As a homeowner, it can be easy to overlook important home maintenance, but with winter approaching, there’s one task in particular you’ll want to complete. And that’s getting your furnace in tip-top shape.
That bulky metal box in your basement (or crawl space, attic, or even hall closet, depending on where you live) is what produces the warm air that keeps your house cozy, making it possibly the most important piece of winter equipment in your home.
The good news is that furnace maintenance is relatively easy: a combination of simple do-it-yourself tasks and an annual tune-up by a professional. Here’s how to get it done.
Furnace Tasks You Can Do
Inspect the air filters. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program suggests doing a monthly check of your furnace’s air filter and replacing it when it looks dirty. Frequent changes prevent the accumulation of dirt and debris, which can reduce efficiency and lead to equipment failure. Changing the filter is especially important if you’re new to the home—who knows what dust and grime others left behind? Tip: To make sure you’re buying the right filter, check your existing one; the size is usually printed on the side.
Maintain a carbon monoxide detector. A failing furnace can leak carbon monoxide, so you’ll want to keep a battery-operated or battery-backup carbon monoxide detector in your basement (and every level of your home), according to the National Fire Protection Organization, placing it at least 15 feet away from the furnace to avoid a false alarm. Tip: Change detector batteries in the spring and fall, on daylight saving day, when you change your clocks.
Keep vents clean and clear. Before you turn on your system for the season, remove all the heating vent covers from the floors and ceilings around your home, and vacuum out the ducts. Dust, pet dander, and all those toy soldier pieces that seemingly go missing can collect there, causing your furnace to work harder. Tip: When cleaning ceiling vents spread a sheet on the floor and wearing goggles to shield your eyes from falling dust.
Tasks Best Left to the Professionals
Annual tune-up. A pre-season checkup by a professional is an absolute must to help prevent costly problems down the road. A heating contractor will make sure that your thermostat is working accurately and that your system is cycling on and off properly, and will typically go through a series of checks and tasks, including:
  •          Tightening loose electrical connections
  •          Oiling all the moving parts
  •          Inspecting all gas connections

Last week we mentioned how when the temperature drops, the number of claims associated with fires and frozen pipes skyrockets.   We also provided some tips on avoiding fire claims inside of your home.   This week our focus in avoiding the dreaded frozen pipes.
Before the Cold Hits:

  • Check for small holes or cracks in the exterior of your home and ensure they are insulated.
  • Cover around any water pipes that are on the inside of exterior walls.

 
If your House is Occupied During the Winter:

  • Maintain temperature settings at 3-4 degrees higher than normal.
  • Turn on any faucets and allow a constant trickle.
  • Open any cabinet doors under sinks to allow heat to warm the pipes.
  • Insulate your pipes.
  • Shut off exterior faucets used for garden hoses from inside your basement and leave the exterior faucets open outside.

 
If your House is Unoccupied During the Winter:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 60 degrees and install a low heat alarm.
  • Have a plumber install a low water cutoff switch on a forced hot water boiler.
  • Have the water service shut off all to your house.
  • Drain all waterlines leaving drain valves open.
  • Shut off gas to the home.
  • Have the house checked weekly.

 
If you are interested in any additional tips for your home or you would like a quote on your homeowners insurance, please don’t hesitate to contact our office.

 

Firework safety:

There are nearly 9,000 emergency room injuries associated with fireworks each year, and approximately 40 percent of those injuries involve children under the age of 15. This is according to an annual study done by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Here are some guidelines to ensure firework safety on our Nation’s Birthday.

  • Never give fireworks to small children, and always follow the instructions on the packaging. (23 percent of reported injuries happen to children under age 5.)
  • Keep a bucket of water or a hose close-by as a precaution.
  • Please obey the local laws. Do not use illegal fireworks.
  • Make sure the person lighting fireworks always wears eye protection.
  • Don’t alter or combine fireworks.
  • Light only one firework at a time and never attempt to relight “a dud.”
  • Store fireworks in a cool, dry place away from children and pets.
  • Never throw or point a firework toward people, animals, vehicles, structures or flammable materials.

Water safety at the pool and beach:

  • Never swim alone, especially if you are swimming in the ocean, a lake or a river.
  • Do not jump into water headfirst unless the area is clearly marked for diving.
  • Keep all safety equipment in plain view of the pool.
  • Remove all toys from the pool when not in use so that kids aren’t tempted to reach for them.
  • Teach children basic water safety tips including how to find the nearest wall and how to pull themselves out of the pool.
  • If a child is missing, check the pool first. Go to the edge of the pool and scan the entire pool-bottom and surface-as well as the surrounding pool area.

Safe Grilling:

  • Keep grills away from wood siding, deck rails, house eaves, or any other wood or combustible material.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher near the barbeque as they cause thousands of fires a year.
  • Follow all safety restrictions that come with the manual.
  • Keep your grill clean, as grease buildup can be a huge fire hazard.
  • Do not allow children or pets near the barbeque.
  • Never add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.
  • Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use.

Additional Safety Resources:
http://www.fireworksafety.com/
http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/outdoor/fireworks.html
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/pet-care-tips/july-4th.aspx

As the temperatures are dropping fire and freeze-up claims both steadily rise.   In an effort to decrease both the frequency and severity of these types of claims, we want to spend the next two blog posts providing you tips to avoid both house fires and frozen pipes.   The post this week will focus specifically on preventing fires.
Fire Prevention Tips:
1. Woodstoves and Fireplaces: Inspect and clean chimneys and stove pipes regularly and at least twice a year.  Make sure to keep any combustible materials away from the heat source and dispose of any ashes into a noncombustible container.
2. Furnaces: Ensure your furnace is at least serviced and inspected annually by a licensed technician.
3. Fire Extinguishers: If you have a woodstove or fireplace you should have at least one fire extinguisher handy.
4. Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Check all smoke detectors to ensure they are functioning properly.  If you do not have a carbon monoxide detector, we recommend you install at least one near either the furnace or bedrooms inside the house.
5. Fire Drills: Even though it may sound a little corny, holding practice fire drills with your family may save their lives.  Teach your family what to do and where to meet in an emergency.
6. Wiring: If you have an older home, it is worth the investment to have a licensed electrician check all the wiring in the house.  Older systems have trouble handling the energy requirements of new homes and can present a serious fire hazard.
7. Eletrical Outlets: Don’t overload or overuse extension cords.
8. Space Heaters: Don’t ever leave space heaters unattended and make sure there aren’t any combustible materials nearby.
For more information on preventing fire inside your home or if you would like to find out how The Holste Agency can help you save money on your homeowners insurance premiums, please contact our office today.

Did you know that between Memorial Day and Labor Day an average of eight teens are killed every single day?  This is according to statistics from Tire Rack Street Survival, a national nonprofit teen driving program.
It’s no surprise that teenage drivers are at the highest risk to be involved in auto accident.  They don’t have experience to respond and react to dangerous situations on the road.  This explains why teenage auto insurance rates are so expensive.
So to help protect our Denver Metro and Arvada clients, we have put together a list of recommendations to keep your teenage driver safe on the road (and help keep your auto insurance rates down in the process).  Many of these recommendations come from a great article posted by the Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org).
1. Don’t Allow Friends in the Car.  Did you know that when there is a teen passenger in the car, your child’s chances of being involved in an accident double?  And if there are 3 or more passengers, the chances actually quadruple?   Teens can be distracted very easily when driving which is why recommend they drive alone in the car.
2. Pick a Safe Car.  Avoid small cars with high performance engines.  Rather choose a car that is easy to drive with great safety features.  Also, trucks and SUVs should be avoided as well because of they are prone to rollovers.
3. Enroll Your Teen in a Safe Driver Program.  Did you know that many auto insurance companies will actually offer safety driving programs?  By enrolling your teen into one of these programs, you will not only be encouraging safe driving habits from your teen, but you will also be eligible for discounts on your auto insurance program as well.
4. Avoid Distracted Driving. Do not allow your teen to use his or her cell phone while driving a vehicle.  Also, talk to them about avoiding other distractions such as the radio or friends while in the car.
If you have any other questions or you would like to find out more about the eligible discounts your teenage driver may qualify for, please give our office a call.
 

Preventing Ice Dams on Homes

UNDERSTANDING HOW ICE DAMS FORM

When heat from the interior of a house with a sloped roof escapes into the attic space, it warms the underside of the roof. Meanwhile, the roof eave outside the heated space remains a colder temperature.
As snow accumulates on the rooftop, it melts over the warmer portion of the attic and the melt water runs down the roof. When it encounters the cold edge of the roof it refreezes. The refrozen water along the roof edge creates an “ice dam” and consequently, the melted snow running down the roof begins to back up underneath the roof covering. This water will soak the roof sheathing and leak into the attic unless there is a barrier above the sheathing. Sealing the roof deck is an effective way to prevent the water from entering your home and causing damage.

PREVENTING ICE DAMS

A two-step approach is the most effective way to reduce the size of ice dams. First, keep the attic floor well insulated to minimize the amount of heat from within the house that rises into the attic. Second, keep the attic well ventilated so that the cold air outside can circulate through it and reduce the temperature of the roof system. The colder the attic, the less thawing and refreezing on the roof. These two measures are the best ways to keep ice dams from increasing in size.
Step One: Insulating the attic
The attic floor should be airtight, have sufficient insulation, and keep the transfer of heat from the downstairs to the attic at a minimum. Even a well-insulated attic floor may have a number of openings that can permit warm air from below to seep up into the attic. For instance, these items may cut through the attic floor:

  • exhaust pipes and plumbing vents
  • fireplace and heating system c hi m n e y s
  • light fixtures

Seal all openings around these penetrations, but be careful not to block attic vent s with insulation. The at tic vent s, as explained below, must be kept clear so that they can do their job. Additionally, pull-down stairs or a set of regular stairs leading up to the attic from the lower level can be avenues for rising heat. Weatherstripping around the edges of the attic access door and insulation on the attic side of the door should minimize the passage of heat to the attic.  Any heat-generating equipment in the attic should be relocated.
Step Two:  Ventilating the attic
There are several ways to ventilate your attic. You can do it with eave vents, soffit vents, a ridge vent, a gable vent, or some combination of these. Most modern residential roofs combine a ridge vent with soffit or eave vents. To the extent that household heat penetrates the attic, it should be able to rise and escape through, for instance, a ridge vent, while soffit or eave vents pull in cold air to replace it. Local building codes generally require a minimum level of ventilation.
Proper ventilation of the attic to let cold in, together with air sealing and insulation on the attic floor to help keep household heat out of the attic, work to minimize the likelihood of ice dams.

REMOVING ICE DAMS

IBHS does not recommend chipping or breaking ice dams due to the damage that can be inflicted on the roof. If you are not physically capable of going onto the roof or are unable to easily reach the roof, consult a roofing professional.

For low slope roofs or flat roofs:

  • Removing the snow will remove the source of a potential ice dam.
  • Use a heavy duty push broom with stiff bristles to brush off the snow on low slope or flat roofs.
  • A shovel or snow blower should not be used since they may tear up the roof cover system.

For steep slope roofs:

  • Removing the snow will remove the source of a potential ice dam.
  • A roof rake may be used for most single story buildings while remaining on the ground to pull snow down the roof slope.
  • Do not pull snow back against the slope or sideways since the snow may get underneath the cover and can break shingles.

Did you know that over $2 billion will be spent on Halloween candy this year? Or how about $330 million on just pet costumes?
We know that Halloween is one of children’s favorite holidays. The chance to dress up in a costume and fill bags with candy is a sure way to excite any youngster. (Plus, the fact that the average trick-or-treater consumes the equivalent of 220 packets of sugar on this holiday doesn’t hurt either.) For parents, though, the night can be a little stressful as you worry about your kids’ safety.
With that in mind, we have compiled an infographic with 31 interesting statistics and facts associated with Halloween along with a brief list of safety tips. We encourage you to take a look at it just in case there is a tip or two that will help you avoid any potential accidents or danger.
 
Halloween Infographic

 
 


Safety Tips
Trick-or-treating

  • Make sure your children take flashlights so they can avoid tripping over obstacles on the sidewalk or in yards.  Flashlights and glow sticks will also help your children be seen by motorists.
  • If you allow your older kids to go out without your supervision, make sure they go out in a group.  Don’t ever allow your kids to go out alone or even in pairs; make sure they go out with at least 3-4 other kids.
  • Map out their route so you know where they will be and when they should be home.
  • Tell your kids to only stop at familiar homes where you know the residents and where the outside lights are on.
  • Instruct your kids to WALK from house to house and NEVER run.
  • Make sure your kids know to never enter anyone’s home, to never accept rides from strangers, and to never take shortcuts through yards or other dimly lit areas.

Costumes

  • Costumes should be light enough to be clearly visible to motorists.  You may even want to add reflective tape to both your child’s costume and bag.
  • Make sure your child’s costume is labeled flame-resistant.
  • Costumes should be short to prevent trips and falls.
  • Try cosmetic face paint rather than a mask.   Masks, especially on children, may not fit properly and can obstruct vision.
  • Be sure to remove all face paint that night to prevent skin irritation.

Candy

  • Don’t allow your child to eat any candy before you have a chance to inspect it for choking hazards or tampering.
  • Only permit your child to eat candy that is unopened in its original wrapper.  Any homemade or unwrapped candy should be discarded.
  • A good way to prevent your kids from eating any candy before they get home is to make sure you give them a meal or snack right before they go out.
  • Above all else, limit the amount of candy your child eats after they get home or you will be dealing with one big stomachache.

Adults

  • Use additional caution when driving a vehicle.   Lookout for children who might run into traffic from behind parked cars or other obstacles.
  • Turn on your porch and any other exterior lights to welcome trick-or-treaters to your home.
  • Remove any obstacles from your lawns, steps or porches that could be a tripping hazard for children or adults.
  • Keep all jack-o’-lanterns from doorsteps or steps where a child could brush by the flame with their costume.
  • If you keep your jack-o’-lantern inside, place it on a sturdy table away from curtains or other ignitable decorations and out of reach from children and pets.

Thanksgiving is all about food and family – turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and family time. However, preparing holiday goodies can lead to disaster – the kitchen is the setting of more fires than any other room in the house, and cooking is the leading cause of fires in the home.

The following safety list was prepared by the American Red Cross to ensure a safe and happy Thanksgiving:

The cooks should start by not wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. Never leave cooking food unattended – stay in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. If someone must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, they should turn off the stove. Other safety steps include:

  • Check food regularly while cooking and remain in the home while cooking. Use a timer as a reminder that the stove or oven is on.
  • Keep the kids away from the cooking area. Enforce a “kid-free zone” and make them stay at least three feet away from the stove.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains—away from the stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.
  • Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.
  • Purchase a fire extinguisher to keep in the kitchen. Contact the local fire department to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.
  • Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.
  • Install a smoke alarm near the kitchen, on each level of the home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

We hope you have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!