Teen riders: How to be a good passenger

Teen drivers get lots of advice about how to drive safely and avoid distractions. But you probably don’t hear much about how to be a good passenger.

Most states have restrictions on the number of passengers new teen drivers can have with them in the car. Why? Because passengers can be a serious distraction.

Help keep yourself and the driver safe by being an engaged passenger: 
  • Hang up. Other people’s phone conversations are distracting. If you’re on the phone, the driver can’t plug her ears or walk away. Be considerate and keep your phone calls short and quiet.
  • Be the button pusher. Be the designated person in charge of the phone or navigation system. Help the driver fight distraction by answering their phone for them (if they insist) or managing the playlist.
  • Chillax. Sometimes traffic gets dicey. Keep the screams, the gasps, and the “OMGs!” to yourself. Yelling will not help the driver get through an emergency situation. 
  • Buckle up. In most states, seat belts are required by law. Don’t be the reason your friend gets pulled over by the police. Wear your seat belt every time. Better yet, be the positive peer pressure that makes everyone else (including the driver) wear theirs too.
  • Wait for the right time. Save the tough conversations and potential arguments until you’ve reached your destination.
  • Be aware. There’s a big difference between backseat driving (being critical) and keeping a second set of eyes on the road. Be a good co-pilot by staying aware of what’s going on outside the vehicle.
Truth is, your behavior is just as important as the driver’s behavior when you’re on the road. It’s your job to help them focus.

Before you turn up the heat

A properly maintained furnace not only runs better, it’s safer.

Make annual furnace maintenance part of your regular routine. Maintenance improves your furnace performance and your comfort, and it’s important for your well-being too.

A professional furnace tune-up should include the following:
  • Check the system cycle to make sure it starts, operates, and shuts down properly
  • Check gas connections and gas pressure
  • Check vent system for blocks, leaks, or damage
  • Check air gills and louvers for blockage
  • Check burners for proper ignition and flame; clean if necessary
  • Check drain system for blocks or leaks
  • Check blower wheel and clean if necessary
  • Test voltage and current on the motor
  • Check wiring for damage
  • Check and replace filters (see do-it-yourself below)
Monitor carbon dioxide
A proper furnace inspection should include a carbon monoxide leak test. This odorless, colorless gas can cause serious injury or death. You also should install carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home for constant monitoring.

Shut it down
If your furnace starts making new, unfamiliar sounds or emits an unusual odor, shut it down and call for an inspection. Keep an eye out for visible signs of malfunction, such as burns or rust. Unusual amounts of moisture on the insides of your windows also may indicate your furnace isn’t working.

Clean or change the air filters in your furnace or central air conditioner once a month. A dirty filter increases energy costs and can lead to equipment malfunction.

4 steps to prevent garage fires

Garage fires spread farther and cause more injuries than fires that start anywhere else in the home, according to FEMA. 

Garages often are full of paints, solvents, and other chemicals that will fuel a flame. Plus, they are generally home to tools and large appliances that can generate heat and ignite a fire.

Help prevent fires (and slow the spread if one occurs) by making safe choices:

Step one: Charge safely 
Garage fires are most often caused by electrical malfunctions, typically due to damaged wires, shorts, and overloaded circuits. When charging tools, only plug one tool into an outlet at a time. Check your extension cords for damage before use, and never use an extension cord as a long-term power source.

Step two: Store safely 
If you can, store oils, gasoline, and varnishes in a backyard shed, away from your home. If not, be sure these items are stored well away from appliances and tool chargers. Don’t leave oily rags lying around either. Store them in a well-covered metal can or hang them outside to dry before disposal.

Step three: Install a heat detector 
Smoke alarms are not designed for use in garages. Instead, install a heat detector that will alert you when ambient temperatures reach a certain point, indicating a fire.

Step four: Upgrade construction 
For attached garages, install a 20-minute fire-rated door between the garage and the house. Cover the wall that attaches to your home with ½-inch gypsum board. Do the same to the ceiling if you have living space above the garage.

And as always, it’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in your garage, preferably close to an exit door.

Get involved during Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Have some fun to help us grow our donation

Through our annual One by One campaign, we’ve been spreading awareness about breast cancer since August. This month, we’re increasing our efforts to get the word out and raise funds in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

During October, our social media activity is tied to our donation, so the more you engage with us, the more we donate! Help us raise funds for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) by interacting with us. Here’s how:
  • Like SECURA’s Facebook page. We’ll donate $1 to the BCRF for each new like in October. 
  • Pinkify your profile. Turn your profile picture pink to spread awareness, and we’ll give another dollar to the BCRF. 
  • Identify our pink mystery photos to be entered into our grand prize drawing for an iPad. Simply comment with your guess on our Facebook page. We post a new photo every Wednesday. 
  • Check back weekly for other fun ways to engage, like sharing our posts or telling us your favorite inspirational quote. 
 You also can spread the word to others. Simply share this video with your friends: bit.ly/secura1by1

Top 10 tips for fall garden cleanup

As another summer comes to an end, most homeowners see their vegetable gardens and flower beds lose their luster. It is tempting to wait until spring to tackle the chore of removing those frost-bitten leaves and the occasional overripe tomato left on the vine. However, proper cleanup done in the fall can improve overall plant health for the following year, aid in minimizing unwanted pests, and eliminate soil-borne diseases that can overwinter in even the coldest regions.

Make these 10 tips part of your fall routine to improve the productivity of fruiting plants and enhance the beauty of ornamentals for next year’s growing season.

  1. Clean up fallen fruit or vegetables from beneath trees, tomato plants, and other edibles.
  2. Remove annual flowers to prevent them from reseeding.
  3. Cut back perennial flowers to eliminate hiding places for slugs and other unwanted pests.
  4. Chop up leaves with your lawn mower and spread the leaf mulch over garden beds to stop weeds and protect plants from frosts that can cause the ground to heave in cold regions.
  5. Rake remaining leaves to prevent compaction over winter, which can suffocate grass and lead to dead spots.
  6. The proper summer mowing height for lawns is 3 inches, according to Kevin Jarek, Crops, Soils, & Horticulture Agent with the University of Wisconsin Extension. However, the last cut of the season should be 1.5 inches tall to prevent grass from matting down and creating an optimal setting for fungal diseases. A lower fall mowing height also can minimize pests like voles from tunneling beneath snow.
  7. Water newly planted trees thoroughly before the ground freezes. This is especially true for evergreens like boxwood, junipers, and arborvitae, which continue to lose moisture throughout the winter. Consider spraying these types of evergreens with an anti-desiccant spray to prevent winter burn and die-back, or wrap them in burlap.
  8. Detach and drain garden hoses to prevent burst pipes, leading to expensive home repairs.
  9. Wrap the trunks of newly planted fruit trees to prevent the freezing of bark following occasional high temperatures in the winter season. This damage is called sun scald. Wrapping trunks also helps deter rabbits and rodents from nibbling on the bark.
  10. Lastly, place all your plant debris in a compost bin or pile. Over time, it will break down to provide what many gardeners refer to as nutrient-filled “black gold,” which they will mix in their soil to aid plant growth. However, do not include diseased plant material, as those diseases can survive and re-infect next year’s plantings. Bag and discard them.

Following these simple tips will promote a healthy and beautiful garden the coming year. It also will give a head start next spring when you are most eager to get your hands in the dirt. Happy gardening!