Category Archives: Home and Garden

Fight Against Bedbugs

They forced a New Jersey movie theater to close, shut down San Diego’s largest firehouse, crawled into the stacks at a Fort Myers, Fla., library, and have been reported by guests at hotels across the country.

After six decades of living nearly bedbug-free, the United States is facing a national infestation. Bedbug outbreaks have been reported in every state and in every type of neighborhood.

“The incidence of bedbug infestation has risen 500 percent in the last few years alone,” says Mehmet Oz, MD, a leading cardiac surgeon, host of the Daytime Emmy Award-winning The Dr. Oz Show, and featured health expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “And they’re not just in dirty hotels; they’re at the five-star ones and they’re swarming the public places you visit every day.”

Why Are We Infested With Bedbugs?

What’s going on? Are Americans failing to keep their homes and public spaces clean?

Actually, no. A common misperception about bedbugs is that they only show up in dirty homes and apartments. In fact, says Dr. Oz, “A lack of cleanliness has no relationship to the likelihood of bedbugs.”

Instead, our concern about the environment has contributed to the current scourge. Bedbugs were nearly eliminated in the United States through the use of strong pesticides. But after these pesticides were banned in the United States in the 1990s, and as international travel increased, bedbugs began to reappear, and their presence is continuing to increase rapidly.

Are Bedbug Bites Dangerous?

While most people cringe at the thought of bedbugs, there is one piece of good news about these wingless biting insects: “There is currently no evidence that they transmit infectious disease,” says Dr. Oz.

Still, when they invade a space, they multiply rapidly, and by the time you notice bites, there could be hundreds or thousands in your home. They don’t like light, which is why people generally are bitten in dark places like movie theaters or while asleep. And since the bite is painless, victims usually don’t notice until they wake up.

“Bedbugs hunt for bare patches of skin and typically inflict several clusters of bites that are lined up in a row,” explains Dr. Oz. “These bites may even go unnoticed or be mistaken for flea or mosquito bites or other types of rashes.”

Bedbug bites can be very itchy, but usually go away on their own within a week or two. Bites can be treated with an over-the-counter skin cream containing hydrocortisone and an over-the-counter oral antihistamine. Only in very rare cases has a serious allergic reaction occurred.

How Can You Protect Your Home From Bedbugs?

Because they’re called bedbugs, a common misconception is that they mainly hide out in mattresses. But they live anywhere people are, including chairs, sofas, clothing, and carpets.

Bedbugs get into your house as hitchhikers, either on people or on items brought into the house. Knowing where to look is critical, says Dr. Oz. “Bedbugs hide in dark spots where they’re unlikely to be disturbed,” he says. When you hunt for them, you may not see live bugs, so keep an eye out for their calling cards: rust-colored spots (blood stains), eggs (pearly white and one millimeter long), molted skins, and black specks.

A bedbug infestation is a job for a professional, Dr. Oz says. Bug bombs don’t work and could cause the bugs to move to other parts of your house.

Here are a few things you can do to try to keep them out.

  • At the movies, keep your bags on the floor, not on a nearby seat. Bring a small flashlight and inspect your seat. Look in crevices and under armrests.
  • At the mall, check clothing before trying it on or purchasing it. Look under the arms, behind the collar, and inside cuffs and seams. “Remember, you’re not the first person to touch it,” says Dr. Oz. “Someone may have returned the very shirt you’re about to take home, and there’s a good chance it entered their bedroom.”
  • When your return from a high-risk area like a movie theater, flea market, or mall, throw your clothes into a dryer on high heat for 30 minutes. Place shoes in a pillowcase before putting them in the dryer.
  • When traveling, inspect your hotel room and keep luggage on racks as far from beds and sofas as possible. When you return home, wash clothes in hot water or dry on high heat. Before bringing luggage into living areas, vacuum it thoroughly inside and out.
  • Inspect used furniture before bringing it into your home.

A Guide to Eating Healthy

In the case of a hurricane or tropical storm, your family’s physical safety is your first concern, so it’s important for you to prepare an emergency plan in advance. But even if your home is not directly hit by a storm, your neighborhood or community could be affected for several days or longer by power outages, blocked roads, and damage to grocery stores, gas stations, and other businesses.

Hurricane disaster experts with the National Hurricane Center, the Red Cross, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency advise each household to put together a preparedness kit that includes such basics as a flashlight, a radio, batteries, maps, a first-aid kit, a manual can opener, medications — and, of course, food and water. But exactly what foods should be included?

Healthy Meal Plans

Every household should stock up on healthy, easy-to-store food items, but it’s especially important to include diet-specific foods for any family members who have high blood pressure, diabetes, gluten allergy (celiac disease), or another health condition that requires a special menu.

Read the shopping lists and sample menus below for choices that can help your family eat healthfully during an emergency; these lists include options for those with diabetes, high blood pressure, a heart condition, food allergies, and more.

Hurricane Healthy Meals Kit

To start, plan to create a “hurricane healthy meals kit” that includes essential nutrients from three of the five food groups, says Stacey Whittle, a registered dietitian and co-owner of Healthy by Design Nutrition Specialists, in Santa Monica, Calif. “The most important group is protein, then vegetables and fruits, and then so-called fillers, or starchy items.” A balanced meal would include something from each group.

In an emergency, the top priority is to get enough calories and stay hydrated. “You need to stay fueled and focused and not get sick,” Whittle says. She suggests that the hurricane healthy meals plan provide three meals a day, spread out as evenly as possible. Each meal should have a protein source as its main component, as well as something from each of the other major food groups.

Shelf life is another consideration. “Keep foods that require little or no cooking, water, or refrigeration, in case utilities are disrupted,” says Mitali Shah, MS, RD, LDN, a clinical and research dietitian at Boston Medical Center’s Center for Endocrinology, Diabetes, Nutrition, and Weight Management.

“Plan to have at least a three-day supply of food on hand,” she says. “Canned foods and dry mixes will remain fresh for about two years, but date all food items, and use and replace food before it loses freshness.”

While you’re stocking your pantry, remember to include plastic utensils, paper plates and cups, and cooking fuel, such as canned sterno or propane for a camp stove.

Healthy Proteins: Canned tuna, chicken, and salmon are healthy protein choices, with a portion size equaling half of one can. Other good proteins include beans, boxed tofu, nuts, seeds, and nut butters.

Pick “superfood” proteins and you’ll get the added nutritional benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, says Caroline Apovian, MD, director of the Nutrition and Weight Management Center at Boston Medical Center and associate professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine. “Sardines or?tuna fish packed in water, salmon packed in its own juices, and walnuts all have protein plus omega-3s, DHA, and EPA,” she says.

Low-sodium canned goods are necessary for those who have high blood pressure, plus they’re a better choice for all family members because salty foods can cause excessive thirst, and water for drinking may be limited in an emergency. “If you’re on a sodium-restricted diet, you can rinse the canned food in a colander before eating it,” says Shah.

Protein powder is another excellent source, since it can be mixed with water and provides good nutrition and filling calories, says Whittle. Lactose-free, gluten-free, and rice-based protein powders are available for those who have dietary restrictions; whey protein and soy protein are also available. “Protein powders can be hard to mix without an electric blender,” Whittle says, “so your kit should include a BlenderBottle, a plastic container with a wire whisk for mixing.” Two protein shakes and a serving of tuna or beans would provide sufficient protein for a day.

Handle a Disaster Strikes

Lives can be turned upside down by natural disasters, from earthquakes and fires to hurricanes and tornadoes — as well as terrorist attacks and other human-caused disasters. Your best defense is emergency preparedness — having a plan and knowing the steps to take so that you and your family will be ready if disaster strikes.

Has your family put these emergency preparedness basics in place?

  • Learn evacuation routes. Contact your local officials and find out how you should get out of your area if you need to.
  • Have a family emergency plan. Sit down and talk about the emergencies that are most likely to happen in your area. Determine how your family will react in each situation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has tools to help you put together an emergency preparedness plan.
  • Assemble an emergency kit. In a tote or other easy-to-carry bag, store copies of important documents such as birth certificates, photo identification, medical cards, cash and extra checks, spare keys, a list of important phone numbers, an extra supply of prescription medications, a three-day supply of water and non-perishable food (don’t forget pet food), a first aid kit, a flashlight, matches, blankets, and changes of clothing.
  • Keep your gas tank filled. Since you will likely need your automobile to evacuate your area, it is a good rule of thumb to always refill your gas tank when it dips below half.

7 Disasters and the Steps You Should Take

Here are emergency preparedness specifics for each of the following types of disasters:

  • Earthquake. “Drop, take cover, and hold on.” This means you should drop to the ground, get under a sturdy shelter, maybe a desk or table, and hold on until the ground stops shaking. When the earthquake is over, follow the instructions of local authorities and put your family’s emergency plan into place.
  • Explosion. Take shelter under a desk or table during the explosion, and exit the building as soon as possible once it’s over. Avoid using elevators and be careful of hot doors, since there may be fire on the other side.
  • Fire evacuation. Have a fire evacuation plan for your family with multiple routes of escape from all rooms of the house. If you live in a multi-level home, consider installing escape ladders in the upper levels. If a fire occurs, get out immediately. Do not put yourself in danger by placing a phone call or gathering your valuables.
  • Flood. Listen to the TV or radio for information on where the flooding is happening. In the case of a flood warning in your area, you may be advised to evacuate; in this case, do so immediately. If you are under a flash flood warning, seek higher ground immediately.
  • Hurricane. If you live in a coastal area, have a hurricane plan in place with supplies to cover your home’s windows and secure outdoor objects. If a hurricane is approaching, listen to a local TV or radio station to stay informed, and be prepared to evacuate. Before you leave your home, remember to turn off your utilities and propane tanks as recommended.
  • Terrorist attack. Watch TV, listen to the radio, and check online news sources to determine how authorities suggest you react. If you are in immediate danger, quickly leave the area and contact local authorities to find out what you should do next.

How to Get Clean and Safe Air

Ted Schettler, MD, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, says that air filters, which help capture particulate pollution, play a major part in home air quality.

Clean, efficient fans and filters on dehumidifiers, furnaces, refrigerators, and other appliances allow them to function efficiently and can also reduce moisture in the air and minimize particulate pollution in your house.

Similarly, for home safety, it’s important to vacuum or dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors frequently, as spider webs and dust can limit their effectiveness. While you’re dusting, take a moment to test them and make sure the batteries are still working.

Take these steps throughout the year to improve the air quality inside your home:

  • Be sure air vents between the indoors and the outside aren’t blocked by snow, leaves, dirt, or other debris, depending on the season.
  • Vacuum rear grills on refrigerators and freezers, and empty and clean drip trays to prevent mold growth.
  • Be diligent about fixing any plumbing leaks — even small drips can create favorable conditions for mold growth and affect air quality.
  • Clean clothes dryer exhaust ducts and vents.

What’s in Your Garage?

In general, air circulation inside a home should be encouraged, but air shouldn’tcirculate freely between an attached garage and your family’s living space. Car exhaust and other pollutants found in garages can have a serious, negative effect on the air quality inside your home and on your home safety. Make sure the door between the garage and your home seals completely, and keep weather stripping in good repair.

Tips for Year-Round Home Health

These seasonal tasks can help improve your home’s “health:”

Spring

  • Clean your air conditioner and have it serviced as necessary, at least every two years; clean and replace the filters as necessary.
  • Turn off the gas furnace and fireplace pilot light if applicable.
  • Check your home’s sump pump to ensure it’s functioning properly before the spring thaw.
  • Clean ceiling fans so they don’t spread accumulated dust particles throughout the house.

Summer

  • Inspect and repair vermin screens on chimney flues.
  • Inspect chimney flues and outdoor electrical fixtures for bird nests, which can prevent ventilation of combustible gases, decreasing air quality and posing potential fire hazards. Repeat this task in the fall.
  • Inspect the outside perimeter and trim shrubs and bushes away from the house, foundation, and roof, as growth that’s too close to the house can promote algae and mold.

Fall

  • Clean humidifiers in preparation for seasonal use.
  • Remove screens from windows where they might trap condensation on glass, promoting mold growth.
  • Sweep the chimney to remove creosote buildup and inspect for necessary repairs.
  • Seal any openings on the exterior of the house to prevent rodents and other pests from entering.

Winter

  • Test for carbon monoxide and radon levels.
  • Clean humidifier(s) regularly when in use.
  • Clean air vents on heating systems and space heaters, and be sure to service your furnace/heating system at least every other year.

Home From Flooding

Flash flooding can literally happen in an instant, and even nonviolent, slow-moving thunderstorms can overwhelm creeks and rivers, leading to serious flooding. Regardless of the cause, flooding can jeopardize your family’s safety and well-being.

Flood Control Measures to Consider

It may be impossible to prevent flooding, but flood control is possible. Follow these practical flood control tips to limit potential damage inside and outside your home:

  • Keep gutters clean and make sure downspouts drain water away from your house.
  • Maintain clear paths for storm water to travel, ensuring that storm drainage ditches are free of sticks, rocks, and other debris and can alleviate overflow that damages homes and surrounding property.
  • If you can, install a small floodwall or use sandbags to regrade your yard.
  • As a flood control precaution, install check valves and backup sewer valves to prevent water from backing up in your home’s drains.

Planning and Preparation Help Reduce Losses

Considering flood control as you perform routine maintenance on your home is the first step in safeguarding your family and property in the event of a flood. Being prepared for flooding if or when it occurs is just as important.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the American Red Cross, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend these steps and precautions:

  • Know your home’s projected flood elevation and place electrical sockets and other components at least 12 inches above that point.
  • Situate your furnace, washer and dryer, and other appliances on concrete blocks or otherwise raise them so they, too, are at least 12 inches higher than you home’s projected flood elevation point.
  • Create a flood plan and “flood file” with must-have information, such as your insurance policy number and agent’s contact numbers, and friends and relatives you can contact in case of emergency. Keep the file in a safe (high and dry) place, and let caregivers and babysitters know where to find it.
  • Stock a waterproof box with at least three days’ worth of canned foods, bottled water, medications, first aid supplies, a battery-powered radio, flashlights, and fresh batteries (or a hand-powered generator), basic cleaning supplies, some cash, and any other essential items you will need in case of an emergency. If you have pets, remember their needs as well.