Good Advice for Your Home

Chimneys & Fireplaces

The winter months are a popular time to curl up in front of the fireplace. Make sure that your fireplace is in proper condition for this winter.

Wood burning fireplaces are generally considered to be extremely inefficient heat sources, but that doesn't deter many homeowners from wanting them in their homes. There are two basic types of wood burning fireplaces: masonry and metal insert. A masonry fireplace is made of brick or mortar, and a metal insert fireplace is a prefab unit with masonry surrounding it. The chimney is the most important part of the fireplace system and should be cleaned yearly by a qualified chimney sweep to ensure it is in good working order and free of debris.

Chimneys have to be lined to provide a smooth, unbroken passage for the smoke to rise and leave the house.  This keeps the flames and gases from entering the home and causing sickness, death or fire.  

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Be Advised

Electrical holiday lights and displays attract adults and children alike. According to the Standards Council of Canada, fire statistics and injuries show a higher risk during the holiday season.

Before stringing lights, inside or out, become familiar with this safety-watch list for your holiday season:

  • Use only lights that have been certified by a recognized organization - CSA, ULC or cUL.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires, or loose connections. Discard damaged sets or repair them before using.
  • Use no more than three standard-size sets of lights per extension cord.
  • Never run extension cords through water, even those labelled for outdoor use.
  • Install automatic timers to ensure lights do get turned off before leaving or before bed, and to save electricity at the same time.
  • Brown or brittle needles are prone to fire, so always buy a fresh wreath or tree. Place the tree in a no-tip stand, and keep it watered. If you have an artificial tree, make sure it is flame-retardant. 

Protect yourself, your family and your home by following safety procedures to ensure a safe holiday season.

For holiday safety tips, visit Health Canada.

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Tankless water heaters

Tankless water heaters, also known as "instantaneous" water heaters, are up to 34 percent more efficient than storage tank water heaters. Tankless water heaters heat water as needed, unlike conventional storage heaters that heat water and store it in a tank where it cools and is reheated until it is used.

According to a Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory study, households waste 6.35 gallons of water a day just waiting for water to heat up. Tankless water heaters can deliver hot water in as little as five seconds, while storage tanks take 30 seconds or more. These water heaters can save you money in the long run.   

Before you purchase a tankless water heater, do your homework. Find out what your groundwater temperature is. Tankless water heaters draw directly from underground supply lines, and knowing the temperature will help determine the number of degrees the water will need to be heated as it moves from underground to your tap. Think about how many hot water appliances you may run at the same time (dishwashers, washing machines). Add up the gallons of water you will use at peak demand, and buy a water heater that can heat them to your desired temperature.

For more information, go to the Green Guide.

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Extension cords

Extension cords are used and abused, and can be great annoyances, especially during the holiday season. The tangles and knots caused by improper extension cord usage and storage can not only be a problem for you during holiday decorating, but they also promote safety risks. According to the Industrial Accident Prevention Association, the number of fires and fire deaths in Canada rises sharply during the holiday season. Follow these tips to make sure you're using and storing your extension cords safely.

Proper use:

  • Make sure you are using extension cords labelled for outdoor use.
  • Never place an extension cord under rugs or through doorways where it can be damaged by heavy foot traffic.
  • Don't use staples or nails to attach extension cords to a baseboard or other surface - this could damage the cord and present a shock or fire hazard.

Proper storage:

  • After taking down decorations, coil up the extension cord.
  • Avoid wrapping the cord around your hand and elbow- this can kink the cord and result in a tangle.
  • One method to wrap up a cord is to hold the cord in one hand and make successive loops.
  • Another method is to use a device called a cord rewinder or retractor.

 For more information on extension cord safety, go to This Old House.

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Maintenance Matters

Winter is a popular time for extended vacations because of the holiday season and people relocating to second homes in warmer locations during the cold winter months. The main risks associated with leaving a home unheated over a cold winter season include freezing water and the movement of framing, drywall, plaster and flooring.

Before you leave your home for a majority of the winter, make sure you follow these tips to ensure a proper shut-down:

  • Properly securing the water system involves much more than turning off the water. You must also secure anything that may contain water, including drain traps, piping, water heaters, dishwashers and clothes washers. Open up the piping at several locations to drain water.
  • Fill drain traps and toilets with specialized antifreeze to keep sewer gas from entering your home, and to prevent freeze damage.
  • Turn off the washing machine supply lines, and remove and drain them. To clear water from the washing machine pump, run the washer on the fill part of its cycle, set to warm water. For a dishwasher, remove the inlet hose and open the supply valve after you have turned off the water supply to the house. Operate the dishwasher to clear the valve; remove the drain hose.
  • Unplug all electrical appliances to prevent any damage from power surges or lightning strikes.
  • Keep the heat turned on, at a low setting to avoid the risk of structural damage of your home.
  • Rain gutters, downspouts, sump pumps and appliances can malfunction during a long winter absence. Security is also a major concern- find someone to check on your house to avoid these risks. Contact your insurance company to find out their requirements.

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 Source: Global Property Inspections.