Improving Your Indoor Air Quality During Winter Months

Improving Your Indoor Air Quality During Winter Months

It’s cold out there—a good time to crank up the heat or put a few logs on the fire. While you might enjoy the warmth and ambiance, winter is actually one of the worst seasons for indoor air quality. That’s because we’re nestled inside our comfortable homes along with all of the pollutants and moisture. Fun, right?

Our chances of catching a cold are greater during the winter, especially if our home’s air quality is poor. In addition, trapped pollutants increase our risk of asthma and other respiratory problems. The good news is that we can do something about it! According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are 3 basic strategies for better indoor air quality: (1) controlling sources of pollutants (2) improving ventilation, and (3) cleaning the air. Here’s what you need to know to improve your indoor air quality this winter.

 

Source Control

There are many sources of indoor pollution, ranging from fuel-burning appliances to building materials and furnishings, and even household cleaning products. Take a look around your house to identify the sources of poor indoor air quality, so that you can take steps to reduce their impact.

 

 

Airborne chemicals

Also known as VOCS – volatile organic compounds – these “hang” in the air for us to breathe. Scented air fresheners, cleaning products, paint, and even carpets and furniture release chemicals in the air. VOCs can cause health problems from respiratory illnesses to headaches, dizziness, irritation in the eyes, ears, nose, and throat, and more. You can choose low VOC paint, or repurposed/upcycled furniture to reduce some chemicals, and use natural cleaning products.

Tip: A bowl of vinegar with lemon juice will draw out bad smells. Baking soda and lemon juice also absorb odors.

 

 

Carbon dioxide

During the winter months, we’re gathered together indoors, which means we’re breathing in close proximity to each other. As carbon dioxide levels rise, that can cause headaches, drowsiness, and other problems. If the levels get high enough, it can even impact decision-making. Limit candle lighting and fireplace use which can contribute to carbon dioxide levels. Open a window for a few minutes, even if it’s cold, to let the fresh air in.

Tip: Add plants like red-edged dracaena, weeping figs or bamboo palm to help convert CO2 to oxygen.

 

 

Radon gas

When our doors and windows are shut, it’s easy for radon gas to build up. Radon gas comes from the natural decay of soil. It moves into your home through cracks or even through your water supply. While it may be natural, radon is radioactive and dangerous. It’s the number one cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers. A radon test kit can measure your home’s levels. The EPA offers guidance on radon reduction systems.

Tip: Most states can provide a list of qualified radon service providers. Find more information at https://www.epa.gov/radon/epa-map-radon-zones-and-supplemental-information.

 

 

Level of humidity

Air that is too dry – or too moist – can cause problems. The dry air in winter causes dry skin, chapped lips, dry nose, dry throat, and cracked fingertips. High humidity causes mold and condensation which also can affect our health. The ideal level for household humidity should be between 30% and 59%. You can buy an inexpensive monitor to track your household humidity. To help reduce it, use your exhaust and ventilation fans, take cooler showers, or consider a dehumidifier. UV lamps professionally installed in your HVAC system can help kill harmful bacteria and mold before they enter the air supply.

Tip: Run your air conditioner. It may be winter, but your air conditioner can help clear humidity from your home.

 

 

Fireplaces

The seasonal scent of wood-burning fireplaces may be wonderful, but that smoke is adding fine particles of dust, dirt, and liquids to the air. Choose clean-burning logs to reduce the effects, and never use wood that is wet, painted, or treated. Gas fireplaces that are vented to the outdoors are better for air quality.

Tip: Warm your chimney flue before starting the fire to help it draw smoke upwards and out of your home.

 

 

Dust and dirt

Dust and dirt are respiratory irritants and frequent cleaning can help. Dust and clean your home regularly. Take cushions and rugs outside and beat them to loosen and get rid of dirt. Then wipe them clean with a damp rag to pick up any additional particles and mites. Vacuum rugs and carpets using a vacuum cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.

Tip: A bristle top doormat helps to trap dirt before it comes into your home. Wash or vacuum your mats regularly to prevent buildup.

 

 

Pets

We love our pets but pet hair and dander can affect indoor air quality, especially for those of us who are sensitive or allergic. Air filters and ventilation can help. (See next sections.) Brush your pet regularly to reduce the amount of shedding. Keep a towel by the door and wipe their feet to prevent them from bringing additional dirt into the house.

Tip: Use a window squeegee on your carpet to pick up pet hair. The rubber will loosen the hair and gather it into clumps.

 

 

Improved Ventilation

Your HVAC system is your home’s first line of defense against airborne particles. Make sure your system is well maintained and your ducts are cleaned. You also can upgrade the air filters in your HVAC system to a higher MERV rating, if your system allows it. This will increase their ability to remove particles, germs, viruses, and chemical gases. Check with an HVAC professional.

Ventilation devices help air circulation that keeps indoor air clean. They typically are installed in a home’s attic or roof and bring in fresh air on a regular basis while expelling stale air.

 

 

Air Cleaners

There are many types of air cleaners for home use, ranging from table-top models to expensive systems for the whole house. An air purifier with a HEPA filter can remove anywhere between 70-95% of airborne particles. Consider buying an air cleaner for each room. Choose one with smart sensors that can detect pollutants in real-time and adjust their fans accordingly.

In addition, you may consider an indoor air quality monitor. These devices can monitor levels of moisture and pollutants, and share information on which part of the house is contributing to poor air quality.

Your home is your greatest investment. Protect it as well with the right home owner’s insurance.

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

 

 

Staying Safe and Visible This Halloween

Staying Safe and Visible This Halloween

Get ready for a scary good time! Halloween is nearly here and kids everywhere will be out trick-or-treating. Remember a safe Halloween is a Happy Halloween; make sure your children are out and about in a way that they can be easily seen.

The ghosts and goblins (or more likely known as little trick-or-treaters) come out after the sun has gone down.  Which is fun when you’re behind the mask, but not so fun if you are behind the wheel. When it’s dark, it’s harder for drivers to see pedestrians in the street. Add to that, excited children who may run out suddenly, and the results could be tragic. In fact, children are twice as likely to be hit by a car on Halloween than on any other day of the year.

That’s why it’s important to decide carefully on the costume your child will wear to ensure he/she is the most visible. And before they leave the house, you’ll also want to go over important pedestrian safety rules. You may even decide that accompanying your child is the best thing to do (recommended for children under 12).

Here are some more Halloween safety tips to consider for every vampire, witch, and werewolf!

 

Tip #1: Use reflective tape on your child’s costume.

Increase your child’s chances of being seen by adding pieces of reflective tape to his/her costume and/or jacket. Do so creatively and you may have a skeleton with glowing bones or a superhero with a gleaming emblem. Reflective tape works by reflecting light back, so wearers will be easily seen in a car’s headlights even in the pitch dark.

Tip #2: Add a glow stick or a clip-on light.

Decorate your child’s costume or candy bag with clip-on lights. These can be Halloween-themed lights or any small clip-on. Consider giving your child glow stick bracelets or necklaces; these are a festive, fun, and bright addition to any costume.

Tip #3: Select costumes with light colors.

Darker color costumes may be spooky but they are hard to see when it gets dark. When possible, choose lighter-colored outfits. If your child insists on a dark color, use tip #1 to lighten it up.

Tip #4: Choose face paint over masks.

Masks can block your child’s vision and depth perception. They also cover up your trick-or-treater’s face so it may not be easily seen. Face paint is a great alternative. You can even find glow-in-the-dark varieties for more visibility. Choose a face paint that is labeled safe for use with children. Test it on your child’s arm before Halloween. If you want a natural version, you can make homemade face paint.

Tip #5: Travel in groups and carry a flashlight.

Whether you walk around with your kids, or they travel with their friends, insist that they go in groups. Large groups – especially with both adults and children – are easier to see. If one or more group members carry a flashlight, that’s added protection. Having an adult also will help keep trick-or-treaters safe. The excitement of Halloween can overtake a child’s focus on safety.

Tip #6: Don’t walk and text.

You may often text while you’re walking but it’s not a good idea –and while supervising children on Halloween, it’s an especially bad idea. A study from Stonybrook University showed that we are 61 percent more likely to veer off course when we are walking and texting. Not only could you walk into traffic – or other people – or step off the curb, but your attention is distracted from the trick-or-treaters in your care.

Tip #7: Choose safe, lighted routes.

If you are able, choose a residential neighborhood with street lights and sidewalks for trick-or-treating. Walk on the sidewalk and cross at the corner, looking first for cars. If there are no sidewalks, and you need to walk in the street, you should keep to the left and walk facing cars. This will ensure you see cars coming toward you. Halloween is not the time to jaywalk; it can be especially dangerous. Do not walk out between cars, and definitely do not run into the street for any reason.

Tip #8. Watch for cars.

Watch for cars that are turning corners or pulling out of driveways. They could surprise you if you’re not expecting them—and you could surprise them by being in their path. If you’re the one driving at night on Halloween, look out for pedestrians.

For more safety tips, see our blogs on Halloween fire safety and Halloween safety tips for pets.

Have a Happy Halloween!

 

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

 

What is an Attractive Nuisance?

What is an Attractive Nuisance?

An attractive nuisance is anything on your property that is attractive to children, but in turn, could also put them in danger.

Examples of common backyard attractive nuisances include:

    • Pools
    • Hot tubs
    • Trampolines
    • Swingsets
    • Firepits
    • Fountains
    • Treehouses
    • Playgrounds

While these nuisances all serve as great ways for children to get outdoors and enjoy the summer sun, without the proper precautions, they can become problematic. In fact, attractive nuisances cause so many injuries when kids are out of school that summer is also known as “trauma season” among public health officials in the U.S. This is because unintentional deaths and serious injuries increase dramatically among children in the summertime.

Not only will these objects of entertainment put your own child at risk for serious or fatal injury, if one of their friends comes over to play one day and gets hurt on an attractive nuisance in your yard, you will be held liable for their injuries.

 

How to Minimize Your Risk

An attractive nuisance isn’t just limited to objects of entertainment like pools; they can also be anything that is on your property that draws curiosity like construction, weapons, grills, landscaping, lawn equipment, ponds, old cars, or appliances, etc. 

This doesn’t mean that you will have to go and give all of your nuisances away, instead take the proper precautions to prevent the nuisances from causing harm. 

Minimize the risk of an accident or injury by understanding what you have on your property that could be considered an attractive nuisance and take the necessary steps to safeguard against any future accidents. 

    1. Keep your property clean. Pick up dangerous debris and clean up after projects that you have completed. If you have old items that you are using anymore, sell or get rid of them. 
    2. Make dangerous items inaccessible. Keep dangerous weapons locked away in a safe, equipment, and vehicles in a garage or shed, and put a cover on pools, fire pits, grills, and hot tubs. 
    3. Install a gate and lock system. If there is no way to make items in your yard inaccessible try installing a fence or locked gate with a no trespassing sign to help keep curious children out.
    4. Always supervise. If you have an attractive nuisance in your yard, never let your children or their friends play outside without adult supervision.
    5. Have adequate coverage. Make sure you have enough liability coverage with your homeowner’s insurance. Talk to your insurance agent and review your policy.

If you fail to minimize the risk of injury and a child in your neighborhood harms themselves (or worse) on your property, you may be subject to legal action. Read your local laws and use good judgment, if you feel like you have an item of concern in your backyard, use the steps above to help prevent an accident. 

 

How an Attractive Nuisance Affects Your Insurance

Insurance agents look at your property to determine your home insurance rate. Certain features of your home or property could impact your rate because of their degree of danger. For instance, if you have an in-ground pool in your backyard you will likely have a higher rate because a pool increases the risk of danger. 

When you speak to your home insurance agent you will need to disclose if you have any attractive nuisances on your property to protect you from getting future claims rejected, if an accident were to happen on your property.

Many people assume that their homeowner’s insurance will provide them the protection they need if someone gets injured at their home, but this isn’t always true. If you have an attractive nuisance, protect yourself and your family, talk to your insurance agent and ask about increasing your liability protection or about adding a personal umbrella policy to your homeowner’s insurance.

 

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

Why Standing Water Around Your Home is a Big Deal

Why Standing Water Around Your Home is a Big Deal

Spring is here! And so are spring storms, but spring showers don’t just bring flowers, they can also bring more water than what your yard can hold. And this standing water around your house can cause water damage to your home- costing you more than you think.

By definition, standing water is a body of water that does not move or sink into the ground. It can be caused by a number of factors: heavy rain, over-watering, poorly draining soil, improper grading, incorrect landscaping, low areas in your yard, and even water line leaks or bursts.

If you have standing water in your yard for multiple days, it can cause serious damage to your home. Not only will it be an eyesore that can ruin your grass and draw unwanted bugs, but stagnant water on the side of your home can also seep into small cracks or pores in your home’s foundation and get into your crawl space or basement, which can lead to water damage & more.

Here’s why you should address the standing water near your home now, and how you can prevent it from happening in the future. 

 

Standing Water Can…

Ruin your basement. Water can cause cracks in your home’s foundation. This is how water enters your basement or your crawl space. Once inside it can create a musty odor and add dampness that will completely ruin flooring, drywall, furniture, electronics, etc. 

Produce mold & mildew. High levels of condensation and humidity inside of your basement or crawl space create an environment for mold and mildew to thrive. This could not only affect your home, but it could also cause major health issues for you and your family.

Breakdown your home’s foundation. Over time, standing water that has made its way into your cement foundation will start to cause shifting and bowing of your structure. This is the beginning of the breakdown of your home’s foundation. If not taken care of- doors will no longer close, floorboards will start to squeak, steel beams may have to be inserted, and it could even lead to structural collapse. 

Cost you thousands of dollars in repairs. A homeowner spends over $3,000 on average to repair damages to their home and property caused by water. Preventive maintenance and early detection are key to helping you save your home and your wallet.

But that’s not all, standing water can also draw unwanted pests: mosquitoes, roaches, termites, ants, silverfish, and other pests thrive in moist environments. They will seek damp areas and make your home their home if you don’t address the issue quickly.

Here’s how you can prevent standing water from getting into your home this spring.

 

How to Prevent Standing Water 

1. Check for Proper Roof Drainage

Make sure every drop of rain will drain off of your roof correctly- starting at your gutters. Make sure they are free of leaves and sticks and that you have an attached downspout that is also clear of debris. It is also important to make sure your downspout has a downspout extension that will move water away from the foundation of your home.

 

2. Monitor Your Sprinkler Usage

If you see standing water, make sure to check that your sprinklers are not overwatering your lawn. First, check to make sure the sprinkler heads are functioning properly and not broken. If there is no issue, you will likely just need to reset your sprinklers to run at a less-frequent timespan. After resetting, if you are still seeing patches of barren or muddy lawn, you may have a leaky valve. Valves are responsible for distributing the water throughout the entire system, and if damaged they will need to be replaced right away.

 

3. Make Sure Your Yard is Correctly Graded

Grading, also referred to as lawn leveling, is the process of leveling your lawn to allow for the proper drainage of water. If you have water that is pooling around your foundation or your house is sitting on a low level, you may need to look into re-leveling your yard. Grading involves the moving of topsoil onto the yard. You will then even out the low spots with the soil and form a downward slope (around 2%) from your home’s foundation. Leveling is an intricate process, and if your yard needs re-leveled, you may need to hire a professional. 

 

4. Aerate Your Lawn

Aerating your yard means to perforate the soil with holes (4 – 6 inches deep) to allow water, air, and other nutrients to better absorb into the soil. Not only will aeration lead to a greener, healthier lawn, but it will also alleviate soil compaction and allow water to better absorb during rainstorms. The best time to aerate your lawn is during spring and fall. 

 

5. Mind Your Landscaping

Improper landscaping can cause water to sit at the base of your home’s foundation and ultimately make it into your home.  When landscaping, avoid making any changes that will block drains or downspouts. Make sure that all of your landscaping slopes downward to create runoff and that all downspout extensions or drainage systems extend beyond your planting beds leading the water away and far from your foundation.

 

6. Install a Drainage System

If you are constantly struggling with standing water in an area of your yard, it may be best to look into installing a yard drain. Yard drains act like shower drains. They prevent flooding and move the water away from your yard through hidden pipes to a dry well.  The dry well will then collect the water underground and slowly percolate to the soil around it

Standing water is a serious, yet largely overlooked, issue that can have serious consequences. If water has been in your yard for multiple days and won’t drain, don’t neglect it. Look for the cause of your problem or reach out to a professional. Acting today will save you time, money, and headache tomorrow.

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

How To Create a Budget In 7 Easy Steps

How To Create a Budget In 7 Easy Steps

Was one of your New Year’s resolutions to start saving money, or to start spending a little more wisely? The best way to save money for you and your family’s future is to create a budget.

Most people cringe at the thought of sitting down and going over their finances, but budgeting doesn’t have to be scary. Even if you think you are in good financial standing you may be shocked when you sit down and go through the numbers. A budget will help you monitor your flow of money and get rid of unnecessary spending, saving you money each month, so what’s there to lose?

Here are 7 easy steps to begin setting your budget.

 

Step 1. Sit Down Together

Get together with your significant other to calculate the total amount of money you each have coming in each month. From there you will be able to more accurately know where you can cut spending and start saving.

 

Step 2. Find Out Your Essential Spending Costs

When you begin to sit through and work out your family’s budget, it’s important to start by writing out all of the essential spending your family does each month. This will include payments for your mortgage, rent, bills, insurance, auto loans, student loans, schooling, daycare, food, prescriptions, and essential groceries and clothing.

 

Step 3. Find Out Your Non-Essential Spending Costs

Next, you will write all costs that may not be essential, but you would like to keep putting money towards them each month. If you have any non-essential spending that you don’t use anymore this would be a good time to start cutting that spending out to help you save. Non-essential monthly spending could include just about anything, like streaming services- Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, or Disney +, etc., subscription and other services like Amazon Prime, Adobe Creative Suite, Dollar Shave Club, Stitch Fix, etc. It could also include any club or gym memberships, extracurriculars, etc.

 

Step 4. Set Aside Extra Cash to Pay off Debts

By paying off your debts more quickly you can get yourself in better financial standing for the future. To do this start, use the money that is left that you have calculated from your essential and non-essential spending, and start by paying a little above the average monthly payment on your credit cards. Do this every month until you get the balance low enough to completely pay them off. It doesn’t have to be much, a few extra dollars here and there will still get you closer to paying debt off than the minimum payment. You can also do this with your other loans, like your car or home, as well. You can either do this with multiple debts or choose one debt to pay off at a time; it depends on you and your preference and financial situation.

 

Step 5. Set a Limit for Extra Spending

Setting Limits may be hard at first, but when you sit down and calculate your average cost at the grocery store or your weekly retail therapy, you may find out that you are overspending. Set a reasonable limit for yourself when you go shopping, one that fits into your budget, and stick to it. Bye overspending.

 

Step 6. Leave Yourself Some Room 

A common mistake in budgeting is not leaving room for events that take place throughout the year like, Holidays, Birthdays, Weddings, Back to School, Baby Showers, etc. If you have an event coming up, know to keep a little bit of extra money out to put it towards. Even if the event is your family going out to eat once a month, remember to leave yourself some room. One of the best ways to do this without overspending is to take out a cash deposit and put it in an envelope to use on that date. That way it is out of your account, you have a spending limit, and the rest can go towards your savings.

 

Step 7. Determine How Much You Can Save

Once you have all of your spending calculated, you can then determine how much you can save each month. Assuming that some of your payment already goes into your 401k, it’s important to also contribute a personal savings account every month or every paycheck. Think of your personal savings account as a nest-egg for you and your family in case of emergencies. It is wise to contribute enough money into this account until you have reached an amount that could support your family’s essential needs for at least 6 months. Do not pull out of this account.

If you would like to start a savings account that you want to attribute money towards each month for additional life events like college, home-ownership, your own wedding, engagement rings, renovations, family trips, vacations, etc. open a new account, a new one that doesn’t include the nest-egg savings you have built, and start contributing what you can until you have reached your goal.

 

BONUS TIP: Track Your Spending

To stay on track is to monitor your spending. You should track every dollar moving in and out of your account. There are hundreds of budgeting apps that can help you, or you could just make it a point to look at your online banking at the end of each day. Tracking all of the cash flow in real-time will help you cut out costs that aren’t necessary or that you may not use as often as you think you do. This will also help you monitor your account for any suspicious purchases or accidental charges.

 

Budgeting doesn’t have to be scary, and if you get the math wrong on your first month that’s okay. Fix some spending/saving and try again, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments where they are needed. It’s your money, find whatever works for you and your family.

Happy budgeting!

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

 

10 Tips for Virtual Holiday Shopping

10 Tips for Virtual Holiday Shopping

As we head into the most wonderful time of the year, cybercriminals are gearing up for their busiest season. And this year, with so many of us working and schooling from home, they are counting on a bonanza of unsuspecting online targets.

While you are carefully crafting your holiday gift list (and checking it twice!) these criminals are perfecting their cyber scams, online fraud schemes, and identity theft plans.

So before you join the millions of others searching out those perfect stocking stuffers, check out these 10 tips to protect yourself and your family online.

1. Secure your home network – Use strong passwords and WPA2 or WPA3 encryption (see tips here to secure your network). Change your router/modem’s default name and pre-set password.

2. Update your antivirus software – Antivirus software is always being updated (thanks to a continuous stream of new threats) so make sure yours is up to date on all your household’s devices.

3. Use a password manager – Create strong passwords on all your devices and use a password manager to keep track. Consider using two-factor authentication to add an extra layer of protection.

4. Update your devices – Operating system and software updates often include security updates. Make sure your computers, tablets, and phones are all updated. Turn on auto-updates so you don’t have to think about it.

5. Use one or two credit cards and monitor them – Using just one or two cards for your holiday shopping will make it much easier to track purchases and spot any fraud early on. Some lenders will even alert you when your card logs transactions that are out of your normal spending pattern and ask your permission before completing the purchase. Mobile pay options such as Apple Pay or Google Pay also offer good protection because they use secure tokens instead of an actual card number.

6. Only shop reputable websites – Big brands and companies are more likely to have strong security on their sites’ transaction platform. But no matter the website, if a link, landing page or online shopping cart looks suspicious, log off immediately.

7. Watch for phishing – Phishing spikes during the holidays. These emails and texts usually look like they’re coming from a source or company you know. They typically ask for sensitive information such as personal or bank information and ask you to click on a link or attachment. Remember that government agencies and reputable companies will never ask you to send sensitive information this way. Delete these messages without clicking on anything. If you’re on the fence about its legitimacy, you can open a separate browser and log in to your account fresh – or call customer service to double-check.

8. Be smart on social media – If you’re headed out of town during the holidays, don’t post plans or info publicly on your social channels. This could make your home vulnerable to a break-in.

9. Be savvy with donations – Many people generously open their wallets during the holidays to help those in need or causes they support. If you’re planning on donating this year, be extra cautious. Stick to reputable, well-known charities. Contact them directly to donate, rather than clicking on a link or giving your information over the phone.

10. Watch your front porch – More online shopping means more deliveries. Bring packages in as soon as possible so they don’t tempt thieves. Neglected packages may also make it look like you’re out of town, making your home a target for burglars.

Make sure all family members are on board with, understand, and carry out the above tips before logging on to find those hot holiday deals. This includes kids and teens who are at home and on screens all day – and who usually aren’t as savvy about security and scams. For more safety tips, check out our articles here and here.

If you’re a California Casualty member, take comfort in the fact that you’re automatically enrolled in ID theft resolution services — which provides free help if you are ever the victim of identity theft. Learn more about the services here.

 

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty, providing auto and home insurance to educators, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and nurses. Get a quote at 1.866.704.8614 or www.calcas.com.

 

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