Prevent a Holiday Cooking Fire

Prevent a Holiday Cooking Fire

Did you know that cooking fires in residential buildings happen more often on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year? Or that peak timing for fires is from 10am – 4pm — right when everyone’s preparing their turkey day feasts?

According to the National Fire Protection Association, unattended cooking is by far the number one contributing factor of cooking fires and fire deaths.

The following tips from NFPA will help you avoid the common pitfalls and serve up a holiday full of delicious dishes, happy memories, and a safe celebration.

 

preventing a kitchen fire

Remember to:

    • Stay in the kitchen when cooking as much as possible:
        • If you’re frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food and need to leave the kitchen for even a short time, turn the stove off until you return.
        • If baking, simmering, or roasting, check it regularly, stay in your home, and use a timer to remind you when it’s close to done.
      • While cooking turkey, check on it frequently, and do not leave your home.
      • Test your smoke alarms a few days before the holiday to make sure they’re working.
      • Keep oven mitts, food packaging, towels, and any other flammable materials away from your stovetop.
      • Keep the kitchen floor free of tripping hazards.
      • Don’t use the stove or stovetop if you’re sleepy or have consumed alcohol.
      • Be mindful of children:
      • Keep them at least 3 feet away from the stove.
        • Make sure knives, electric cords, and matches/lighters are out of reach.
        • Ensure they stay away from hot food and liquids.
        • Never leave them alone in a room with a lit candle.

 

preventing a kitchen fire

Prevent a Fryer Fire

Deep frying turkeys is all the rage — and unfortunately causes plenty of fires and injuries every year. If you plan to fry this year, follow these safety tips from the U.S. Fire Administration:

      • Only use a unit specifically made for frying turkeys — don’t try to adapt cookware you already have.
      • Only use the fryer outdoors on a sturdy, level surface that is a safe distance from anything flammable. Remember that fryers can easily tip over, spilling hot oil. Maintain a 3-foot zone free of kids and pets to protect against injuries.
      • Make sure your turkey is fully thawed before frying it — a partially frozen bird will cause hot oil to splatter.
      • Ensure that you use the correct amount of oil. An overfilled fryer will spill over when the turkey is placed inside.
      • Do not leave the fryer unattended. A 15-pound turkey will take about 45 minutes to cook, so prep in advance so that you can stay outside the whole time.
      • Use gloves and have extra potholders and supplies nearby. The pot, lid, and handles of the fryer can get very hot.

 

preventing a kitchen fire

In Case of Emergency

A small grease fire can erupt suddenly — even despite best efforts at prevention. Here are some basic steps from the NFPA if one erupts on your watch.

      • For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
      • If on the stovetop, smother flames by putting a lid or baking sheet over the pan, taking it off the heat, and turning the burner off. Leave the pan covered until completely cooled.
      • Do NOT pour water on a grease fire — it will make it worse or even spread the fire. A lid or cooking sheet is best; pouring baking soda or salt on small flames can also help extinguish them.
      • When in doubt, get out of the house. Close the door behind you and call 911.

The holidays are busy. Between cooking and hosting time and focus can feel scant. To let you focus on cooking — safe cooking, that is — enlist the whole family to help. Tasks such as shopping, decorating, and cleaning can be delegated. While in the kitchen, make sure someone else is on point for entertaining and taking care of things in the rest of the house. Finally, prepare activities (games, puzzles, books, etc.) ahead of time for children so that they’re occupied and out of the kitchen.

And most important: enjoy that precious time with your family — over a delicious, beautiful meal!

 

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty. We specialize in 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.

12 Tips to Lower Your Heating Bill

12 Tips to Lower Your Heating Bill

Reducing your home energy usage is good for several reasons. First and foremost, it keeps money in your pocket. But it also lightens the load on local power grids and the environment — a win-win all around.

Try some or all of the 12 steps below to save on your energy bill while staying cozy and comfortable in your home. They’re easier than you think!

 

1.Let the Light Shine In

Use the sun’s heat (bonus: it’s free!) to your advantage! Open curtains and blinds on your south-facing windows during the day to let the heat in and then close them at sunset to keep it in.

 

2. Leak-Proof Your Home

Inspect your home for leaks (get tips from energy.gov on detecting air leaks here). Often invisible, leaks can wreak havoc on your energy bill. Use weather stripping and caulking to seal leaks and keep warm air inside. While you’re at it, insulate your ducts, which can be a significant source of heat loss.  For windows that you rarely use during winter, get plastic window kits to further leak-proof.

 

3. Bump the Temp Down

Just by setting your thermostat a few degrees lower, you can immediately begin saving. Consider installing a programmable thermostat for even more time- and energy-efficiency.

 

4. Pay Attention to Your Water Heater

Water heaters account for about 17 percent of a home’s energy use – adding up to about $400-600 per year for the average household. Bring that down by:

    • using less hot water
    • setting your water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees F.
    • buying an energy star model when it comes time to replace it
    • fixing leaks
    • washing clothes in cold water
    • installing low-flow showerheads and faucets

 

5. Check the Fireplace

When not burning a fire, keep the damper closed. Consider installing tempered glass doors and an air exchange system that blows warm air back into the room. Check the seal on the flue damper and make sure it’s tightly sealed. Finally, add caulking around the hearth. If you never use your fireplace, plug and seal the flue.

 

6. Maintain Your Heating System

Have a professional check and tune-up your heat pump or furnace once a year. This could lead to big savings. Make sure they also replace any clogged filters, which can make your furnace work harder, thereby raising energy costs (you can also check and replace filters yourself).

 

7. Close Unused Vents

In rooms that are rarely used, fully or partially close the vents to redirect heat to other rooms.

 

8. Use Ceiling Fans

Everyone knows heat rises, which means the air you’ve paid to heat rises and collects at the tops of rooms. This can be especially costly in homes that have high ceilings. Use your ceiling fans to push warm air downward – just make sure they’re set to run in a clockwise direction.

 

9. Check Your Insulation

If your attic doesn’t have at least 11 inches of insulation, you’ll most likely lose heat through the upper level of your home.

 

10. Recycle That Hot Air

After cooking, leave the oven door open a crack to let the heat help warm the house. Bonus? You get to savor the delicious smell of those cookies, baked goods, or dinner a little longer.

 

11. Space Heaters

Portable heaters are a good cost-saving option if you and your family are hanging out in one room for any length of time, or if you’re the only one home and are stationary (like working in a home office). But remember to use caution whenever using space heaters – according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, these heaters cause more than 25,000 residential fires per year. Follow the heater instructions carefully and always unplug them when not in use.

 

12. Bundle Up

Sweaters, socks, and cozy blankets really do make a difference.

 

By making a few tweaks in your home and modifying some behaviors, you’ll begin to see cost and energy savings in no time.

And as we transition from winter to spring and summer, check out our companion piece on lowering your cooling costs.

 

 

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.

Checklist- Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Checklist- Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes

Water expands when it freezes. This simple law of nature underlies all the damage, repair costs, and headaches associated with frozen or burst pipes.

The pressure of expanded, frozen water in your pipes can cause bulges, cracks, and burst joints, leading to leaks, flooding, and other expensive damage to your home.

By using the checklist below, you can take steps to prevent issues inside and outside your home and be ready to act if you suspect a frozen pipe.

 

Interior Checklist – Protect Pipes Inside Your Home

Use this list to take steps around your home to prevent frozen pipes.

    • Keep interior doors open – Open bathroom and kitchen cabinets to let warmer air circulate around the pipes.
    • Close the garage – If you have water lines in the garage, make sure the door’s closed so they stay warmer. Consider adding insulation to them if they’re accessible.
    • Seal gaps – Seal up holes and cracks where pipes run through floors or walls to keep cold air from getting in and cooling the pipe. You can use caulk or spray foam insulation. If possible, seal from both the outside and inside.
    • Add extra insulation – Attics, basements, and crawl spaces are typically cold, so adding insulation will keep temps up a bit. Fitting exposed pipes with foam rubber or fiberglass can be an easy and inexpensive option.
    • Allow a drip – Letting cold water drip from the faucet (especially of exposed pipes) will help prevent pipes from freezing. A trickle is all you need.
    • Keep the heat on – Especially during especially cold spells. Keep thermostat set to the same temp both day and night. A slightly higher heating bill for this short time is preferable to potential repair and damage costs.

 

Exterior Checklist – Protect Pipes Outside Your Home

After surveying your home’s interior, take this checklist outside.

    • Hose patrol – You’ll need to remove, drain and store outdoor hoses. Shut off water to outdoor faucets, then turn on the faucet so any remaining water drains. Disconnect hose from the faucet, coil it into a 2-foot diameter loop, and store inside to protect from extreme temperatures.
    • Drain the swimming pool – Drain the pool, pool water supply lines, and the sprinkler supply lines. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and never use antifreeze in the lines.
    • Consider heat tape – Heat tape is the umbrella term for a variety of cords and cables that you can use to insulate outdoor pipes to keep them from freezing. They can also be used to prevent ice dams in your gutters. There are self-regulating and thermostat-controlled models, and all are customized to the pipe(s) you’re protecting. If you go this route, make sure to do your research and follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly.

 

If You Suspect a Frozen Pipe

Vigilance during cold weather is key, as you can often head off the worst damage if you catch a freeze in time. Here’s how to thaw a suspected frozen pipe:

    • Locate the problem pipe – If you turn on a faucet and get no water or only a trickle, the pipe it’s connected to may well be frozen.
    • Open the faucet – This will relieve the pressure on the pipe as you thaw it. If the faucet has handles for both warm and cold water, open both.
    • Apply heat – Always start at the faucet and work down the pipe. Depending on the location of your pipe, use an electric hair dryer, portable space heater, towels soaked in hot water, or an electric heating pad (NEVER an open flame) to gently warm it back up. Have a family member watch for activity at the faucet. Apply heat until the full water pressure is restored.
    • Check other pipes – Depending on how your plumbing system is set up, one frozen pipe may mean several (if they’re connected). Check all that you can and repeat the above process for any that are frozen.

Not only can frozen pipes cause expensive structural damage to your home but they can also cause health and safety issues for your family, pets, or livestock by cutting off your freshwater supply.

Use the above tips before and during cold weather events to keep your home and family safe. Check out more tips on preventing frozen pipe here.

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty. We specialize in 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.

 

6 Reasons to Clean Your Gutters Before Winter

6 Reasons to Clean Your Gutters Before Winter

“Clean the gutters:” It’s one of those perennial to-do list items that never seem to get crossed off. One season runs into the next, and before you know it, winter has arrived and your gutters are still full of debris.

Unfortunately, that can wreak a lot of havoc on your house, from water and structural damage to pest problems and more. And those problems will bring repair and replacement costs that can easily be avoided.

Check out the 6 ways below that clogged gutters can imperil your home, and 6 tips at the bottom to get ahead of the problem.

 

Structural Damage

Clogged gutters cause water run-off and overflow, which can collect around your home’s foundation. Over time, that water can cause cracks in your foundation, which leads to huge repair costs. When ice dams form, excess water can also seep through your roof.

 

 

Damage to Gutter Components

When fascia boards – the long, straight boards running along the lower edge of your roof – are exposed to excess water, they can crack, warp and start shedding paint. If your gutters are weighted down with debris and/or frozen water, they can begin sagging. This can result in tearing and pulling away from the exterior walls, or even coming loose completely.

 

 

Interior Damage

Whether from ice dams or a clogged gutter that sends water running in all directions, your home interior is also at risk of damage. This can happen from water leaking underneath shingles and through the roof, affecting electrical systems, appliances, and furniture. Oftentimes, interior walls will show mold, leaks, and water stains, and cracks will appear on ceilings. Window and door frames can also warp and rot.

 

 

Ice Dams

These are a main culprit behind all the issues above because they force excess water away from the proper exit route (down the downspout), leaving it up to chance and gravity for water finding its way downhill. In addition, they also cause icicles, which – although picturesque – can injure people and pets, as well as damage your deck and roof.

 

 

Pests

A gutter full of leaves can harbor infestations of all kinds. Rodents love just about any dark, cozy place and can quickly start nesting and breeding. Before long, they may try to enter your home through the walls, under the roof, etc. Besides rodents, insects will quickly make a home in the decaying matter stuck in your gutters. This means mosquitoes, cockroaches, flies, and termites, all of which can also make inroads into your home. Finally, mold, parasites, mildew, and spores flourish in a damp gutter, posing a health risk to you and your family.

 

 

Avoidable Injuries

If you decide to tackle the gutters after winter has already arrived, you may be putting yourself at risk in trying to clean them. Icy and cold conditions make for poor ladder safety and the chances of injury increase. If you spot any structural damage or hard-to-remove ice dams, you may be tempted to fix it yourself, but at that point hiring a professional is much safer.

 


 

Gutter Cleaning Quick Tips:

The best time to clean is during autumn, after most of the season’s leaves have fallen (many of which will find a home in your gutters!). Here are 6 tips to get you started.

  1. Use a safe and secure ladder, and practice ladder safety.
  2. Rake debris and leaves off the roof before attacking gutters (be sure to wear rubber-soled shoes).
  3. Wear safety eyewear and gloves.
  4. Use a plastic gutter scooping tool.
  5. Clear the downspouts.
  6. Watch out for power lines.

Once fall gives way to winter, your window of opportunity for safely cleaning gutters closes until spring. Best to start early, before damage – and related repair costs – happen.

 

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty. We specialize in 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.

Safety Tips for Indoor Fires

Safety Tips for Indoor Fires

Nothing says cold weather coziness like a warm, glowing fire in the fireplace. While indoor fires keep us warm and provide comfort, they can also pose hazards.

Follow these tips to keep your fireplace and chimney in safe working order.

 

Maintain, Clean & Inspect

    • Check your alarms – Before you light your first fire of the season, make sure your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working properly. For the former, use the “test” button on the unit; for the latter, see our testing and safety tips here.
    • Get an annual inspection – Hire a certified chimney inspector to closely inspect your chimney, fireplace, and/or woodburning stove, clean them and let you know about any needed repairs.
    • Keep it clean – Keep the hearth free of debris, decorations, and other flammable materials. Be sure to remove ashes after every fire – excess ash in the fireplace can reduce airflow for the next fire, which leads to more smoke.
    • Be careful with ash – When cleaning ashes, remember that they can stay hot for a long time – give them plenty of time to cool. When cooled, put them in a covered metal container and wet them down. Put the container outside and let sit for three days before disposing of it.

 

Burn Safely

    • Use a screen – Fireplace screens are metal accessories designed to prevent flying sparks and embers from starting a house fire. Always use one when burning a fire.
    • Consider fireplace doors – Slightly different from screens, glass fireplace doors are meant to help your fire burn better and produce more heat. They should be fully open when starting a fire and when the fire is burning strongly. After the fire dies down a bit, close the doors completely to minimize the amount of air going up the chimney.
    • Know your damper – Dampers are often confused with flues. The flue is the tube inside the chimney through which the smoke escapes. The damper is the device inside the flue that you can open or close. When starting a fire and while it’s burning, make sure the damper is open. When your fireplace is not in use close the damper to prevent warm air from escaping.
    • Make sure the fire’s really out – Never leave a fire unattended. Before going to bed or leaving the house, make sure it’s had plenty of time to die down and that it’s fully extinguished.
    • Be smart about what you burn – Only burn dry, seasoned wood, and kindling in your fireplace. Do not burn plastic, cardboard boxes, wrapping paper or trash, some of which can emit toxins into your home. And never burn your Christmas tree, as burning needles can easily send sparks spraying

 

Practice Fire Safety from the Outside In

    • Observe the 30-foot rule – That’s how far firewood should be stacked away from your home.
    • Install a chimney cap – This prevents snow, rain, and other moisture from entering your chimney and keeps out animals that may try to nest inside.
    • Prune branches – Make sure you’ve pruned any branches that are close to your chimney.
    • Remove dry debris – Your roof and chimney should be clear of pine needles, leaves, and other flammable debris.

 

For additional tips and an easy-to-print infographic on Chimney Safety click here.

The sooner you know that your fireplace and chimney are in tip-top shape, the sooner you and your family can enjoy evening fires, board games, hot chocolate, and all the rest that make winter so cozy.

 

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty. We specialize in 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.

Animals in the Attic … and the Walls and the Basement

Animals in the Attic … and the Walls and the Basement

Although wildlife can be cute from a distance, that doesn’t mean you want them moving in. Besides general annoyance, animals that become unwitting roommates can bring costly damage and risk of disease.

The first step in staying critter-free is to understand how and why they may be attracted to your home. Usually, it’s to secure safety, warmth, and proximity to food.

Here are the eight most common “intruders,” their methods for getting in, and some tips for keeping them out.

 

Squirrels

Did you know that squirrels’ teeth never stop growing? To keep them “trimmed,” squirrels must constantly chew. If they get into your home, it’s open season: they will gnaw on anything that isn’t metal. If a squirrel does make it in, you’ll probably hear it before you see it. Listen for gnawing sounds; also look for wood chips in unexpected places, water damage on ceilings and walls, damage to the roof or beams, and droppings in the attic.

 

Raccoons

Anyone who’s had raccoons in their yard knows their penchant for destruction. Tipped-over garbage bins, dug-up gardens, and pilfered animal feed. But the real damage comes when they enter your home. They can destroy insulation, leave urine and feces everywhere, and gnaw electrical wires. Make note that female raccoons start scouting denning locations to give birth during late winter.

 

Rodents

Especially during winter months, mice and rats seek shelter so they can nest and forage for food. They can carry various diseases which can be transmitted through scratches, bites, and droppings. In addition to the hygiene issue, they can chew through wiring, wood, pipes, and brickwork. They even put your home at risk of fire due to sparks from chewed wires.   

 

Skunks

People and pets are afraid of skunks for good reason – their powerful, redolent smell can linger for months. So focus on skunk prevention rather than removal. Often lured by food or cozy-looking spots under porches and decks, skunks can not only damage your home but also injure your pets. These critters are notorious diggers and burrowers, who can create holes in your lawn, garden, and under your home. They also like to access crawl spaces by tearing away their protective screens.

 

Birds

Birds start looking for shelter to build their nests in springtime. If they choose your home as theirs, they’ll probably go for your chimney, deck, attic, shed, or soffit. They may even nest in grills, vents, or elsewhere in your yard. They can cause structural damage, create a mess of debris, and leave unhygienic droppings. The damage is made worse when birds nest together.

 

Bats

Attics are a favorite place for bats to roost. One or two aren’t usually an issue, but if you suddenly have a colony on your hands, you have a problem. They can chew on wires and walls and destroy insulation. Their droppings cause an unpleasant odor and may cause histoplasmosis in humans.

 

Groundhogs

These furry critters will not only ransack your garden but can cause considerable damage by burrowing under your home. Over time and left unabated, their tunnels can loosen and shift the ground, causing structural hazards. This most commonly happens with homes built on slab foundations.

 

Opossums

You really don’t want your home in an opossum’s sights. They will make a mess of your pantry and tear at your walls and insulation to collect nesting materials. They can injure your pet, steal their food, and also spread disease to your household. Their smell is a close second to raccoons. To prevent this marsupial intruder, pay close attention to your basement, attic, garage, shed, and crawl spaces – all places they tend to take up residence. They usually get in through the siding, chimney, or loose screens or vents.

 

Tips to Keep Wildlife Out:

    • Make sure trash and pet food are in bins and securely closed with a tight lid and/or bungee cords or ropes.
    • Seal shut any holes or open or loose entry points into your home. Check the roof, siding, foundation, exterior walls, and trim. If your deck or porch is open underneath, seal it up.
    • Cover and secure compost piles; never compost meat scraps.
    • Trim tree limbs that can act as “highways” to your roof.
    • Keep gutters clean and free of debris.
    • Install chimney caps and steel screens on vents.
    • A sturdy fence that’s buried at least 18” underground and 5 ft above ground will stop animals from burrowing under and jumping over.
    • Check out the options for repellants – they come in the form of chemical sprays, motion-activated sprinklers, and sound emitters (the latter can annoy pets, though).

By knowing how wildlife sizes up your home and taking precautions to safeguard it and remove temptation, you’ll be well on your way to keeping wildlife in the wild.

Wondering if your home insurance policy covers damage caused by animals? Call your California Casualty representative today!

 

This article is furnished by California Casualty. We specialize in 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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