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Hazards in the Home

Home may be where the heart is, but it is also - unfortunately - where a whole host of hazards are. We have come a long way over the years, bringing awareness and enforcing legislation for things like asbestos, lead paint, radon and carbon monoxide, but there are other real threats that loom large. In a recent article on MarketWatch.com, four such hazards are highlighted and they are ones that many of us have never given a second thought.

The Wrong Smoke Detector
Most of us feel very comfortable knowing that our homes are fitted with working smoke detectors. As long as they are UL approved and we check our batteries twice per year - that should be sufficient, yes? Well, not really. There are two main types of smoke detectors designed for home use: ionization and photoelectric. 95% of homes are fitted with ionization units as they are the least expensive and most easily found. Statistics show, however, that these popular detectors take an average of 20 minutes longer to detect smoldering fires - fires that begin with things like cigarettes on synthetic fibers or faulty electrical wiring. While the ionization units trip more easily with fast flames or quick smoke plumes from things like burnt toast, they do not react quickly to the thick, slow-moving smoke from smoldering fires. It is suggested that photoelectric detectors be placed in vital areas of the home like the kitchen, bedrooms and basements, but in areas like hallways, bathrooms and living areas, ionization units should do fine.

Old Gas Lines
If your home was built between 1860-1915, chances are you have defunct gas lines that were formerly used to supply lighting to homes. Many have been capped off or converted to electricity, but if they are active and open, there is a very real danger of explosion if disturbed during construction. Even some modern lines made from thin stainless steel tubing were found to be susceptible to lightening strikes. It doesn't even need to be a direct strike, according to experts - just enough heat and energy in the approximate area can create an explosion. If you are homeowner with have any concerns about your gas lines, contact a private gas line specialist to first determine if you or your municipality is responsible. In many areas, gas line reconstruction is on the public infrastructure "to-do" list but can be moved along with enough pressure from the community.

Light Construction
Light or "truss" construction, while great for starter or inexpensive homes, has shown to be a major factor in more swiftly moving and more destructive fires. While sturdier homes are made with wood joined by bolts, screws and nails - lightweight structures are put together using gussets that join corners - gussets that are simply clamped onto the area that needs fastening. The main problem with truss construction is that in the case of a fire, the heat generated is often enough to pop the gussets out as easily as they were popped in. While there isn't much one can do to change this basic structural feature, it is very important for homeowners living in a lightweight construction home to take extra precaution against fire.

Topsy-Turvy Appliances
There is now one more good reason to not let your television be your child's babysitter. Between 2000-2010, nearly 170 children were killed from large, flat-screen televisions tipping over and causing fatal head or internal injuries. While making sure that the television is on a very low media table (never on a high dresser) can help decrease the risk of serious injury, the best way to avoid problems is to have large flat-screens professionally mounted to the wall. Using a skilled installer is crucial because if a wall-mounted TV is not properly secured, it can pose even a greater risk to children than one simply placed on a table.

Another dangerous appliance is the stove - and not for reasons that you may think. According to MarketWatch, in 2008 Sears settled a multi-million dollar lawsuit as a result of more than 100 deaths or injuries from faulty mounting mechanisms on stoves. The vast majority of stoves sold today are light enough for even small children to tip over if they climb or grab onto the unit, and if not properly mounted, can cause very serious problems.

While these risks may seem to be remote, "better safe than sorry" is really the takeaway. Installing a few photoelectric smoke detectors in key areas, making some calls about your current gas lines, being extra fire-cautious in homes built of light construction and properly mounting appliances can mean the difference between a safe, healthy home and a major disaster.

Who needs a climbing gym?

Indoor Climbing Walls for the Home

Are your kids showing an interest in climbing? Anyone who has ever taken up a hobby or pastime knows that the key to mastery is putting in the hours, so some families with little climbers decided to forgo the membership to the rock climbing gym and create a climbing paradise in their own home.

It sounds a little dangerous, but these Manhattan penthouse owners (as seen on ApartmentTherapy.com) were sure to outfit the space with a belay system for safety. Once hooked in, much of the beams in the main living space are climbable, all the way as high as five stories. They've included a swing for good measure, too.

As an added bonus to the youngsters (and young-at-heart) in the home, an 80-foot slide snakes throughout the interior of the home to allow what went up to come down -- with a little more flair, of course.

Pop on over to the full article to see other instances of climbing surfaces integrated into home design. We were surprised at some of the results!

When the Deer are not So Dear: Lyme Disease Alert

Bambi is not your friend, and this column is no joke.

1. What wild animal kills the most people? Deer. Because of automobile accidents.

2. What wild animal spreads most disease to people? Deer. Lyme Disease and others.

3. If you find a tick attached to you, especially if blood filled, see your doctor for preventative antibiotic treatment. Ditto, if you develop a red circle that enlarges. This is important!

4. It is a serious disease. I know a man of 40 who died from a heart attack of undiagnosed Lyme Disease. If untreated, it can have bad long term chronic disability.

5. For more information see Mass. Dept. of Health fact sheets. (www.mass.gov/dph) or call (888) 658-2850.

Most everyone is aware of Lyme disease these days. When I wrote a book in 1995 (The Backyard Battle Plan) for keeping animals out of the garden, it was already endemic in some places. Today it has become a major public health issue, with an estimated 300,000 new cases each year (according to the CDC).

Everyone I know in the landscape business has had it, often many times. My husband also. I brushed ticks off my arm harvesting raspberries that grow against my house wall. Deer ticks are endemic, and everywhere. Not just in open space.

The deer that spread the disease are also everywhere. How many in our town is unclear. Someone suggested hundreds. (Seems high.) However, deer are recorded every night on the surveillance cameras outside the public buildings in my town Center. I have been told that a local Audubon preserve has its own resident herd.

Deer are in my backyard at dusk and dawn. Their damage to the garden is total. And if I yell or bang a shovel or run at them, they just look at me and keep eating. Humans are not their predators in the suburbs. Automobiles are.

Despite what you read and see advertised, no deer repellants work for very long, if at all. I've tried them all.

To ward off the disease carrying ticks, I can not even rake up the leaves or do any pruning, without suiting up. I put on shoes, tall stockings with light color tucked in, a jacket and gloves.... all sprayed with pyrethrum insecticide and pulled on top of my regular clothes. (Never get pyrethrum on skin.)

When I don't get suited up, I have to remember to spray with DEET mosquito repellant, especially shoes and pants or legs. And everyone who walks anywhere in the woods or conservation land, or in their own backyard (if they have seen deer) should take this precaution.

Audubon is very derelict in not having tick warning signs. They invite people and children to enjoy their beautiful garden and programs, as well as the woods and trails. And they should have lots of cans of DEET available for visitors.

As a public health measure, the entrance to all the trails and paths where people walk should have large signs reminding them to spray with DEET, and check for ticks when back home. Dogs and cats are very susceptible and can bring them into the house, so consider pet tick collars.

So Bambi, little romantic Disney creation, despite some folks passionate attachment to your myth, you are our main disease carrying animal. Yet some live in this make believe world and in so doing, put us all at health risk.

Ruth S. Foster is a landscape consultant from Belmont, MA

An recent ruling could affect over 5 million homes across California.

Lead Paint Ruling Could Send LA Home Values Into Nose Dive

When a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled recently requiring three major companies to pay $1.15 billion in lead paint remediation, the Los Angeles real estate industry took a collective breath. Roughly 2.6 million LA County homes could be affected by the ruling, and about 5 million statewide. The implications to the real estate market are still unknown, but some experts feel the worst.

The National Mortgage News reported that the remediation efforts could lead to massive disruption to the market as homes built before 1978 (when lead paint stopped being used) would suffer from disinterested buyers when placed on an open market. There is also concern among homeowners and realtors that lenders, insurers and title companies may label such dwellings "public nuisances."

Though the real impact to the market still remains unknown, LA County braces for the waves of inspectors that will descend soon, spending the $400 million the judge allocated for investigation of lead paint in pre-1979 homes.

Are you living in LA County? Will your home be affected by the ruling? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Be a responsible dog owner!

Dog in the Home - A Brief Checklist

Thinking of adding a four-pawed friend to the family? You're not alone. According to the Humane Society, there are around 78.2 million owned dogs in the United States and 39% of homes have at least one dog.

While it may be relatively easy to become a dog owner, being a successful dog owner is another thing entirely. In addition to treating the dog properly, obedience, good diet, exercise and all the other aspects of raising a healthy, happy dog, there is the issue of being a good dog owner as it pertains to the home.

Not all of your neighbors are dog people. And every town and municipality will have its own set of rules regarding dog ownership, i.e. leash laws, containment policies, etc.

To help in these matters, we've put together a short checklist for Dogs in the Home:

Dog proof your home. In some ways this is like baby-proofing, except that a dog is highly mobile (even as a pup) and can do a heck of a lot more damage with its teeth. With that in mind, move anything that can be broken or chewed to a higher elevation. Block off areas of the home to make off-limits sections and tuck or hide away electrical cords. Keep the lid down on the toilet and mind those shoes!!!

Contain the dog. Dogs should not be allowed to simply roam free in the yard. Invariably, they will wander, cross streets and possibly attack a passerby. Check with your municipality for specific rules regarding containment of your dog. If you don't have an actual fence, you can install a dog run or invisible fencing.

Collar up. The collar serves many purposes. Obviously it is essential for attaching a leash, but it also demonstrates responsible dog ownership to the neighbors in your town. It was assist in your dogs return should it get loose and may prevent any harm coming to the dog because of being misidentified as feral or a stray.

Beware the bark. You wouldn't know if your dog barks all day while your away, but your neighbors will. It's a fast way to a frosty relationship. There are ways to train your dog not to bark unless seriously provoked. If that doesn't work, you can always try a silencing collar.

Socialize. Introducing the dog to the neighborhood is a great way to get the neighbors' support for your dog ownership decision. When first introducing Fido, ensure that he doesn't jump up, and be mindful of a neighbor's reaction to the sight of the dog. Not everyone is a dog person. Respect that. For those neighbors who are not, demonstrating your responsible nature will go a long way towards their tolerance of your pet.

Good luck with your new dog!

Adopt safe holiday practices!

Holiday Safety and Fire Prevention

It's the Holidays! It's the time for eggnog, caroling, presents and sappy movies starring Jimmy Stewart! It's also the time for tragic falls from ladders, house fires and accidental ingestions.

Want to keep this Holiday joyful and mishap-free? Follow these important tips, courtesy of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Place trees away from heat sources. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, property losses from Christmas tree fires are up around $19 million. So keep the tree a safe distance from stoves, fireplaces, vents and radiators.

  • Buy Fire Resistant fake trees. It's great that you want to be more environmentally-friendly and buy a fake tree. Just be sure the tag reads "Fire Resistant."

  • Keep the Tree kid-safe. This means using unbreakable, inedible, un-sharp decorations. Dispose of tree trimmings immediately.

  • Use Caution with Candles. Never leave the home with candles burning. Never go to bed with the candles burning. Place candles on a stable, heat-resistant surface, out of reach of kids and pets. Make sure the candles are place well-away from anything that can catch fire.

  • Light with Safety. Lights can pose a few different hazards. To ensure that the lights you intend to use are safe, look for lighting sets test by the UL or a similar laboratory. Check all lights for damaged sockets, compromised wires or loose connections. Throw out any damaged sets. The same goes for extension cords. Be sure that lights used outdoors are certified for outdoor use. And most importantly, use caution when climbing ladders to hang up lights.

  • Stay safe this Holiday season, folks!

    Lucas Jackson / REUTERS

    Disaster Relief for Hurricane Sandy

    Although the East Coast is not completely out of the harm's way, response teams have been pouring in to help victim's of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy.

    Preliminary death tolls are as high as 33 and the commercial and residential damages will take weeks to add up.

    Every little bit that fellow citizens can do to help will also add up. Here are a few ways you can make an instant and lasting impact on the response and recovery efforts following the storm's devastation:

  • Red Cross Donation

  • Salvation Army

  • United Way

  • Our thoughts and prayers go to all who have been -- and continue to be -- affected by the storm.

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