October 23, 2017

Make Fire Safety Plans Part Of Your Spring Routine

atlanta home inspectorCleaning, dusting, freshening and organizing – these steps are all typical activities for a spring cleaning routine. But while you’re organizing your house or home office this season, make sure you’ve added organizing and streamlining your family safety and fire plans to your to-do list.

While you can never plan for a fire, if one does break out, it not only puts you and your family in danger, but also compromises the safety of your community fire fighters and first responders. The spring season is the perfect time to review your fire escape plans as you simultaneously tackle your traditional spring cleaning to-do list. By reviewing these fire safety tips from Duracell and taking precautions, you can help keep both your family and local first responders safe.

* Check your smoke alarms once a month to make sure they work. If your alarms are 10 years old or older, it’s time to replace them, because alarms can become desensitized over time. If possible, purchase interconnected alarms. If one alarm goes off, all the alarms connected in your house will go off, helping to alert everyone in all locations of a possible fire. Also check the locations of your smoke alarms. Have at least one on every level of your home, and one inside or near sleeping areas. Also replace the batteries inside your alarms once a year with batteries you trust, like Duracell.

* Develop a fire escape plan for every room in the house. Make sure all family members know of at least two exits for every room in the house, and where an outside meeting place will be – away from the house. If you have a second story, have portable escape ladders stored in each of the rooms so family members can escape safely. Practice a fire escape drill twice a year.

* Changing weather temperatures can cause windows and doors to stick, so make sure every member of your family is able to unlock and open these escape opportunities – especially as the seasons change. If you have security bars on doors or windows, have a “quick release” latch so it’s easier to get outside in an emergency. Also keep stairways and doorways open – not blocked with clutter that could slow down your escape.

* Practice safety with candle flames, space heaters and cigarettes. Blow out all candles if you plan to leave the room or go to sleep. And keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from anything that could burn. Turn them off before leaving the room or going to sleep. And make sure all cigarettes are completely extinguished and wetted down with water before being put into the trash.

* Be educated about your community first responders: Did you know that of more than 1 million active firefighters in the U.S., about 73 percent serve on a volunteer basis?

More than 23,000 volunteer fire departments in the United States operate on tight budgets to help keep your community and your homes safe in case of, and when, fires strike. Many volunteer firefighters report they spend up to $500 of their own money each year in purchasing supplies and equipment for their department, according to a U.S. Fire Service Needs Assessment Survey.

You can support your community volunteer fire department by simply doing what you already do, purchase batteries for your household. Through the Duracell Power Those Who Protect Us battery donation program, with every purchase of specially marked CopperTop batteries, a battery donation will be made to volunteer fire departments across the country to help power the devices and life-saving equipment volunteer firefighters use. Through this program in partnership with the National Volunteer Fire Council you can direct the donation to your community by visiting Duracell.com/protect or Facebook.com/Duracell.

Grilling Tips To Keep Home Fires Burning Safely

atlanta home inspectorGrilling season will arrive before you know it. Before firing up the grill  for spring festivities or tailgating, however, weekend warriors should  observe a few simple precautions to ensure that backyard barbecue bashes don’t go up in flames.

Casual cookouts can turn dangerous – and sometimes deadly – if safety is ignored, according to leading home insurer MetLife Auto & Home. “Every year, we see dozens of fire-related claims reported throughout the year because of simple carelessness,” says Mike Convery, vice president and chief claim officer at MetLife Auto & Home. “Keeping safety basics top-of-mind can help prevent losses from occurring and help you avoid needless hassle and property damage – and in some situations, injury to you or your loved ones.”

Follow these easy pointers to make grilling safer:

* Keep barbecue grills on a level surface away from the house, garage and, most importantly, children and pets. When grilling on your patio, make sure that all furniture and accessories are far from the grill. On balconies, it is always safer to move festivities to available lawn space. Never grill inside the home or garage, even if it is raining.

* For gas grills, always store gas cylinders outside and away from your house, and be sure the valves are turned off when not in use. Check the tubes regularly for cracking, brittleness, and leaks in the connections. To determine if there is a leak, simply pour soapy water over the line with the gas valve turned open. If gas is escaping, bubbles will appear. Should you detect a leak, immediately turn off the gas and don’t use the grill until the leak is repaired.

* Your grill generates high temperatures, so keep it covered whenever possible. Keep lighted cigarettes, matches and open flames away from the grill, and move gas hoses as far away as possible from hot surfaces and grease. Use a can to catch excess grease.

* Make certain your grill is kept at least 2 to 3 feet away from wood or vinyl siding. Placing the grill too close to your home, especially one with vinyl siding, can result in melting or burning, or even a fire. Also, keep in mind that while vinyl siding and composite decking have a higher “burn point” than wood, it’s also easier for these materials to melt and discolor, which can result in a costly claim for property damage.

* For charcoal grills, use only starter fluids designed for your grill and never use gasoline. Limit the amount of fluid used. If the fire is too low, use dry kindling and add more charcoal, if necessary. To avoid a flash fire – a fire that spreads rapidly through the vapors of an ignitable liquid – never add more liquid fuel to a lighted grill.

* When using bamboo or wood skewers, soak them in cool water prior to use so they won’t ignite on the grill.

* Keep a fire extinguisher accessible and never leave a grill unattended once it has been lit. If an extinguisher isn’t available, consider keeping a bucket of sand or a garden hose nearby.

* Never allow burned coals to smolder in any container on a wooden deck and make sure to soak your coals before disposing of them by wrapping them in heavy-duty aluminum foil and putting them in a non-combustible container away from the house.

“These precautions should be used for all outdoor cooking devices, including propane turkey fryers and outdoor fire pits,” Convery says.”Above all, remember that whatever you’re cooking with outdoors will remain hot for hours and that wooden surfaces, such as decks, can present fire hazards, so never place cooking devices directly upon them. We have received serious home insurance fire damage claims, some involving loss of life, that started because cooks forgot that the party isn’t over until the last flame has been extinguished.”

For a comprehensive look at fire safety protection, MetLife Auto & Home offers a free brochure on “Fire Safety,” featuring useful information about fire-related subjects, including how to plan an escape route, seasonal safety tips and safety information related to heating your home. A coloring and activity book is also available for children, titled “Learn About Fire Safety with the PEANUTS Gang,” that helps children learn critical emergency information, the steps to fire safety and how to develop escape routes to use in the event of a fire. The brochure and coloring book are available free from (800) 608-0190.

Recession’s Silver Lining: The Opportunity To Regain Control Of Your Finances

home inspector atlantaIf you’re one of the millions of Americans hit hard by the recession, it may be difficult to imagine anything good coming out of the country’s financial problems of the past few years. But experts and studies agree: Many of us are turning difficult times into an opportunity to regain control over our financial lives.

The change in how Americans think about money is becoming more apparent. When asked what they would do with an unexpected additional $500, 68 percent of those surveyed in a TD Ameritrade poll said they would invest the money, while only 19 percent said they would spend it.

“As a result of the Great Recession, people are anxious about when economic recovery might happen, and many are looking to take control of their financial futures,” says Peter Sidebottom, executive vice president of product and marketing at TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation. “People are beginning to recognize the value of eliminating debt, but there is still a big need to focus on saving for retirement. It’s important to find a way to control debt while saving.”

If you’re looking to take control of your financial future, you’re not alone. With a new focus on reclaiming control of their finances, many Americans are implementing smarter financial management habits in their lives, including:

* Reducing credit card debt – A study by Experian found that consumers are opening 26 percent fewer credit cards than they did three years ago, implying they are more aware of their credit scores and the need to pay down debt. Carrying high balances on credit cards can be costly in the long-term since credit card interest rates and fees are notoriously high. Having maxed out credit cards can also negatively impact your credit score, even if you make regular payments every month.

* Increasing savings – In 2008, personal savings rates held at 4.1 percent, but over the last two quarters of 2010 it has risen to an average of 5.7 percent, according to data from the U.S. Treasury Department. Experts advise families should have enough cash saved to cover several months of living expenses.

* Looking to learn – More Americans are looking to learn about sound financial management, and are seeking advice from advisors and online resources. Understanding the economy and how it impacts their finances, learning savings techniques and retirement planning tactics can help Americans feel and become more financially secure.

Many people have turned to the Internet to find advice and guidance on how to get their finances in order. With an increasing number of articles on popular finance websites, blogs by financial coaches, and even non-traditional formats such as an online reality series, Americans are finding direction – and an understanding that they’re not alone.

“The Invested Life,” an online reality series sponsored by TD Ameritrade and co-developed by MSN, Generate and Ogilvy Entertainment, features real people facing life’s most common financial decisions and hurdles. The subjects are paired with independent financial experts who help them take control of their finances and address issues such as debt management, college savings, retirement planning, taxes, real estate and smart investing. The Invested Life comprises more than 450 videos, news stories, tools, cast blogs and community forums to help viewers learn from the experiences of the cast members. Viewers can match their personal investment styles to the cast members they most relate to.

“By watching how real people, who share common financial questions, learn to address their financial concerns and reclaim control of their finances, viewers may find the encouragement and resources to tackle their own financial hurdles,” Sidebottom says.

You can find episodes of “The Invested Life,” an introduction to online investment and financial planning tools, advice from independent financial experts, and blog postings from cast members at TheInvestedLife.msn.com.

Tips For Better Remodeling Or Landscaping Projects

home inspector atlantaFor many homeowners, the return of warm weather signals that time of year to launch the long-awaited home remodeling or backyard patio project.

With the typical major kitchen remodel topping $58,000 and the cost of a new roof topping $21,000, according to the National Association of Realtors 2009 Cost vs. Value Report, taking on even a minor remodel calls for careful attention to detail.

It’s even more important if you’re not a do-it-yourselfer and want to hire a contractor to perform some or all of the work, says FindLaw.com, the world’s leading online legal resource. Doing your homework upfront and being crystal clear in your dealings with a home remodeling or landscaping contractor will reduce miscommunication, frustration and expensive errors.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, here are some time-tested tips from FindLaw.com for a better remodeling or landscaping project:

1. Ask yourself: Does it make sense? Before you move too quickly, it’s critical to determine if it makes sense to remodel. The first place to look is your neighborhood. Are other neighbors improving their homes and enhancing the exteriors of their homes, as well as their yards? Is your city or town properly maintaining streets and public areas? Are you committed to staying in your home at least five years? Remodeling and landscaping can be expensive and, in many cases, you will not fully recoup your investment. While it’s important to do it for yourself, be careful not to over invest either.

2. Do your homework. Before you call a contractor, do your homework to get a good idea of what you want from your remodeling or landscaping project. Visit showrooms, talk to friends and neighbors who have recently remodeled, read home and landscaping magazines, and visit open houses and showcase homes to see what’s hot in home remodeling and landscaping projects. Start a notebook to collect your ideas, product information and product samples.

3. Build a budget. As you do your homework, start piecing together a budget of what various products and materials may cost. Keep in mind, especially when remodeling an older home, there may be unexpected surprises (such as plumbing or electrical) that could drive up the costs of your remodeling project. To be on the safe side, always add 20 percent to the generally recommended costs of a remodeling project.

4. Listen to word-of-mouth. If you hire a contractor, make sure that any contractor that you consider is licensed, bonded and insured. Word-of-mouth is the most reliable method to finding a contractor. Ask your friends, neighbors or family members for the names of contractors or landscapers with whom they’ve worked.

5. Get multiple bids. Always get at least three proposals when selecting a contractor to handle your remodeling or landscaping project. Always meet the contractor in person and never agree to hire a contractor after your first meeting. Obtain all estimates in writing and carefully compare the details that each contractor has spelled out in his or her proposal.

6. Check your permits. Be wary of the contractor who says you don’t need to pull a permit from city hall for your remodeling or landscaping project. A permit typically represents the minimum construction standard set by a local community. In other words, a permit actually protects you as the homeowner from shoddy construction or landscaping practices. If you live in a historic neighborhood, there may be more restrictive guidelines that you must follow that have been set by a neighborhood council.

7. Get references. Before you say “yes” to a contractor’s proposal, get at least three to five references from a contractor. Call the contractor’s references and ask about the experience of working with him or her – did the contractor complete the project on time and on budget? Was the contractor responsive to making changes throughout the project and the completion of the punch list (all of the final details to wrap up a project)? Contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed about the contractor. And, contact building suppliers and subcontractors (electricians, plumbers, etc.) to see if your contractor pays his or her bills on time.

8. Get it in writing. Never, ever agree to hire a contractor, even if it’s your brother-in-law, on a handshake. Always insist on a contract, says FindLaw.com. Be precise about exactly what services will be performed and by when. Specify exactly what products and materials will be used. Spell out when payments will be made to the contractor and clarify what recourse you have if the work is not completed to your satisfaction. If need be, contact an attorney specializing in contracts to review the document before signing.

9. Do a gut check. You need to feel good about having someone come into your home every day for weeks or possibly several months. Working with a contractor should be fun, but more importantly, you need a contractor who listens and responds to you. Check your gut reaction. If in any way you feel uncomfortable with a contractor, don’t sign the contract. And if you have to, move quickly to cancel it. Many states allow a consumer to cancel a contract within three business days after signing it.

10. Be completely satisfied. Never pay for the entire remodeling project or landscaping project up front, before construction begins. In most cases, you’ll put down 25 percent of the total project amount to get the work started. After that, you’ll pay portions at certain milestones up until the completion of the project. Don’t make the final payment until you are completely satisfied with the work. It’s one of your last defenses to ensuring that work is completed to your satisfaction.

Save Time And Money With Proactive Home Maintenance

atlanta home inspectorIf you think home maintenance means fixing something only when it’s broken, then you could be in for some costly surprises. Routine maintenance can help identify and address home-related issues early and prevent them from becoming bigger problems later.

Spring and summer are ideal times to perform critical home-related projects. The improved weather allows better access to areas of the home and yard that may have been inaccessible during winter, and the additional daylight allows more time for outdoor work than other times of the year.

“Cars get routine maintenance from a mechanic and people get regular checkups from a doctor, but unfortunately our homes often get neglected until it’s too late,” says Rhonda Hills of Kudzu.com, an online resource for homeowners looking for expert home advice and local service providers. “Homes need constant attention, and in most cases regular maintenance can help save thousands of dollars by allowing owners to catch problems early or prevent them altogether.”

The home experts at Kudzu.com recommend completing these home projects this spring and summer. You and your home will be thankful you did.

* Get your air conditioner serviced – Properly maintained heating and air conditioning systems run more efficiently and have a longer life expectancy. During a maintenance visit, your HVAC technician should check your system’s refrigerant levels, clean the condenser coil, replace dirty filters and calibrate your thermostat among other things. The goal is to ensure your air conditioning system is operating properly and is in tip-top-shape for the warmer weather ahead.

* Inspect the roof – Wind, rain, hail and other weather events can damage the roof and leave it susceptible to leaks. When conducting a visual inspection, try to stay off the roof. Instead, start from the ground and look for missing or damaged shingles, discolored spots or areas of the roof that sag.

* Check toilets for leaks – The average home loses 10,000 gallons of water per year to leaks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s enough water to fill a swimming pool. To ensure your home is leak free, start by checking your toilet. Just drop food coloring in the toilet’s tank. If after 30 minutes the water in the bowl starts to change colors, then there is a leak. This can usually be corrected by replacing the toilet’s flapper.

* Have your home pressure washed – Pressure washing your home can keep it looking brand new and can also extend the life of your siding or other building materials. Dirt, mold and mildew will gradually accumulate on your home, deck and other surfaces, and you may not even notice it. In some cases, these contaminants can deteriorate building materials and can create slick, unsafe walking surfaces.

* Get your gutters cleaned – Gutters help capture rain that hits your home and direct it as far from the structure as possible. Clogged gutters cannot properly redirect water and can lead to water pooling against your home’s foundation and leaking into your crawlspace or basement.

* Rake and aerate your lawn – Raking a winter’s worth of leaves will allow sunlight and nutrients to reach your sod, and aerating the lawn will prevent soil compaction, improve drainage and promote better root development.

* Have your trees trimmed – Pruning is typically done to remove dead or diseased limbs, eliminate overcrowding or to prevent potential hazards. In addition to creating a healthier tree, pruning can also allow better light penetration which can be a benefit to plants below.

* Look for termites – Termites are wood-destroying pests that can cause thousands of dollars in damage to your home. The most obvious sign of a termite infestation is a termite swarm, which is when winged termites take to the skies to find a mate. These winged termites are easily confused with winged ants, so if you spot a swarm, gather some of the winged specimens and immediately contact a professional pest control company so they can inspect.

Visit Kudzu.com for more home improvement advice or to find a highly rated professional in your area that can help you get these projects done.