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Here at vipHomeLink, we know how hard it is to remember all you have to do around the home! That’s why we created our home maintenance app with personalized reminders, so you’ll never forget a dryer exhaust vent cleaning!

But there are home maintenance tasks that homeowners routinely forget or even ignore. That’s why our experts put together this quick home maintenance checklist – to help you complete the super important home maintenance tasks you tend to forget but totally shouldn’t. 

#1 – Vacuuming refrigerator coils 

Coils are now clean on the back of a refrigerator
Dirty coils shorten the lifespan of your refrigerator.

No one likes to wake up in the morning and find their Greek yogurt warm (true story). By completing this essential home maintenance, you’ll prolong the life of your refrigerator and keep it working efficiently. (Inefficient refrigerators suck more energy and can even raise your utility bills.) 

How often should you do this?

Vacuum your refrigerator’s coils at least twice a year, perhaps more if you have a pet.

Cleaning your refrigerator coils is easy and can be done in a few simple steps. 

  1. Unplug your refrigerator. 
  2. Find your coils. They should be on the bottom of the refrigerator or on the back. 
  3. If your coils are on the back, pull your refrigerator away from the wall and use a vacuum attachment to clean the coils. 
  4. If your coils are on the bottom of the refrigerator, remove the front grate and use a long-handed brush to pull out as much dust as you can. Then, use your vacuum attachment to clean out the rest. 
  5. Either push your refrigerator back or clip back on the grate. 
  6. Plug your refrigerator back in. 

If you have any concerns, check your owner’s manual or hire a handyman to complete this task. 

#2 – Cleaning your bathroom fan 

Bathroom cleaning fans are extremely important, and you’d know this if you grew up in a home without a bathroom ceiling fan. They help to prevent mold growth and get rid of odors and other airborne contaminants. However, they only work if they aren’t covered in dust (and they lead to the outside of your home).  

How often should you do this?

Plan to do this every six months or so. Synchronize it with your refrigerator coil cleaning!

Clean your bathroom fan in six steps or less.  

Each make and model is different, so first refer to your owner’s manual. However, the following steps are generally completed. 

  1. Start by turning off power to the vent and consider turning off the circuit breaker to make sure no power is running to the area. 
  2. If your vent has no light, remove the cover by gently pulling down one side and squeezing the metal mounting wires. Wash the cover with dish soap and water, and make sure it dries completely. 
  3. If your vent has a light, you’ll need to disconnect the wire before removing the cover. Then, vacuum the dust and wipe it clean with a cloth (not paper towels). 
  4. Clean the fan with the necessary vacuum attachments, but make sure not to damage any parts of the motor. Use a cloth to wipe away the remaining dust and dirt.  
  5. Replace the cover by squeezing the mounting wire. 
  6. Turn the breaker back on. 

If your ceiling needs a deep clean and requires the motor to be removed, it’s a simple process. Consult your manual for specific instructions. 

#3 – Fixing a leaky shower head 

a plumber fixing a shower head - home maintenance
Save water and money by fixing leaky items!

When your shower head leaks, you might see your utility bills – both water and energy – increase. This can also stain your tub or shower and create water damage if the water spills outside the shower area. The best thing you can do is fix a leaking shower head sooner rather than later. 

How often should you do this?

As often as needed, though you generally shouldn’t need to do it more than every few years. 

First thing – determine what’s actually wrong. 

Is it the shower head itself leaking? Perhaps the handle? Maybe the faucet? There’s quite a few things you may need to do, depending on the severity of the leak. 

  1. If the shower head itself is leaking, remove the shower head and soak it in a vinegar and water solution overnight to remove any minerals that may have restricted water flow. (If your shower head is older, you may need pliers and a cloth to remove it.) 
  2. If the handle is leaking, you may have a worn seal or O-ring that needs replacement. 
  3. If it’s the faucet leaking, you may need to replace a worn washer. 

If you can’t determine the cause or the solution, hire a licensed plumber to investigate. You may also want to update your shower head. We suggest a rain shower or a handheld shower head, the latter for homeowners who are aging in place. 

#4 – Testing your GFCI outlets

a homeowner pressing a button on a GFCI outlet
Always be on alert.

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) monitor the electricity in an outlet. If anything interrupts the circuit, it’ll cut off the electrical flow to prevent a powerful and potentially deadly shock. Most GFCI outlets have reset and test buttons between the prong slots. 

How often should you do this?

Ideally, you should be testing your GFCI outlets once a month. Synchronize your GFCI testing with your smoke and carbon monoxide alarm testing. 

Testing a GFCI outlet is super easy. 

Follow these simple steps:

  1. Plug in a device that you can easily see turn on or off, like a nightlight.
  2. With the device plugged in and turned on, press the test button. The device should turn off.
  3. Press the reset button again. The device should turn on.

#5 – Walk around your home – both inside and out

a man standing on his driveway next to his home with a new roof
When was the last time you walked your property?

This is one of the most important home maintenance tasks to do. Issues arise around a home all the time. From storm damage to leaky pipes to ant infestations, you may not know you have a problem if you don’t take the time to check. By routinely walking around your home, you may catch a small problem before it becomes a costly repair. 

How often should you do this?

You should walk around your property before and after a major storm, but once a month should be sufficient to pick up most issues. As you’re checking your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, take a look around. 

Where should you check?

Outside, you should visually inspect your roof from the ground. Also, look around your foundation for any cracks or entrances where critters or insects might enter. Check your property for sick, dead, or simply dangerous trees as well as branches that could threaten your roof or allow critters easy entrance. Finally, make sure your walkway and driveway are safe to walk on and make a note of any cracks that may need filling. 

a patch of shingles on a home are raised
Are you missing shingles?

Inside, make sure to check your attic for any potential roof leaks or wildlife nests. Check the usual suspects for leaks – faucets, toilets, under the kitchen sink, and behind the refrigerator. (If you haven’t cleaned your coils in some time, you know what to do!) Don’t forget to check your washing machine, too, especially if it’s on the second floor of your home. 

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Cooking is the number one cause of home fires and home fire injuries, and the second leading cause of home fire deaths.

Since most cooking fires happen in the kitchen, we reached out to Andrea Vastis, Senior Director of Public Education at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Andrea shared with us an abundance of simple kitchen safety tips (at least 21!) that can help prevent a home fire from happening in your cooking space.

Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent a cooking fire

“The number one cause of cooking fires is unattended cooking,” says Andrea. “It’s usually a scenario where someone will say afterward, I left something going on the stove and forgot about it I left the water overflowing and boiling, I left my pan for just a minute.”

To prevent a cooking fire, Andrea suggests following these simple tips: 

“Did you do three minutes or 30 minutes or 30 seconds?” asked Andrea.

Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent cooking appliance fires

Before ever buying a cooking appliance, check to see that it was listed by an independent testing laboratory.

“You want to make sure that what you are using a product that has been tested to approved safety standards,” says Andrea.

Then, you want to use it safely. This means you should:

“Most products are safe for most countertops,” says Andrea, “but you need to think – if I have a laminate countertop, should I be using a granite base or a marble base, something that doesn’t conduct heat and doesn’t have the risk of melting?”

Also, replace appliances that become hazards with frayed wires or irregularity in performance. Of course, big appliances should be left to the professionals.

“If it’s an appliance like your range top or your oven, get it serviced by a qualified professional who can either repair it or help determine if it’s time for a new one,” says Andrea.

Use your appliance properly

a woman starting her microwave - kitchen safety tips
Did you set the timer for 30 minutes or 30 seconds?

If you fail to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, you can create a dangerous situation in your kitchen. This is especially important with cooking temperatures. 

Explains Andrea, “If you have a slow cooker and the recipe calls for it to be on low and you’re putting it on high, you’re risking burning the food. You’re also creating the potential for something that can happen, including contact burns.”

Electric range tops manufactured after 2015 are required to have temperature-limiting controls.

“If you have an old coil stove top that was manufactured before then, you can actually retrofit it with a burner that is temperature limiting,” says Andrea.

That is important because “the majority of [cooking fires] are on the range top, and the majority of those are actually on electric range tops,” says Andrea.

Keep your appliances clean

a homeowner cleaning a dirty range top - kitchen safety tips
Clean appliances are safer appliances.

Kitchen appliances – whether they be cooktops, microwaves, crockpots, etc., – all require proper cleaning.

“Leftover food – grease, oil, any kind of spills – can heat up and catch fire,” says Andrea.

Leftover oils, butters, food remnants, etc., can create dangerous situations, especially during the holidays or big family dinners.

“This is why we also talk about the times of the year where there are the most cooking fires – like Thanksgiving,” says Andrea. “You have all these dishes going in the oven. Maybe you didn’t clean the oven beforehand, and there’s all this leftover stuff that’s now overheating and is just very easily ignitable.”

When cleaning any appliances, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you didn’t keep your appliance’s manual, like most homeowners, there’s one easy solution.

“If you know what make and model it is, you can just very easily find [the manuals] online,” says Andrea.

Simple kitchen safety tips to prevent home fire injuries

two men in a kitchen, one of them taking a pan out of the oven
Wear tight sleeves and oven mitts!

One of the easiest ways to prevent cooking home fire injuries is to wear appropriate clothing.

“It’s important that when you are doing the cooking, you’re not wearing any loose clothing,” says Andrea. “You’re either wearing short sleeves or tight sleeves. You’re not wearing anything that’s billowy that can come in contact with the range and catch fire.”

You should also use tools designed to keep you safe, such as oven mitts. Also, avoid creating dangerous situations by placing an appendage or your face where it doesn’t belong.

“We have this weird tendency to always want to stick our face into things, right?” says Andrea.

Home chefs should be careful as heat from an oven or heat from steam can burn. Even just opening a bag of hot popcorn can cause injury.

“The number one burn injury for children, especially under the age of five, are scalds and burns from things like hot foods and liquids,” says Andrea. “That’s why we really stress the three-foot zone – no kid, no pet. Also, no coffee in one hand, kid in another. Just take your time.”

What if the worst-case scenario happens – a fire in your kitchen

Andrea runs down easy-to-remember steps to help you remain calm and stay safe in the kitchen if a fire happens.

If an article of clothing catches fire

Smother it quickly. Perform the stop, drop and roll technique by stopping where you are, covering your face with your hands and rolling back and forth or over and over until the flames are out.

“Stop, drop and roll really can make a tremendous difference in reducing the risk of burns,” says Andrea. “It’s about smothering the flames.”

For older home chefs who may not be able to stop, drop, and roll, try smothering the fire with a blanket.

“It’s all about getting rid of any oxygen for that fire to be able to take hold and get to you to burn.”

If your pan catches fire

a chef putting a large lid over a frying pan - kitchen safety tips
Keep a large lid nearby.

“Grease and frying pan fires make up a large portion of the home cooking fire problem,” says Andrea.

To prevent a grease pan fire, NFPA suggests remembering and practicing these catchy phrases – stand by your pan; keep an eye on what you fry. 

“Always stay with what your frying, poaching, and braising,” says Andrea.

It’s also a great idea to have a heavy lid or a cookie sheet nearby.

“Having a lid nearby can help quickly and effectively put out a grease pan fire,” says Andrea. “Carefully slide the lid over the pan, turn off the heat, step away and just let it cool down completely.”

Andrea notes that if the fire, at any point, starts to get bigger where you can’t safely slide a cover over it to extinguish the flames or the flames continue to grow, immediately get yourself and anyone else at home outside and call the fire department for assistance.

If your oven catches fire

Shut the door, turn off the oven, and call the fire department.

With a microwave oven – shut the door, turn it off, and unplug it. If any sign of fire remains call the fire department. 

When in doubt, get takeout

One of the most important kitchen safety rules is knowing when not to cook. There are times when you should play it safe and order takeout.

“It doesn’t even matter if you’re using the microwave or other small appliance,” says Andrea. “If you’re using medication that makes you sleepy, if you’ve had a few drinks, that’s not the time to be cooking or using electrical equipment. Just get takeout.”

Learn more cooking safety tips at nfpa.org/cooking, and help children learn cooking safety at sparky.org.

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Download the app now!

When you download the vipHomeLink home management app, you’ll join a neighborhood of homeowners who enjoy a simplified homeownership experience. You can organize, maintain, and improve your home right from the palm of your hand! Receive reminders on your phone when it’s time to complete certain tasks or schedule home maintenance services, saving you from costly repairs. Get friendly, expert advice, with our in-app vipTips. 

Join the neighborhood today by downloading the app!

Why Does My Ice Maker Keep Freezing Up – and Other Important Questions Answered

As summer is right around the bend, you’ll want to make sure that your ice maker is in prime condition – for drinks, for cooling off, or for keeping food cold. That’s why we put together this blog to address some common problems with ice makers and help you prevent them with some quick maintenance… Continue reading Why Does My Ice Maker Keep Freezing Up – and Other Important Questions Answered

In 2020, solar energy accounted for 3% of the U.S. electricity generation. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that it will account for 5% of U.S. electricity generation in 2022 and as much as 20% by 2050. If you’re like us and interested in helping to increase solar generation, then you probably have a one hundred and one questions. 

That’s why we reached out to Shyam Mehta, Assistant Director, Distributed Energy Resources at New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). Shyam has been part of the solar industry for more than 13 years and answered 12 frequently asked questions to help you decide if solar panels are right for your home.

#1 – What actually is solar energy?

Energy comes from the sun in two forms – heat and light. Solar panels on homes receive light energy or photonic energy that they then convert into electric energy.

“Basically when we say ‘solar energy,’ we really mean what’s called ‘photovoltaic energy,’” says Shyam, “which solar panels can convert into electric energy for residential, commercial, industrial, or other applications.”

Thus, solar panels absorb sunlight and convert it into electric energy for use by the home for specific appliances. For homeowners, solar panels on their home can generate more than just energy; they can generate savings, too.

“These solar energy systems are typically designed to offset all or most of the annual electric consumption of a household,” says Shyam.

If solar panels on a home produce extra energy, that energy is exported to ‘the grid” to be used by neighboring homes or other consumers.

#2 – How do you know if your home is suitable for solar panels?

a home with solar panels on its roof
Is your home facing the right way?

The ideal roof will have a large, shade-free section that faces either south, southeast, or southwest.

“Because of our location in the Northern Hemisphere, south-facing roofs get maximum exposure to the sun,” says Shyam.

Homes with east- or west-facing roofs can receive solar panels, and some homes even get solar racking on the ground, though that is rare.

Since home solar panels are generally mounted on metal racking, which is securely fastened or bolted to the framing of the roof, the status of your roof is important.

“Before the installation, the solar installation company will look at the roof,” says Shyam. “You don’t need to have a brand-new roof, but it’s not uncommon for a roof to be replaced before solar panel installation.”

#3 – Do solar panels increase home value?

A 2015 U.S. Department of Energy study says yes! The team analyzed more than 22,000 homes sales across eight states from 1999 to 2013 and found that homebuyers were willing to pay more for homes with solar panels. In fact, the study found homebuyers generally were willing to pay $15,000 more!

#4 – How easy is the solar panel installation process?

professionals installing solar panels on a roof
Get solar panels on your home in a few easy steps.

Once you decide to get solar panels, the process is fairly straightforward.

First, you’ll need to reach out to solar panel installation companies in your area. The installation companies will provide price quotes and system designs. A professional may also come out to the house to take measurements of the roof and the solar resource.

“The homeowner then enters into a contract with an installation company,” says Shyam.

The installation company will apply for governmental approvals, such as building permits and the interconnection approval from the utility company. (The interconnection approval is a contract between the utility company and customer regarding the operation of the home solar system.) The installation company will also apply for incentives or loans that may be available in your area. This process generally takes one to two months. 

Once approvals are secure, your installation company will schedule the solar panel installation.The physical installation of the equipment typically takes one to two days.

Following installation, the utility company will inspect the system and then issue permission for the system to be turned on.

“This is called ‘energizing the system,’ at which point the system begins producing electricity,” says Shyam.

#5 – How do you choose the right installer or contractor for your home?

a contractor installing solar panels at home
Find the right contractor for your project.

Like any multi-thousand-dollar purchase, it’s best to do comparison shopping. Shyam suggests reaching out to at least three solar installers for price points. NYSERDA maintains a list of residential solar installers on their website.

“We list installers that have we have inspected to have consistently high-quality installation standards and accredit them with what we call ‘a Quality Solar Installer designation.’”

Check if your state offers a similar site and use all available resources to cross-check potential installers and get a sense of their quality accreditation.

Then, of course, read the contracts carefully before signing.

#6 – How much do residential solar panels cost?

Unfortunately, there’s no bottom-line number when it comes to installing solar panels as there are so many variables.

The cost varies a lot by the size of your system, which is a function of the size of your roof,” says Shyam. “It depends on where you are in the state, whether you are in the upstate region, Long Island, or New York City. Then it also depends on what kind of loans or rebates you are eligible for.”

Many states and utility companies offer grants and rebates to homeowners that reduce the out-of-pocket cost of home solar panels. The federal government also offers a tax credit that equals 26% of the system cost. Depending on where you live, most cities also offer property tax abatements and other credits. Typically, all these incentives total several thousand dollars.

“On top of that, most solar installers offer loan options or even lease options where you pay a monthly lease instead of paying for the entire cost of the system upfront,” says Shyam.

All these options help to bring down that initial, upfront cost, so how can you take advantage of these offers?

“Typically the installer or the contractor handles all of that for the homeowner,” says Shyam. “Once you are in a contract with an installer, they will apply for the NYSERDA incentive, the federal tax credit, the state tax credit, etc.”

#7 – Is solar worth it for your home?

a family kneeling by solar panels
Solar panels can help in a variety of ways!

Having solar on your home doesn’t just reduce your electric consumption: any excess electricity the system produces also results in bill savings. For each unit of solar power exported by the homeowner’s system, the home’s electric bill is reduced accordingly.

We call this net energy metering or net metering,” says Shyam. “Basically anything your system generates over and above what it produces for your home usage offsets your electric bill, and that’s how you get compensated.”

#8 – Do you need to worry about any electrical fields and your home?

“These claims of electrical fields are really not merited,” says Shyam. “There’s no evidence to suggest that solar panels create any kind of electromagnetic fields or electric fields are dangerous to human health.”

#9 – Once installation is complete, do you need to complete any maintenance?  

Compared to other systems in your home, solar panels are relatively low maintenance.

In general, you do have dust accumulation on the solar system in dryer climates,” says Shyam. “In New York, just given the frequency of rainfall that we have, that tends to not be an issue.”

If you’re in a dryer climate, you may have to clean the panels with a simple garden hose and water. (If you’re uncomfortable doing this, talk to your installer about a maintenance plan.)

a professional in a yellow worker jacket cleaning solar panels with a large mop
Solar panels are low maintenance.

There is one part of the system that will need to be replaced – the inverter.

Explains Shyam, “That’s the part of the solar system that converts the solar electricity, which is DC, or direct current power, to AC, or alternating current power and the form of electricity that is used by most household appliances.”

The inverter typically needs to be replaced after 10 to 15 years, about midway through the life of the system.

#10 – What if my solar panels are damaged?

You don’t need to worry too much about physical damage to your panels, though it’s important to be mindful of severe weather events.

“[Solar panels] are pretty resistant to hail,” says Shyam, “but in extreme weather, like a hurricane, they can be damaged or displaced.”

Shyam recommends that homeowners discuss potential damage with their installer prior to signing the contract.

“It’s important to establish who’s responsible in the event of damage to the system,” says Shyam. “NYSERDA requires that installers offer at least a five-year warranty.”

You should also contact your insurance company to discuss additional coverage for your property.

“A homeowner’s insurance may cover certain types of damage, such as falling tree limbs, for example.”

#11 – How long do solar panels last?

The lifespan of solar panels and system is at least 20 to 25 years.

“The solar panel manufacturers also offer a production warranty that lasts for 25 years,” says Shyam. “However, it’s not uncommon that a system can continue producing energy well beyond that period.”

#12 – What if solar panels aren’t right for your home?

a solar community in a field
Consider community solar options!

If for whatever reason – financial, technical, or ownership-related – you are unable to install rooftop solar panels on your home, then you may want to consider community solar options.

“This model has gained a lot of steam, not just in New York, but across the country over the last four to five years,” says Shyam.

(New York currently has the largest community solar market in the nation.)

Subscribers pay for a portion of the output in exchange for a discounted rate on the energy that is produced by the system, which is typically located off-site, but in the surrounding community.

“It’s generally located in the same utility territory as where you live, but it’s not necessarily next door or in your backyard.”

If you’re interested in solar panel communities, check your utility company’s website or reach out to your state’s energy department.

For New York residents, NYSERDA has a great resource with an interactive map where homeowners can search by zip code for community solar providers.

Join the neighborhood!

Homeownership simplified with vipHomeLink
Download the app now!

When you download the vipHomeLink home management app, you’ll join a neighborhood of homeowners who enjoy a simplified homeownership experience. You can organize, maintain, and improve your home right from the palm of your hand! Receive reminders on your phone to complete certain tasks or schedule maintenance, saving you from costly repairs. Get friendly, expert advice, in our in-app vipTips. 

Join the neighborhood today! Download the vipHomeLink app now!

When it comes to backyard entertainment, there’s almost nothing cooler than an outdoor playset. Who doesn’t want a castle or a pirate ship to explore and create adventures in their very own backyard

“Playsets and trampolines are an excellent way to get your children outside and playing,” says Janell Lane of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc®. “It’s always good to have that healthy exercise.”

Janell has been a part of Rainbow for more than 14 years and shared with us five seriously cool things about outdoor playsets and trampolines you maybe didn’t know but definitely should. 

Outdoor playsets can accommodate all children (and adults)

Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

Many outdoor playsets for kids are built to last through an entire childhood. 

“We offer playsets in many different sizes to accommodate all different children of all different ages,” says Janell. 

Children can grow with play equipment add-ons, like swings. Young children can grow out of a bucket swing and into flat swings, belt swings, or even ship swings. 

“Even if you start out with just a basic unit with just the play structure, you can always add on the swing beam,” says Janell. “You can add on the monkey bars, the penthouses, climbing wall, and more as your children grow.”

The best part is – adults can enjoy these play structures with their children. 

More than 10 men on a playset to show there's no weight limit
Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

“There is no weight limit, so parents can play on the sets with their children, which is always nice, especially with the younger ones,” says Janell. 

Outdoor playsets are built to last for a very long time

If owners perform proper care and maintenance, outdoor playsets can last a lifetime.

“A lot of times, parents have gotten our playsets for their kids,” says Janell. “Their kids grow, and then their grandchildren are playing on that same set.

a backyard pirate playset
Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

While the wood components of a backyard playground have a lifetime warranty, other parts of the playset may need to be replaced. Metal components generally have a lifetime or 10-year warranty, and plastic components generally have five-year warranties. 

Proper maintenance is key to an outdoor playset’s longevity. If you own or are thinking of buying an outdoor playset, keep in mind that you will need to:

“Your playset doesn’t have to be stained,” says Janell. “It can be painted as long as you’re treating the wood to keep it from rotting, essentially because it’s a natural product.”

If you’re not comfortable completing the necessary annual inspection or maintenance, then you can always contact a professional. 

“Our showrooms offer sealing and maintenance options,” offers Janell. “The installers will come out and do the safety checks to make sure everything’s tight. They’ll also power wash and restain the set.”

Rainbow uses a non-toxic stain, “so you don’t have to worry about the children.”

You should also consider your climate when maintaining your outdoor play equipment. While Rainbow installs weather-resistant playsets across the U.S., you should consider bringing in any plastic components, like slides and swings, in extremely low temperatures to avoid cracking.

There is a playset for (almost) every backyard!

children playing on an outdoor playset
Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

While you’ll need an onsite consultation from a professional installer, there are different playset options for different properties. 

“If there is a really hilly yard, we have the castle option,” says Janell. “You can get an extended ladder on one of the sides of the castle, so that the fort will be leveled.”

Swing beams can have different leg sizes on the A-frame to balance the playset, too, without having to complete a full landscaping project.

“All of our showroom dealers nationwide have onsite consultations where they offer professional installation and guidance,” says Janell. 

Before a playset installation, a professional will complete safety checks, such as making sure there is a six-foot perimeter around the swing set. 

While it’s not recommended to place a playset on sandy or loose-filled soil, outdoor playsets can be installed with additional anchoring. 

a child swinging on a rope swing
Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

“We also recommend not installing the play system over concrete, asphalt, packed earth, or any other hard surface,” says Janell. “Falls onto the hard surface can result in serious injuries.”

If your outdoor space has hard surfaces, you may need to spread mulch and even rubber mulch before installing a kids’ outdoor playset.

Rubber mulch is made out of recycled rubber,” says Janell. “We’ve used it around our garden, too, at my house. It doesn’t fly away quite as easily as mulch, and you don’t have to worry about slivers.”

Your trampoline can have a basketball hoop! 

a man with a baby dunking a basketball in a hoop that's attached to a trampoline
Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

You, too, can jump like an NBA star with a hoop attached directly to your trampoline’s safety net. 

Your trampoline should also come with a safety net around the jumping area (to keep anyone from falling) and be bolted to the ground, so it won’t move when a jumper does. Also, consider other safety features when choosing a trampoline, such a heavy-duty tube frame and curve rods to keep the net away from jumpers. 

When looking to install a trampoline, you’ll first want to get an onsite evaluation similar to a playset consultation. Ideally, your property should be level with nothing above the trampoline area, such as branches, gutters, or awnings. 

“That’s to ensure kids won’t hit anything when they’re jumping,” says Janell. 

Trampolines are super easy to maintain

two children sitting on a trampoline
Courtesy of Rainbow Play Systems, Inc.®

Like most home systems, you’ll inspect your trampoline monthly and make sure all the screws and surfaces are tight. Then follow the instruction manual for additional maintenance tips.  

“Before you jump, you should also check that your jumping mat is clean and free of debris,” says Janell. “If in fall, you have leaves and water that could cause a dangerous slip and fall.”

Rainbow Showrooms are all locally owned and operated. 

Join the neighborhood!

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Download the app now!

When you download the vipHomeLink home management app, you’ll join a neighborhood of homeowners who enjoy a simplified homeownership experience. You can organize, maintain, and improve your home right from the palm of your hand! Receive reminders on your phone when it’s time to complete certain tasks or schedule home maintenance services, saving you from costly repairs. Get friendly advice with our expert-backed vipTips. 

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8 Awesome Things You Need to Do for Your Home in August

We could argue that August is the best time of the summer. The season is in full swing, and fall is a good 21 to 51 days away. But August is also a great time to complete home maintenance before the colder temperatures roll in. That’s why we put together the eight things you need… Continue reading 8 Awesome Things You Need to Do for Your Home in August

It was Content Writer Susie’s first summer in her family’s home, and at first, she didn’t notice her new roommates. Some sawdust-like particles next to tiny, perfectly round holes seemed like a mystery that didn’t need to be solved – at first. Then the large, black ants started coming out the woodwork – literally. After a carpenter ant bit Susie’s mother, the family called a pest control expert. 

When dealing with ants, the best thing you can do is prevent an infestation in the first place. We reached out to PestWorld.org to find out how to prevent an ant infestation, the most common ants you’ll find in your home, and how to deal with ants that make your house their nest. 

Quick tips to prevent an ant problem in your home 

According to PestWorld.org, “If left untreated, an infestation of ants can become more than simply a nuisance. Ants can contaminate food and water, and carpenter ants can build tunnels in wood that can cause structural damage to your home.”

Follow these quick and easy tips to help prevent an ant infestation in your home:

The usual suspects for ant infestations 

More than 700 species of ants live in the U.S., but only 25 are known to invade homes. Here are the most common ants you may encounter in and around your yard, and how to prevent them from getting inside.  

Carpenter ants

carpenter ants in wood - how to get rid of ants
Beware of structural damage to your home!

Carpenter ants are “structural pests” since they excavate wood and create smooth tunnels through it. These ants have the potential to cause more damage than most other pests, save termites. They can also have incredibly large colonies (up to 50,000 active ants)! 

These ants are black, red, or a mixture of both, can be more than half an inch in length, and are found mostly in northern states. (These are also the ones that invaded Content Writer Susie’s home!)

These ants are attracted to moisture and damp wood. If you have any decaying trees or stumps on your property, remove them before carpenter ants move in.

Odorous house ants 

More commonly known as “sugar ants,” these tiny ants (no bigger than an 1/8”) give off a putrid smell when crushed. They also can live for years in a home and are most common in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. 

To prevent these ants from invading your home, get rid of standing water in your yard. Inside, frequently check your kitchen and bathroom as water sources help ants thrive. Always store your sugary foods – syrup, molasses, sugar – in tightly sealed containers and make sure their exterior surfaces are not sticky. Also, check your fruit bowl with overripe items as these also attract sugar ants. 

Red imported fire ants 

how to get rid of ants - fire imported fire ant mound
Be careful where you step!

Make sure to stay away from red imported fire ants! You’ll likely find these dangerous crawlers in your garage, landscaped areas, and near your structural foundation. They create mound-like nests that can hold up to 250,000 ants and currently reside in 14 southern states.  

Red imported fire ants can sting you multiple times and even hold onto your skin with their mandibles or jaws. When this happens, you’ll have to pull each ant out individually, which means – ouch! 

If they do bite you, you’ll experience an immediate burning sensation, followed by the emergence of a raised, red welt. Within 24 hours, the welt will turn into a white pustule and inflict you with intense itching for several days. If you have bee or other insect allergies, you may have a more severe reaction, so beware and seek medical attention if necessary! 

How to get rid of an ant infestation in your house 

If you have a full-blown ant infestation in your home, the best thing you can do is call a licensed pest professional. Ant infestations pose serious health risks and property hazards, and a professional will know how to get rid of ants in your house.  

You may be tempted to complete a few DIY solutions to get rid of an ant infestation. Here’s why many of them will lead you to a professional. 

Using “ant traps”

ants traps on a counter to get rid of ants
Ant traps are really ant baits.

While you may be tempted to use the erroneously coined “ant traps,” these products work best when placed by a professional. This is because “ant traps” are really “ant bait,” which is deadly to ants. The ants bring the poison back to the nest and feed it to other colony members before dying. Different types of ants respond to different baits, so a professional will know which bait to use, where best to place these “traps,” and how much bait to use. 

Using ant repellent or spray

Ant repellent or spray only work until they lose their effectiveness. They also won’t kill the colony if you only spray it around your home. 

Similarly, “bug bombs” or “insect foggers” will kill ants in proximity to the device when it is activated. Unfortunately, it will not kill the nest since the pesticides remain on the surfaces and very little actually penetrates where ant colonies live. Ants killed by bug bombs also do not return to the nest to spread the pesticide. 

Bug bombs can have serious health effects on human inhabitants, especially if not used correctly, so it’s best to use a professional pest control specialist instead. 

Employing natural remedies

a cinnamon stick on a window sill
Natural remedies don’t get rid of ants.

While you may be tempted to DIY ant problems in your house, many natural remedies can cause other issues or aren’t effective. Cinnamon and vinegar can repel certain types of ants, but the amount of cinnamon needed would be incredible. Plus, vinegar attracts fruit flies, and neither deal with ant infestations. 

Lemon juice, too, is often named as a solution to stopping ants from entering your home. However, it’s generally hard to tell an ant’s point of entry in order to strategically place the juice. The same issue occurs with cinnamon and vinegar.

Instead of wasting time and money, and potentially causing a bigger problem, always call a licensed pest control professional who can help to get rid of ants inside your home. 

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The Tornado Preparedness Checklist for Your Home

While “Tornado Alley” may be located in the center of the U.S., tornadoes have been happening frequently in other parts of the country as well. For those of us who aren’t Dorothy Gale, check out these tornado safety tips to help your family avoid a dangerous situation with Mother Nature. #1 – Make a home… Continue reading The Tornado Preparedness Checklist for Your Home

If you’ve been doom-scrolling recently, you may have heard of PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a warning regarding these “forever” chemicals as they pose serious health risks, even at extremely low levels.

What does that mean for your family and your drinking water?

We reached out to Eric Yeggy, Technical Affairs Director for the Water Quality Association. Eric spent more than 20 years in the environmental testing industry analyzing drinking water, ground water, and soil, and shared with us information you need to know about PFAS chemicals and your drinking water.

What are PFAS chemicals?

PFAS, pronounced PEA-fass, are a class of chemicals known as per and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They are manmade chemicals, meaning they don’t occur naturally, and they are very resilient in the environment.

“No one really knows how many of these chemicals are in use,” says Eric. “The estimates I have heard range from anywhere from 4,000 to upwards of 10,000 different PFAS chemicals in use.”

eggs sunnyside up in a non-stick pan
PFAS are found in everyday items.

PFAS are commonly found in the following items:

Companies voluntarily phased the most common PFAS chemicals – PFOS and PFOA – from the United States market in 2015. That’s why your nonstick frying pans may now read “PFOS-free” or “PFOA-free.”

Studies have linked PFOA and PFOS to serious health effects, such as reproductive problems; damage to the liver, the kidneys, the thyroid, and the immune system; elevated cholesterol; cancers; and developmental issues with babies, including low birth weight.

“Unfortunately, we know the least about the PFAS chemicals the industry switched to around 2015,” says Eric. “They might be less dangerous. They might be more dangerous. We just don’t know yet.”

Why are PFAS called forever chemicals?

“Once you’re exposed, they remain in your body,” says Eric. “Nothing in nature can destroy them once they enter the environment.”

A long carbon chain saturated with fluorine atoms make up PFAS chemicals and at the end is a functional group.

“That carbon–fluorine bond is one of the strongest bonds in chemistry,” says Eric. “It’s very difficult to destroy.”

Do you need to worry about PFAS in your drinking water?

a homeowner drinking water which may contain PFAS chemicals at a kitchen table
Is your drinking water safe?

There’s no way to know how many people have PFAS in their drinking water since there hasn’t been extensive testing. However, the Environmental Working Group estimates that as many as 200 million Americans may have drinking water contaminated with PFAS.

Explains Eric, “PFAS have been found in water supplies in every state, and I suspect we’ve only started to scratch the surface.”

Certain laboratories may be able to test upwards of 50 different PFAS chemicals, but as mentioned earlier, there are thousands of these chemicals in use.

“Until we know what they all are, which is information that is currently tightly guarded as ‘trade secrets,’ the laboratories will not be able to develop test methods to look for them,” says Eric.

PFAS bioaccumulate in the food chain and in our bodies, and as mentioned earlier, once these chemicals enter our bodies, they remain there. Scientists have conducted blood studies to see the reach of PFAS chemicals and uncovered disturbing results.

“We know that every American has been exposed to PFAS,” says Eric. “These chemicals are in our blood. You and I have been bioaccumulating PFAS in our bodies since birth.”

How can you tell if you have PFAS in your drinking water?

There’s no way to know if water has PFAS without testing as there is no funny smell or color change, and usually, the concentration of PFAS is very small.

“We’re talking about levels that are parts per trillion,” says Eric. “Typically, in the drinking water world, we are looking for contaminants that are in the parts per million range or the parts per billion range, so we’re talking about very small amounts that are dangerous.”

In-home test kits do not capture PFAS, and not all certified drinking water laboratories may be able to test for PFAS.

a person wearing a glove and holding a vial of water that may contain PFAS chemicals under a tap
It’s currently difficult to test for PFAS.

“It’s a difficult test,” says Eric. “Of those that are capable of and certified for PFAS testing, they may each have a different list of PFAS chemicals that they’re testing for.”

If you’re receiving water from the municipal supply, it’s always a good idea to check the annual water quality report for many different reasons. While the Safe Drinking Water Act does not regulate PFAS chemicals, your municipality may be testing for a select few of them. Homeowners on private wells should contact their county and state public health departments.

“Any of these agencies might have helpful information about PFAS contamination in your area,” says Eric.

How can you remove PFAS from drinking water?

Thankfully, third parties, including the WQA and NFS, have tested and certified in-home drinking water treatment systems that remove PFAS, including water filters.

Bottled water may also be a short-term solution.

bottled water in an aisle at the store that does not contain PFAS chemicals
Bottled water has been treated.

“A lot of people say that bottled water is just simply tap water that’s repackaged, but in reality, bottled water, even if they are using a source that is tap water, has been put through an entire treatment train,” Eric says.

Unlike other pollutants, boiling water will not help to rid water of PFAS.

“Boiling the water is for microbial contaminants,” says Eric, “so it will not help with PFAS at all.”

Want to learn more about your drinking water? The WQA offers the free booklet Water Treatment for Dummies, which answers questions about home water treatments, products, and professionals in easy-to-understand terms!

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Your home is your safe haven, but unfortunately, it can also be filled with risk. If your home was built prior to 1978, it may contain lead paint, which can be particularly hazardous to young children.  

If you’re moving into a “new” home or welcoming a baby, you want to make sure your home is as safe as it can be. That’s why we reached out to Matt O’Donnell, owner of Bay Hill Environmental Lead Paint Inspectors. Matt shared with us what you need to know about lead-paint hazards and home lead inspections.

When to worry if you have lead paint

Paint manufacturers stopped selling lead-based paint to customers in 1978, but you may be wondering, “Do all homes built before 1978 have lead paint?”

“Any property built before 1978 has the possibility of containing lead paint,” says Matt, who has been helping homeowners in Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey since 2016. “You’re a lot likelier to have lead if your house was built in 1920, compared to 1970.”

According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • Prior to 1940 – 87% of homes had lead paint.
  • Between 1940 and 1959 – 69% of homes had lead paint.
  • Between 1960 and 1977 – 24% of homes had lead paint.

You’re most likely to find lead on windows and windowsills; doors and door frames; and stairs, railings, banisters, and porches. However, the lead paint itself isn’t the problem.

“Lead paint is not an issue unless it’s disturbed,” says Matt.

Lead paint on friction surfaces, such as doors, windows, floors, and trim areas, can create lead dust. This dust can easily be ingested by toddlers and young children.

“The example I always use is old wooden windows,” says Matt. “If all those components are positive, every time you open and close them, they scrape on the way up and on the way down. If paint chips don’t fall off, that friction potentially creates lead dust.”

Children can put their hands on the windowsill and then into their mouths, leading to the ingestion of lead dust. Lead exposure can have serious health effects, including damage to the nervous system and kidney damage, learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders, and more.

Lead paint warning signs

lead paint chipping on front door

Does your paint look like this?

Matt recommends googlinglead paint alligatoring” to see what deteriorated lead paint looks like on windows and doors.

“Oftentimes the paint has deteriorated,” says Matt. “Chipping or peeling paint, deteriorated paint, is really where you should be cautious.”

But when should you get a lead-based paint inspection? Give serious consideration to getting an inspection if:

  • You will be completing a home renovation project and your home was built before 1978.
  • You have children or will be having children and your home was built before 1978.
  • You’re buying a home and the home was built before 1978. 

“The more knowledge you have, the better off you’re going to be,” says Matt. “You’re not required to get a lead inspection when buying a home, but personally, if you’re a young couple with kids, you should probably know if there is lead paint present.”

What happens during a lead inspection

Years ago, lead inspectors would collect paint chips and send them to a lab for analysis. Today’s professional lead inspectors use devices, such as an XRF gun, to provide immediate results.

XRF gun for a lead inspection

Know quickly if your home has lead paint.

“It’s like a handheld x-ray machine,” says Matt. “What we do is we come to the property and using that gun, hit all the painted surfaces.”

The XRF gun identifies if there’s lead paint on a surface within a few seconds, but inspectors also collect dust wipe samples to identify lead hazards.

“Essentially, it’s like a baby wipe,” says Matt. “We wipe the floor, windowsills, or window wells with the wipes, and we send them off to a lab.”

The lab analyzes them to see if there’s any lead dust in the tested area.

“The combination of the XRF gun and then the lead dust wipes give you an understanding of where hazards are,” says Matt.

Bay Hill Environmental uses the XRF gun to test all the painted surfaces in the home. In a typical 3-bedroom home, Bay Hill Environmental will test approximately 150 components over an hour to 1.5 hours. Then homeowners receive a full report showing all the components with the results.

You may see DIY kits, such as the 3M Lead Test Kit, in your local home improvement store, but if you’re worried about lead paint in your home, you may want to opt for a professional test.

“The gun tests down to the bare wood or bare component,” says Matt. “If there’s 10 layers of paint on the wall, we’re going to go down to the bare wood. We know if it’s there or not.”

When to remediate your lead paint

a home expert chipping lead paint off a window frame

Know what you need to do if your home has lead paint.

The simple presence of lead does not mean a home needs remediation.

Lead is not an issue unless it’s disturbed, unless it’s a lead hazard,” says Matt.

Homeowners may opt not to remove lead paint if:

  • It’s intact, not chipping or peeling.
  • Children aren’t in danger of ingesting or touching lead dust.
  • The lead paint is in the attic or a place not frequently visited.

“If you’re not creating lead dust, then you don’t have to remediate it,” says Matt.

Other places you may find lead paint in your home

If your home was built after 1978, you won’t find lead paint in it; however, there are other places where lead might be present.

Lead in the soil

“In Philadelphia, they used to have these lead smelting factories back in the day,” said Matt. “The lead seeped into the soil.”

soil test for a lead inspection

Could there be lead in your yard?

Homeowners will usually find lead in the “bare soil,” and contaminants in soil can be hazardous, especially to young children playing in the yard. High levels of lead in soil can also be hazardous to homeowners who plant and ingest home-grown vegetables.

“To remediate and remove a bunch of contaminated soil is very costly,” warns Matt. “Oftentimes, homeowners talk about putting sod over it or putting mulch to really just cover up that bare layer, but you could still be exposing a child to lead.”

Suburban neighborhoods built after 1950 are less likely to have this type of contamination, but if you’re concerned about the status of your property, you should consider getting a soil test.

Lead in your water

Heartbreaking stories such as the Flint Water Crisis underscore the dangers of lead in your drinking water. This type of contamination may come from pipes or other places, both inside and outside your home. Lead in your drinking water cannot be found with an at-home test, so a water quality test for lead must be conducted by a certified lab.

Learn more about testing for lead in your drinking water from Eric Yeggy, technical advisor from the Water Quality Association!

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When you download the vipHomeLink home management app, you’ll join a neighborhood of homeowners who enjoy a simplified homeownership experience. You can organize, maintain, and improve your home right from the palm of your hand! Receive reminders on your phone when it’s time to complete certain tasks or schedule home maintenance services, saving you from costly repairs. Get friendly, expert advice, in our expert-backed vipTips. 

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