Grill BlogJuly is National Grilling Safety month and whether you are deemed the “Barbeque Master” on your block or not, safety still matters! Most all safety tips really are just common sense, but with the regularity in which we barbeque each summer comes a comfort level that sometimes allows for us to overlook one or more safety items that can put  you, your loved ones, or property at risk.  Knowing what risks you are taking each time you fire up your grill puts you one step ahead of the fire and the potential damage that can come from simply doing something you do quite often.  Here are just a few things to keep in mind when grilling this season or any other season for that matter.

1.       Respect the Fire

I don’t think I need to tell you that fire is a destructive force that can quickly turn into a nightmare if taken for granted.  There are thousands of fires each year that evolve from grilling, causing injury, death and millions of dollars in property damage.  Knowing your flame and how to control it is number one.  Designate one person to watch the fire that is aware of how to cut fuel supplies, extinguish fires, and call the Fire Department. This person should also be familiar with how to treat burns.

2.       Food Safety

Although it’s probably the most obvious risk, fire is not the only one when grilling.  Food safety is key to being able to enjoy the outdoors when on vacation, at a party, or even just a quiet family dinner.  Bacteria can eat and exist on every kind of food that you possibly imagine.  It can grow and multiply at any temperature and if you aren’t careful, can prove to be one of the worst experiences of your life (no joke).  If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you may agree that it may just be the worst type of “sick” you’ve ever been.  Keep in mind when you are done serving up yourself and your guests, everything gets put into the fridge.  A few rules of thumb: Wash your Hands, Cover it Up, Keep it Cool, Get it Hot!, and simply put…Use your Head.   Bacteria can grow on anything that is above freezing and can stay alive until the temperature hit’s 165 degrees F.

3.       Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)…aka Smoke

Acenaphthene, acenaphthylene, and fluoranthene…wait what????  These are just 3 of the 18 of the Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) that can take flight when grease begins to burn.  Just like second hand cigarette smoke can give you cancer, so can smoke from grilling.  Although, the smell of a grill can be nostalgic and somewhat enjoyable when cooking up your hamburgers and hotdogs, be sure to keep your distance.  The younger you are, the worse effect it can have on you.

4.       Gas Safety

Do you know what the some of the number one causes of a gas fire is?

a. Gas leak

b. Bugs

c. Organic Materials

d. All of the Above

If you chose “d”, congratulations!  You are one step closer to knowing your grilling safety and keeping yourself, loved ones and your property out of harm’s way.  Any of the items listed above can ignite a gas fire when you start up your grill because they are “hidden” behind, underneath, or inside your grill where you don’t often look.  Check out your grill from all angles before firing it up. Look for anything that could be flammable near or around your grill and remove it accordingly.  In addition to being gross and annoying, bugs can cause all kinds of damage in regards to your grill that may result in a gas flowing where it shouldn’t.  Check for leaks and other possible breakages that can result in a fire.

5.       Drink Responsibly

Most of us like to cool it down with a tasty alcoholic beverage when grilling, but much like driving, alcohol and grilling do not go hand in hand.  Grilling requires clear a mind.  Be sober, be alert, and above all be responsible when grilling!

For more safety tips on grilling, please visit http://www.usfa.fema.gov/citizens/home_fire_prev/cooking.shtm.  Be calm and grill on my friends!

Are your belongings insured while they’re stored in a storage unit? (image via google)

Being able to rent storage space can be a godsend in certain situations.  You might be downsizing to a smaller home but want to keep family heirlooms for your children.  You may be moving from one place to another and need a temporary place to keep your stuff safe and secure.  You might have outgrown the house you have now and need the extra room while you search for a house that better meets your needs.  No matter the reason you need it, having the option to store your things in a rented space can be the difference between keeping things you love and being forced to sell, giveaway, or toss things you would really rather keep.

When it comes to solving these problems, self-storage units and even those storage solutions that offer amenities like climate control and added security provide an easy solution.  This is why so many of us, nearly 1 in 10 according to the Self Storage Association, have rented storage space separate from our primary housing.  When looking for the right storage space, many of us consider things like location, cost, security, and the reputation of the company managing the storage units.  We often go to great lengths to ensure we are storing our belongings in a safe, secure location without ever asking the most obvious security-related question: “If there is a fire and the items I store in my storage unit are damaged, will my loss be covered by insurance?”

The answer is… it depends.

1.     Storage Company

Start with the storage company where you are planning to store your possessions.  It is important to ask the right questions because the answers provided may be true but may lead you to believe you are protected when you are not.  First, ask about if the company is insured.  You are trying to determine if the company is covered by basic insurance policies any business should have like liability and property.  Once you have established that they are insured, ask if their policy provides any protection for your property in the event that fire, nature, or theft damages or destroys your property.  If the answer is yes, verify how much coverage your personal property is provided under their policy and check that against what you plan to store to ensure it is enough to cover any potential losses.

2.     Homeowner’s and Renter’s Policies

If the storage company does not have insurance that covers your property, this is your next stop.  Any items that you store off your property may be covered by your homeowner/renter policy which makes that a good starting point.  Talk to your agent to find out if offsite storage is covered by your policy.  If it isn’t, you will need to secure this coverage somewhere else.  If it is, you aren’t out of the woods yet.  Some insurance companies limit the value of property that can be stored offsite and still covered.  In order to determine if you have the insurance protection you need, you will need to know if your policy includes this provision and what that maximum value is.  You also want to make sure that there aren’t any other provisions in your policy specific to stored property like higher deductibles.

It isn’t difficult to protect all of your property, regardless of where it is kept.  You just need to make sure you have proper coverage or take the steps to get the coverage you need.

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Do you know where the hidden dangers in your home are located? (image via google)

When it comes to keeping our homes safe and secure, we all know the basics.  Don’t leave candles unattended, test your smoke detectors, and clean out the lint tray in the dryer.  But there are many other dangers lurking in our living rooms and cavorting in our kitchens that can be even more dangerous because we don’t think of them and therefore, don’t take the steps to protect against them.  June is Home Safety Month and to help you create the safest and most secure home possible, here are some of the most common hazards that may be hiding in your home.

Smoke Detectors without Batteries

It is great to have smoke detectors, but they need to be operational.  More than two-thirds of all home fire fatalities occur in homes without working smoke detectors according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.   Note: this fact doesn’t say homes without smoke detectors; it says homes without working smoke detectors.  Check your smoke detectors to ensure that they contain batteries and that the batteries are working.

Clutter

Clutter can drive you crazy but it can also endanger your life.  It might sound strange but there are several ways that living in a cluttered environment can pose a danger.  First, you increase your risk of tripping and falling when the pathways through your home are not clear.  Second, clutter can provide a great source of fuel for home fires.   Third, clutter can make it difficult to navigate through your home in situations with poor visibility.  This can impede your ability to evacuate in the event of a fire or find a flashlight if the power goes out.

Blocked or Permanently Closed Windows

Take a minute to look around your house from the perspective of having to get out of the house in the event of a fire.  Pay particular attention to the windows.  Could you get to at least one window in every room, get it open, and get out of it if there was a fire?  Blocked windows and windows that have been nailed or painted shut can pose a danger by blocking an intended evacuation route from a room. Make sure each room has an accessible window that provides an exit in the event of a fire or other emergency.

Frayed Cords on Electronic Equipment

When was the last time you routed around behind your entertainment center to ensure that all the cords coming out of your various pieces of electronic equipment are in good working order?  Odds are the only time you think about the cords plugged into your outlets is when you plug something in or unplug it.  Unfortunately, cords can become frayed over time which creates a very dangerous situation.  Add checking your cords to your annual safety check.

Combustible Kitchens

Stand facing your stove and look at what is within 3 feet of the heating sources.  If your house is like most houses, you will see paper towels, pot holders, recipe cards, magazines, papers from your child’s school, and several other combustible materials.  This may explain why almost half of all home fires start in the kitchen.  Keep a combustible free zone around the stove and oven to decrease your risk of becoming a fire statistic.

Dirty Dryers

Everyone knows that cleaning out the lint tray in the dryer helps prevent house fires.  However, just cleaning the lint tray isn’t enough.  Dirt and lint still builds up inside the machine increasing the risk of fire.  Clean this out at least once a year and have it professionally cleaned on a regular basis.

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Apartment

Do you know what mistakes to avoid when renting? Image via AugustRode on Flickr

Moving out on your own for the first time can mean freedom, but it also mean financial responsibility.  While living at home, you likely had a little leeway in covering your expenses, a leeway that will no longer be there once you sign that first lease and settle into your first place.  Make this process as painless as possible by not making these common mistakes.

1.     Not Purchasing Renter’s Insurance

The number one mistake first time renters make is not understanding the importance of purchasing renter’s insurance.  Many believe that the loss of their property in a fire or theft would be covered by any insurance policy the landlord has on the property.  However, most homeowner’s insurance policies relating to investment or rental property specifically exclude property owned by tenants.  In the event of a loss, not having a renter’s insurance policy means you won’t have any help replacing the personal items that are lost or damaged.

2.     Not Knowing How Much You Need

For those moving out on their own for the first time, there are lots of unexpected expenses that can creep up and bite you if you aren’t prepared.  In order to determine how much rent you can afford, you will need to create a budget that shows all the money coming in and going out.  The consequences of breaking a lease can be expensive and breaking a lease can make it difficult to get another lease in the future.  Before you sign a lease, make sure you can afford the rent and all other expenses relating to the property.

3.     Not Paying Attention to How Much You Have

Now that you are going to have a financial obligation, you need to pay attention to where your money is going.  It is great to have a budget, but you also need a way to track that budget and make sure you are spending your money where it matters most.   Living on your own means you will need money for things you haven’t likely been responsible for before like toilet paper, groceries, and gas.

4.     Not Reading the Lease

Just like with any other legal document that you must sign, you need to read the lease in full before signing.  This is important advice for all renters, not just those who are renting for the first time.  The lease is the contract between you and the landlord and outlines all the conditions and exclusions associated with the rental agreement.  In order to be sure you know what you are responsible for and what the landlord expects from you, you must read the lease prior to signing it.

5.     Not Completing a Formal Move-In Inspection

Prior to moving into your apartment, it is critical that you perform a walk-though with the landlord that results in a documented list of any defects in the property.   You need to take this step to protect yourself before you take possession of the property.  Documenting any flaws or damage before you move in ensures you won’t be held accountable for those damages when you move out.

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Evacuation Plan

Do you have an evacuation plan in the event of a natural disaster? Image via YardSale on Flickr

No matter where you live, there is always the possibility that an emergency can arise and that disaster can strike.  The most important thing in any emergency is to preserve life, but after that, there are things that every homeowner should know that can help protect and preserve their home and property.  There is a reason that school children practice what they would do if there was a fire at the school.  Planning what to do in the event of a crisis and practicing carrying out that plan builds up muscle memory that can make all the difference when stress hormones and adrenaline make it difficult to think clearly.

Make sure you are prepared for whatever comes your way; here are four things to get you started.

1.     How to Shut Off Utilities

According to FEMA, homeowners may need to shut off the utilities following a disaster.  Ruptured gas lines and electrical sparks can cause fires or explosions and broken water mains can pollute the water stored in your house.  It is important that everyone in your household knows where the shut-off valves for all utilities are located and how to shut them off.  Make sure you also understand the proper procedure for turning utilities back on as things like propane and natural gas must be turned on by a professional.

2.     How You Will Be Notified if You Must Evacuate

The order for a community to evacuate comes from local government officials.  FEMA states that the first and most common method for notification of the public is the media.  Officials may also use sirens, phone calls, and door to door sweeps to alert homeowners in the evacuation zone.  If there is an emergency situation and your family does not feel safe remaining at home, you don’t have to wait for the order to leave, you can choose to evacuate on your own.  In the event that you have to evacuate, the time you have can vary.  Depending on the situation you may have as long as a day or two or as little as minutes.  In addition to knowing how you will be notified, you should have an evacuation plan that includes more than one way to leave your area.  This ensures you won’t be trying to figure out another way out of the city if your primary route is blocked.

3.    How to Get Out of the House if There is a Fire

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were more than 350,000 house fires in 2010 resulting in almost 3,000 deaths.  Many homeowners don’t realize that they may have less than 2 minutes to escape.  When time is that short and the house is filling with smoke, you want every member in your family to know exactly what to do without having to think about it.  Your fire evacuation plan should include two ways to get out of every room.   Take a lesson from those school children and practice your home evacuation plan at least twice a year.

4.     How to Deal with Natural Threats
Where you live will determine which natural threats you need to be prepared for and in order to be ready for an emergency, you need to know what threats can happen where you live.  The plans and preparations you need to have in place vary depending on which natural threats are likely in your area.  Once you have identified the natural threats, take time to learn what to do in the event a natural threat becomes a reality.

With a little thought and planning, homeowners may be able to minimize the damage to their home and loss of their possessions when an emergency arises.

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Home Insurance

Is your home protected?

No homeowner wants to have to file a claim against their homeowner’s policy.  Whether the claim is a result of Mother Nature or a stroke of bad luck, filing a claim means you have suffered some kind of loss.  Even something that seems superficial can impact our sense of security and if there is any place on the planet where we should feel safe, it is in our own homes.  Our homes hold more than just our possessions.  They also hold the memories of days gone by and dreams of days yet to come, none of which can be replaced by an insurance company, no matter how great a policy you have.

As a homeowner, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of loss and safeguard the safety and security of your family.  While some seem like common sense, we often overlook the most common things that would keep our homes whole and our families safe.  For example, everyone knows that it is very important to have a smoke detector on every floor of your house and to check the batteries regularly.  However, according to the National Fire Protection Association, two-thirds of the deaths caused by house fires in the years between 2005 and 2009 occurred in houses without a working smoke alarm.  Additionally, the majority of smoke alarm failures can be tied back to missing or dead batteries.

Below are 5 tips all homeowners can take to safeguard themselves against loss.

1.     Assess Your Risk of Water Damage

Many people think the only cause of water damage is flooding but water damage caused by plumbing problems, leaking roofs, broken pipes, and other non-flood related events is far more common.   If you have a basement, make sure you have a floor drain or sump pump to remove any unexpected water.  If you use the basement for storage, make sure valuables are stored in such a way that unexpected water will not cause damage.  You should also have your plumbing inspected annually.

2.     Check Smoke Alarms and Fire Prevention Equipment

Verify that all smoke alarms are working and that fire extinguishers are easily accessible throughout the house.   Keep track of fireplace, wood stove, chimney, and heating system inspections and cleanings so you know they are occurring on a regular schedule.  Replace any frayed or damaged cords and be sure you know how to shut-down the power in the house if there is an emergency.

3.     Be Prepared for Storm Season

Here in Arizona, monsoon season brings high winds that can cause serious damage.  Minimize the risk of tree damage by inspecting your property and taking care of loose limbs and dead trees. Make any necessary repairs to siding, windows, and roofs to prevent further damage from high wind and torrential rain.  Create an emergency plan and stock emergency supplies to ensure your family’s safety in an emergency.

4.     Deter Would-Be Home Invaders

One of the best ways to prevent a break-in is to make your home unappealing to thieves.  Installing a home alarm system, exterior motion-sensor lights, and deadbolt locks are all ways to make it harder and therefore less appealing to get inside.  Keep track of all house keys and make sure windows and doors are locked when you leave and when you settle in for the night.

5.     Complete a Comprehensive Home Inventory

In the event that you do experience a loss, it can be very challenging to remember exactly what was lost and to be able to establish the value of all possessions.  Completing a home inventory prior to experiencing a loss ensures you will have the information if it is ever needed. Be sure to include receipts, appraisals, pictures, and video with your inventory and store the physical inventory offsite.