Tips for Child Proofing Your Home’s Staircases

The leading hazard for children in the U.S. is falls, which are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries for this age group.  Every day about 8,000 kids end up in the ER for injuries related to falls, totaling almost 2.8 million per year.  With those statistics in mind, it is worth looking at one of the most important areas to childproof in a home:  staircases.
 
Probably the first thing that comes to mind when attempting to safeguard the stairways in a home is 
a safety gate, and these are truly a practical idea.  Falling down stairs is obviously a serious hazard for an infant or toddler who is just learning to crawl.  When properly installed and checked regularly, a high-quality safety gate can help eliminate this likelihood.  Most gates are constructed to enable adults to unlock and pass through, yet small children are unable to open it.  

Child Safety Gate Enclosure


There are two basic types of gates available for consumers, and they differ in terms of installation.   The first type is a pressure-mounted gate, which is fixed in place by pressure against the surrounding walls or doorway.  They are quite versatile, and can be used in doorways between rooms, such as when it becomes necessary to keep a crawling baby away from the kitchen during cooking.  However, they are not recommended for keeping kids away from the top of a stairway, where falling is a risk. 

The second type of safety gate that is engineered specifically for stairways is one in which the frame is permanently hardware-mounted.  These frame of the gate mounts solidly in place with screws, but the door is still removable for times when they are unnecessary.  A hardware-mounted safety gate prevents small children from entering stairways where falling could occur.

For children that are somewhat older and who have outgrown the need for safety gates, parents may still have concerns.  Small children are curious, and prone to climbing on things.  Especially concerning is the baluster spacing on the handrail of a staircase.  All homeowners should be aware that a stairway with four or more risers should have a continuous handrail at least 34 inches high but not more than 38 inches, and it should be installed on at least one side.  The balustrades should not be spaced more than 4 inches apart from each other.  Homeowners with staircases that have larger spaces between rails, or any space that allows an object larger than 4 inches to pass, should be repaired because they pose a risk to curious children who may try to climb on or pass through the railing.
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Keeping Your Ceramic or Stone Tile Floors Beautiful

Ceramic tile and stone are popular flooring materials in Broward County, Florida homes, but they can easily be damaged without proper care and maintenance.  Ceramic tile is especially popular, due to its low maintenance requirements, ease of cleaning, and resistance to physical damage.  Its main component is clay, with the addition of other organic and inorganic materials.  Ceramic tile is available in both glazed and unglazed finishes, depending on the desired effect.  Despite their durability, ceramic tiles are vulnerable to a number of defects, however.

Natural Stone Tile


First, uneven tiles can be a problem.  Each tile should be level in relation to every other tile in the area.  Unevenness is an indication that the tiles were not properly set correctly in the mortar, and reinstallation may be necessary.  Ceramic tile can also suffer from cracks, coming loose and splitting.  Where there are cracks, this is typically the result of movement in the surface beneath the tile, where there has been excessive expansion or contraction, abuse to the surface, or improper installation.  Smaller cracks can be repaired with grout tinted to match the color of the tile, but larger cracks may require replacement.

Ceramic tile may also experience crazing.  This occurs often when the tiles were cooled too quickly after kiln-firing.  The result is that they develop fine surface cracks, which appear web-like on the surface of the tile.  Crazing is much more common in older tiles but it can happen in all types.  Crazing enables tiles to hold excess dirt, which leads to discoloration and cracked or discolored grout.

Another issue with ceramic tile actually relates to the grout which is used as an adhesive.  Improperly sealed grout will absorb moisture, especially around showers and sinks.  The remedy is for damaged or discolored grout is to remove and replace it.

In order to preserve ceramic tile in the home and avoid problems with cracking, there are a few maintenance and repair tips for homeowners. First, make sure to apply an impregnating sealant when installing ceramic tile.  One that will repel both oil and water is suggested, and this is especially useful in kitchens and bathrooms.  A solvent-based sealant is best, as they’re generally more durable than water-based varieties.

Also, quickly clean up any acids that may spill on ceramic tile.  Because common stone tiles are made from marble and limestone, i.e., calcite-based, they are subject to corrosion when exposed to acids, such as vinegar or citrus juices.  Despite their protection against water and oil, sealants are ineffective in protecting stone against these substances.  The result is that the acid will essentially etch into the stone if left standing.  Basalt, granite and ceramic tiles are less vulnerable to acid damage.
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Cement Substitutes: Better for the Environment

As the name suggests, cement substitutes are those types of materials that may be used in place of cement in order to improve upon cement’s properties, such as strength and longevity.  There are certain environmental advantages which make cement substitutes a wise choice in construction, such as diverting cement from waste, reducing the amount of energy dedicated to the manufacture of cement, and the conservation of raw materials.  As much greenhouse gas is distributed into the environment during the production of cement as is the operation of 22 million cars.
 
Cement substitutes are used more often in heavy construction as compared to residential, mainly because contractors are less familiar with them.  The most common cement substitutes include silica fume, also known as microsilica, which is a byproduct of the combustion of quartz, coal and wood chips during the production of silicon metals.  Silica improves strength and the abrasion resistance of concrete.  Another cement substitute is fly ash, a fine, light substance which enables cement to flow more smoothly in pump hoses and makes it more workable under hand-finishing.  Fly ash was mixed with cement during the construction of the Hoover Dam during the 1930s, though it wasn’t until the 1980s when its use in construction became more common.

There are two types of fly ash:  Class C and Class F.  Class C fly ash is produced from the burning of light coal, and it contains considerably more lime, which makes it stronger than its alternative.  It is the preferable class of fly ash for green building projects and is the standard type that is used in residential applications.  Class F fly ash results from the burning of harder, older anthracite and bituminous coal, which tends to reduce the concrete’s freeze-thaw resistance.

Slag is another type of cement substitute, and it is a byproduct of the production of iron and steel in blast furnaces.  Partial substitution of slag for cement improves its durability, reduces life-cycle costs, lowers maintenance costs, and increases the concrete’s sustainability.  Slag is used in very high concentrations, usually making up more than half of the total composition of cement.

Cement substitutes can prevent the certain types of concrete weathering, such as alkali-silica reaction.  This phenomenon occurs when concrete expands as a result of the interaction between high-alkali cement and high-silica aggregates.  This reaction is avoided through the incorporation of slag as a cement substitute and Class F fly ash is also effective.  Including cement substitutes also reduces corrosion, caused by de-icing salts that absorb through pores in the concrete to corrode the reinforcement steel and rebar.  Cement substitutes alleviate this problem by removing the calcium hydroxide that makes the concrete permeable.  Another problem diminished by cement substitutes is sulfate attack, in which concrete is affected by sulfates that are found in some soils, seawater and wastewater.  Concrete that incorporates either type of fly ash or is composed of more than 60% slag is effective in reducing the attack by sulfates.
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Types of Central Humidifiers

Humidifiers are devices that input moisture into the air inside a structure so that building occupants are comfortable.  Central humidifiers are a type that are incorporated into a house’s plumbing system and forced-air heating systems.
 
Central air humidifiers work by humidifying air while it is being heated in a forced-air heating system.  The water that is used by the device to convert into water vapor is pumped automatically in from household plumbing.  Portable humidifiers require the user to periodically supply water to the device before it is distributed into the air.  A certain amount of humidity in the air is advantageous, as airborne pathogens, such as those that cause the flu, circulate easier in dry air than in moist air.  Also, moist air has a soothing effect on irritated, inflamed airways. For someone with a cold and thick nasal secretions, a humidifier can help make breathing easier.

Humidistat


Indoor air that does not have a certain level of water vapor can also result in problems for physical possession in a home.  Dry air can cause damage to musical instruments, peeling wallpaper, static electricity, damage to sensitive electrical equipment, cause hair to stick up, and cracks in wood furniture, floors, cabinets and paint.

There are some drawbacks to using humidifiers in the home.  They can cause various diseases, and the young, elderly and infirm may be particularly vulnerable to these contaminants.  Bacteria and fungi can also grow in humidifiers and be distributed into the air by way of the vapor.  Diseases such as Legionnaires’ Disease, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (a dangerous inflammation of the lungs), and “humidifier fever.”  This is a mysterious and short-lived, flu-like ailment with symptoms including fever, headache, chills and malaise.  

Among the different designs of these devices, there is the drum-type humidifier.  This category has a rotating porous surface that absorbs water from a tray underneath.  Air from the home’s central heating system blows through the sponge, vaporizing the absorbed water.  The drum type requires continuous care and careful maintenance because of the mold and impurities usually collect in the water tray.  There is also the flow-through or “trickle” type of humidifier, which is a higher quality and more expensive unit.  This type allows fresh water to trickle into an aluminum panel, where air blows through and forces the water to evaporate into the air stream.  This design requires much less maintenance than the drum type because the draining water cleans the unit and there is no stagnant water left sitting.  
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Pros and Cons of Central Vacuum Systems

A central vacuum device is a cleaning system that is installed throughout a building, with a canister that receives dust and debris.  Usually, located in the garage or basement the canister sucks by the force of a motor from wall outlets, which are located throughout the home for the homeowner’s convenience.  Central vacuums are not new inventions, as the idea dates back as far as the 1850s in Sweden, where horse-powered fans were used to create suction through in-wall plumbing.  Soon after, when portable vacuum cleaners became popular, central vacuum systems fell out of use in the U.S. due to their relative expense.  In Canadian and Scandinavian homes, central vacuum systems are more common.

Central Vacuum System Wall Outlet

 

Central vacuum systems have some advantages over portable devices, and their durability is a main benefit.  They are long-lasting, with motors that can handle more usage than typical portable units.  In the event of problems, their warranties are usually longer for central units.  In addition, they are quiet due to the fact that the motor is located outside the living area.  They are quite versatile, in that they can be installed in older houses or built into new construction.

Central vacuum systems are a good investment, as they will make a home more valuable.  Like kitchen and bathroom renovations, many buyers will pay more for a home that is equipped with a central vacuum.  For allergy sufferers, it is key that they are hypo-allergenic unlike portable vacuums, which recycle air back into the room.  A central vacuum system blows dust-laden air back into the outdoors.  Perhaps most importantly, a central vacuum system is easy and safe to use.  There is no heavy equipment to carry throughout the home, and no electric cords prevents tripping over or catching on furniture.

Still, there are disadvantages of central vacuum systems, and price is a primary consideration.  A  good system runs about $1,500, a price tag significantly more expensive than even premium portable vacuum cleaners.  Plus, unlike portable units that can easily be emptied out, a central vacuum can suck up items inadvertently.  A central vacuum system has greater power, meaning a higher risk that large items will be sucked up and potentially cause damage to the unit.  In a typicaly household, there are unconventional ways that units can become jammed or broken when they swallow, often at the hands of children, broken jars, toys, stuffed animals, toilet water, and even pet birds.  Portable units are too weak to suck up items that can cause them to break.  Finally, a central vacuum system can become compromised by weak suction.  Typically, this is due to obstructed pipes or exhaust, an excessively dirty filter, or a full canister that needs to be emptied.  When the unit does not operate at all, the motor might be broken, a breaker may have tripped, or the wiring may be defective.  Any of these problems can be quite expensive to fix.
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Ceiling Fans for Comfort and Energy Efficiency

Ceiling fans are used in many Broward County homes to provide comfort for home occupants by circulating air within a room.  They do not actually cool the air, which is why they do nothing but waste electricity when they circulate air in an unoccupied room.  There are a few components to a typical ceiling fan.  First, there is the electric motor, and the capacity will vary with the size of the fan and its application.  The blades are the parts that actually move the air, two to six spinning, precision-weighted slats made from metal, wood or plastic.  The blade irons are the hardware components that connect the blades to the motor. 

Four Blade Ceiling Fan


The safety cable is a part installed on most heavy fans, and they will hold the fan in place in case the support housing fails.  The flywheel connects the blade irons to the motor, and the ceiling mount is the part that attaches the fan to the ceiling.  Most designs include ball-in-socket and J-hook features.  The down rod is another ceiling fan component, and is used in situations where the ceiling fans will be suspended from a high ceiling.  A fan’s motor housing is the casing that protects the fan motor from dust and its surroundings, and in many residential fans is typically a decorative embellishment.  Finally, lamps may be installed above, below or inside the motor housing.

There are many defects in fans that are common, especially where they have not been installed in accordance with industry standards or manufacturer instructions.  When a ceiling fan falls or breaks free from its ceiling mount, the results can be deadly.  Fans must be supported by an electrical junction box listed for that use, and a fan brace box must be installed.  Homeowners often carelessly replace light fixtures with ceiling fans without upgrading the junction box, which should clearly state whether it’s rated to hold a ceiling fan.

When the ceiling fan wobbles, this is an indication of a common and distracting defect that is usually caused when fan blades are misaligned from one another.  Specific problems stem from small differences in the size or weight of the individual blades, or by warping, bent blades, or components that are not screwed in tightly enough.  Every item should be securely attached, with all screws tightly in place.  One way to tell if the blades are misplaced is to measure the distance between the tip of each blade and the ceiling by manually pushing the blades. A homeowner can carefully bend any misaligned blades back into place.  Blades can also be corrected in this way if measurement reveals that they are not an equal distance apart. 
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