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Each month, we publish a series of articles of interest to homeowners -- money-saving tips, household safety checklists, home improvement advice, real estate insider secrets, etc. Whether you currently are in the market for a new home, or not, we hope that this information is of value to you. Please feel free to pass these articles on to your family and friends.

ISSUE #1192
FEATURE REPORT

Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?
Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility.
Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality.
These services typically -- but not always -- range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climatic region, and level of contamination.




Also This Month...
Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly
While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.


 
 

Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home.


Quick Links
Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?
Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly
Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe
 

 

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Should You Have the Air Ducts in Your Home Cleaned?

Most people are now aware that indoor air pollution is an issue of growing concern and increased visibility. Many companies are marketing products and services intended to improve the quality of your indoor air. You have probably seen an advertisement, received a coupon in the mail, or been approached directly by a company offering to clean your air ducts as a means of improving your home's indoor air quality. These services typically -- but not always -- range in cost from $450 to $1,000 per heating and cooling system, depending on the services offered, the size of the system to be cleaned, system accessibility, climatic region, and level of contamination.

Duct cleaning generally refers to the cleaning of various heating and cooling system components of forced air systems, including the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing.

If not properly installed, maintained, and operated, these components may become contaminated with particles of dust, pollen or other debris. If moisture is present, the potential for microbiological growth (e.g., mold) is increased and spores from such growth may be released into the home's living space. Some of these contaminants may cause allergic reactions or other symptoms in people if they are exposed to them. If you decide to have your heating and cooling system cleaned, it is important to make sure the service provider agrees to clean all components of the system and is qualified to do so. Failure to clean a component of a contaminated system can result in re-contamination of the entire system, thus negating any potential benefits. Methods of duct cleaning vary, although standards have been established by industry associations concerned with air duct cleaning. Typically, a service provider will use specialized tools to dislodge dirt and other debris in ducts, then vacuum them out with a high powered vacuum cleaner.

In addition, the service provider may propose applying chemical biocides, designed to kill microbiological contaminants, to the inside of the duct work and to other system components. Some service providers may also suggest applying chemical treatments (sealants or other encapsulants) to seal or cover the inside surfaces of the air ducts and equipment housings because they believe the sealant will control mold growth or prevent the release of dirt particles or fibers from ducts. These practices have yet to be fully researched and you should be fully informed before deciding to permit the use of biocides or sealants in your air ducts. They should only be applied, if at all, after the system has been properly cleaned of all visible dust or debris.

Deciding Whether or Not to Have Your Air Ducts Cleaned

Knowledge about the potential benefits and possible problems of air duct cleaning is limited. Since conditions in every home are different, it is impossible to generalize about whether or not air duct cleaning in your home would be beneficial.

You may consider having your air ducts cleaned simply because it seems logical that air ducts will get dirty over time and should occasionally be cleaned. While the debate about the value of periodic duct cleaning continues, no evidence suggests that such cleaning would be detrimental, provided that it is done properly.

On the other hand, if a service provider fails to follow proper duct cleaning procedures, duct cleaning can cause indoor air problems. For example, an inadequate vacuum collection system can release more dust, dirt, and other contaminants than if you had left the ducts alone. A careless or inadequately trained service provider can damage your ducts or heating and cooling system, possibly increasing your heating and air conditioning costs or forcing you to undertake difficult and costly repairs or replacements.

You should consider having the air ducts in your home cleaned if:

  1. There is substantial visible mold growth inside hard surface (e.g., sheet metal) ducts or on other components of your heating and cooling system. There are several important points to understand concerning mold detection in heating and cooling systems:
    • Many sections of your heating and cooling system may not be accessible for a visible inspection, so ask the service provider to show you any mold they say exists.
    • You should be aware that although a substance may look like mold, a positive determination of whether it is mold or not can be made only by an expert and may require laboratory analysis for final confirmation. For about $50, some microbiology laboratories can tell you whether a sample sent to them on a clear strip of sticky household tape is mold or simply a substance that resembles it.
    • If you have insulated air ducts and the insulation gets wet or moldy, it cannot be effectively cleaned and should be removed and replaced.
    • If the conditions causing the mold growth in the first place are not corrected, mold growth will recur.
  2. Ducts are infested with vermin, e.g. (rodents or insects); or
  3. Ducts are clogged with excessive amounts of dust and debris and/or particles are actually released into the home from your supply registers.

Other Important Considerations...

Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts or go down after cleaning. This is because much of the dirt that may accumulate inside air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space. It is important to keep in mind that dirty air ducts are only one of many possible sources of particles that are present in homes. Pollutants that enter the home both from outdoors and indoor activities such as cooking, cleaning, smoking, or just moving around can cause greater exposure to contaminants than dirty air ducts. Moreover, there is no evidence that a light amount of household dust or other particulate matter in air ducts poses any risk to health.

If you think duct cleaning might be a good idea for your home, but you are not sure, talk to a professional. The company that services your heating and cooling system may be a good source of advice. You may also want to contact professional duct cleaning service providers and ask them about the services they provide. Remember, they are trying to sell you a service, so ask questions and insist on complete and knowledgeable answers.

Suggestions for Choosing a Duct Cleaning Service Provider

  • To find companies that provide duct cleaning services, check your Yellow Pages under "duct cleaning". Talk to at least three different service providers and get written estimates before deciding whether to have your ducts cleaned. When the service providers come to your home, ask them to show you the contamination that would justify having your ducts cleaned.
  • Do not hire duct cleaners who make sweeping claims about the health benefits of duct cleaning -- such claims are unsubstantiated.
  • Do not hire duct cleaners who recommend duct cleaning as a routine part of your heating and cooling system maintenance.
  • Do not allow the use of chemical biocides or sealants unless you fully understand the pros and the cons.
  • Check references to be sure other customers were satisfied and did not experience any problems with their heating and cooling system after cleaning.
  • Contact your local consumer affairs or local Better Business Bureau to determine if complaints have been lodged against any of the companies you are considering.
  • Interview potential service providers to ensure:
    • they are experienced in duct cleaning and have worked on systems like yours;
    • they will use procedures to protect you, your pets, and your home from contamination; and
    • they comply with air duct cleaning standards and, if your ducts are constructed of fiber glass duct board or insulated internally with fiber glass duct liner, with the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association's (NAIMA) recommendations.
  • If the service provider charges by the hour, request an estimate of the number of hours or days the job will take, and find out whether there will be interruptions in the work. Make sure the duct cleaner you choose will provide a written agreement outlining the total cost and scope of the job before work begins.

What to Expect From an Air Duct Cleaning Service Provider

If you choose to have your ducts cleaned, the service provider should:

  • Open access ports or doors to allow the entire system to be cleaned and inspected.
  • Inspect the system before cleaning to be sure that there are no asbestos-containing materials (e.g., insulation, register boots, etc.) in the heating and cooling system. Asbestos containing materials require specialized procedures and should not be disturbed or removed except by specially trained and equipped contractors.
  • Use vacuum equipment that exhausts particles outside of the home or use only high efficiency particle air (HEPA) vacuuming equipment if the vacuum exhausts inside the home.
  • Protect carpet and household furnishings during cleaning.
  • Use well controlled brushing of duct surfaces in conjunction with contact vacuum cleaning to dislodge dust and other particles.
  • Use only soft bristled brushes for fiberglass duct board and sheet metal ducts internally lined with fiberglass. (Although flex duct can also be cleaned using soft bristled brushes, it can be more economical to simply replace accessible flex duct.)
  • Take care to protect the duct work, including sealing and re-insulating any access holes the service provider may have made or used so they are airtight.
  • Follow standards for air duct cleaning and NAIMA's recommended practice for ducts containing fiber glass lining or constructed of fiber glass duct board.

How to Determine if the Duct Cleaner Did A Thorough Job

A thorough visual inspection is the best way to verify the cleanliness of your heating and cooling system. Some service providers use remote photography to document conditions inside ducts. All portions of the system should be visibly clean; you should not be able to detect any debris with the naked eye. After completing the job, ask the service provider to show you each component of your system to verify that the job was performed satisfactorily.

How to Prevent Duct Contamination

Whether or not you decide to have the air ducts in your home cleaned, committing to a good preventive maintenance program is essential to minimize duct contamination.

To prevent dirt from entering the system:

  • Use the highest efficiency air filter recommended by the manufacturer of your heating and cooling system.
  • Change filters regularly.
  • If your filters become clogged, change them more frequently.
  • Be sure you do not have any missing filters and that air cannot bypass filters through gaps around the filter holder.
  • When having your heating and cooling system maintained or checked for other reasons, be sure to ask the service provider to clean cooling coils and drain pans.
  • During construction or renovation work that produces dust in your home, seal off supply and return registers and do not operate the heating and cooling system until after cleaning up the dust.
  • Remove dust and vacuum your home regularly. (Use a high efficiency vacuum (HEPA) cleaner or the highest efficiency filter bags your vacuum cleaner can take. Vacuuming can increase the amount of dust in the air during and after vacuuming as well as in your ducts).
  • If your heating system includes in-duct humidification equipment, be sure to operate and maintain the humidifier strictly as recommended by the manufacturer.

To prevent ducts from becoming wet:

Moisture should not be present in ducts. Controlling moisture is the most effective way to prevent biological growth in air ducts.

Moisture can enter the duct system through leaks or if the system has been improperly installed or serviced. Research suggests that condensation (which occurs when a surface temperature is lower than the dew point temperature of the surrounding air) on or near cooling coils of air conditioning units is a major factor in moisture contamination of the system. The presence of condensation or high relative humidity is an important indicator of the potential for mold growth on any type of duct. Controlling moisture can often be difficult, but here are some steps you can take:

  • Promptly and properly repair any leaks or water damage.
  • Pay particular attention to cooling coils, which are designed to remove water from the air and can be a major source of moisture contamination of the system that can lead to mold growth. Make sure the condensate pan drains properly. The presence of substantial standing water and/or debris indicates a problem requiring immediate attention. Check any insulation near cooling coils for wet spots.
  • Make sure ducts are properly sealed and insulated in all non-airconditioned spaces (e.g., attics and crawl spaces). This will help to prevent moisture due to condensation from entering the system and is important to make the system work as intended. To prevent water condensation, the heating and cooling system must be properly insulated.

Should chemical biocides be applied to the inside of air ducts?

Air duct cleaning service providers may tell you that they need to apply a chemical biocide to the inside of your ducts to kill bacteria (germs), and fungi (mold) and prevent future biological growth. Some duct cleaning service providers may propose to introduce ozone to kill biological contaminants. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is regulated in the outside air as a lung irritant. However, there remains considerable controversy over the necessity and wisdom of introducing chemical biocides or ozone into the duct work.

Little research has been conducted to demonstrate the effectiveness of most biocides and ozone when used inside ducts. Simply spraying or otherwise introducing these materials into the operating duct system may cause much of the material to be transported through the system and released into other areas of your home.

In the meantime...

Before allowing a service provider to use a chemical biocide in your duct work, the service provider should:

1. Demonstrate visible evidence of microbial growth in your duct work. Some service providers may attempt to convince you that your air ducts are contaminated by demonstrating that the microorganisms found in your home grow on a settling plate (i.e., petri dish). This is inappropriate. Some microorganisms are always present in the air, and some growth on a settling plate is normal. As noted earlier, only an expert can positively identify a substance as biological growth and lab analysis may be required for final confirmation. Other testing methods are not reliable.

2. Explain why biological growth cannot be removed by physical means, such as brushing, and further growth prevented by controlling moisture.

If you decide to permit the use of a biocide, the service provider should:

1. Show you the biocide label, which will describe its range of approved uses.

2. Apply the biocide only to uninsulated areas of the duct system after proper cleaning, if necessary to reduce the chances for regrowth of mold.

3. Always use the product strictly according to its label instructions.

While some low toxicity products may be legally applied while occupants of the home are present, you may wish to consider leaving the premises while the biocide is being applied as an added precaution.

Do sealants prevent the release of dust and dirt particles into the air?

Manufacturers of products marketed to coat and seal duct surfaces claim that these sealants prevent dust and dirt particles inside air ducts from being released into the air. As with biocides, a sealant is often applied by spraying it into the operating duct system. Laboratory tests indicate that materials introduced in this manner tend not to completely coat the duct surface. Application of sealants may also affect the acoustical (noise) and fire retarding characteristics of fiber glass lined or constructed ducts and may invalidate the manufacturer's warranty.

Questions about the safety, effectiveness and overall desirability of sealants remain. For example, little is known about the potential toxicity of these products under typical use conditions or in the event they catch fire.

In addition, sealants have yet to be evaluated for their resistance to deterioration over time which could add particles to the duct air.

Most organizations concerned with duct cleaning, do not currently recommend the routine use of sealants in any type of duct. Instances when the use of sealants may be appropriate include the repair of damaged fiber glass insulation or when combating fire damage within ducts. Sealants should never be used on wet duct liner, to cover actively growing mold, or to cover debris in the ducts, and should only be applied after cleaning according to appropriate guidelines or standards.

 

 

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Why It Is So Important That Your Home Is Correctly Priced and Marketed Properly


"...you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings..."


While many agents may promise to sell your home for the money you want, the reality of the real estate market today is that this simply doesn't always happen. The fact of the matter is, the majority of homes sell for a price which falls short of what sellers may have been lead to believe.

There are two factors at play here. On the one hand, you need to beware of agents who set the list price on homes at unrealistically high levels simply to get listings. This is really unfair because it can set homeowners up for disappointment and failure.

On the other hand, you have homes that are priced correctly, but are marketed ineffectively. Without a proper marketing program in place to ensure a home is exposed to the highest number of qualified buyers, many homesellers feel forced to accept a lower offer.

There's nothing worse to a homeseller than to have their home sit unsold for many months because of improper pricing and/or marketing techniques. Needless to say, either of these situations is highly frustrating to any homeseller. But more than that, it can be financially crushing if you're counting on the full proceeds of the sale of your home to fulfill some other obligation.

To prevent this scenario when selling your home here are some points to consider before choosing the agent you want to represent you.

Deciding Upon an Agent

A good agent knows the market and has information on past sales, current listings, a marketing plan, and will provide their background and references. Evaluate each candidate carefully on the basis of their experience and qualifications.

Are they pricing your home correctly?

Home prices are determined by the marketplace not by your emotional attachment or by what you feel your home is worth. You should work closely with an agent who will suggest establishing a realistic price for your home. They will help you to objectively compare the price, features and condition of all similar homes in both your neighborhood and other similar ones which have sold in recent months. It is also important to be familiar with the terms of each potential sale. Terms are often as important as price in today's market.

Do they set themselves apart from the others by offering innovative marketing plans to sell your home fast and for top dollar?

Will they set up an aggressive marketing program to ensure your home is exposed to hundreds of qualified buyers? How much money does this agent spend in advertising the homes s/he lists versus other agents. In what media do they advertise, (newspaper, magazine, TV. etc.) Do they use a 24 hour hotline, "For Sale" signs, lock boxes, a Tour of Homes program, and Talking House signs and transmitters? What does this agent know about the effectiveness of one medium over the other?

 

 

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Important Tips To Keep Your Home Safe

It's much more than a physical structure. It's the place where memories are made, where dreams are shared, where lives are lived. And many of your home's contents--the video of your baby's first steps, grandmother's brooch or old family photos, for instance--simply cannot be replaced. That's why it makes good sense to do everything you can to protect your home from fire and theft.

Preventing Fires

Most fires are preventable. First, let's look at the top causes of home fires.

  • Cooking fires. Cooking fires pose a serious hazard. Always stay near the stove when cooking. Avoid wearing loose sleeves while cooking; they can be ignited by a burner or a grease splatter. You'll also want to keep curtains and other flammable materials well away from the range or oven. And never put water on a grease fire, which can cause the hot grease to splatter, burning you or spreading the fire. Instead, smother it with a lid or another pan, then turn off the burner. Leave the lid in place until it has cooled off completely.

  • Portable and space-heating equipment. Wood-burning, kerosene, propane and electric heaters can ignite draperies, clothing and other flammable items. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from all heating equipment. Shut off a heater before you leave the room or go to bed. When you purchase a heater, make sure it's been tested and approved by a reputable organization.

  • Careless smoking. Cigarettes are the leading cause of fire deaths. Never smoke in bed or in a place where you may fall asleep. Also, use deep ashtrays so a lit cigarette won't roll out and fall onto rugs or furniture. It's also a good idea to run water over an ashtray before emptying it into the trash. A smoldering cigarette butt could set the trash on fire.

  • Electrical wiring. You can't see wires hidden inside walls and ceilings, but there are some warning signs of electrical problems. If lights dim or flicker, fuses blow frequently or sparks shoot from receptacles when items are plugged in or unplugged, consult an electrician. Faulty electrical cords can also spark a fire or cause an electrical shock. Never run cords under rugs or heavy furniture. Pressure can crack insulation and break the wires. Don't overload outlets.

  • Children with matches. Children playing with matches or lighters are the leading cause of fire deaths for children 5 and under. Keep these items up high, preferably in a locked cabinet, out of the sight and reach of small children. Teach older ones how to handle matches responsibly.

  • Holiday hazards. Decorations and candles are a special concern during the holidays. If you buy a live Christmas tree, choose a fresh one and water it daily. With an artificial tree, make sure it's made of flame-retardant materials. Keep candles well away from anything that can burn and blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Fireworks also deserve special mention. They endanger life, limb and property. Avoid amateurs who set off fireworks. Instead, attend public displays conducted by trained pyrotechnicians. Even sparklers are hazardous; they burn at 1200 F.

There are some other simple, common sense precautions you can take to decrease your chances of a home fire:

  • Never store or use gasoline in the home. Gasoline is a motor fuel only. Keep small quantities in an approved container designed to store gasoline, and store outside, preferably in a locked, detached shed. Wipe up spills immediately and never refuel motors near heat sources, sparks or cigarettes.

  • Don't overload electrical receptacles.

  • Don't use light bulbs with greater wattages than a fixture can handle.

  • Don't let combustible materials such as newspapers and rags pile up in basements and garages.

  • Leave plenty of air space around appliances and television sets; they can overheat and catch fire.

  • Use outdoor gas and charcoal grills with caution. Keep them away from structures, particularly when in use. Never add materials to the fire.

Fireplace Safety

If your home has one or more fireplaces, special precautions can help to keep home fires burning safely:

  • Never burn charcoal or use a hibachi in your fireplace. Both produce deadly carbon monoxide.

  • Protect against sparks by enclosing a fireplace's opening with glass doors or a sturdy screen.

  • Never close the flue while a fire is still smoldering. Carbon monoxide could build up.

  • Never use gasoline, kerosene or lighter fluid to start a fire. Burn only dry, seasoned hardwood. For extra safety, light fires with long-stemmed matches.

  • Have your fireplace and chimney inspected annually. They should be properly vented and free of blockages. Have them cleaned as needed.

  • Protect the top of your chimney with a guard that keeps out birds and small animals and keeps in sparks that could ignite your roof.

  • Keep flammables such as newspapers, magazines, rugs and carpeting well away from the fireplace.

  • Remove holiday decorations from the fireplace and mantle before building a fire to avoid having the decorations ignite.

  • Teach children to stay back from the fireplace.

  • Never leave a fire unattended.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy.

If Fire Breaks Out

Smoke detectors greatly increase the likelihood you'll survive a fire. Place at least one on each floor of your home and outside each sleeping area. Install detectors inside bedrooms for added protection. Mount detectors on the ceiling, at least 4 inches away from the wall. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries once a year. To help you remember, plan to install new batteries on an annual event, such as the Fourth of July. Replace smoke detectors after 10 years.

If a fire does break out, take immediate action. Smoke and flames spread rapidly. Get out of the house right away, then call the fire department from a neighbor's house or a cellular phone. Fumes overcome most victims long before flames reach them. Use your safest exit. If you must escape through smoke, get down and crawl low under the smoke, keeping your head about 12-24 inches off the floor.

If you haven't gotten around to conducting a family fire drill, now's the time to do it. And visit your local hardware store or home center to invest in a few fire extinguishers. Extinguishers are classified according to the type of fire they will put out, and you'll find the classification displayed on an extinguisher. A Class ABC extinguisher is multi-purpose and works well against any small, self-contained fire. Keep one in the kitchen, extras in the basement or garage. Contact your fire department to ask about training. Don't attempt to fight a fire unless you know you have the right extinguisher to handle that type of fire, and be sure to keep your back to a safe exit.

Fire Safety Checklist

Take this quick quiz to help you assess your family's fire safety plan:

  • Do you follow the fire prevention practices outlined above? Pay special attention to safety tips on cooking, smoking, use of heating equipment, proper storage of flammables and precautions regarding children and matches.

  • Are your smoke detectors working? There should be at least one on every floor of your home. Test each detector monthly, and replace batteries annually.

  • Do you hold regular fire drills? Several times a year, have your family practice exiting your home safely and quickly in the event of an emergency. Designate a meeting place for all family members to gather once they are out of the house.

  • Have you taught your children to "stop, drop and roll"? In the event their clothing catches fire, kids (and adults) should stop, drop to the floor, cover their faces and roll over and over or back and forth to put out the fire. Keep rolling until the fire goes out.

  • Have you planned an alternate escape route? It's important to have at least two escape routes from each room in your home, often a door and a window. Practice using them now to be sure you could get out in an emergency.

  • Can you safely exit from the second floor? A chain ladder or other easily accessible ladder can help you escape from the upper stories of your home in the event of a fire.

  • Do you know how to use your fire extinguishers? Know where your fire extinguishers are kept, and read the instructions for use before you need them.

  • Do you know the phone number for your local fire department and the location of the nearest phone outside your house? In case of fire, always evacuate your home first, then call for help from a cellular or other nearby phone.

Preventing Theft

Every year, burglars hit more than five million households, stealing more than $4 billion worth of property. Determined thieves can break into just about any home, but you can take steps to make entry a lot more difficult for them.

  • Invest in a quality door. Door security begins not with a good lock but with the door itself and the frame it fits into. Weak door assemblies can be broken with a single kick, popped open with a jimmy bar or even pried out-frame and all-from the wall. Strong exterior doors have solid, not hollow, cores; doors that are sheathed in metal are even better.

  • Install deadbolts. Deadbolt locks provide the best protection for the least amount of money. Ordinary spring-operated locks can be defeated with a credit card. Intruders can't slip a deadbolt lock because it has a solid metal bar that fits into the door jamb. To be effective, a deadbolt lock should have at least a one-inch throw (meaning the metal bolt extends at least an inch past the edge of the door). Doors with glass panes present a special security problem because a thief can break the pane, reach inside and unlock the door. If local laws permit, the solution is a double-cylinder lock-one that must be opened with a key from inside as well as out. But don't defeat the purpose by getting into the habit of leaving the key in the lock on the inside. To exit quickly in case of a fire, keep the key near the door but in a spot that can't be reached from outside. You might want to hang it on a nail near the floor where you can find it easily if fire breaks out.

  • Don't forget windows. Windows and sliding glass doors also should be secured. Look for locks specifically made for different window styles at your local hardware store or home center. You also can secure a sliding glass door with a broomstick or piece of 1" x 2" lumber laid in the door track when the door is closed.

  • Light up. Outside flood lighting reduces your risk of burglary by highlighting the exterior of your home at night. You can choose from lights that remain on all night or motion-sensitive lights that come on only when someone approaches your home. Motion-sensitive lights save energy and could catch a would-be thief by surprise. Timers on inside as well as outside lights give the impression that someone is home, even if you're on vacation, out to dinner or visiting the neighbors.

Sounding an Alarm

For greater peace of mind, consider investing in a professionally installed alarm system. Alarm systems come in many shapes and sizes, at prices that range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Many installers also charge monthly monitoring fees, which should be taken into account when you shop for a system. A home alarm system includes some combination of the following components:

  • Perimeter sensors. These consist of photo cells or magnetic contacts on doors and windows that sound an alarm when an intruder tries to get inside. Perimeter sensors are mounted on two points, such as the door jamb and the door itself. Photo cell sensors are activated when something passes through a beam of light projected between the two points, while magnetic sensors are activated when contact is broken between the two magnetized points.

  • Heat and motion sensors. You can use heat and motion detectors to protect specific spaces in or outside your home-a bedroom hallway, for instance, or your backyard. Heat detectors respond to body temperatures. Motion sensors detect movement.

  • Glass break detectors. These devices recognize the sound of breaking glass. They activate the alarm when they sense breaking glass in a window or door.

  • Keypad. One or more keypads allow you to turn the system on and off.

  • Audible alarm. A piercing alarm alerts neighbors and the police. And it lets the burglar know he's been detected, meaning he'll probably leave your house in a hurry.

Keep in mind that false alarms can be a problem. In addition to annoying the neighbors and taking the police away from real emergencies, some communities now assess fines for excessive false alarms. The National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association reports that nearly 80 percent of false alarms are caused by user error. Steps to prevent false alarms include regular system maintenance and ensuring that whoever has a key to your house also knows the codes to activate and deactivate your system. Local police are a good source of information and recommendations regarding security systems. They work with the security services in your area and can tell you what types of break-ins are most common in your community.

After you've determined which alarm system is best for you, ask your insurance agent, family or friends for referrals. Get written quotes from at least three companies. Before you obtain an alarm system, investigate a security service's reputation and how long it has been in business. Also ask about warranties and what they cover.

Insuring Against Loss

Homeowners or renters insurance provides money to replace possessions after a fire or theft. Remember to keep a good inventory of your property, including serial numbers. A quick way to do this is with snapshots or a camcorder. Store your inventory in a safe-deposit box or other location outside your home, and update it every year.

While you're making an inventory of your valuables, consider engraving them with your name. This makes it easier to trace the goods back to you if they're stolen. Many local police departments will loan etching tools.

Most insurers recommend that you insure your property at replacement cost. This reimburses you for what it would cost to replace items today, instead of paying only for their current, depreciated value. You'll pay a little more in premiums for this extra peace of mind, so shop around for the best policy and the best price. Consider only reputable companies and agents. Get at least three quotes. Some companies provide lower rates if you have more than one type of coverage with them, such as auto and home. Review your insurance coverage annually.

 

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Kavanaugh Realty, 36 Champlain St., Rouses Point, N.Y. 12979
Office 518-297-2821 Ext 47 Fax 518-297-3431
Licensed in New York State
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