Emergency Preparedness Refresher

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Heather says

This is my dad’s neighborhood. No one got hurt, but it took me a couple of days to finally reach him to hear this first hand. The cell towers near their home were damaged and without power and only cordless phones, I couldn’t reach them via their landline.

Tornado Damage

They are able to stay in their home despite most of the roof being gone and all of the upstairs windows. They have a generator, so the contents of their refrigerator and freezer are safe. It’ll be an uncomfortable few days until power is restored, but the damage wasn’t widespread which means they can easily buy more water if they need to. They are lucky.

Now they are dealing with the unpleasant task of dealing with their insurance company and trying to find people to hire to help with the cleanup and repair.

Emergencies happen, are you ready?

Emergency preparedness isn’t just for hardcore survivalist types.

Sit down with your family and create a plan.

Make sure every family member knows where they should be or go in case of severe weather.

Does everyone in the house know where to go if there is a fire? Pick a nearby rally or rendezvous point that everyone knows so you can quickly get an accurate headcount.

Create an emergency pantry with at least 72 hours worth of food, more if you live in a rural area, if you’re not on the same power substation as a critical community service, your power restoration is low priority.

The Home-Ec 101 Annual Hurricane Season Reminder is a good place to start if you’ve never thought about what to have on hand for emergencies.

Remember there are many kinds of minor emergencies that can snowball quickly.

Do you have school age children that ride a bus or walk home?

Talk to them about what to do if you are ever not home when they arrive. Talk to your neighbors, figure out who they can talk to and who will just call child protective services. Carefully teach your children who they can trust.

Flat tires and dead cellphone batteries happen at the worst of times. Kids leave backpacks at school and on the bus. (Heck, my kids have left their sleeping siblings on the bus. That was a fun afternoon. . .)

Do you have teens who can drive? Do they know where to go if you’re not together and they can’t get home? Keep an actual, paper map with directions and alternate routes in the glove box.  Aside: When I was trying to get ready to get to Seattle after I received news about my sister, I got lost in a neighborhood I’ve driven through for many years. Shock can make thinking clearly very difficult. Keep the plans simple.

Getting everyone safely through an emergency should be your number one priority. It would also be nice if once everything has calmed down if you didn’t have to pay for all of the damage out of pocket. Make sure your insurance is in order. Check your insurance plans, even if you rent. Remember, a property owner’s insurance covers their property –the structure– not yours –the contents.

It’s Time Again for Hurricane 101

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Heather says:

June 1st marks the beginning of hurricane season. For those of us on the East and Gulf Coasts, we know this means anxious meteorologists glorifying every thunderstorm that appears in the oceans. Although the public tends to become jaded with media saturation, there is no reason to get caught with your pants down.

Hurricane Hugo was the landmark event of my childhood. Thankfully my family made it through safely with relatively little damage. I remember not only the storm, but the camaraderie that developed during the clean up. Everyone in my neighborhood pitched in, adults cleared downed trees and grilled defrosting meals. Older kids babysat and entertained the younger ones so the adults could work unhindered. I was only eleven, so my memories consist mostly of the awesome forts we were able to build with scavenged materials. I was too young to understand what a nightmare filing for damages or dealing with FEMA could be.

Hurricane Season Preparedness

Here are some tips to be sure you and your family are safe should a storm make landfall. (Many of these apply to those living near fault lines or in tornado country who don’t have the benefit of prior warning.)

  • Check your insurance coverage. Do you have adequate protection from both wind and water? Are they with the same or competing companies? Keep these documents in a safe, dry place and remember to bring them along if you must evacuate.
  • Have enough food and clean water for each family member to last at least 72 hours.
  • One gallon of water per person per day.
  • Food should be ready to eat or only require minimal preparation. Please don’t forget to have a manual can opener on hand. You may end up the most popular person on your block.
  • Candles, batteries, flashlights, and a crank or battery operated radio are a must.
  • Keep your gas tank filled at least half way at all times.
  • Keep an emergency cash supply on hand, as ATMs do not work without power.
  • Have an evacuation plan. Shelters are only for those in the most dire need, those who have no where else to go.
    • Take identification and proof of residency with you. If an area is badly damaged law enforcement will restrict access to people trying to return.
    • Have a plan for Fido and Fluffy as well. Most shelters do not take pets, know what you are going to do before a warning has been announced. As a pet owner this is an important responsibility that is frequently overlooked.
  • Have a well stocked first-aid kit.
    • Keep all prescription medications filled and take them with you, if you must leave.
  • Have sturdy work gloves.  Keep an extra pair with your emergency kit.
  • Have sturdy shoes, you don’t need to be nailing a tarp to your roof in flip flops.
  • Except for emergencies, stay put after a storm. Emergency personnel have enough to deal with: restoring utilities and rescuing those who were injured in the storm. Don’t add to their workload.
  • Curfews may be established. Obey all law enforcement personnel. People under severe stress may act erratically.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly.
  • Remember snakes and other wildlife may become disoriented after a storm. Watch where you step and never put your hands where you cannot see when removing storm debris.
  • If you live in a rural area, learn how to safely operate a chainsaw. This goes for you ladies, too. Downed limbs are pretty much a given. STAY AWAY from  power lines.
    • Own one, keep it in good condition, and have gasoline, oil,  and chain oil on hand.
  • Have plenty of  propane or charcoal for your grill.
    • I’ve brewed coffee using a grill in the past. My neighbors loved me for it.
    • NEVER use a grill indoors. The flames produce deadly, odorless carbon monoxide.
  • If you have to board your windows, make sure you already have the plywood on hand. It can be reused each year.
  • Have a couple of tarps ready, they can be used to temporarily cover a broken window or a hole in the roof until more permanent repairs can be made.
  • Remember cell towers may be damaged in a strong storm and communication may be spotty or non-existent for a while.

And finally, if you’re watching a storm with potential to become a threat and you’re not in an evacuation zone,  it’s time to check and make sure everything is ready.

Go ahead and get the laundry caught up, find the cooler, check the generator –if you have one–, swap the stored gasoline if you have / need that.  Make ice if your freezer isn’t full.

A full freezer will stay at temperature for 48 hours, only 24 if it’s only half full.

If the kids have electronics, go ahead and make sure they are fully charged, be ready to ration their use.

If a storm does look like it will hit, let the people who haven’t thought ahead deal with each other in those last few hours. You’re ready; stay home, safe and dry, and make your own version of Harriet McLeod’s Go Away Cookies.

And while the drama is what the media plays on, remember it’s the little, preventable accidents that are most common.

Here is hoping for a quiet season!

Help! The Laundry Smells Like Rotten Eggs

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I followed all of the advice in your how to deal with stubborn body odor in laundry article and my clothes still stink. There’s sort of a rotten egg odor and nothing I do gets rid of it.

How do I get rid of this sulfur smell in my laundry?

Signed,
Sick of the Stink in Stinesville

Heather says

Did you know that scent is one of the most powerful memory triggers? When I was a little girl, I went to Girl Scout Camp (Camp Loco for you South Carolinians) and they had a serious sulfur issue in the groundwater. It was so bad that neither Kool-Aid nor sweet tea could cover that eggy taste. It’s been –well, we won’t say how many years– a long time and the slightest whiff of sulfur takes me to that hot, sweaty summer.

Sulfur odor in well water has two potential sources and it takes a little bit of household detective work to determine which is the likely culprit. In both cases, Hydrogen Sulfide is the offending chemical, but how it gets into your water determines the solution to removing the offensive odor.

1.  Sulphate reducing bacteria:  H2S is often the result of bacteria doing their bacterial thing and processing organic matter into waste.

2. Hydrogen sulfide gas: If your well is in shale or sandstone hydrogen sulfide gas dissolved in the water itself is possible. You may notice other symptoms of this issue around your house – corrosion of your pipes and silverware that quickly turns black for example.

Unfortunately this sulfur compound, as you have noticed, can build up on your clothing. In order to solve this issue you’ll need to address the actual cause or you’ll quickly understand the plight of Sisyphus. I contacted the reader and asked if the smell was present in only the hot water or in the cold water, too. In her case, the odor is found in both, which was a little disheartening as this hot water only has the simplest fix.

If sulphate reducing bacteria has colonized only the water heater, it is possible to kill it by raising the temperature of your water to more than 140°F for 48 hours.

If you choose to attempt this fix, please be careful if you have an elderly relative or young child in the home. Water over 140°F can cause scalding and extra care should be taken.

If the odor returns, bacteria is likely colonizing the magnesium and aluminum anode rod in the water heater. You can try replacing it with an aluminum-zinc rod -go ahead and flush your water heater at this time. If you also utilize a water softener in your home, you’ll find that this tactic likely won’t be effective. The salts that condition the water negate the effect of using zinc instead. Isn’t chemistry fun?

Call your county extension office and ask if hydrogen sulphide gas is an issue for groundwater in your area. If indeed this is the case, you should consider treating the water before it comes into your home. Unfortunately there isn’t a simple solution and requires either aeration or chlorination of the water at a point between the well and your home. The option you choose depends on your budget and longterm plans.

If hydrogen sulfide gas is not of local concern, again it’s probably sulphate reducing bacteria, only this time it has colonized your well and pipes rather than just the water heater.

Thankfully sulphate reducing bacteria in your well can be treated with household bleach. Here is a guide that gives step-by-step instructions to determine how much bleach is needed based on the depth and size of your well and how to shock the well and your pipes.

Before starting, know that you will not be able to use your water supply for 12 – 24 hours and you should plan accordingly. Remember this includes flushing the toilets! If you choose to remain in the home during the time of the shock you can use buckets of water filled before the shock to flush your toilet. If you are also on a septic system you must use care when flushing the bleach from your pipes, you don’t want to overwhelm your septic tank. Too much chlorinated water can kill off the good bacteria in your septic system and cause it to not process the waste. Collect the shocked water in buckets and dispose of it anywhere but down the drain.

If the sulfur smell begins to return shortly after shocking your well, it is definitely time to have your well inspected. Bacteria may be entering your well through cracks or your well may need to be moved to a better location.

Once you eliminate the hydrogen sulfide from your water source normal laundering will remove the rotten egg smell from your clothing. It may take a couple of washes to completely eliminate the odor, but you’ll get there.

I’m sorry there wasn’t a just use vinegar or borax style answer to the problem.

Best of luck!

Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

Solve Household Odors

References:

 

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Heather says

Does anyone remember the movie The Money Pit? I now watch this with a knowing chuckle.

Many of you know that I moved into what I refer to as the “fixer-upper” back in October. As there are some truly awful people out on the interwebz I was not very open about the exact state of the house that I moved into, other than the sharing the fact that it was pretty rough. Some of you out there know what home renovations are like and still others know what it’s like to live in a home being renovated. The word frustrating and disheartening comes to mind.

The bathroom floor had water damage that had caused the flooring to badly warp and there was a hole into the crawlspace. On the advice of my exterminator -if you are local I will share his name- I made a temporary, amateur repair to the main bathroom floor. Let’s call it effective, but hideous. It looked like I had a tumour of expanding foam growing where the tub met the floor. Nothing was coming in or out, nothing, but still I had nightmares that I would step out of the shower and fall into the crawlspace.

But it was all okay, it would just be a month or two and I would be able to repair it, no big deal?

I knew that a roof would be needed within five years and I had factored that into my decision to go ahead with the move.  For a reason neither I nor the company I hired to do the work understands, my insurance company decided the roof needed to be replaced before I could insure the place. (The contractor was more than happy to install the new roof, but it was not the critical need the insurance said.) The bathroom remodel was delayed.

Significantly.

Time moves slowly in the interim between hiring a contractor and the day he shows up. I had been spoiled by the roofing experience, I got the estimate and work started the next week.

I am currently in the middle of heavy travel season with my day job, so of course the contractor was only able to begin work while I was on the road.

I have a garage freezer that I have slowly been stocking  with meat as it goes on sale and vegetables. I have fallen in love with the frozen bags of onions and bell peppers, they make my life easier, yes the foreshadowing is a bit heavy handed.  You see where this is going. . .

The workmen tripped a breaker on a little used outlet.

The one the freezer is on.

Home Ec 101 to the rescue.

I wrote a post about this years ago: The Freezer Was Left Open, Now What

I spent Saturday minimizing damage and thankfully, most of the  meat in the bottom of the upright freezer was still frozen solid. If you ever have to freeze a lot of food, this tutorial may come in handy.

And despite all of the frustration, today I have five gallons of chicken gumbo in my freezer and more importantly, by close of business today, I will have a fully functional bathroom. I still have to paint, but I don’t think anything will be more satisfying than the jig I did to test the solidity of the floor.

Has Home Ec 101 ever saved your day?

There’s A[n Unwelcome] Party In My Plants

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Dear Home-Ec 101,

I have a dilemma in that I looked up the tiny flies that are strolling around my plant soil. I found that they are called fungus flies and live on the decaying soil matter. I’ve sprayed the soil with Home Defense both bug spray and soapy water (nope), put a dish of apple cider vinegar with a drop of dish washing liquid in it to bait them (nope), and most recently, put coarse sand on top of the soil so the “babies that hatch” can’t crawl up and out and die (yech). Needless to say, they are no longer visible on that plant but the fliers have moved on to my other plants. I will never buy that type of soil again (with small wood chips or something) because I’ve never seen this before.

Is there any other way to rid myself of these without buying enough sand to put on all of my plants? They don’t damage the plants (I’m told), but I can’t stand bugs.

Signed,
There’s a Party in My Plants and They Won’t Go Home

Heather says

Fungus gnats, fruit flies, and drain flies are all pretty annoying, but mostly harmless pests. I say mostly because they are aggravating as all get out.

ThanksbutnothanksCider traps don’t work for fungus gnats like they do for fruit flies because fungus gnats don’t eat rotting plant material, they eat what grows on the material. Fungus gnats smell cider and say, “Sorry, I’m just not that into you.” Okay, maybe not literally, but close enough for our purposes.

The solution for getting rid of the fungus gnats has three parts; the most important being perseverance. Due to the life cycle of the flies, it’s going to take weeks to get rid of the little  buggers (ha ha) once and for all.

How to get rid of fungus flies naturally

Dry out the fungus the gnats feed on.

First, you’ll need to ensure that the top two inches of soil are as dry as your plants can tolerate.  Those two inches will need to stay dry for as long as they will tolerate. If possible, practice what is called bottom watering.

To start bottom watering, you’ll need to set the plant’s pot in a container of water. Ensure that the water level in the container does not rise above the top two inches of soil. Let your plant hang out in the container until you begin to feel moisture along the wall of the container in the top two inches.  You’ll want to avoid setting the wet pot on a surface that can be damaged by water until the container itself is dry.

Allowing the top two inches of the soil to dry will reduce the amount of food supply the larva have available.

Capture the breeding adults.

Gnat StixUnlike immature humans, fungus flies can’t breed until they are fully grown. This handy evolutionary trait allows you to implement step two – hopefully before the procreation happens.

Find sticky traps like these Gnat Stix. You should be able to find them in the garden section of most big box stores or your local nursery. You may want to give them a call first to make sure, though. You’ll want to place at least one sticky trap in each of your plant’s container. Replace the traps when the stickiness wears out or you can’t stand looking at the little carcasses any longer.

Keep at it.

Here’s where the perseverance part comes into play. You’ll need to keep using both of these techniques for a few weeks after the fungus gnats first appear to be gone.

Why?

The next batch of eggs and larva are hanging out in the soil and are just waiting for you to water your plant from the top and ring the bell signaling dinner is ready at the fungal buffet.

Another option is to get a medium the gnats don’t want to hang out in and cover the soil in each plant, this is similar to the sand technique you mentioned but with a different material. I haven’t tried this technique so I can’t vouch for the effectiveness.

I hope this helps.  Thank you for writing in.

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Submit your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com