Tips and tools for safely cleaning gutters

Cleaning your gutters is among the most laborious of fall maintenance chores. Falling leaves from surrounding trees will not only cover your lawn, but land in your home’s gutters too. The result can be overflowing rain water that often leads to flooded basements, weakened foundations, and other costly water damage. Depending on the construction of your home, cleaning the gutters may be a simple task involving a bucket, ladder, and pair of gloves. Other homes, however, appear to require skilled aerial acrobats from the Barnum & Bailey Circus to reach the high areas safely.

No matter your circumstance, it’s important to have the right tools and follow some basic safety precautions.

Helpful tools
  • A ladder – it should be secure with wide rungs for stability, and equipped with proper locking mechanisms. Also make sure the ladder is tall enough; you should never stand on the top rung or highest step. An extension ladder should always have at least three rungs over the top of the roof to allow you to get on and off with ease. Move the ladder often to avoid overreaching, and wear secure protective footwear – never flip flops or sandals.
  • Waterproof work gloves – will help protect hands from foul-smelling debris and potential encounters with stinging insects.
  • A small trowel – like one used in the garden, will help scoop out materials.
  • A high-pressure garden hose – can help clear smaller remaining leaves.
  • Safety glasses – they’re a good idea too.
  • A five-gallon bucket – tethered to a rope, it can contain all the waste and be lowered to a trusty helper below to empty into a wheelbarrow before hoisting it back up. A leaf blower – some are equipped to help the process along and may require the use of hearing protection.

If you live in a heavily wooded area where leaves and debris from overhead trees are inevitable, or cleaning your gutters proves to be a dangerous aerial escapade, it may be time to consider hiring a professional, but make sure they have proper insurance coverage.

You can also purchase specially designed gutters or attachments to minimize the need to climb that ladder. But, do your research. According to Consumer Reports, many of the professional products are disappointing, while some do-it-yourself products found at local home improvement stores don’t fare much better.

Tree stand safety tips for the big hunt

“I always use a safety harness,” said Scott, an avid deer hunter from Wisconsin. Scott knows all too well how quickly a beloved pastime can turn to tragedy, recalling how his nephew broke his back falling from a tree stand. “I clip onto a rope connected to the tree before I even take one step up the tree,” he said. “And I stay clipped in until I’m back on the ground.”

Falls from tree stands continue to be the leading cause of injury for hunters. The good news is that these falls are preventable. Hunting from a tree stand allows you to have a better view of your target while avoiding detection from your prey, but take several safety precautions.

Use a full body harness
82 percent of hunters who fall from tree stands are not wearing a full body harness, according to the Tree Stand Manufacturers Association. Several models are available so you can find the best fit while making sure your movement is unrestricted.

Take a free online safety course
A few minutes of your time can test your knowledge and teach you a few things too.
Tree Stand Safety Course

Follow these additional tips
  • Purchase a tree stand with a large enough platform and seating area to help you feel more secure. Read any weight restrictions and plan accordingly.
  • Keep your hands free when climbing. Use a rope to haul up your firearm or bow. Always keep firearms unloaded until you are securely in place in your tree stand.
  • Select a healthy, straight tree that will work well with the guidelines outlined for your tree stand specifications.
  • Let people know where you'll be hunting, where your vehicle is parked, and when you intend to return. When possible, hunt with a buddy.
  • Carry a cell phone, walkie-talkie, or other means of calling for help.
  • Take your time and know your limitations. If it feels insecure or too high, it is.

Follow these tips and stay safe while enjoying the outdoors. For further tips and information, inquire with your state’s Department of Natural Resources or visit the Treestand Manufacturers Association website.

Top 10 chain saw safety tips

The fall season is a prime time for clearing out dead or diseased trees and damaged branches. In addition to personal home use, chain saws are a necessary tool for industries like forestry, landscaping, and utility and construction workers.

The potential for injury is high. The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that the number of chain saw accidents requiring medical attention increased from 70,000 to 135,000 annually over a five-year period. Avoid injuries by following these 10 important safety tips.

1.    Keep the chain sharp and make sure all fittings are lubricated and properly tightened.

2.    Refill the gas reservoir a minimum of 10 feet away from any ignition sources. Never smoke while operating a chain saw, and never fuel a saw while it is running.

3.    Start the saw on the ground, never while resting it on your leg.

4.    Clear the area of any obstructions, such as rocks, nails, or other metal before cutting.

5.    Wear proper protective equipment, including hand, foot, leg, eye, face, hearing, and head protection. Legs and feet receive the highest number of injuries.

6.    Do not wear loose-fitting clothing.

7.    Be certain of the trajectory of falling trees and limbs, and plan accordingly before cutting. Falling branches and trees result in many injuries.

8.    Do not cut with the tip of the saw, which produces kick-back.
9.    Consumer Reports recommends only cutting tree limbs you can reach from the ground.

10.    Never operate a gas-powered chain saw in confined quarters where carbon monoxide can build up.

Practicing these tips is an important part of maintaining safety, reducing workers’ comp claims, and minimizing injuries. The University of Minnesota Extension provides more in-depth safety tips, including felling techniques and a daily operation checklist. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration also can provide additional safety information.

Tips for fall home maintenance

Soon, leaves will be falling and, for many, especially those in the Upper Midwest, snow may be looming in the extended weather forecast. It’s time to consider several home maintenance tips that can save on costly repairs in the future.

Clean gutters.
Clogged gutters cause overflowing water during rainstorms that can result in wet basements and damaged foundations. In freezing weather, ice dams can form, creating excessive weight that bends gutters and can damage roofing and soffits. Be sure to take proper safety precautions when climbing ladders by following the rule of three – always have two feet and one hand, or both hands and one foot on the rungs at all times.

Consider an energy audit.
A professional home energy audit or assessment can test your home for air flow, leakage, and efficiency. Many older homes have insufficient insulation, especially surrounding windows and door frames. Tools like an infrared camera and blow door test allow technicians to pinpoint energy loss and diagnose how to correct the problem. Learn more here.

Get a furnace checkup.
Seek a qualified technician to perform an annual inspection of your heating systems, like your furnace, wood stove, or fireplace. Proper maintenance can improve efficiency and operation and, more importantly, check for leaks or malfunctions to protect your family from deadly carbon monoxide poisoning or fire.

Drain garden hoses and store inside.
Not removing garden hoses in freezing weather can result in burst water pipes and costly repairs.

Purchase a programmable thermostat.
According to Energy Star, on average, for an initial investment of $50 to $100, you will save $180 annually on heating (and cooling) bills by programming your thermostat to no higher than 70 degrees while at home, and no more than 62 degrees when you’re asleep or away.

Inspect your home’s exterior.
Check for peeling paint or loose siding, which can cause water damage or breakage under heavy snow. Caulk around windows and doors. Inspect the roof for missing shingles and loose flashing around skylights and chimneys where water and snow will find its way in. Replace any curled or buckling shingles.

Owning your own home can be a great investment. Be sure to protect that investment with proper maintenance. Preparing for the colder winter months now can prevent costly headaches later.

Top 10 tailgating tips

Are you ready for some football? With college and professional seasons getting underway, many will be packing up the truck and heading for the stadium parking lot. Beyond wearing your team colors and preparing your favorite foods ahead of time, there are several tips to make your time on the tailgate more enjoyable and safe.

1. Organize cooking utensils. Use a tool box with drawers to transport and organize spatulas, bottle openers, tongs, skewers and the like. Other drawers can store condiments, spices, plastic zip baggies, toothpicks, and other useful supplies.

2. Freeze water bottles. They will help keep your perishables fresh and you can drink the water when they melt.

3. Maintain food safety. Tailgate staples like potato and macaroni salads, chicken, and steak can spoil quickly. Keep refrigerated items cool with ice and insulate cooked foods.

4. Put soup in a large thermos. It keeps it hot, makes dispensing easy, eliminates spills, and takes up minimal space.

5. Dispose of hot coals properly. Be sure charcoal is cooled prior to disposing or putting back in your vehicle. Bring a metal pail with a lid to store remaining coals. Many stadiums have designated receptacles for disposing of hot coals.

6. Bring a fire extinguisher. Even the most seasoned of grill-masters needs to be prepared.

7. Check grills for safety. Propane and charcoal grills should be inspected prior to leaving for the game. Make sure all hoses, gauges, and vents are working properly.

8. Bring a large empty plastic tote. Line it with a garbage bag and use it as a trash bin. Remove the full bag, and then use the tote to quickly and efficiently pack up supplies.

9. Bring a large helium balloon. Float it on a long string from your vehicle as a familiar marker so friends know how to find you.

10. Drink responsibly. This is the most important of all tips. Keep you and your family safe, and ensure that you treat others with kindness and respect.

No matter which team you’re rooting for, stay safe and have fun as you cheer them on to victory. You’ll find that this pre-game ritual can be just as much fun as watching the game, especially if your team is on the losing side.