Home maintenance: Clean that clothes dryer to prevent fires!


woman looking into a cloehtes dryer

When you tackle your spring and fall home maintenance, is cleaning your clothes dryer on the list? If not, it should be. As we approach the fall, it’s a good time to check your lint filters and venting systems to make sure they have no lint buildup. According to FEMA, 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported each year and cause an estimated 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property loss. The leading cause (34%) of home clothes dryer and washer fires was failure to clean.

Dryer lint is highly flammable. It’s important to clean your dryer lint trap before and after every load of clothes, but you should also regularly use a long handled, flexible lint brush to root around deeper under the filter to extract any lint. These can be purchased inexpensively in any hardware store or online. There are also heavier brushes for cleaning your vents – this video shows the two styles:

The US Fire Administration offers the following Do’s and Don’ts for clothes dryer maintenance:

Clothes dryer do’s

Installation

  • Have your clothes dryer installed by a professional.
  • Make sure the correct electrical plug and outlet are used and that the dryer is connected properly.
  • Read manufacturers’ instructions and warnings in use and care manuals that come with new dryers.

Cleaning

  • Clean the lint filter before and after each load of laundry. Don’t forget to clean the back of the dryer where lint can build up. In addition, clean the lint filter with a nylon brush at least every six months or more often if it becomes clogged.
  • Clean lint out of the vent pipe every three months.
  • Have your dryer cleaned regularly by a professional, especially if it is taking longer than normal for clothes to dry.

Maintenance

  • Inspect the venting system behind the dryer to ensure it is not damaged or restricted.
  • Put a covering on outside wall dampers to keep out rain, snow and dirt.
    Make sure the outdoor vent covering opens when the dryer is on.
  • Replace coiled-wire foil or plastic venting with rigid, non-ribbed metal duct.
  • Have gas-powered dryers inspected every year by a professional to ensure that the gas line and connection are together and free of leaks.
  • Check regularly to make sure nests of small animals and insects are not blocking the outside vent.
  • Keep the area around the clothes dryer free of items that can burn.
  • If you will be away from home for an extended time, unplug or disconnect the dryer.

Clothes dryer don’t’s

  • Don’t use a clothes dryer without a lint filter or with a lint filter that is loose, damaged or clogged.
  • Don’t overload the dryer.
  • Don’t use a wire screen or cloth to cover the wall damper. They can collect lint and clog the dryer vent.
  • Don’t dry anything containing foam, rubber or plastic. An example of an item not to place in a dryer is a bathroom rug with a rubber backing.
  • Don’t dry any item for which manufacturers’ instructions state “dry away from heat.”
    Don’t dry glass fiber materials (unless manufacturers’ instructions allow).
  • Don’t dry items that have come into contact with anything flammable like alcohol, cooking oils or gasoline. Dry them outdoors or in a well-ventilated room, away from heat.
  • Don’t leave a clothes dryer running if you leave home or when you go to bed.

Consider having a professional dryer and vent cleaning annually. Or if you are handy at home maintenance, here are two videos that offer detailed instructions about taking your dryer apart to clean the inside, and another on how to use a LintEater kit to clean your vents.

DYI: How to clean out a dryer

DYI: LintEater rotary cleaning system

Tips to protect yourself, your kids and your pets from lawn mower injuries


man mowing a lawn

Lawn mowers are powerful machines, with the power to injure and maim. While many adults suffer serious injuries, children are at particularly high risk. Every year, lawn mower injuries send 13,000 children to the emergency department, with more than more than 8% of all injuries being serious enough to require hospital admission. More than half of hospitalizations result in amputations, usually in lower extremities. Bystanders and passengers were almost four times more likely than operators to be admitted. The most common types of lawn mower injuries were cuts (39%) and burns (15%). The hand/finger was the most commonly injured body region, followed by the leg, feet and toes. Some of the most devastating lawn mower injuries result from backing up into/over young children while blades are engaged.

Most injuries result from human error rather than mechanical failure. It’s really important to take lawnmower safety very seriously. We’ve amassed safety tips from various sources – get more information from the source links after the tips.

  • Know your equipment – read and keep the operator’s manual and instructions.
  • Understand safety features. Never disengage them.
  • At the beginning of each season, inspect the mower to ensure it is operating well. Check that parts, nuts and bolts are all tight, clean, and in good working order. Never use a damaged mower without having it repaired/checked.
  • Before each mow, check to be sure your mower is in good condition and safety mechanisms are in place.
  • Don’t mow after dark or during electrical storms. Avoid mowing wet grass.
  • If your lawn mower is electric, use a ground fault circuit interrupter to prevent electric shock.
  • Always stop the engine and allow it to cool before refueling.
  • Before mowing, pick up any stones, branches, toys or other objects in the grass.
  • Don’t mow over gravel.
  • Dress for safety. Use safety glasses, hearing protection and wear sturdy shoes. No bare feet, exposed toes.
  • Always mow going forward. Do not mow in reverse unless necessary, and always check first. Avoid pulling lawn mowers to you.
  • Use extra caution when mowing a slope or a hill.
  • Never make any adjustments while the mower is running.
  • Shut it off when not in use. Do not allow motors to run unattended.
  • Keep pets inside while mowing.

Safety for kids

  • Keep young children (age 1 to 6) inside while mowing is going on.
  • Never let children be passengers on ride-able mowers.
  • Children should be at least 12 to use a push mower and at least 16 to operate a ride-able mower.
  • Teach teens how to operate the mower safely and run through a safety checklist.

Sources and more information

Insurance Information Institute: Lawnmower Safety

Consumer Reports: 5 ways to stay safe when mowing the lawn

Science Daily: Lawn mower injuries send 13 children to the emergency department every day

MedlinePlus: Lawn Mowers Are Risky Business for Kids

The Family Handyman: Top Ten Mower Safety Tips

Healthy Children: Lawn mower safety

Protecting your home from lightning strikes


This week is Lightning Strike Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Weather Service to raise awareness about lightning hazards and to remind us about personal safety. Lightning kills an average of 47 people in the United States each year, and hundreds more are severely injured.

While the chances of being struck by lightning are pretty rare, particularly if you heed expert advice during electrical storms, the chances of damage to your home or property are much more common. The Insurance Information Institute (III) just issued an updated report on homeowners insurance claims from lightning strikes and electrical surges in the United States. The bad news is that the number if incidents rose by almost 10% in 2016 to 109,049 claims, but the good news is that the average cost of a claim that insurers paid dropped by almost 5% – to an average of claim cost of $7,571.90. III says that more than half the claims were related to electrical surge damaging components or wiring, while power surges from transformer or service line shorts were also contributing factors.

Does your homeowners insurance cover a lightning strike? III says that:

Damage caused by lightning, such as a fire, is covered by standard homeowners insurance policies. Some policies provide coverage for power surges that are the direct result of a lightning strike, which can cause severe damage to appliances, electronics, computers and equipment, phone systems, electrical fixtures and the electrical foundation of a home.

Report all claims immediately to your insurer. For advance planning, check with your independent insurance agent to learn what your homeowners policy does and doesn’t cover.

Home Lightning Protection

See the III infographic we included in this post and their article on Lightning Coverage and Safety for information on home lightning protection systems, as well as “do’s and don’ts” for general lightning safety. Lightning protection systems are designed to protect your home by “providing a specified path to harness and safely ground the super-charged current of the lightning bolt.” But in purchasing a lightning protection system, it’s important to find a licensed and certified installer. Shoddy systems that don’t comply with national standards can be dangerous – see this consumer alert that depicts that dangers of shoddy systems.

 

 

 

Spring cleaning hacks & tips to make the job easier


Spring is in the air, even if we still have a few iffy weather days to muddle through. It’s time to do a good annual home cleaning and checkup – Bob Vila has a a good home maintenance list and Martha Stewart offers a helpful checklist of spring cleaning tasks (PDF). But as you go about your spring cleaning, remember to stay safe – Paul Davidson Restoration reminds us that home-related injuries cause 21 million medical visits a year and claim many lives – so check out his tips for safe spring cleaning (PDF).

We’ve also hunted down a few videos on helpful hacks to make household spring cleaning a little easier. And if you find them helpful, you might like our prior post on Handy household hacks: creative uses for everyday products.

Snow storm damage? III has the scoop


clearing snow

After you’re done digging out from the snow today, are you safe in putting the shovels and  scrapers away yet? Probably not – New England weather is full of surprises. Yesterday’s storm was billed as late in the season, but many New Englanders recall the infamous 1997 April Fool’s Day Blizzard, which deposited 25.4″ at Boston’s Logan Airport. And in 1977, on May 10, Worcester accumulated almost 13″ of snow, while Providence saw about 7″. And then there is the historic 1816, dubbed the year without summer, that recorded snow in June.

In terms of snow totals overall, the 2014-2015 snow season is the record breaker, with 110.6 inches in Boston; Lowell and Worcester both came in at about 120 inches for the season.

While yesterday’s storm proved less intense in some areas than predicted, there were hours of heavy, damaging wind and the coast was battered. Many communities saw power outages, and some people are coping with storm related property damage today.

Claire Wilkinson of the Insurance Information Institute’s blog has a handy run-down: Winter Storm Damage? Insurers Have You Covered, discussing damages that are typically covered by auto policies and homeowners policies. The good news is that typical homeowners policies cover most home-related storm damage with a few exceptions.

One exception is flooding, which would include melting snow seeping into the cellar. Flooding is not typically covered by Homeowners, you need a specific flood coverage, a separate policy. See our prior post: Does homeowners insurance cover flooding?

While flooding from a burst pipes or ice dams would generally be covered, Wilkinson notes that in the event of burst pipes, “there is generally a requirement that the homeowner has taken reasonable steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and properly maintaining the pipes and drains.”

If you do need to file a homeowners claim for storm damage, here’s some advice: Putting in a homeowners claim? … Talk your agent first!

And also from the Insurance Information Institute, here is a brief overview of the steps for filing a home insurance claim.