11 Can’t Miss Holiday Safety Tips for U.P. Homes, Rich Beasley

holiday home safety tips, UP holistic business, U.P. wellness publication

The holidays are here! Nothing amps up the holiday vibe quicker than a home fully decked-out with seasonal bling. Many of us are excited to dive into everything the season has to offer after a challenging past year. But before you dig out the holiday gear, let’s talk safety.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates about 200 decorating-related injuries a day take place during the holiday season alone. These injuries can be related to falls, fires, electrical hazards, and more. I will first address electrical issues, as many of the homes in our area feature out-of-date electrical wiring.

Issues such as outdated electrical panels, overloaded breakers, and aging wires can cause unexpected electrical hazards in older Upper Peninsula homes. The good news is there are some super-simple steps you can take to safeguard your home and loved ones during this time of year.

Please review the following holiday decorating safety tips:

Be aware of faulty wiring. If your home was built before 1920, be on the lookout for knob-and-tube and cloth wiring. Knob-and-tube wiring does a poor job of handling the added electrical load of holiday lights and decorations. This presents a fire safety hazard because this type of system has no ground wire. Moreover, knob-and-tube wiring is known to be easily damaged by pests like insects and mice. The resulting exposed wires increase risk of electrocution as well as fire. If you have older wiring in your home, it’s a good idea to have it inspected before stringing holiday lights to be sure it’s up to the task.

Evenly distribute the electrical load. Protect your circuit breakers by not jam-packing your electrical outlets with loads of junctions and extensions (octopus outlets). A safe way to make your home feel more festive is to distribute electrical decorations throughout the house. This way, you don’t blow fuses, overload the system, or start a fire.

Consider no-electricity decorations. Lack of electricity never stopped your great-grandparents from getting in on the holiday fun! There are plenty of ways to decorate for the holidays without overtaxing your electrical system. For instance, you can use mirrors to reflect candlelight around your home, invest in battery-operated LED string lights for your tree, make popcorn garland, or place boughs of evergreen throughout your home. (Just remember never to leave candles unattended, or too close to flammable objects like pine branches. If you have young ones in the house, battery-operated “candles” may be the way to go!)

It simply wouldn’t be the holidays without a large family meal to gather around. But according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, cooking fires are the top cause of residential fires each year.

You can avoid holiday cooking-related mishaps by:

  • Checking smoke detector batteries weekly
  • Keeping flammable objects such as paper or plastic bags and potholders away from the stove, oven, crockpots, and pressure cookers
  • Keeping a fire extinguisher within reach
  • Never leaving cooking food unattended
  • Preparing your meal in stages to avoid overloading your electrical system

One more word of warning: deep fried turkey tastes amazing, but it’s not the safest way to cook your bird. Last year alone, 220 burn incidents involving turkey fryers resulted in $9.7 million in property loss and 81 preventable injuries. If you’re thinking about finally trying a deep-fried turkey for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, you may want to think again—especially if you have young children in the home or find it challenging to lift heavy objects. If you do decide to go for it, your best bet is to fry that bird outside and away from your home.

But Wait—There’s More! 3 “Cooler” Holiday Hazards to Avoid

Avoiding electrical and fire hazards should be top of everyone’s minds during the holiday season. But no primer on UP holiday safety would be complete without taking note of these three additional common cold climate holiday hazards:
Ice hazards: Come winter, ice can pose a significant risk to the elderly and family members with limited mobility. Clearing your gutters early in the season will help you avoid falling ice and ice damming. And of course, you’ll want to stop slippery sidewalks in their tracks by using eco-friendly de-icing products or sand.

Air quality: Another thing to keep in mind around the holidays is air quality. Each year, countless homeowners report breathing problems when the weather turns cold. Cheap scented candles (especially those made in China) can release volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene into your home. Consider supporting a local artisan by buying beeswax candles that are scented with essential oils. Poorly maintained or aging heating systems are notorious for collecting dust and other impurities which then circulate throughout your home once the heat gets cranked up, so be sure to change your filters and have your unit inspected if you haven’t already this year.

Radon: Lastly, if you’re housing out-of-town relatives in your basement during the holidays, you may want to get a quick radon test to be sure the air is safe.

May Your Holidays Be Safe and Bright

Most people agree that the best thing about holidays is time spent with family and friends. A few simple little precautions can go a long way toward ensuring your memories of this holiday season stay happy and fun—especially if you have an older U.P. home. And if you’re not sure your home is up to the task, all it takes is a quick call to your local home inspector to ensure that your home—and more importantly, the special people in your life—stay healthy, happy, and safe through the holidays and beyond!

Rich Beasley is an InterNACHI Certified Home Inspector and owner of UP Home Inspection, LLC. He holds over a dozen specialty certifications, including Mold Inspector, Radon Tester, Water Quality Tester, Indoor Air Consultant, and many more.

Excerpted from the Winter 2021-22 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.

Radon Safety in Your Home, Rich Beasley

home health and safety, radon risks and remediation, U.P. holistic business, U.P. holistic wellness publication

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that results from the breakdown of uranium in the ground. This odorless, tasteless gas can enter your home through cracks in the foundation, sump pumps, drain tile, floor-wall joints, exposed soil in unfinished basements, and well water. Before cooler weather brings you indoors more, you may want to test your U.P. home for unsafe levels of radon. Let’s explore why.

Radon Health Risks

Radon doesn’t pose a significant risk outdoors because it quickly disperses into the atmosphere. The real threat arises when radon gets stuck inside a tightly sealed home, causing an unsafe gas accumulation. Radon is only implicated in one adverse health effect, but it’s a biggie-the EPA reports that radon gas is estimated to cause roughly 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. alone. How Common is Radon in the Upper Peninsula? Radon can be present in any type of shelter, home, or structure. In general, the Upper Peninsula is at medium to low risk for radon. But that doesn’t mean your home couldn’t have high radon levels. Some areas of the U.P. are at a higher risk for radon exposure than others.

Radon exposure by county in the U.P. according to the state of Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy:

1-9% of homes tested exceeded safe radon levels in Baraga, Keweenaw, Ontonagon, Luce, and Schoolcraft County.
10-24% of homes tested exceeded safe radon levels in Alger, Chippewa, Delta, Gogebic, Houghton, Marquette, Mackinac, and Menominee County.

25% or more homes tested exceeded safe radon levels in Iron and Dickinson County.

Radon is like an underwater spring – it covers a wide area but only exits the ground in a few key spots. Because of this, you can’t depend on test results from other homes in your neighborhood to determine what your home’s radon levels are.

Signs and Symptoms of Radon Exposure

  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent bouts of bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Hoarseness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

If you are currently experiencing any of these symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your health care provider right away. However, there’s usually a significant delay (often years) between exposure and signs of illness, so it’s wise to be diligent in monitoring for signs.

How to Test for Radon

When it comes to testing for radon in your home, you have two options. The first is to purchase an at-home test kit. While a home radon monitoring device is not as accurate or precise as professional radon testing, it’s an excellent starting point. The second option is to hire a local home inspector to conduct a radon test. Professional testing typically involves a 48-hour sampling period during which the equipment is left in your home for monitoring.
If a radon test reveals unacceptable levels of radon in your home, standard procedure is to confirm these findings using different equipment. Radon levels can also fluctuate significantly with the seasons. For these reasons, I often encourage people to invest in home monitoring equipment first. Then, if you notice a pattern of high radon readings, you can call in a professional for confirmation.

Ultimately, the way you choose to test for radon is up to you. Whether you choose to hire a professional or use an at-home test kit, the important thing is that you’re testing one way or another.

What Should You Do If You Find Radon in Your Home?

If you find unsafe radon levels in your home, try implementing the following mitigation strategies:

  • Increase the ventilation throughout your home.
  • Invest in a radon-reduction system (these systems can reduce radon levels by up to 99%).
  • Caulk and seal foundation cracks and openings.
  • Create a gas-permeable layer beneath the slab or flooring.

If these measures don’t work, contact a professional radon mitigation company to assist you.

The bottom line is this: Radon is easy to test for and easy to prevent. If you can’t remember the last time your home was tested for radon, now is the time to make it a priority.

Rich Beasley is an InterNACHI Certified Home Inspector and owner of UP Home Inspection, LLC. He holds over a dozen specialty certifications, including Mold Inspector, Radon Tester, Water Quality Tester, Indoor Air Consultant, and many more.

Excerpted from the Fall 2021 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2021, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.