Damaged, deteriorated or dirty chimney's are one of the most common things I find on a home inspection in this area. It is almost like a horror show where people forget to look up, except faulty chimneys can lead to an all too real tragedy. Damage to the chimney structure or liner, and cracked or missing mortar can allow high temperatures, sparks and embers to escape to combustible areas in wall, roof or attic structures. Another concern is the creosote debris that can build up in a chimney from normal fires. If not cleaned out on a regular basis, this highly flammable buildup can turn into a super heated chimney fire that can lead to heat failure of the protective chimney flue and raise the temperatures in surrounding materials (i.e. walls, roof and attic structures) to the point of combustion. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends having your chimney checked out and cleaned at least once a year to help prevent fires from happening.
If you have ever seen a light bulb explode you are aware of one of the hazards that are common to light bulbs, but did you know that just by leaving them on you are risking another danger? Pacific Lamp and Supply states that a 100 watt incandescent light bulb has a filament temperature of approximately 4,600º F and that the surface temperature of the light bulb can reach more than 250º F. Bulbs that are in enclosed fixtures or surrounded by combustible materials cannot dissipate this heat properly, which can melt the fixture socket, leading to a fire in the structure. Bulbs that are not the proper wattage have an increased potential for overheating as well. An estimated 12 % of all house fires start in a clothes closet due to closet light bulbs. Think LED's are safer? Think again...According to Consumer Reports, more than 200,000 LED nightlights were recalled in 2012 because they overheated. So what can you do? Unplug any unnecessary lights, turn off lights and lamps when not in the room. Install sensor controls so that lights only turn on when needed and shut off when not. Don't leave your porch lights on during the day. ( I am guilty of this lol ) Make sure that bulbs used in enclosed fixtures are rated to be used in these locations.
The Spokane Fire Department states that one of the most common types of spontaneous combustion fires are those caused by improperly disposed of oil and stain soaked rags. Examples can include oil-based paints and stains, varnishes and polyurethane, paint thinners, etc. Spontaneous combustion of oily rags occurs when rag or cloth is slowly heated to its ignition point through oxidation ( a process that changes the chemical composition of the substance) . A substance will begin to release heat as it oxidizes. If this heat has no way to escape, like in a pile, the temperature will raise to a level high enough to ignite the oil substance and then ignite the rag or cloth. The fire from this can spread quickly to other combustibles and cause significant damage to a residence or property. To properly dispose of oil or stain soaked rags, you should lay them out flat to dry completely in a well ventilated area, do not stack them on top of each other. Once completely dry they should be stored in a small, airtight, non-combustible (like a metal paint can) container with a tight-fitting lid. The rags should be completely covered with a solution of water and an oil breakdown detergent. Do not add any other combustible material (stuff that can catch fire). The user should then dispose of the rags at the hazardous waste collection available at the Spokane County Regional Solid Waste Disposal sites. For more information please see the following link.
Flammable or combustible liquids cause more than 43,000 home fires each year, resulting in 200 deaths, 2,500 injuries and $469 million in property damage, according to estimates by the National Fire Protection Association. It isn't actually the liquids themselves that initially cause the fires it is the vapors they give off that start the fires. When these liquids are not store properly the vapors they give off travel near heat sources, such as electric outlets, light bulbs, candles, furnaces, and water heaters causing the vapors to ignite which then allows the flames to travel back to the flammable liquids or catch other materials on fire. If these items are improperly stored in garages or sheds that overheat due to lack of ventilation the potential for vapor build up is increased. Take care to ensure that combustible liquids such as nail polish, rubbing alcohol, gasoline, turpentine and paint thinners are store in a UL approved air tight container at cooler room temperatures and that these containers are stored away from locations that have heat sources.
When is the last time you completely cleaned the lint out of your dryer and dryer exhaust ducting? If you are having to think a bit it has been too long. The U.S. Fire Administration states that failure to clean the dryer is the leading cause of home clothes dryer fires, causing an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries and $35 million in property loss in the U.S. alone. More home clothes dryer fires occur in the fall and winter months, peaking in January. To prevent fires from happening they recommend that people do not use a dryer without the lint trap, making sure to clean the trap every time the dryer is used. Cleaning maintenance at the back of the dryer where lint can build up and of the interior of the ducting should be done at least once a year, if the ducting is vertical in nature or long this may need to be done more frequently. You should also check the venting system behind the dryer to make sure it isn't crushed or damaged and that the outdoor vent cover is opening properly and not clogged by debris. While foil or plastic flexible ducting is common, these types of materials contribute to lint build up so consider upgrading to a solid metal ducting to make it easier for the dryer to vent and easier for you to clean.
There are many reasons that fires start, some few we have no control over such as lightning or wildfires, most others like those in this list are completely preventable if we make the time to maintain and/or use the items appropriately. Knowledge is half the battle... actually following through with what we know is the other half and is seemingly the hardest part. Realistically it takes 2 seconds to shut off a light when it is not being used, cleaning up our work spaces and storing liquids properly take less time that watching a movie typically, and making a call to a qualified chimney cleaner to schedule a cleaning and inspection once a year takes about 10 minutes. Making sure that smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order, less than 10 years of age and have good batteries takes less time than an oil change.
We tend to downplay things that can happen to us or our families. Last winter I drove past 5 houses here in Spokane that had chimney fires on my way to inspections. The faces on the families as they removed stuff from the homes to take with them will be forever burned into my memories. I am sure that they never thought it would happen to them.
As the winter months head our way, I hope that everyone out there takes a few minutes to check their homes out for potential fire hazards, and remedies the situations they find. I am starting on my list this weekend. Please let me know what you find in your home, it may help someone else check something in their home as well!
With 2019 starting tomorrow, there is all sorts of talk about New Year resolutions. While these are typically something to do with weight, bad personal habits, etc there are some home maintenance resolutions that are quick, easy and will leave you feeling accomplished!
Here is our top 10!
1. Create a home maintenance checklist!
Not only will this get that checklist out of your head ( where it is easy to forget) it enables you to plan when to do things around your home!
2. Schedule reminders in your phone for the year to check the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and replace the batteries.
3. Schedule the servicing of your Air Conditioning system for late April early May.
4. Schedule the servicing of your Furnace system for late August early September.
5. Create a Deep Clean Schedule.
Include items like your refrigerator, oven, clothes dryer and don't forget to clean behind and underneath them!
6. Make a designated donate location.
I don't know about you but this one saves me all the time. I don't get a lot of time to run things to the donation stations around the area and I hate clutter so I have a designated area/basket that I can put things when I don't have time and then either schedule a pick up or run them down when I have time and I am headed that way.
7. Create a Repair Budget for the year.
While some say to save 1% of your purchase price and some say you should save $1.00 per square foot of the size of your home neither of these methods considers the specifics of your home. Age of the home, the weather in the area, condition of the structure, location of the structure and type of home can all affect your overall budget. Averaging between the two methods ( 1% rule and $1 rule ) and then adding 10% to the total can help make the budget more realistic to the needs of your home. For example, if you bought the home for $100,000 then 1% would be $1,000. If it was 1200 sq feet then the average of the two would be $1100.00. If your home is an older home then you would add 10% to the $1100.00 or and additional $110 dollars to make the total to budget $1210.00 per year.
8. Schedule the yearly maintenance for your water heater.
Water heaters are usually the first things forgotten when it comes to yearly maintenance and yet we all love our hot showers. If you want your water heater to last longer don't forget it needs some TLC too.
9. Get a home warranty.
Great news!! You don't have to be a home buyer to get a home warranty!! Just to be clear a home warranty isn't the same thing as home insurance. A home warranty provides for discounted repair and replacement service on a home's major components such as the furnace, air conditioning, plumbing, and electrical system and some even cover the oven, dishwasher, refrigerator!
10. Check out a home maintenance app for your phone.
There are a plethora of awesome home maintenance apps available that can help schedule repair and cleaning maintenance, track costs, make a budget and keep track of contractors that you have used. Having an all in one app makes it easy to take care of your home!
You may have a job in your house that you really don’t like, maybe it is laundry, doing the dishes, or cleaning the bathroom. You may even procrastinate and avoid doing it until you are down to the last pair of clean underwear you have, or the last clean plate. However there is one job that you can’t put off…. Ready for it?!!
Unclogging a toilet!!!
Oh, you may run and hide but at some point in your life you will be faced with the dilemma that faces us all at some point in our lives…. Do you drive 10 minutes to the closest bathroom or do you wield the scepter of wood and rubber and bravely face the dark depths of despair lurking in what used to be your toilet? Unfortunately for most of us, it’s a fact of life that we have to bite the bullet and face the terror known as the Stuck Behemoth and its sneaky accomplice icky toilet water. These tips will help you armor up to do battle with the behemoth lurking below!!
So what can we do to vanquish that evil with ease and finesse?
Well for starters we need to use the right plunger.Yup you heard me right! Not all plungers are created equal.. well at least for unclogging a backed up toilet. Having the right plunger can make all the difference in the world and most people are using the wrong one. You know that standard inexpensive flat bottomed plunger you may have lurking around the toilet? yup this one
That is actually designed to be used for sinks and tubs not toilets. They do not seal completely around the drain portion of the toilet and when pushed downward can unleash a tidal wave of icky toilet water right out of the toilet bowl. There are two different types of toilet plungers, a flanged plunger or an accordion plunger. These have a smaller section on the bottom that fit down inside the drain on the toilet to seal up and provide maximum push and pull when plunging a toilet. So once you have the right plunger in hand follow these steps to triumph over the dastardly clog and enjoy your throne in all its blissful glory.
Before We Start!
If the bowl is full, give it time. Let the toilet sit for a bit to see if the water will go down a bit before trying to unclog it. Bear in mind that if it doesn’t go down you may have to remove some of the water to allow room to plunge. If that is the case, make sure you wear long gloves to protect yourself from the water and a designated cup and bucket to remove enough icky toilet water to be able to plunge safely. You can flush the removed water back down the toilet once you have unclogged it. If you have some room, add a bit of hot water. The heat warms the clog up a bit and allows them to slide better and sometimes is even enough to unclog the toilet without using the plunger.
Take the back off the toilet so that if the toilet starts to overflow you can push the flapper down inside the tank to stop it.
HERE WE GO!!
Step 1 -
Warm up your plunger. Ok so we aren’t talking about making it do exercises here but running warm water over the plunger before putting it in the toilet helps loosen up the rubber and makes it easier to get it to seal to the drain portion on the toilet thereby producing better suction and force.
Step 2 -
Tilt the plunger as you put it into the toilet water to allow as much water as possible to enter the bell of the plunger. The water is what we use to force the movement of the clog and the more water we can get into the bell of the plunger the better chance we have of loosening the clog. Once the bottom of the plunger is completely submerged and there is no more water entering it seat it with the smaller bottom portion into the drain area and hold the plunger straight up and down. Push gently straight down on it all the way to allow the bell to push all the remaining air out and then allow it to fill back up with water as it fills back up.
Step 3 -
To plunge you are going to want to use short firm strokes straight up and down on the plunger handle. Don’t just concentrate on pushing. For plunging the pull is just as important because it helps move the clog around and helps to clear it out, but don’t over pull. Try to keep the seal between the plunger and the toilet drain seated, until you can feel the pressure building up and it gets harder to plunge.
Don’t get too drastic with the plunging of the toilet! Really hard plunging can actually rock the toilet and break the wax seal that the toilet sits on causing it to leak. It is better to do focused plunging concentrating the push into the drain and then pulling straight up to move the clog.
Step 4 -
Once you feel a good amount of pressure pull the plunger back to break the seal and flush the toilet at the same time keeping a close eye on the water level inside the toilet. The extra push of the water when flushing will help force the clog further down and hopefully clear it completely. If the toilet starts backing up, reach inside the clean water tank on the back and close the flapper that is on the bottom of the tank to prevent the toilet from over flowing and repeat the steps for plunging as needed.
Extra Steps May Be Needed!
If you have done the plunging repeatedly and the toilet is still backed up, you may need to try an auger. An toilet auger is small cable like device with a turn handle that you can find at most home improvement stores that fits down the drain portion of the toilet. Insert the cable end down the drain and turn the handle until it stops moving. This means you’ve reached your clog. The auger will either break up the clog or hook on to it. If it feels like you’ve hooked the clog, gently try to pull it out. Be careful to not pull too hard, if need be wiggle it back and forth to move the clog around and break it up, making it easier to remove. Discard any waste on the end of the auger. Give the toilet a few good plunges to clear up any left over blockage. Flush and voila your throne is hopefully ready to use again!
How do you know when it’s time to call in the professionals to battle your clog?
There are times when your own efforts just aren’t enough. If the steps above do not clear the clog or if you see water backing up into sinks, bathtubs or other drains it is most definitely time to all a plumber. Water backing up in odd locations when you flush means you have a clogged main line and you need to call in your back up to do battle! If you know that the clog is something that really shouldn’t be flushed down a toilet, such as action figures, toys, or your cell phone then definitely call a plumber, they have the tools to safely remove foreign objects from plumbing pipes.