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.

Back to school safety

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over. For many students, the prospect of a new school year can be exciting. For others, it can be daunting, especially if they are starting at a new school or have struggled in the past with being bullied. As children prepare to head back to class, keep these important tips in mind.

•    Get a health check. Schedule a physical and eye exam for your child. Many school districts also require that your child has current immunizations and may need documentation.

•    Fuel the body. Studies show that a healthy breakfast improves students’ alertness which can lead to improved grades and result in a healthier self-image.

•    Set limits. Provide a properly fitted backpack, and avoid overloading it with heavy books and supplies that can result in back and shoulder injuries.

•    Wear a helmet. This is true for bicyclists any time of the year, but especially when heading to and from school when traffic is at its heaviest.

•    Practice bus safety. When waiting for the bus, stand six feet back from the curb. If your child needs to cross the street in front of the bus, make sure the bus driver can see them. Teach them to still look both ways for oncoming traffic before crossing, even if the bus driver has the flashing red lights and stop sign displayed.

•    Address bullying. One of the most anguishing discoveries is finding out your child is the victim of a bully. No child should be fearful of going to school. Contact his or her teacher or school counselor if the problem continues. In some cases, the authorities may need to be involved. Visit the National Safety Council for further bully-prevention tips.

•    Keep talking. Ask questions about how school is going. Be direct and ask if your child is encountering problems. Be supportive and discuss ways to address any problems.

Creating a sense of security is important in fostering a good learning environment. Find more safety tips for your child at www.safekids.org.

Top 10 ingenious camping ideas

Some of us like “roughing it” in the outdoors, but having small conveniences can make the experience of camping in the back woods a lot more pleasurable, and safer too.

As summer comes to a close and you’re planning that last excursion, check out these top 10 camping ideas.
  1. Make an easy fire starter. Take a cardboard egg carton, fill each compartment with a quick-light charcoal briquette, and close it. Light it on fire. 
  2. Don’t touch! Familiarize yourself with poisonous plants in your area. Look online and print photos to keep in your backpack. Some common varieties are Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. Consider purchasing an identification book that also can help you identify native wildflowers, trees, and birds to make your camping experience educational too.
  3. Make a natural tick repellant. Mix one part tea tree oil and two parts water in a spray bottle. Spray on the bottom of pant legs. 
  4. Freeze jugs of water. Not only will they keep your perishables fresh in a cooler but, as they gradually melt, you’ll have refreshing cold water to drink. 
  5. Make a lantern. Strap a head lamp to a jug of water to illuminate your tent. Make sure the lamp is facing inward - it will shine brightly. 
  6. Use solar lights. Inexpensive solar-powered lights placed near tent stakes, like those used to edge a garden path, can help you avoid tripping. 
  7. Check firewood regulations. Many areas restrict wood from outside a certain range. This is in an effort to minimize the threat of invasive species, like the Emerald Ash Borer, which are devastating many hardwood forests. Always check the DNR website prior to heading out. 
  8. Bring an area rug. It works great on the bottom of your tent to keep sand and debris at bay. 
  9. Make a match container. Place matches in an airtight plastic container to keep matches dry, and tape a piece of medium grit sandpaper to the outside as a striking surface. 
  10. Dress in layers. Always dress one layer warmer than you think you’ll need. Avoid wearing cotton, as it retains moisture. Also, bring a waterproof jacket and pants. 
Perhaps the best advice for any camper is to remember that heading to the outdoors is meant to refuel and refresh our souls. Reconnect with nature and your family, and build memories to last a lifetime.

Have some fun to help us spread awareness about breast cancer: Join our One by One campaign


August is the start of our sixth annual One by One campaign to support breast cancer research. We’ve donated more than $100,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) so far and, with your help, we’ll contribute even more.

We’re making it easy — and fun — for you to help us spread awareness from now through October. You can participate by identifying our pink mystery photos on Facebook. Each Wednesday, we’ll post a new pink photo and ask you to guess what it is. If you guess correctly, you could win a prize! Plus, everyone who submits an answer will be entered into a drawing for an iPad at the end of October.

We’ll share other ways for you to get involved throughout the campaign — watch for more details on social media.

Visit our Facebook page, join our campaign, and let’s fight breast cancer together.