SHARP HOME

Friday, 30 November 2012

Ice skating safety


With no shortage of skating rinks amidst our chilly Albertan winters, ice skating is one of those winter activities that we eagerly anticipate. It's an easy and exhilarating way to experience the outdoors and to get some fresh air into your lungs. Of course, following proper safety guidelines can make this already enjoyable activity even more enjoyable.

To begin with, you want to ensure that your skates actually fit you properly. For one thing, comfort is key in that being comfortable helps to ensure that you make safe decisions by eliminating a source of distraction (discomfort). But even more importantly, properly fitted skates give your ankles the support they need, without which you could find yourself injured very easily. For these reasons, you should take the time to try on your skates beforehand (especially at the start of the season). To be really sure of their fit, once you have them on, put some skate guards on your blades and walk around in them for a few minutes. This will give you a sense of their ability to support you.

Once you know you have the right fit, it's time to attend to matters of maintenance. No dull, rusty blades allowed! Bad blades make for loss of control on the ice, so we want to avoid that. At the start of each skating season, take your skates to a professional for sharpening. To maintain your blades throughout the season, wipe them dry with a rag after each session on the ice.

Part of protecting your comfort and health involves dressing appropriately. You want to dress warmly, and you also want to be able to adjust your temperature as necessary. This can be achieved by layering. Make sure you have mittens, and warm socks that fit comfortably into your skates.

When you get to the actual skating, only skate on ice that has been appropriately prepared (smoothed and cleared), where you know, beyond all doubt, the ice is strong enough to support your weight. Do your part in this regard by being on the lookout for compromised ice: ice with holes, cracks, or with rubble frozen into it.

If you have not skated in some time, revisit your techniques for stopping and falling before you get into the serious part of your skating excursion. Be sure that you never skate entirely alone, and that you allow yourself resting periods when you find yourself tiring.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Five habits to cultivate for safer driving

As we become more experienced drivers, we can become overconfident in the amount of control we have as drivers, and can drop some of the habits that have been keeping us safe. It may have been years since we had an accident, or even a close-call, and so we become blissfully ignorant of the risks of driving. Becoming sloppy in this regard can cost us financially and personally; consistently driving without taking proper safety precautions will likely lead you to be involved in an accident. Or, you may find yourself on the receiving end of an expensive ticket. At any rate, it's important for us to revisit and recultivate these habits.

1. Obey speed limits
Excessive speed is a factor in one-third of all fatal crashes, yet most people admit to speeding on a regular basis. Speeding is dangerous because it makes it more difficult to spot and react to conditions on the road. The faster you're going, the less likely you'll be able to react to a stalled car in your lane or a patch of ice in your path. In winter especially, speeding should be avoided at all costs. It usually doesn't get you to your destination any quicker, since most cities have timed lights which favour people going the speed limit, and it puts you and everyone else on the road at risk.

2. Cut out distractions
Followers of our blog may be getting tired of all the articles we write on the dangers of distracted driving, but it is a serious problem that has only recently been getting attention. In the US, 20% of injury crashes involve reports of distracted driving. While you may not think that programming your GPS or fiddling with your iPod is a serious threat to your safety, the statistics show otherwise.

3. Maintain safe distances with other vehicles
Following the driver ahead of you too closely is one of the worst habits you can develop as a driver. Not only does it put you in danger, but it directly threatens the safety of the person ahead of you. If they were to  slow down quickly to react to road conditions, you could rear end them and injure both parties. If someone is driving too slowly in the passing lane, a quick tap on the horn will let them know that they should be in the right-hand lane. If you aren't sure whether you're following too closely, try this trick: count the seconds it takes for your car to pass the same fixed object that the car ahead of you just passed. If it is less than two seconds, you're tailgating. In poor weather, there should be four seconds between you and the car ahead.

4. Use your signal
Signalling is one of the simplest habits to implement. You literally only have to lift a pinkie to signal properly. Signalling lets other drivers know when you're changing lanes or turning. In city driving, where you may have to slow down abruptly to turn, it's important that you let the driver behind you know. Otherwise, you may find yourself in rear-ended!

5. Plan ahead when you know you'll be consuming alcohol
After having a few drinks at the bar, it's easy to think that you haven't had "too much." Despite how you may feel, remember that you should not drive for at least two hours after having a drink. Make your life easier and take a taxi or walk home -- it's simply not worth the risk of getting a DUI offense and having your license revoked, or causing an accident because of your negligence.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Ski and snowboard safety


If there's one consolation for an early start to winter, it's the prospect of having a longer ski and snowboard season. As with all forms of physical activity, a little bit of planning and preparedness can make for a much more enjoyable time. Here are our tips for getting the most out of your time on the slopes.

Before you go...
  • Be sure that you're in shape, and be realistic about what you can and can't handle. Try to resist the urge to make skiing your primary vehicle for weight loss—you'll end up overexerting yourself that way.
  • Have the right gear. Proper fits and sizes are key here. You don't necessarily need to spend a great deal of money to achieve this. If you don't ski regularly, then consider renting what you need.
  • Stay warm, and stay dry. Look for clothing that are resistant to water and wind, and remember to wear a hat and gloves. Additionally, dressing in layers will help you to maintain just the right body temperature.
  • Mind your eyes. Snow blindness is a terrible way to ruin your excursion, so make sure you're wearing protective eyewear.
  • Despite the cold, don't underestimate the likelihood of sunburn. Protect exposed skin accordingly.

Once you're there...
  • If you're inexperienced, get help from the pros and take a lesson. You'll enjoy yourself more when you know what you're doing, and will minimize the chances of injury that way too.
  • Stay focused. The best way to make safe decisions is to have your wits about you. As with driving, decisions made during snowboarding and skiing need to be done quickly; you won't be able to achieve this in a distracted state.
  • Stay hydrated. This will help make sure your mind is working as it should.
  • Engage in a physical warm up before you actually start skiing.
  • Don't wait until you're tired to stop.
  • Learn about the various types of snow (hard, wet, etc) and how they alter your speed on the slopes. Adjust your movements accordingly in order to maintain control.
  • If you find yourself on a slope that's too difficult, keep your skiis on and side step down the slope.
  • Remember that people ahead of you have the right of way.
  • Only stop where it is clear and safe to do so (where you won't be in someone else's way).
  • Know how to use the lifts.
  • Obey signs.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Childproofing your home


Whether you have children of your own, or may be expecting children in your home as friends and family visit during upcoming holidays, knowing how to childproof your home can prevent a great deal of distress. While the list of possible measures one may take to achieve this may be endless, we think starting with these five areas are the best ways to start.

Stairs – if the child in question is too young to be using stairs unsupervised, you'll want to make sure that there is no chance of them finding themselves presented with the opportunity to explore stairs. The most effective way to do this is to use a gate. Gates are also handy to have because if there is a particular room that you want to keep a baby out of, the gate can be applied to the entryway of that room as well.

Corners – corners and edges of furniture pieces, and of the actual structure of your home itself, can often be cause of injury for babies who move with little control over their tendency to bump into things. Since much of this bumping can involve their heads, you want to minimize the chances that such a bump will involve a sharp corner or edge—that could be disastrous. Covering corners and edges with bumpers will make these surfaces less injurious.

Storage spaces – the wee folk love to explore spaces that open and close. The danger here is that they may close a door or drawer on themselves, and may even get themselves stuck inside one of these spaces. For this reason, you'll want to use safety locks and latches to prevent them from being able to open and close items like closets, cupboards, and drawers.

Faucets – while it is unlikely that a very young child would be able to reach a sink or shower head on their own, children have ways of surprising us with what they can and can't do. This is why it's important to childproof your faucets. In order to make sure that wandering hands don't find a way to scald themselves with hot water from the tap, install anti-scalding devices on your sinks and showers.

Furniture and appliances – crawlers are explorers, and a big part of the exploration process involves pushing (a very sophisticated science, as you may know). Since you know that babies will be hitting and pushing objects that are within their reach, you don't want to risk that they will knock something over and have it land on them...particularly heavy objects. To prevent this, anchor and secure heavy and unstable pieces of furniture and appliances so that this is not a possibility.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Eight steps to a safer flight


For many of us, flying as a means of traveling where we need to go is so commonplace that we seldom give it much thought. Yet for others among us, flying is something we do so infrequently, that when it comes time to board a plane, it's a big deal. For either group, reviewing air-travel safety is always a good idea: it reminds the frequent flyers of the necessity of safety measures that traveling so often may have caused them to take for granted, and it educates the less experienced flyers among us of the things they can do to protect their own safety (which in turn should give them peace of mind). The following are effective ways to increase your safety while filing.

Choose nonstop flights. Contrary to popular belief, the majority of aircraft accidents are not actually the result of a plane suddenly tumbling, mid flight, from high altitudes. Rather, most accidents take place during take off and landing. A direct flight compared to its one-stop counterpart has half the number of take offs and landings (one each, as opposed to two each). That effectively cuts the risk of collision in half. That said, such a risk is already quite small to begin with, so if stopovers cannot be avoided, this is not reason to be worried.

Choose larger aircraft. This is much easier than it sounds: if you're flying through a major airport, you've already met this requirement. Despite the variances in plane sizes that most airlines rely on, they all fall under the category of larger aircraft. A small plane is one that has a maximum take off weight (total, including the aircraft itself) of 12,500 lbs or less.

Observe safety instructions closely. This can actually be a challenge simply because of how boring it might seem—especially if you're in the second leg of your flight and have just watched such a presentation only hours ago. That said, it's key that you commit this information to memory. If you're traveling with others, one good strategy to use is to use the provided safety pamphlets to quiz each other and verify that you know what to do in various emergency situations.

Respect the rules. Aircraft personnel are doing their best to ensure a safe flight for all, and have been well trained to meet that end. For this reason, you should listen to them. If a flight attendant asks you to put away a certain electronic device during take off, comply. It isn't appropriate to start explaining why your device is exceptional. It's only a few minutes before you'll be able to use it again anyway.

Note your exits. In the event of an emergency landing, knowing which exit is closest to you will help you move more quickly and effectively.

Stay hydrated. Health and safety are closely linked, and hydration is one of, if not the, foremost factor in maintaining good health. Proper hydration will ensure that you are alert and able to think clearly and respond quickly in case something goes amiss.

Avoid excessive alcohol. While some rely on the powers of intoxication to ease them through their fears of flying, you're much less likely to be able to make safe decisions in emergency situations if you are inebriated.

Remember that your own safety comes first. This is a tough one if you're traveling with children because intuitively, you tend to put them before yourself. If you're in a situation that calls for the donning of oxygen masks though, you're not going to be able to help anyone if you don't attend to your own safety first.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Home insurance: facts and fiction


  1. Standard home owner's insurance will not cover damage done to a home as a result of flooding.
    FACT: despite that flood damage is actually quite a common type of disaster facing property owners, coverage against flood damage does not fall under standard home insurance policies.

  2. My basic home owner's insurance policy will protect me if I am injured on my own property.
    FICTION: Any coverage pertaining to injury incurred on your property applies to guests that visit you in your home, and not to yourself or your family members (or anyone residing there).

  3. I should avoid filing any claims at all because each one will cause my premiums to increase.
    FICTION: it usually takes more than one claim to have an effect on your rates.

  4. If the cost of repairing the damage myself is close to the cost of the deductible, I should skip filing a claim.
    FACT: this is actually the most prudent thing to do if it is the case that you would be spending a similar amount either way, because it's one less incident that might contribute to increasing premiums.

  5. Opting for less coverage is a great way to get lower premiums.
    FICTION: while opting for less coverage may indeed lower your premiums, it's a pretty poor decision to make, and it could end up costing you far more than you “save” by not being adequately covered. Make sure your coverage is complete. To lower your premiums, talk to your agent and find out what incentives help to get you lower rates (like, for example, installing a house alarm).

  6. In the event of an extreme natural disaster that affects a large region, government aid will cover the damage to my home.
    FICTION: some of us could probably could get by without home owner's insurance if that were the case, but it simply isn't.

  7. When buying a new property, making a down payment of 20% or greater will reduce the amount I spend on insurance.
    FACT: while making a down payment of less than 20% does not increase your home owner's insurance per se, it does mean that you must purchase mortgage insurance in addition to your home insurance policy, so making a down payment of 20% definitely helps you avoid that.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Facts about superbugs


In light of a recent article put forth by the CBC about the prevalence of superbugs in hotel rooms, we wanted to review what exactly these superbugs are, how they came out about, and how you can best protect yourself from them.

To begin with, the term “superbug” refers to a type of bacteria that has evolved resistance to antibiotics. The most common superbugs right now are: MRSA (methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus), C. diff (clostridium difficile), and VRE (vancomycin resistant enterococci). There are numerous factors that experts believe have contributed to their evolution. One is the abuse or overuse of antibiotics. Many times when we come down with a bad head cold or flu like symptoms, we assume we can be treated with medicine. However, if the infection is viral, using antibiotics is not going to treat the infection at all. It might, however, start training other bacteria to develop resistance to it. Another way that antibiotics are dangerously misused is in patients who don't complete their doses. All to often, a patient will start a course of antibiotics, start feeling better within three days, and deem it unnecessary to continue taking them. This is one of the most dangerous practices out there because rather than completely killing the bacteria, you are fighting it just enough to encourage it to fight back by means of evolving stronger strains. If this describes your current antibiotic consumption pattern, you are unfortunately guilty of providing a training arena for superbugs in your body.

Another area in which antibiotics are being misused is in the farming industry, where animals are routinely fed with antibiotics to prevent them from catching diseases in their overcrowded conditions. The trouble again is that when antibiotics are administered without need, rather than containing an existing infection, this practice alerts bacteria to a new “enemy” that they will waste no time in evolving against.

Now, it may seem silly to tell you this, but your greatest safeguard against these infections truly is rooted in hygienic procedures. Most people's handwashing habits are actually not up to the standard required for fighting off infections. Handwashing should be thorough, and should take twenty seconds (the time it takes you to sing “happy birthday”--assuming you're not rushing through it). You should also ensure that in addition to the palms of your hands, the other (easy to forget) parts get adequate attention—especially the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and your thumbs. Additionally, using antimicrobial wipes on surfaces that you touch regularly will help offer additional protection. Observing these practices will do a tremendous amount to keep you healthy.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Don't let your house give your money away!


With Alberta's early onset of cold weather, we got to thinking about the fact that heating bills are likely to go up earlier than usual as a result...and that got us thinking about the various resources we pay for in our homes, and what we can do to reduce their respective costs. If there are portions of your home that are in need of repair, and if these areas go unchecked, your house could be giving away your hard earned money. Here are a few ways to make sure that Chez Toi doesn't get away with such behaviour.

Replace old windows – if your windows are old, they may be allowing the cold to penetrate your home at a faster rate than usual. This is especially true if your home is over twenty years old. One very simple criteria that your windows should meet in order to avoid heat loss is that there should be a double pane. Single panes don't do enough to insulate the air in your home and protect it from the air outside.

Unplug unused appliances – anything occupying an electric socket, regardless of whether or not it is currently in operation, is consuming energy. You can avoid such waste by unplugging appliances when you're not using them. Items like hair dryers, electric kettles, toasters, phone chargers, and coffee makers, are good places to start.

Consider caulking – Don't underestimate the power of small cracks and crevices to substantially lower your home's efficiency. Sealing off these openings could save you around 10% in energy consumption—hardly a number to sniff at. This is a project that is very low cost, not particularly time consuming, and requires no expertise. All you need is a caulking gun, and the caulk to load it with. Running this treatment along the edges of your windows will give you a good seal to keep the draft out. And you needn't worry: when the weather turns mild again, and you're ready to open your windows, the caulking will come off with just a little bit of pulling on your part, with no damage whatsoever to the areas it was applied to.

Don't ignore a leaky toilet tank – alas, the nuisance of that ongoing sound of a tank trying to refill itself to no avail isn't the only drawback of a leaky toilet tank. You're losing water as well. Putting off the repair can make it so that you become accustomed to it, and forget to look after it long term. Avoid unnecessary loss by making repairs in a timely fashion.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Three ways that travel insurance protects you

As we know, despite our best laid plans for travel, life happens. We just wish the “happenings” didn't have to coincide with out travel plans because the last thing we'd really like to see there is to have these plans disrupted. That said, no amount of wishful thinking is going to protect you from calamity when it strikes, or to recover your holiday plans when they go awry. Travel insurance is actually extremely low cost—especially considering the substantial degree of protection it gives you. Here are some situations where having travel insurance will make a significant impact on you:

An emergency situation in your life forces you to cancel your trip. “Oh, that's not me,” you say. “I wouldn't be booking a trip unless I was one thousand percent sure I could go, so I won't need to worry about canceling.” It's great that you're such a careful planner—that will definitely make for a smoother holiday for you. The trouble with that reasoning, though, is that not all of the factors that determine whether or not you are able to travel are within your control. Sudden onset of severe illness, and family crises, aren't well-mannered enough to ask, “is now a good time?”

You lose your job. People are even less likely to consider this possibility than those of illness or untimely deaths in their families, but just like these crises, job loss isn't always predictable. If you need to cancel a trip because you have lost your job, having travel insurance ensures that you can do so without any financial loss; you should be reimbursed in full. It should be noted, though, that this only applies if the job loss is involuntary; if you quit or retire, that would not count as job loss.

Your travel provider goes belly up. Unfortunately, this is actually a pretty common occurrence. A good travel insurance policy should cover you in case of disruptions involving your airline, your cruise, your place of accommodation, and your tour providers.

These are just three of several misfortunes that travel insurance can protect you from. You don't want to be without it.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

But can I take my tires with me?


An early onset of this year's winter season saw Albertans scrambling to get their tires changed much earlier than they typically would. Interestingly enough though, something as commonplace as regulations pertaining to tire studs—something we Albertans don't really give any thought to—varies a great deal from province to province. In Alberta, there are no restrictions at all on the use of studs, but this isn't necessarily the case elsewhere in Canada. For this reason, if you are planning to drive long distances within Canada while you've got your winter tires on, it's a good idea to know what's allowed where, and when. First, we'll look at a table that gives us the timing restrictions.


Additionally, some provinces have certain specifications around the design and implementation of studs.


Consulting these guidelines would be a good way to prepare for your mid-winter cross-country travels.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Changing your car's air filters


One of the easiest things pertaining to car maintenance that you can perform yourself with great confidence is changing your car's air filters. Few other maintenance tasks are as simple, and the benefits of doing so are noticeable immediately. Having a clean engine air filter is very important for the efficiency of your car. A filter that has a significant accumulation of dirt translates to needlessly lost money for you: it significantly reduces the efficiency of your car. In fact, you can expect to lose over a kilometre per litre of gas when you drive with a dirty engine air filter.

When purchasing a new filter, you will find that you have two choices: paper filters, and oil based filters. Paper filters are quite inexpensive; they can be had for around $15 each. They are also disposable. Once it has served its six month period, a paper filter is to be thrown away. Oil based filters, though more expensive upfront, are actually a great little investment for the respiration of your engine. They last longer, and they can be reused after cleaning so that you don't have to dispose of them so soon. Compared to paper filters, they promote more air circulation which again contributes to your car's fuel efficiency.

If you decide to change your car's enginge filter yourself, you'll need to find out where exactly it is. Your manual should be able to supply you with that information, but generally speaking, you will be able find it very close to the engine itself—either to the right or left of it (sometimes even on top of it) within the hood compartment. It will be fastened in place either with a screw on cap or with clips. To change it, simply unfasten it, remove the old filter, replace it with the new one, and secure the new filter in with the use of the screw on cap or the clips.
Generally speaking, you should plan on having your air filter changed twice a year. If you are uncomfortable with changing your own air filter, you need not worry that it will be costly to outsource. In fact oftentimes, the labour portion of a filter change will be free (so you would only be expected to pay the cost of the filter).

In addition to changing your car's engine air filter, from time to time it is necessary to change the cabin air filters as well. In fact, if there is any type of contaminant residing there, your car's air may actually be polluting your lungs even more than the fumes you would inhale if you were outside of it. Not all cabin filters can be changed at home, though most can. Your manual will tell you whether you are able to change your cabin filter yourself, or whether you'll need to bring it to a technician. Either way, if your car is the vehicle of transport for anyone with respiratory illness, it's a good idea to make sure that your cabin filter is clean at all times.


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Protect yourself during risky pastimes


Less than a month ago, Felix Baumgartner was the object of intense curiosity, admiration, and astonishment as he undertook to sky dive from the edge of space, setting the world record for height and speed achieved in this sport. Some of us regard daredevils like this with envy, wondering if we ourselves would ever endeavour to do something so daring, while others of us react by reiterating our contentment with safer pastimes. Whichever side your heart lies on, unless you are an insurance provider, your thoughts about Felix Baumgartner almost certainly did not include “I wonder how much he pays for life insurance?” Since we are insurance providers, that was one of the first thoughts that occurred to us.
Unbeknowst to many people, your hobbies actually can impact your life insurance rate, depending on what they are. This isn't to say that knitters need worry about the implications of a death-by-needles scenario when purchasing a policy. That said, while some of the activities that raise your insurance rates may come as no surprise to you, others may. Here are a few of said activities:

  • Aviation
  • Vehicle racing – cars, bikes, or boats, for example
  • Bungee jumping
  • Cave diving
  • Zip lining
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Parachuting
  • Rock climbing and mountaineering
  • Scuba diving
  • Skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Surfing
  • White water rafting

At this point in your reading, you may be thinking to yourself, “but how would my insurance provider even know? Especially if I only go ballooning once every other year? Do I really have to disclose that?” You know the old adage that says “honesty is the best policy?” we would add that, “honesty is the best policy for your policy.” Failing to mention something like this when purchasing your policy could actually jeopardize your family's ability to claim your life insurance proceeds if you should happen to pass away during a risky activity that was not disclosed at the time the policy was made. Unlike sky diving, that's a whole lot of risk without any thrill.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Hurricane survival – the aftermath


In this last post of our mini series on hurricane safety and survival, we're going to examine what you should do once the storm has passed you over. First and foremost, make sure you continue to listen regularly to your hand-crank or battery operated radio. This will give you the latest weather updates. This is key because you may think the worst of the storm has passed, and assume that it is safe to venture outside, when in fact, it is not.

Once you do receive news that it is safe to go outside again, be on the lookout for continuing rains, and the flooding that ensues even after the worst of the storm has passed. If you are not in your home and were staying with friends or family, or at an emergency site, don't assume it's safe to go home just because the storm has passed. Wait for an official announcement that tells you with certainty that it is, in fact, safe for you to return. If the site you return to is surrounded in water, don't attempt to enter it.

Regardless of whether you stayed in your home or elsewhere as the storm was passing, as soon as it is safe for you to move around the inside and outside of your home, start taking pictures of damage—both to your property, and to its contents. You're going to need these for insurance claims. It's worth noting here again that not all damage caused by hurricanes will necessarily be covered by your basic home insurance plan. This is why it is critical for you, prior to disaster, to meet with your insurance provider and discuss options that include specific coverage, like hurricane insurance, and contents insurance.

In terms of food and drink, check your fridge for spoiled food, and discard what has gone bad. If you are uncertain about a specific item, it's better to play it safe and discard it. You should assume that tap water is unsafe for consumption (either drinking or cooking) until you know for certain that it is not contaminated.

If you can avoid driving, do. If you notice damaged power lines and are able, notify authorities so that they can repair them quickly. Remember to protect yourself as you are surveying and cleaning in and around your property with layers of clothing that will shield you from debris and contamination.