shower or sauna. Human traffic, hot temperatures, moisture, and a lack of sunlight create a perfect environment for many bacteria. Wear flip-flops or water shoes to avoid athlete’s foot, ringworm, and other such communicable conditions. Shoes may also help you avoid slipping on wet tiles.
  • Sit on a towel or wear shorts in the sauna to avoid direct contact with the seating, which may harbor bacteria.
  • Cover any breaks in your skin with bandages. Even a minor scratch or raw skin can allow the entrance of Staphylococcus aureus, causing a serious staph infection.
In summary, gym equipment can cause injuries and conceal dangerous germs. Precautions should be taken to ensure that they are used safely. As always, consult your InterNACHI inspector if have any questions about safety in your home.

What Is Radon Testing? 7 Things Every Homeowner Should Know

Radon testing is the only way to know whether your home has high levels of radon, a radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer over time. Here’s what you need to know about radon testing and reducing radon levels in your home.

Image result for what is radon

1. What is radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that’s produced by decaying uranium. It’s present in nearly all soils, and very low levels of radon are found in the air we breathe every day.

2. Why is radon a problem?
The problem occurs when radon gas enters your home and gets trapped. Long-term exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that lung cancer caused by radon exposure kills about 21,000 Americans every year.

3. How does radon get in your house?
The radon gas moves from the soil into a home. Although it can seep directly through pores in concrete, the worst entry points are gaps in walls and floors (see picture above). Any house, of any age, in any state can have elevated radon levels. It really depends on the way your specific house interacts with the surrounding soil. Your neighbor’s radon level may differ significantly from yours.

Testing your home from radon is the only way to know whether or not your house has unsafe radon levels.

4. How do you test your home for radon?
Conduct the test in the lowest livable area of your house that is regularly used 8 to 10 hours per week.

  • Self Test at Home With Short-term, Long term or Continuous Radon Test Kits.  These are useful to see if further testing is warranted. Most are activated charcoal-based or electret ion that measure radon levels for two to seven days. You mail the tests to a lab for the results. Short-term tests are available at home centers, hardware stores, and online retailers.
  • Call a Professional Inspector to Test for Radon.  Hero Home Inspection regularly performs radon tests for homeowners and future homeowners.  A continuous testing radon testing monitor will be placed in the lowest living area of the home and left to check radon levels for at least 48 hours.  You will receive a report that includes both the long term average and the short term average of the radon levels in the home.  If the report is higher than the recommended number, we will run a second test at no charge to confirm the findings.

5. What should you do if your house has high levels of radon?
If an initial short-term test registers 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, the EPA recommends doing a second radon test. A long-term test will give you the most accurate information, but a short-term test is acceptable if you need the results quickly, such as for a real estate transaction, or your first levels registered 8 pCi/L or higher.

If a second test registers above 4 pCi/L, consider taking steps to reduce radon levels in your home.

6. 
How do you lower radon levels in your house?

Image result for radon in homeYou can start by trying these easy repairs to reduce radon levels. These efforts alone rarely reduce levels significantly, but if your level is only slightly elevated, these repairs might make the difference. They will also make other radon reduction methods more effective and cost efficient.

  • Caulk foundation cracks, construction joints, and other openings with polyurethane caulk.
  • If you have a sump pump, install an airtight cover on it (choose one that allows access to your sump).
  • Cover soil in crawl spaces with polyurethane plastic sheeting (with a minimum thickness of 6 mil, available at home centers) tightly attached to the walls.
  • You can also try sealing concrete, although the EPA has found concrete sealers to be a temporary solution at best.
 

Once you’ve tackled these, retest. If levels are still high, consider installing a radon mitigation system yourself or hire a pro.

7. What’s a radon mitigation system and how does it work?

It basically involves ventilating your home by using PVC piping to draw radon gas up from the soil and out of your house.

The most effective system is a vent pipe placed in the sump pit (if you have a sump pump) or a hole made under your concrete floor slab. A special in-line radon fan is placed in the attic or outside the house to draw air through the vent and radon from under the basement floor. The easiest method is to run the vent out the side of the house and up to the eaves. (You can also run the vent up through the house and out the roof, which is a lot more work and cost, but it looks better).

 

Image result for radon mitigation system

Image result for radon mitigation systemIf your house has high radon levels, it’s important to act, but don’t overreact. Risks from radon are cumulative, which means serious effects result from exposure to high levels over a long period of time. It is prudent to test radon levels and decide on a course of action. But you don’t have to move out of your house or hire the first contractor who can fix the problem. For more information, contact your state radon office.Pros usually charge between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars to install a radon mitigation system, depending on your home and your radon levels. Your state radon office will have a list of qualified contractors.

 

By Laura Gelman Originally Published on Readers Digest

The 10 Best (AND WORST) Places to Hide Valuables in Your Home

Burglary is a crime of opportunity.  And burglars don’t want to spend a lot of time looking through a home to find things of value to steal, which is why there are obvious locations that they always check.  That means that there are ways to outsmart them by hiding your valuables in not-so-obvious places, and sometimes even in plain sight.

Depending on the size and type of item, the best places to hide valuables are those that burglars don’t want to search through or wouldn’t bother with, including places that are inconvenient or difficult to search, messy, or uninteresting.  On average Burglars spend 8-12 minutes inside of a home and they know where to look to make the most of their time.  Here are a few ideas on where to hide your valuables to keep them safe.

Here Are the Top 10:

  1. Dog food bin: If you store your pet food in a large bin, it can double as a handy hiding spot. Wrap up important items and place it at the bottom of the storage bin surrounded by dog food.

  2. A false VHS tape or VHS carton.  Who watches VHS tapes anymore?  Keep them in a stack with lots of others.  A few can be a clue, but many can be a time-consuming distraction.
  3. False containers in the kitchen cupboard, the fridge, under the sink, and in the 51dZsioyuVLbathroom, such as fake food cans and boxes, false cleaning product bottles, and personal hygiene items, and even in a heavy tub of “cat litter.”  Some false containers available on the market today actually look like false containers, so you might want to save yourself the expense and create your own.

  4. In the false bottom or under the plastic liner of a bathroom or kitchen trash can.  No one wants to go pawing through your trash in the slim hope of finding something worth pawning.
  5. Wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil and stored in the back of the freezer.  This is also a good place to store documents and paper currency in case of a house fire.
  6. In a floor safe in the bedroom closet.  While this location may be obvious, a burglar would have to exert a lot of time and energy—and create a lot of noise—trying to break into a floor safe, which is also generally of the heavy variety, making it not only hard to open, but hard to steal whole, if the thief had plans to break into it later.
  7. Inside a house plant.  Using the same method as for trash containers, a plant’s soil can be contained in a waterproof liner that can be lifted up to hide items underneath.  Just make sure the items you’re hiding are in a waterproof container, too.
  8. Inside a false wall outlet.  Make sure it’s not a live receptacle or in the way of any electrical wiring.
  9. Within hollowed-out/removable building components, such as wainscoting, floor panels, door jambs, window sills, and cabinet doors.
  10. In the garage inside boxes marked with mundane labels, such as “Xmas Ornaments,” “Kid’s Clothes,” “School Projects,” etc.  Again, the more boxes you have, the longer the burglar will have to search—if he’s so inclined—to find something worth stealing.

Hiding Places to Avoid:

  1. Areas that can damage your valuables with water or invasive matter, such as the water tank of a toilet, inside a mayonnaise jar that still has mayonnaise in it, or a paint can filled with paint.  There are high-quality waterproof containers on the market that will allow you to hide items in water (and possibly other places), but err on the side of caution.  Documents, jewelry and electronics that become wet or permeated with chemicals or food matter may be damaged beyond repair in your zeal to outsmart a tenacious burglar.
  2. A jewelry box.  This is a good place to store jewelry that you can afford to lose, but not your diamond tennis bracelet or your grandmother’s antique wedding ring.
  3. Your desk drawer, bedside drawer, or underwear drawer.  Too obvious.
  4. Inside CD cases.  It’s true:  burglars still prefer CDs to MP3s.
  5. Inside DVD cases.  DVDs and Xbox-type games are worth between $2 and $10 at pawn and re-sale shops; count on being cleaned out of your collection during a home burglary, regardless of the titles.
  6. A wall safe.  Unless it’s high-end and professionally installed, a wall safe can be dislodged by cutting the drywall seam around it, and wall safes are typically small and light enough to easily transport off site to be opened later.  Opt for the heavier and harder-to-access floor safe.
  7. Inside picture frames with false backs/interiors.  These tend to be thicker than typical picture frames, so they’re easy to spot as a hiding place.
  8. A cookie jar.  Put cookies in it, not your grocery money.
  9. An electrical item or heated area, such as a lamp base, toaster oven, or HVAC duct.  You could accidentally ignite your valuables and put your entire home at risk for a house fire.
  10. Any locked box or locking file cabinet.  A box that has a lock on it will be stolen regardless of what’s inside, and the lock on a file cabinet can be popped out with the right tool and a little effort.

Other Precautions

For valuables that you can’t hide or lock up, such as a flat-screen TV, stereo system, and computers, make sure they’re insured through your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance.  Unless you invest in a home security system (and sometimes even if you do), it’s not possible to protect every item in your home.  But you can take precautions to password-protect and GPS-activate laptops and smartphones so that their recovery is more likely, should they be stolen.

Also, firearms should be properly locked in an approved gun safe that is stored out of reach for the safety of the home’s occupants, as well as to deter theft.

Place a pole in the bottom track of your sliding glass patio doors so that they can’t be forced open wide enough to permit the entry of an intruder.  Install burglar-proof window locks that will allow you to leave your windows open slightly for fresh air, but not wide enough to allow a person to get through.

Remember that burglary is a crime of opportunity, so don’t tempt fate by leaving any exterior doors unlocked (including sliding glass patio doors, and the door between the garage and the living area), hiding a spare house key outdoors (under the “Welcome” mat, a large potted plant, statuary, or a solitary or fake rock), leaving the doors to your attached garage open (even when you’re home), or leaving the curtains or drapes open so that your valuables are in full view of prowlers and passersby.  Your personal safety is at risk as much as your personal property.

Also, don’t over-share personal information with the world by advertising your absence from home on social media.  When leaving on vacation, have a trusted neighbor, friend or family member monitor your home and bring in the newspaper, mail, and random take-out menus hung on your doorknob.  Install light timers indoors and security/motion detectors outdoors to illuminate your property’s exterior.  And go ahead and apply security company stickers to your windows/doors that advertise that your home is professionally protected, even if it’s not.

In short, do what you can to make your home a difficult, inconvenient and time-consuming target that will force a would-be burglar to move on.  And do your part to keep your neighborhood safe by reporting suspicious activity on your street to the police.

7 Steps to Fall Home Maintenance

Home inspection

Fall is the classic time of year when home maintenance projects really take off. The weather is nicer, insects are less aggressive, and it helps button up the house for the long winter ahead.

Although you may have had your home inspected in the past for major defects, new defects can arise almost overnight. With regular maintenance, homeowners can stay ahead of problems instead of scrambling to fix damage in an emergency.

According to ICA SEO Here are 7 jobs every homeowner should think about at the tail-end of summer.

#1: Check for Cracked and Loose Paint

After a long, blistering summer of unforgiving heat, exterior paint might show cracks, bubbles and flakes. While it’s normal for paint to degrade over time, damage leaves the wood underneath vulnerable to the elements. Now is the time to check paint on siding and trim, remove loose or damaged paint and give it a fresh coat.

Home inspection

Gutter guards can help reduce the amount of large debris that gets trapped inside.

#2: Clean and Secure Gutters and Down Spouts

Hardly anyone enjoys cleaning gutters, but overlooking this simple fall home maintenance job can cause bigger problems. When gutters are full of leaves, water from rains and melting winter snow can’t flow out. That makes the gutter system heavier, which stresses the fasteners. It can also allow water to run backward under the shingles or overflow down the siding. Homeowners should clean out gutters and replace any rusted, loose or missing fasteners while the weather is mild. With fall coming on, it’s also a good time to think about gutter guards to keep leaves out.

#3: Upgrade Inferior Insulation

Inferior insulation lets more heat escape through the ceiling and into the attic where it doesn’t do homeowners any good. Before furnace season arrives in earnest, homeowners should check out attic insulation. If it’s damaged or dirty and compacted, replacement is the smart choice. Even if it’s in good condition, another layer of blanket insulation on top improves the R value.

#4: Replace Old Caulk and Weatherstripping

Caulk and weatherstripping are only as good as their ability to seal air leaks. Once they harden, they can crack and lift. Caulk is inexpensive and seals air leaks around windows and door trim. Weatherstripping makes a complete seal around windows and doors when they’re closed. Both are simple weekend projects that any handy homeowner can handle.

#5: Check the Roof for Loose Shingles 

All that it takes is one good storm to throw a tree branch onto the roof or lift and break the shingles. According to Home Advisor, the average cost of a new roof is about $7,000. After their home inspection, new homeowners still need to watch for damage that weakens the integrity of the roofing system. The sooner it’s repaired or replaced the fewer chances a damaged roof can allow water into the home.

#6: Clean the Fireplace Chimney

In homes with any wood-burning appliance, a clean chimney or flue pipe is a safer one. Before the first fire of the season, homeowners should inspect the chimney or pipe for creosote buildup. A professional maintenance tech or chimney sweep can remove creosote using simple tools.

Home inspection

Considering the costly damage it helps prevent, filter replacement has an enormous return on investment.

#7: Prep the HVAC System

As summer fades into fall, air conditioning switches to heat. Separate air conditioning units should be insulated and covered, recommends Bob Vila, to protect them from the elements and to keep cold air from whistling in around window installations. A filter change is always recommended before turning on heat for the first time of the new cool season.

The weather might be glorious in early fall, but that won’t last for much of the country. Nights get colder, days get shorter and winter blasts make working outside a chore. While the sun is still warm, it’s time for home maintenance projects. That’s what keeps a dream home safe, secure and good investment for the long haul.

 

Top 10 Safest Cities to Live In Georgia

According to SafeWise.com 

images (1)The 10 Safest Cities in Georgia

1. Summerville

Population: 4,442
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.23
Property crimes per 1,000: 9.23
Total crime: 2.44% violent, 97.56% property

2. Milton

Population: 38,551
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.26
Property crimes per 1,000: 8.77
Total crime: 2.96% violent, 97.04% property

3. Johns Creek

Population: 84,629
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.32
Property crimes per 1,000: 8.12
Total crime: 3.93% violent, 96.07% property

4. Senoia

Population: 4,233
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.47
Property crimes per 1,000: 10.87
Total crime: 4.35% violent, 95.65% property

5. Peachtree City

Population: 35,387
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.54
Property crimes per 1,000: 15.40
Total crime: 3.49% violent, 96.52%

6. Alpharetta

Population: 64,943
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.54
Property crimes per 1,000: 20.14
Total crime: 2.68% violent, 97,32% property

7. Tyrone

Population: 7,243
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.69
Property crimes per 1,000: 9.94
Total crime: 6.94% violent, 93.06% property

8. Dallas

Population: 13,135
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.84
Property crimes per 1,000: 15.07
Total crime: 5.56% violent, 94.44% property

9. Flowery Branch

Population: 6,895
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.87
Property crimes per 1,000: 22.48
Total crime: 3.87% violent, 96.13% property

10. Grovetown

Population: 13,469
Violent crimes per 1,000: 0.89
Property crimes per 1,000: 13,29
Total crime: 6.70% violent, 93.30% property

How They Chose the Safest Cities in Georgia

To identify the fifty safest cities in Georgia, Safewise reviewed the 2016 FBI crime report statistics and population data. Cities that fell below identified population thresholds or that failed to submit a complete crime report to the FBI were excluded from the ranking system.

Their evaluation is based on the number of reported violent crimes (aggravated assault, murder, rape, and robbery) in each city. If there was a tie, they also factored in the number of property crimes (burglary, arson, larceny-theft, and motor vehicle theft). To level the playing field, they calculated the rate of crimes per 1,000 people in each city. This makes it easier to directly compare the likelihood of these crimes occurring in cities with vastly different populations.

To See Georgia’s 50 Safest Cities of 2018 Click Here.

 

Safety First: Attic Pull Down Ladders

Attic pull-down ladders, also called attic pull-down stairways, are collapsible ladders that are permanently attached to the attic floor. Occupants can use these ladders to access their atticsAttic pull down ladder without being required to carry a portable ladder.
 
Common Defects
 

In older homes, Homeowners, not professional carpenters, usually installed the attic pull-down ladders. Evidence of this distinction can be observed in consistently shoddy and dangerous work that rarely meets safety standards. Some of the more common defective conditions observed by inspectors include:

  • cut bottom cord of structural truss. Often, homeowners will cut through a structural member in the field while installing a pull-down ladder, unknowingly weakening the structure. Structural members should not be modified in the field without an engineer’s approval;
  • fastened with improper nails or screws. Homeowners often use drywall or deck screws rather than the standard 16d penny nails or ¼” x 3” lag screws. Nails and screws that are intended for other purposes may have reduced shear strength and they may not support pull-down ladders;
  • fastened with an insufficient number of nails or screws. Manufacturers provide a certain number of nails with instructions that they all be used, and they probably do this for a good reason. Inspectors should be wary of “place nail here” notices that are nowhere near any nails;
  • lack of insulation. Hatches in many houses (especially older ones) are not likely to be weather-stripped and/or insulated. An uninsulated attic hatch allows air from the attic to flow freely into the home, which may cause the heating or cooling system to run overtime. An attic hatch cover box can be installed to increase energy savings;
  • loose mounting bolts. This condition is more often caused by age rather than installation, although improper installation will hasten the loosening process;
  • attic pull-down ladders are cut too short. Stairs should reach the floor;
  • attic pull-down ladders are cut too long. This causes pressure at the folding hinge, which can cause breakage;
  • improper or missing fasteners;
  • compromised fire barrier when installed in the garage;
  • attic ladder frame is not properly secured to the ceiling opening;
  • closed ladder is covered with debris, such as blown insulation or roofing material shed during roof work. Inspectors can place a sheet on the floor beneath the ladder to catch whatever debris may fall onto the floor; and
  • cracked steps. This defect is a problem with wooden ladders.
  • In sliding pull-down ladders, there is a potential for the ladder to slide down quickly without notice. Always pull the ladder down slowly and cautiously.

Tips for our clients:

  • Do not allow children to enter the attic through an attic access. The lanyard attached to the attic stairs should be short enough that children cannot reach it. Parents can also lock the attic ladder so that a key or combination is required to access it.
  • If possible, avoid carrying large loads into the attic. While properly installed stairways may safely support an adult man, they might fail if he is carrying, for instance, a bag full of bowling balls. Such trips can be split up to reduce the weight load.
  • Replace an old, rickety wooden ladder with a new one. Newer aluminum models are often lightweight, sturdy and easy to install.

In summary, attic pull-down ladders are prone to a number of defects, most of which are due to improper installation. Please be cautious and mindful whenever you are using ladders.

Holiday Home Safety Tips

The winter holidays are a time for celebration, and that means more cooking, home decorating, entertaining, and an increased risk of fire and accidents. InterNACHI recommends that you follow these guidelines to help make your holiday season safer and more enjoyable.

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Holiday Lighting
  • Use caution with holiday decorations and, whenever possible, choose those made with flame-resistant, flame-retardant and non-combustible materials.
  • Keep candles away from decorations and other combustible materials, and do not use candles to decorate Christmas trees.
  • Carefully inspect new and previously used light strings, and replace damaged items before plugging lights in. If you have any questions about electrical safety, ask an InterNACHI inspector during your next scheduled inspection. Do not overload extension cords.
  • Don’t mount lights in any way that can damage the cord’s wire insulation.  To hold lights in place, string them through hooks or insulated staples–don’t use nails or tacks. Never pull or tug lights to remove them.
  • Keep children and pets away from light strings and electrical decorations.
  • Never use electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Before using lights outdoors, check labels to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Make sure all the bulbs work and that there are no frayed wires, broken sockets or loose connections.
  • Plug all outdoor electric decorations into circuits with ground-fault circuit interrupters to avoid potential shocks.
  • Turn off all lights when you go to bed or leave the house. The lights could short out and start a fire.
Decorations
  • Use only non-combustible and flame-resistant materials to trim a tree. Choose tinsel and artificial icicles of plastic and non-leaded metals.
  • Never use lighted candles on a tree or near other evergreens. Always use non-flammable holders, and place candles where they will not be knocked down.
  • In homes with small children, take special care to avoid decorations that are sharp and breakable, and keep trimmings with small removable parts out of the reach of children.
  • Avoid trimmings that resemble candy and food that may tempt a young child to put them in his mouth.
 
Holiday Entertaining
  • Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S.  When cooking for holiday visitors, remember to keep an eye on the range.
  • Provide plenty of large, deep ashtrays, and check them frequently. Cigarette butts can smolder in the trash and cause a fire, so completely douse cigarette butts with water before discarding.
  • Keep matches and lighters up high, out of sight and reach of children (preferably in a locked cabinet).
  • Test your smoke alarms, and let guests know what your fire escape plan is.

Trees
  • When purchasing an artificial tree, look for the label “fire-resistant.”
  • When purchasing a live tree, check for freshness. A fresh tree is green, needles are hard to pull from branches, and when bent between your fingers, needles do not break.
  • When setting up a tree at home, place it away from fireplaces, radiators and portable heaters. Place the tree out of the way of traffic and do not block doorways.
  • Cut a few inches off the trunk of your tree to expose the fresh wood. This allows for better water absorption and will help to keep your tree from drying out and becoming a fire hazard.
  • Be sure to keep the stand filled with water, because heated rooms can dry live trees out rapidly.
  • Make sure the base is steady so the tree won’t tip over easily.
   

Fireplaces
  • Before lighting any fire, remove all greens, boughs, papers and other decorations from fireplace area. Check to see that the flue is open.
  • Use care with “fire salts,” which produce colored flames when thrown on wood fires. They contain heavy metals that can cause intense gastrointestinal irritation and vomiting if eaten.
  • Do not burn wrapping papers in the fireplace. A flash fire may result as wrappings ignite suddenly and burn intensely.

Toys and Ornaments
  • Purchase appropriate toys for the appropriate age. Some toys designed for older children might be dangerous for younger children.
  • Electric toys should be UL/FM approved.
  • Toys with sharp points, sharp edges, strings, cords, and parts small enough to be swallowed should not be given to small children.
  • Place older ornaments and decorations that might be painted with lead paint out of the reach of small children and pets.
Children and Pets 
  • Poinsettias are known to be poisonous to humans and animals, so keep them well out of reach, or avoid having them.
  • Keep decorations at least 6 inches above the child’s reach.
  • Avoid using tinsel. It can fall on the floor and a curious child or pet may eat it. This can cause anything from mild distress to death.
  • Keep any ribbons on gifts and tree ornaments shorter than 7 inches. A child could wrap a longer strand of ribbon around their neck and choke.
  • Avoid mittens with strings for children. The string can get tangled around the child’s neck and cause them to choke. It is easier to replace a mitten than a child.
  • Watch children and pets around space heaters or the fireplace. Do not leave a child or pet unattended.
  • Store scissors and any sharp objects that you use to wrap presents out of your child’s reach.
  • Inspect wrapped gifts for small decorations, such as candy canes, gingerbread men, and mistletoe berries, all of which are choking hazards.
 Pet-Safety-Tips
Security
  • Use your home burglar alarm system.
  • If you plan to travel for the holidays, don’t discuss your plans with strangers.
  • Have a trusted friend or neighbor to keep an eye on your home.

Its a Twister!!! Tornado Safety: Myth vs Fact

Tornadoes, also known as twisters or cyclones, are whirling columns of air that form with little warning and carve unpredictable paths of destruction through communities worldwide. America’s “Tornado Alley” – roughly the area between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains – where tornadoes kill dozens and cause billions of dollars in damage annually, sustains the majority of these storms. The extreme danger posed by tornadoes to families and their homes justifies the need for InterNACHI inspectors and their clients to learn some basic tips concerning tornado behavior, preparedness, and
post-storm damage inspection.
What Causes Tornadoes?

Tornadoes form from giant storms called supercells, which are fast rotating updrafts created when colder polar air meets warmer tropical air. Changing wind speeds and direction can cause rising air to rotate vertically, creating within the larger supercell what is known as a mesocyclone. For reasons not yet understood, columns of strong rotating air can develop within the mesocyclone, eventually extending from the cloud base to the ground in the form of a tornado. Their size, shape and color vary greatly, from transparent, narrow funnels several hundred feet across to dark wedges wider than they are tall.

Tornadoes damage small areas and thus cause less damage nationwide than hurricanes and tropical storms, but for those caught in their path, tornadoes can wreak havoc unmatched by any other weather phenomenon. Most tornadoes have wind speeds of less than 110 miles per hour and dissipate after several miles, but larger storms can exceed 300 miles per hour and devastate communities hundreds of miles apart.

Facts and Figures

  • Of the 50 states, Florida experiences the most tornadoes per unit area, while Oklahoma is hit by the strongest tornadoes per unit area. Bangaldesh, due to its poor building construction and general lack of tornado awareness, has the highest annual tornado death toll of any country.
  • Tornadoes in the northern hemisphere generally rotate in a counterclockwise direction, while the opposite is true in the southern hemisphere.
  • Supercells spawn land tornadoes.  Dust devils and gustnadoes appear similar to tornadoes but they are distinct and far less dangerous phenomena.
  • A waterspout is a relatively weak tornado that forms over water as a result of cumulus congestus clouds.
  • Tornadoes are intense and can be long-lived. Consider the following extremes:
    • The Bridge Creek-Moore tornado that happened just outside Oklahoma City in 1999 had winds of 301 mph, the highest wind speed ever recorded.
    • The Great Bend tornado in Kansas that occurred in 1915 hurled a sack of flour 110 miles and a cancelled check 305 miles.
    • In 1925, the nicknamed Tri-State Tornado that affected Missouri, Illinois and Indiana holds three records for traveling 219 miles at 73 mph and killing 295 people.

Classifications

Tornado strength is categorized by the following Enhanced Fujita Scale, whereby the storm receives an “F” rating from 0 to 5 based on the severity of the inflicted damage:This photo shows the aftermath of an EF0 storm, the classification for the weakest tornado.

  • EF0:  The weakest type of tornado can cause superficial damage to structures and vegetation.
  • EF1:  This rated tornado can cause major roof damage, with mobile homes seriously damaged.
  • EF2:  This stronger tornado may result in roof loss and wall collapse, with mobile homes destroyed and smaller trees uprooted.
  • EF3:  This is the maximum level that allows for reasonably effective residential sheltering in a first-floor interior room. Small cars can become projectiles and large trees can be snapped.
  • EF4:  At this level, most homes are completely destroyed, leaving a pile of debris on the foundation. A storm shelter is required to ensure safety. Trains and large trucks can be pushed over, and cars and large trees can be flung long distances.
  • EF5:  As the result of this strongest and most dangerous tornado, well-built homes can be lifted from their foundations and shredded in mid-air, then dispersed as coarse gAn E5 tornado leveled this home to its foundation.ranules over large areas. Large trucks and farm equipment can be smashed into their components parts, skyscrapers may actually be deformed, and entire communities may be leveled. At a rate of occurrence of just 0.1%, EF5 tornadoes are extremely rare, yet they have caused more than 20% of all tornado casualties.

While no two tornadoes are alike, the anatomy of a tornado’s attack on a house is as systematic as it is fierce and is defined as “a progressive failure [that] begins top-down, then outside-in,” according to Timothy Marshall, a tornado expert who writes for Popular Mechanics. Within the first second, pummeling debris tears away a structure’s roof shingles and decking, while wind shatters and rushes through windows and raises the internal pressure. The upward force of the wind on the underside of the already weakened roof, combined with the uplift forces above the roof caused by the high wind, quickly overcome the relatively weak connections between the roof and the walls. The roof tears away from the house, leaving the exterior walls unsupported. In another second, the exterior walls blow out – first, the side walls parallel to the straight-line winds, followed by the windward wall, and finally the back wall – leaving the interior walls unprotected against the maelstrom. An EF4 tornado needs only four seconds to wipe a foundation clean.

Myth vs. Fact

Knowing what not to do can be just as essential as taking the proper safety precautions. Misconceptions concerning tornadoes persist in the media, which may lead to avoidable damage and even unnecessary injuries and deaths.

InterNACHI would like to dispel the following tornado myths that may harm building occupants:

  • MYTH:  Open windows to equalize the barometric pressure between the interior and the exterior pressure caused by a nearby tornado, thereby preventing damage to the building.

FACT:  While a pressure imbalance does exist, it is not great enough to cause a building to explode outward, as was once hypothesized. Damage is primarily caused where wind breaches the building from the outside, which is why windows and other openings should remain closed. Moreover, openings on the windward side of a building actually increase internal wind pressure, resulting in additional uplift force on the roof.

  • MYTH:  The safest location in a house is its southwest corner.

FACT:  This notion originated in the 1887 text Tornadoes, from which it became conventional wisdom until a 1966 study indicated that the southwest corner is actually the most dangerous place to be during a tornado. The safest part of a structure during a tornado is the lowest central room, especially a bathroom or the area beneath a stairwell.

  • MYTH:  Tornadoes always travel in a northeasterly direction.

FACT:  While in most areas, tornadoes tend to follow their parent storms to the northeast, they may stop, change direction, or suddenly backtrack, seemingly at random. Local geography plays a part, too, such as in Minnesota, where tornadoes sometimes travel northwest, andA conventional home may withstand the effects of an EF2 tornado, but it destroyed this mobile home. in coastal south Texas, where they sometimes travel southeast.

  • MYTH:  Tornadoes are “attracted to” mobile homes.

FACT:  The inordinate severity of damage inflicted on trailer parks, compared to conventional homes, can be attributed to the weakness of the building materials commonly used in mobile homes, their lack of foundations, and their small size.

  • MYTH:  Large auditoriums are safer during tornadoes than houses.

FACT:  Many studies have concluded that large-span structures, such as auditoriums and gymnasiums, are vulnerable to high winds because of their high surface area. As such, these buildings should be avoided.

  • MYTH:  Tornadoes do not strike cities.

FACT:  This myth is based on the comparatively small area occupied by downtown areas, which make them uncommon targets for tornadoes. Also, the urban heat-island effect may discourage the formation of weaker tornadoes. Significant tornadoes are unaffected by turbulent warm air, however, and EF4 and EF5 tornadoes have struck Atlanta, Georgia, Lubbock, Texas and even London, England.

  • MYTH:  Mountains, lakes and rivers are significant barriers against tornadoes.

FACT:  Tornadoes have formed over rivers and lakes, and more than a dozen have crossed over the Mississippi River. Twisters have been observed as high as 12,000 feet (3,700 meters) above sea level and ascend 3,000-foot (910 meter) ridges without slowing down.

Damage to Homes

While much tornado destruction is obvious, some of the damage is only apparent upon closer inspection. Even an insurance adjuster can miss critical structural and safety defects that may cost the homeowner a fortune to repair.  According to CNN, a jury found that a major insurer acted “recklessly and with malice” while handling insurance claims resulting from the 1999 Oklahoma tornado, which posed serious safety defects to the building’s occupants. An unbiased and comprehensive assessment of the damage inflicted on a home by a tornado can be obtained by hiring an InterNACHI inspector. Read InterNACHI’s article on Emergency Preparedness to find out what to do after an emergency

Specifically, the following elements should be inspected for damage:

  • gas leaks. Uprooted trees may have damaged underground gas pipes, which can lead to deadly fires;
  • electrical damage. Electrical equipment should be dried and checked before being returned to service. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell burning insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you have to step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call a utility repairperson or an electrician first for advice;
  • plumbing. Tornadoes can easily shake and rattle a home, causing plumbing lines to twist and crack. Following the storm, homeowners can check their plumbing by turning on all plumbing fixtures, checking cabinets for signs of water damage, and checking ceilings from below for staining. Avoid using toilets if sewage lines have been damaged;
  • roof and siding. Cracking, tears and gouges caused to the roof and siding by flying debris will eventually allow for the entry of rainwater and snowmelt. Gable roofs are especially vulnerable to damage from the high wind generated by tornadoes. For additional support, attach wall studs to roof rafters using hurricane clips, not nails;
  • chimney damage. Chimney damage may slow or stop the ventilation of carbon monoxide (CO) – a poisonous, colorless, odorless and tasteless gas – allowing it to accumulate in the living area. Inspect the chimney closely for damage in a tornado-damaged house. For more information, read InterNACHI’s article on chimney inspection;
  • windows and gutters. Flying debris can smash windows, damage windowpanes and shutters, rip screens, and dent or tear away gutters;
  • foundation. Strong winds can cause foundations to uplift. Check the perimeter of crawlspaces for any changes and inspect masonry for signs of separation or cracking;
  • interior. Inspect for stress cracks in the corners where walls and ceilings meet, and especially the areas above windows and doors. Use a level to check for cupping of the floor and bowing of the walls. Water stains and mold on interior walls may appear some time after the tornado, indicating overlooked damage to the roof that has permitted moisture intrusion; and
  • garage doors. Due to their large surface area, garage doors can be damaged or blown in before other parts of the house are damaged. The wind may then damage the interior and accelerate the home’s collapse. Garage door system technicians can be hired to install horizontal bracing, impact-resistant coverings, and strengthen weak hinges and glider wheel tracks. Old or damaged doors should be replaced.

Tips for Clients

If a tornado is in your area, immediately take shelter indoors, preferably in a basement or first-floor room, closet, hallway, or the void beneath a stairwell. Bathrooms are generally safe, as plumbing fixtures strengthen the walls and anchor them to the ground, and bathtubs can protect against flying debris. Crouch face down beneath a heavy table or workbench, and cover your head with your hands to protect against falling debris.  Do not leave the building until the storm has passed. If possible, cover yourself with some sort of thick padding, such as blankets or a mattress.

Also, avoid the following areas:

  • rooms with many windows. Before any other part of the house fails, windows typically shatter and allow the entry of dangerous projectiles, such as broken masonry and gravel, in addition to glass shards from the window itself;
  • rooms with exterior walls. Exterior walls will fail before interior walls, which often survive intact;
  • under heavy objects that are located on the floor above. A piano or refrigerator may fall through a weakened floor and crush anything below; and
  • mobile homes. Only 10% of Americans live in mobile homes but nearly half of all tornado fatalities happen in them. Mobile homes that are not tied down can be flipped in 60- to 70-mph winds, and even small tornadoes can cause them to completely disintegrate, leaving occupants unprotected. Leave a mobile home immediately and seek shelter elsewhere. If none can be found, lie flat in the nearest ditch with your hands shielding your head.

InterNACHI Inspectors may pass on the following tips to their clients:

  • Watch for atmospheric conditions that accompany tornadoes, such as a dark, greenish sky, large hailstones, a cloud of debris, a roaring noise, or a lowering, spinning storm cloud.
  • Monitor the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on the radio or TV and listen for tornado advisories. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado to form, while a tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted or detected on radar.
  • If a tornado is approaching, shut off the water either at the main meter or at the water main that leads into the home.
  • Before a storm, shut off the electricity, as sparks from electrical switches could ignite gas and cause an explosion.
  • Keep all hazardous materials, such as poisons and chemical solvents, stored in a secure area away from emergency food and water supplies.
  • Arrange furniture so that chairs and beds are away from windows, mirrors and picture frames.
  • Secure top-heavy, freestanding furniture, such as bookcases and China cabinets, with L-brackets, corner brackets, eyebolts, flexible cable or braided wire, and place heavy items on the bottom shelves.  This is an advisable safety precaution in general for families with small children and those who reside in earthquake-prone regions.
  • Keep a disaster supply kit on hand. It should include a first-aid kit, a flashlight with extra batteries, essential medicines, a battery-operated radio, emergency food and water, and a hand-held can opener.
  • Install a safe room or storm shelter in or near the house. Read more about these in InterNACHI’s article on Safe Rooms.
  • Following a storm, do not use matches, lighters or appliances or operate light switches until you are sure there are no gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a hissing noise, open a window and leave the building as quickly as possible. Turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can and call the gas company from a neighbor’s home. Wait for a professional to turn the gas back on.
  • Read InterNACHI’s article on Emergency Preparedness to find out what to do before and after an emergency.
In summary, tornadoes are devastating and unpredictable, but a little knowledge concerning their basic behavior can save lives.  InterNACHI inspectors and their clients can benefit by being aware and prepared in order to protect both their families and their properties.

Emergency Preparedness

by Nick Gromicko and Kate Tarasenko
Whether you’re facing rising floodwaters or a wildfire that’s too close for comfort, many homeowners confront seasonal threats to their safety that force them to flee their properties, at least temporarily.  In the last three years alone, damage created by severe weather and natural disasters in the U.S. has reached the tens of billions of dollars, as well as caused hundreds of deaths.
In the fall of 2010, Boulder County, Colorado, experienced its worst wildfire in history with the Fourmile Canyon fire, which incinerated 135 homes in just three days after forcing 3,500 people to evacuate.  In the spring of 2011, a record 165 tornadoes were recorded in a 24-hour period in the South, killing more than 300 people across six states.  In April and May, the Mississippi River breached its banks in areas across six states that are home to many battles and graves of the Civil War, reaching levels not seen in 84 years, and causing both uncontrolled and controlled flooding in regions of the Gulf Coast that are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  And in September 2013, the city of Boulder and the Northern Front Range of Colorado experienced record rainfall in a three-day period that resulted in catastrophic flooding, leading to deaths and the destruction of homes and even entire towns, as well as long-term damage to road, bridge and building infrastructure costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Here are some tips everyone can use to make a strategic retreat, as well as ways that InterNACHI inspectors can help their clients both prepare for an emergency and assess any property damage upon their return home.
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Evacuating in the event of an emergency is often difficult under the best of circumstances.  Sometimes we may receive ample warning to prepare, but many dangers are unpredictable.  Given the emotional stress and panic that can compromise decision-making abilities in the moment, an important aspect to consider is whether the emergency is localized or widespread.  An emergency such as a ruptured gas pipe, a chemical spill from a nearby truck or train accident, or a home fire suggests that help is just beyond the immediate zone of danger and the evacuation will be temporary, from just a few hours to one or two nights.  All families should devise a Family Evacuation Plan that includes a location outside the home where family members can meet.  But a larger disaster, such as the aforementioned flood or wildfire, or an earthquake, hurricane or tornado tends to affect a wider area and may compromise or fully disable public utilities, including communications, electricity, water and sewer.  Roads within the danger zone may be blocked or difficult to travel, and emergency personnel may encounter problems reaching those who need assistance.
Regardless of the type of disaster, there are many things you can do to mitigate potential property damage and make for a secure departure, should the time come, especially given some warning to evacuate safely.  And, upon returning home, we’d all like the shock to be minimized as much as possible.

To help homeowners get organized before an emergency, we’ve broken down these common concerns into three categories:

  • personal health and safety;
  • home security; and
  • re-entry.

PERSONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY
 
Homeowners should take certain measures to ensure their personal safety when they need to leave their homes for an unknown period of time.  Make sure that you watch or listen to TV or radio for local news and broadcasts by the Emergency Alert System to stay abreast of the latest weather or other conditions, as well as to find out what local emergency management recommends, including the location of public shelters.
Here’s a list of things to pack that will help relieve the last-minute panic of leaving home in a hurry.  This list may vary for each person, but the items are generally based on these priorities:  short-term vs. long-term evacuation, and what you’ll need while you’re away, as well as what you shouldn’t leave behind while you’re gone:
  • an all-purpose, waterproof first aid and emergency kit that includes hand sanitizer, a flashlight, a radio with batteries, and matches;
  • glasses, hearing aids, and prescription medications for all family members;
  • supplies for pets, including carriers, leashes, plastic or collapsible/camping-type water bowls, food and medication;
  • a kit of personal toiletries for each family member that’s ready to grab and go;
  • a change of clothes, including undergarments, footwear and outerwear;
  • sleeping bags and Mylar™ camping blankets;
  • personal paperwork in waterproof pouches, including irreplaceable or hard-to-replace documents, such as:
    • drivers’ licenses and other ID;
    • birth certificates;
    • Social Security cards;
    • passports;
    • insurance policies, and other banking, business and legal cards and documents;
  • contact information for relatives, friends and neighbors, as well as local shelters, including the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which may be directing disaster relief activities in your area;
  • keys;
  • cash and credit cards;
  • firearms;
  • personal electronics, including cell phones and chargers;
  • irreplaceable personal effects, such as albums of photos that haven’t been digitally preserved;
  • enough snacks, including special food items such infant formula, and non-perishables, along with a can opener (if needed), to last until reaching alternative housing and supplies;
  • water.  If the emergency may be extended, FEMA recommends a three-day supply of one gallon per person per day, to be used for both drinking and sanitation;
  • plastic bags, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and other items for personal sanitation and hygiene; and
  • a basic toolkit that includes work gloves, pliers, an adjustable wrench, a hacksaw, and other tools to fix a flat tire, turn off and on household utility shut-off valves, pry open a damaged door, or cut through tree branches that may be blocking a road.

An expanded emergency supply list can include the following items:

  • a gallon of bleach to be used as a disinfectant and to purify drinking water, if necessary.  Adding 16 drops of plain household chlorine bleach to a gallon of water will make the water potable;
  • a gasoline-powered portable generator, along with extra gasoline;
  • a portable fire extinguisher;
  • portable lanterns and flashlights;
  • a camping toilet;
  • tents;
  • a portable cook stove and mess kits;
  • face masks for every family member;
  • plastic sheeting or tarps, duct tape and scissors to create a “shelter in place,” if a more secure shelter cannot be accessed in time.  These can also be used to create a barrier from flying debris if it is not safe to leave and you must take refuge in your home; and
  • other supplies that can aid in daily routines if temporary accommodations are too difficult to reach or overcrowded.

These items can help a family be self-sufficient while temporary accommodations and plans for returning home are sorted out.  With the exception of medications and electronics that are used every day, most of the items can be stored in a central location, such as a coat closet or garage cupboard, or already loaded in your vehicle.

Other Considerations 

For residents with special needs, such as infants, the elderly, and those with mobility issues, an emergency evacuation plan is essential because the time needed to leave is greater, and the list of personal items is often specialized.  For example, a lightweight, collapsible wheelchair may be a more practical option for short-term use for someone who is wheelchair-bound.  A person who relies on oxygen may be able to invest in a portable, back-pack type supply.  Those who wear hearing aids should keep extra batteries in their toiletries kit.
In all cases, emergency personnel and first responders should be notified as soon as possible regarding the location of at-risk and elderly residents whose mobility may be compromised so that they can receive the additional assistance they need to make a safe getaway.

The B-List

If a forced evacuation is predicted to be long-term and residents are afforded extra time to pack more than just the essentials, some homeowners may opt to pack items that have special sentimental or luxury value, such as heirlooms, jewelry, artwork, and other prized possessions.

Like most lists, this “B-list” should be made well in advance, including how such items can be packed into your vehicle while leaving room for occupants and emergency essentials, or even stored off-site at a secure location.

HOME SECURITY

On a regular basis, homeowners should make sure that their property’s drainage is unobstructed, including gutters, downspouts and drainfields.  Tree limbs should be trimmed back so that they don’t break off and damage the roof or become entangled in nearby power lines during a storm.  Shingles and chimneys should be in good repair, with no loose elements that can become dangerous projectiles in high winds.  Homeowners living in wildfire-prone areas should maintain an adequate defensible space around their properties.

In addition to learning about the maintenance of their homes, homeowners should also take inventory of potential hazards within the home that can compromise personal safety, such as light fixtures, windows and shelf units.  Things such as these can become unsteady or damaged and cause serious injury while a family takes shelter indoors during a severe storm or earthquake.

If you’re not familiar with the locations of your shut-off valves and how to operate them, it’s critical for you to schedule an inspection with your InterNACHI inspector who can walk you through these essential steps so that, when the time comes, you can act confidently and quickly.

Shutting Off Utilities

If you have time, prior to shutting off the utilities to your home, turn off all your household appliances and unplug them.  If you do not turn off the electrical service at the panel, your plugged-in appliances will still draw current and create potential hazards in an already unstable situation.

  • Electricity:  The method for disconnecting your electrical service depends on the age of your home and the type of system it has.  Most homes have circuit breakers, but some older homes have fuses.  Locate your main panel and open the door, called the dead front.  For a fuse panel, you should find a knife-switch handle or pullout fuse clearly marked “main.”  For a circuit breaker panel, there should be one switch marked “main,” with directions marked “on” and “off.”  If you have more than one panel, it’s a good idea to turn off the switches or remove the fuses at the sub-panels because current can sometimes bypass the main breaker or fuse.
  • Gas:  Each of your gas-fueled appliances, such as your water heater and stove, should have its own shut-off valve.  The service for your home is located outside at your gas meter.  It may be exposed, it may be in a box underground, or it may be in an above-ground cabinet.  Make sure that you have easy access to it (especially if it is a locking box), and make sure you know which service is yours if you live in multi-family housing.  The shut-off valve itself generally runs parallel to the pipe that extends from the ground to the meter.  Turning this valve 90 degrees in either direction so that the valve is crosswise to the pipe will shut off the gas supply. 
If you suspect a leak, do not ignite any fire source (candle, cigarette, etc.) or turn on or off any electrical switches nearby, including lights, as even a minor spark can cause an explosion.  Make sure that the service is safe to turn back on when you return home.
  • Water:  Each sink, commode and water-supplied appliance has its own shut-off valve.  If you have time and depending on the type of emergency, shutting off the water to these appliances may prevent accidental flooding of the home.  If you find it necessary to shut off the home’s water supply, make sure you know where the valve is located.  Typically, it’s in an area of the home or garage that’s nearest the exterior valve at the meter.  Similar to the gas shut-off valve, those with a blade-type valve are aligned with the pipe when turned on, and turning it a quarter-turn will shut the water off.

Lock Your Doors and Windows

Secure the home’s window and door locks to prevent unwanted entry by intruders during a time of crisis.  This includes all exterior doors and doors leading from an attached garage to the home, as well as yard gates and all outbuildings.  During a tornado, some homes may become overly pressurized unless some windows are left open a crack.  In hurricane-prone regions, windows may need to be boarded up.  Use your judgment and the recommendations of local experts based on the type of emergency.

Other Security Issues

Ranchers and farmers have their own particular concerns because of livestock, as well as additional buildings and equipment to secure.  Likewise, commercial property owners and managers of multi-housing units have their own unique priorities that should be addressed ahead of time with employees and tenants in an emergency evacuation plan.  Fire marshals generally require that the emergency escape route, of specified dimensions for easy visibility, be posted in a common location.  Such signage is typically located near fire pull alarms and fire extinguishers.  All residents and employees should concentrate on safe evacuation and leave security of the property to those charged with such responsibilities.

RE-ENTRY

Being let back onto one’s property after a disaster or emergency can be an emotional time, so it’s important to allow emergency personnel and first responders to do their jobs and to follow their instructions.  Generally, unless you can turn on all of your utilities again, your access may be limited, but it depends on your municipality and the scope of the damage.  You may be instructed to boil your water for a brief period of time while governmental agencies confirm that it’s potable and safe without treatment.

Before you re-enter your property, check the exterior.

Check the exterior.

  • Make sure that there are no downed power lines on or near your property.  If there are, do not attempt to move them yourself; immediately contact utility company personnel or law enforcement.
  • Check for broken tree branches that may impede your access to your property, or which themselves may be in contact with power lines; again, enlist help in such situations to avoid a potentially fatal injury.
  • Make sure the perimeter of your property is secure before allowing pets back onto the property.  Natural disasters can be disorienting for them, and they may try to escape. 
  • Check any damage to windows and exterior doors, as well as the roof, chimney and other penetrations, but do so safely.  You may defer this to your InterNACHI inspector.
  • Check gutters, downspouts and exterior drainage for blockages, and clear them as soon as it’s possible to do so safely.
  • It’s always best to document damage from the ground and contact your InterNACHI inspector who can make a more in-depth and detailed inspection.  Even after you contact your insurance carrier, an unbiased inspection by a trained home inspector may reveal issues that are not immediately apparent, such as hail damage, which requires some expertise to properly identify, especially if the insurance investigator must inspect damage incurred by multiple clients in the aftermath of a widespread emergency.

Check the interior. 

  • Before turning on the water and gas service to the home, check the individual appliances to make sure that they’re undamaged.  Document all damage, and contact utility personnel if you don’t feel safe turning the fuel or water back on yourself.  If there is no apparent damage or telltale smells or sounds (such as hissing) emanating from any appliances, it should be safe to turn on the gas and water at their shut-off valves.  Make the same damage assessment before turning the electricity back on, too.
  • Securely dispose of perishable food items left in the refrigerator during a power outage.  Ensure that stray animals foraging for food can’t access it.  Some food left in the freezer may be salvageable, but always err on the side of caution to avoid serious illness caused by bacteria.
  • Go back through your home to check for structural damage, including broken glass.
  • In the aftermath of a storm or flood, check the basement, crawlspace and attic areas for moisture intrusion, as well as areas at window sills and exterior doors.  Unchecked moisture can lead to mold problems and structural issues down the road.  Have your InterNACHI inspector survey your home with an infrared camera, which can identify areas of moisture intrusion and energy loss that may not be visible to the naked eye.

Check in with neighbors and others.

  • At-risk and elderly neighbors should be accounted for.
  • Notify pet owners or Animal Control if you see disoriented domestic pets searching for their owners or homes.  Also, avoid contact with wildlife that may have been forced from their natural habitat. Report their location to Animal Control.
Those of us untouched by disaster sometimes daydream about what we would grab if we had only moments to spare.  The fact is, there is no bad time to actually make that list and prepare those plans.  Talk with your entire family about what to do in an emergency.  By making practical preparations and involving all family members, chances are that when disaster strikes, you’ll feel less panicked and more in control to guide your family in a safe and orderly evacuation.  They’ll know what to expect, too (as much as possible), and that will lessen their fear, which is especially important for keeping calm and acting quickly.  Schedule a meeting with your InterNACHI inspector to help you devise a checklist to prepare your house in the event of an emergency, and to assess its condition afterward to make sure it’s safe for you to re-occupy.  He or she can also help you get started on an action plan for repairs.  And don’t forget to replenish your emergency supply kits so that you can be prepared the next time, too.
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Nick’s BIG Survival List for Ultimate Self-Sufficiency
There was a time when citizens were encouraged to build bomb shelters in their backyards for nearly unimaginable worst-case scenarios, such as a foreign invasion or nuclear fallout.  While U.S. national security has been reinforced to unprecedented levels, not every contingency can be met by third parties.
The list below represents the items a family will need to be truly self-sufficient if the grid goes down and public services and utilities are disabled for three months or longer.  The list is long and comprehensive, and all the items will take time to assemble.
    • BOOKS
      • Bible (waterproof)
      • Bible (camo)
      • Survival, Evasion and Escape
      • Other survival handbooks, such as the classic FirefoxŠ series
      • Gardening books
      • Baking and cookbooks
      • How to butcher livestock and game manual
      • Cooking with stored food books
      • Homeopathy books
      • Food preservation books
      • First-aid manuals
      • Pens and paper
    • CLOTHING
      • Hats (baseball cap for sun protection, and wool cap/balaclava for warmth)
      • Socks
      • Boots & other footwear
        • Spare laces
      • Work gloves
      • Overalls
      • Coats
      • Rubber boots
      • Rain suit or poncho
      • Clothes pins (for air-drying clothes)
      • Sewing kit
      • Sewing awl
      • Treadle sewing machine
      • Wash tubs
      • Laundry tongs
      • Hand washer/wringer for laundry
      • Diapers
      • Diaper pins
      • Antique iron
    • COMMUNICATION
    • CURRENCY & BARTER
      • Cash
      • Silver
      • Gold
      • Jewelry
      • Wine, beer & spirits
    • DEFENSE & SECURITY
      • Knives
      • Night-vision scope and gear
      • Fully opaque, blackout curtains
      • Earth-tone or camouflage clothing
      • Camouflage face vei
      • Green and brown dye
      • Locks
      • Detection systems
      • Alarms
      • Camera systems
      • Jobsite boxes (Vicki boxes) to cache preparedness goods.
    • ENTERTAINMENT
    • FOOD & COOKING SUPPLIES
      • Energy bars
      • MREs (Meals Ready-to-Eat)
      • Canned goods
      • Wheat (hard red)
      • Rice (white rice stores longer than brown, but has fewer nutrients)
      • Dried beans
      • Dried lentils
      • Oatmeal
      • Corn (whole-kernel)
      • Peanut butter
      • Dried fruit
      • Honey (liquid/pure stores the longest)
      • Sugar
      • Canned sardines, tuna, salmon
      • Cooking oil
      • Olive oil
      • Nuts
      • Nut butter
      • Powdered milk
      • Vinegar
      • Salt (large supply)
      • Baking soda
      • Nitrogen-packed food
      • Freeze-dried food
      • Ground coffee
      • Smoker
      • Food bags
      • Fishing gear
        • Fishing nets
        • Fishing lines
        • Sinkers
        • Hooks
      • Bow & arrows
        • Bow strings (spares)
      • Snare wire (stainless)
      • Hunting rifle & shotgun
        • Ammo
        • Gun-cleaning kit
          • Cotton gloves
        • Ear protection
        • Eye protection
        • Rifle scope
      • Boar spear
      • Meat grinder (hand-cranked)
      • Meat saw
      • Skinning knife
      • Gambrel
      • Garden seeds (non-hybrid, open-pollinated)
      • Sprouts
      • Gardening tools
      • Grain grinder (hand-operated)
        • Spare set of coarse burrs for grain grinder
        • Mortar and pestle
      • Aluminum foil
      • Refrigeration:
        • Cooler
      • Food preparation items:
        • Stainless steel bowl
        • Large skillet
        • Large stew pot
        • Mess kits
        • Can opener
        • Knives
        • Cooking utensils
        • Eating utensils
        • Camp stove
        • Dutch oven
        • Coffee pot (French press, reusable filter with holder)
        • Bay leaves
        • Dehydrator
        • Canning supplies
        • Mixing bowl
        • Wire whisk
        • Muffin tin
      • Vitamins
      • Baby food
      • Pet food and bowls
    • FUEL & POWER
      • Propane cylinders
      • Gasoline
      • Diesel
      • Kerosene
      • Storage tanks
      • Siphoning tube
      • Motor oil
      • Generator (tri-fuel)
      • Coal
      • Photovoltaic power system
      • Photovoltaic battery charger
      • Rechargeable batteries
      • Inverter
    • HEAT & WARMTH
      • Wool blankets
      • Bedrolls
      • Pocket lighters
      • Matches (waterproof)
      • Fire steels
      • Fresnel magnifying lens
      • Hexamine fuel tablets
      • Sleeping bags
      • Insulated pads (to sleep on)
      • Firewood (split)
      • Axe
      • Wedge
      • Splitting maul
      • Log splitter (manual)
      • Saw
      • Sawhorse
      • Sterno
      • Woodburner
        • Fire extinguisher
    • HYGIENE
      • Toilet paper
      • Soap (Fels NapthaÂŽ)
      • Toothbrush
        • Toothpaste
        • Baking soda
        • Floss
      • Feminine hygiene products
      • Straight razor
      • Bucket toilet
      • Garbage bags
      • Powdered lime
      • Towels
    • IDENTIFICATION & DOCUMENTS
      • Passport
      • Birth certificate
      • Drivers license
      • Insurance policies
      • Deeds
      • Wills
    • LIGHT
      • Flashlight
        • Batteries
      • Candles (beeswax is best)
      • Lantern
        • Lantern oil (clear)
        • Lantern wicks
    • MEDICAL
      • First-aid kit
      • Bandages
      • Gauze
      • Quick clot sponges
      • Rubbing alcohol (pure grain from the liquor store comes in a glass bottle and will last forever)
      • Tincture of iodine
      • Tincture of benzoin
      • Potassium iodate tablets (to prevent thyroid damage from nuclear fallout)
      • Cotton balls
      • EMT shears (stainless steel)
      • Burn treatment kit
      • Oil of cloves
      • Temporary dental filling kit
        • CIMPAT™
        • Tempanol™
        • Cavit™
      • Crutches
      • SAMÂŽ splint
      • Disinfectants
      • Witch hazel
      • Hydrocortisone cream
      • Calamine lotion
      • Aloe vera gel
      • Grapefruit seed extract (nutribiotic, liquid)
      • Hot water bottle
    • PERSONAL
      • Spare prescription eyeglasses
      • Sunglasses
      • Birth control
      • Medical prescriptions
      • Sunscreen
      • Bug repellent
    • SHELTER & COMFORT
      • Tent
      • Tent seam tape
      • Plastic sheets
      • Tarp
      • Ground cloth
      • Folding/camp chairs
      • Folding/camp tables
    • TOOLS & SUPPLIES
      • Anvil
      • Duct tape
      • Multi-tool
      • Chainsaw
      • Binoculars
      • Cable ties
      • Tie-downs
      • Come-along
      • Sharpening stone
      • Chain
      • Rope
      • Wire
      • Buckets with turn lids
      • Nails
      • Radiacmeter (hand-held Geiger counter)
      • N95 respirator masks
      • Bolt cutters
      • Other hand-powered tools
      • Shovels
      • Pulley
      • Paracord
      • Large adjustable wrench (to shut off gas and water service)
    • TRANSPORTATION
      • Snowshoes
      • Backpack
      • Compass
      • Jumper cables
      • Local maps
      • Snowmobile
      • ATV
      • Diesel pickup truck
      • Cart
      • Sled
      • Tire chains
      • GPS
      • High-lift jack
      • Transfer pump
    • WATER

Garage Doors & Openers: Everything You Need to Know

Garage doors are large, spring-supported doors. Garage door openers control the opening and closing of garage doors, either through a wall-mounted switch or a radio transmitter. Due to the strain that garage door components and openers regularly endure, they may become defective over time and need to be fixed or replaced. Defective components may create safety hazards as well as functional deficiencies to the garage door assembly.

The following facts demonstrate the dangers posed by garage doors:
  • Garage doors are typically among the heaviest moving objects in the home and are held under high tension.
  • Injuries caused by garage doors account for approximately 20,000 emergency room visits annually, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
  • The majority of the injuries caused by garage doors are the result of pinched fingers, although severe injuries and deaths due to entrapment occur as well. Sixty children have been killed since 1982 as a result of garage doors that did not automatically reverse upon contact.

Inspectors should not attempt to fix any garage door defects they may encounter. They should call out defects in their reports and recommend that the door be examined by a trained garage door technician. The following components should be present during inspections and devoid of defects:

  • manual (emergency) release handle. All garage doors should be equipped with this device, which will detach the door from the door opener when activated. It is vital during emergency situations, such as when a person becomes trapped beneath the door or when a power outage cuts electricity to the door opener. Inspectors should activate the handle to make sure that it works, although they will have to reset the handle if it does not reset automatically. In order for the handle to be accessible and obvious, it must be…
  1. colored red;
  2. easily distinguishable from rest of the garage opener system; and
  3. no more than 6 feet above the standing surface.
  • door panels. Both sides of the door should be examined for the following:
  1. fatigue;
  2. cracking and dents. Aluminum doors are especially vulnerable to denting; and
  3. separation of materials.
  • warning labels. The following four warning labels should be present on or around garage door assemblies:
  1. a spring warning label, attached to the spring assembly;
  2. a general warning label, attached to the back of the door panel;
  3. a warning label attached to the wall in the vicinity of the wall control button, and;
  4. a tension warning label, attached to garage door’s bottom bracket.
  • brackets and roller shafts.
    1. Brackets. The garage door opener is connected to the garage door by a bracket that is essential to the function of the door opener system. Placement of the bracket where it attaches to the door is crucial to the operation of its safety features. It should attach 3 to 6 inches from the top of the door. This bracket, as well as all other brackets, should be securely attached to their surfaces.
    2. Roller shafts. Roller shafts should be longer on the top and bottom rollers. The top rollers are the most important. Without longer shafts, if one side of the door hangs up, the door may fall out of the opening.
  • door operation. The door’s operation can be tested by raising the door manually, grasping the door’s handles if it has them. Inspectors can make sure that the door:
    1. moves freely;
    2. does not open or close too quickly; and
    3. opens and closes without difficulty.

Note:  Inspectors should not operate the door until they have inspected the track mounts and bracing. Doors have been known to fall on people and cars when they were operated with tracks that were not securely attached and supported.

  • extension spring containment cables. Older garage doors may use extension springs to counter-balance the weight of the door. These require a containment cable inside the spring to prevent broken parts from being propelled around the garage if the spring snaps. Most new garages use shaft-mounted torsion springs that do not require containment cables.
  • wall-mounted switch. This device must be present and positioned as high as is practical above the standing surface (at least five feet as measured from the bottom of the switch) so that children do not gain access.

In addition, the button must:

  1.    be mounted in clear view of the garage door; and
  2.    be mounted away from moving parts.

Important note:  InterNACHI inspectors should always make sure to disable the manual lock on the garage door before activating the switch.

  • automatic reverse system. As of 1991, garage doors are required to be equipped with a mechanism that automatically reverses the door if it comes in contact with an object. It is important that the door reverses direction and opens completely, rather than merely halting. If a garage door fails this test, inspectors should note it in their reports. A dial on the garage door opener controls the amount of pressure required to trigger the door to reverse. This dial can be adjusted by a qualified garage door technician if necessary.

Methods for testing the automatic reverse system:

  1. This safety feature can be tested by grasping the base of the garage door as it closes and applying upward resistance. Inspectors should use caution while performing this test because they may accidentally damage its components if the door does not reverse course.
  2. Some sources recommend placing a 2×4 piece of wood on the ground beneath the door, although there have been instances where this testing method has damaged the door or door opener components.
  • supplemental automatic reverse system. Garage doors manufactured in the U.S. after 1992 must be equipped with photoelectric sensors or a door
    edge sensor.

    1. Photoelectric eyes. These eyes (also known as photoelectric sensors) are located at the base of each side of the garage door and emit and detect beams of light. If this beam is broken, it will cause the door to immediately reverse direction and open. For safety reasons, photo sensors must be installed a maximum of 6 inches above the standing surface.
    2. Door edge sensors. This device is a pressure-sensitive strip installed at the base of the garage door. If it senses pressure from an object while the door is closing, it will cause the door to reverse. Door edge sensors are not as common in garage door systems as photoelectric eyes.
 
Safety Advice for Clients:
  • Homeowners should not attempt to adjust or repair springs themselves. The springs are held under extremely high tension and can snap suddenly and forcefully, causing serious or fatal injury.
  • No one should stand or walk beneath a garage door while it is in motion. Adults should set an example for children and teach them about garage door safety. Children should not be permitted to operate the garage door opener push button and should be warned against touching any of the door’s moving parts.
  • Fingers and hands should be kept away from pulleys, hinges and springs, and the intersection points between door panels. Closing doors can very easily crush body parts that get between them.
  • The automatic reversal system may need to be adjusted for cold temperatures, since the flexibility of the springs is affected by temperature. This adjustment can be made from a dial on the garage door opener, which should be changed only by a trained garage door technician.
In summary, garage doors and their openers can be hazardous if certain components are missing or defective. Inspectors should understand these dangers and be prepared to offer useful safety tips to their clients.