7 Home Maintenance Tasks to Check Off Your List Before Winter

During this time of the year, nearly everyone thinks about the beginning of the holiday season. This time of the year, however, should also be considered as a time for completing some home maintenance before the cold winter weather makes its imminent arrival.

Take the time right now to check off these 8 tasks from your home maintenance to-do list before winter arrives!

Maintain Your Chimney and Fireplace – Before you decide to use your fireplace for the holidays, make sure that you give it thorough seasonal maintenance, giving special attention to the flue, damper, and firebox. A buildup of creosote can lead to a very dangerous chimney fire. Also, if you don’t already have a chimney cap, we suggest that you go ahead and get one. You can read more about fireplace safety here!

Ready Your Snow Supplies – You might not be ready to face all that frozen precipitation that comes with winter, but you will have to eventually! Ready your snow gear before the weather turns nasty! Make sure that your snow shovel isn’t buried underneath all of your tools and that you have quick and easy access to it in case of bad weather. If you use a snow blower, have it serviced and fill the tank with fresh gasoline. Finally, stock up on calcium chloride and some sand for deicing – keep a little of it inside your entrance in case you wake up to a snowy surprise in the morning!

Clean Your Gutters – If you haven’t done this yet, now is the time to get it done! Wear long rubber gloves, grab a gallon bucket, and scoop out leaves and debris into the bucket by hand. After the gutters are cleaned, run water down the gutter to see if it drains properly or if there are any spots that need to be patched up before the winter arrives.

Maintain Large Appliances – The holidays are quickly approaching, and that means family, fun times, and of course, great food! You will want to make sure that your appliances are properly prepared for the demands you will be putting on them. Pull your fridge from the wall and gently clean the condenser coils in the back with a vacuum cleaner and a brush attachment. Clean your oven and stove drip pans on your electric range oven. This will help ensure that your holidays are even safer!

Check Your Sump Pump – Most homes have sump pumps installed in an unfinished area in the basement. These pumps switch on automatically when groundwater levels rise, eliminating basement water before it’s a problem. If you happen to have a sump pump in your home, be sure that it is in good working condition before the season begins.

Check Your Windows – After the first snowfall is not the time to discover that your windows aren’t properly sealed. As snow builds up and begins to melt in these areas, the water will then penetrate into unprotected areas, which can cause structural members to rot out. Check your windows before the cold weather arrives and caulk areas that aren’t properly sealed to keep out unwanted moisture and drafts.

Maintain Moisture in Your Home – During the winter season, heaters can rob a home of its humidity quite easily. If moisture sounds like a bad thing to have in your home, know that just a little moisture in the air can make heated air feel warmer, which means that you can keep the heat at a slightly lower temperature as long as your humidity is balanced. If you find that your woodwork is cracking or your skin is dry all the time, you probably need more moisture in your home. Consider investing in a humidifier to help add moisture to the atmosphere!

Remember that a well-prepared home also is protected by a solid home insurance policy. That’s where the experts at Madison Mutual come in! Call us at 1-800-766-MMIC or find us online at www.madisonmutual.com to find out about our policies today.

9 Fireplace Safety Tips to Warm You Up This Winter

There’s nothing quite like enjoying a roaring fire in the cold months of winter with our friends and family. The crackling of the wood and extra heat radiating on our hands and feet feels downright magical sometimes. However, owning a fireplace isn’t always glamorous – it comes with its own set of rules and responsibilities. In fact, enjoying a warm fire requires a clean and safe fireplace.

Here are 9 tips and reminders to help you maintain your fireplace and ensure that your winter is nice and warm this year!

Don’t Keep It On All the Time – Remember, your fireplace isn’t your furnace and should never take the place of a furnace. Fireplaces aren’t built for long-time uses, so be sure to use it for short-durations fires. Shoot for no longer than 5 hours.

Keep the Doors Open – Do you have glass doors on your fireplace? If so, keep them open in order to let the air be drawn up to cool the chimney. Remember to keep the screen closed, though. This will prevent little sparks from jumping onto your carpeting or hardwood. In fact, keep a nonflammable rug in front of the fireplace so that sparks won’t damage your flooring. You can find these rugs at a fireplace supply store.

Use the Right Tools – Hands never belong in a fireplace that is in use. When using your fireplace, be sure to use the proper fireplace tools to handle the burning logs, even if you just need to shift something slightly Even brief exposure can cause burns or, at the worst, an unexpected accident.

Cap the Chimney – Chimney caps are very useful! They help prevent water damage to the chimney, keep animals from nesting inside, and prevent debris from blocking the chimney, which helps prevent carbon monoxide. Put one of these on your chimney to stay safe. Additionally, invest in a spark arrester to help prevent sparks from flying out, which could start a fire on your roof or on the lawn.

Clean the Doors – Glass doors on a fireplace can develop some pretty tough stains from the flames and heat, so be sure to take care of them! When the glass is cool, scrape off any thick gunk deposits with a razor blade, then add a squirt of liquid dishwashing soap to a bucket of clean warm water, sponge the cleaner on, and scrub! Wipe the liquid away with a newspaper or a microfiber towel to make it shine.

Treat the Coals With Care – Coals in the fireplace can remain hot enough to start a fire for 3 days, so treat them with great care. Wait until they’ve cooled before removing any ashes (and never use a vacuum to remove the ashes!). Open the damper so the airborne ash will be drawn up the chimney instead of the room. Don a dust mask, open a window in the room, and use a shovel to scoop the ashes into a metal container. Store this container far away from flammable or combustible materials, surfaces, and wood floors.

Clean the Firebox – Fireboxes need weekly cleaning (at least) when they are used in the cold months. Leave about an inch of ash because it will act as insulation and allow the coals to heat up faster and retain heat more easily during your next use. Remember to keep the firebox totally clean during the warm months.

Keep Children and Pets Safe – When you have your fireplace in use, it’s vital to never leave your child or pet unattended as this could easily cause a tragic accident to occur. Even if you are nearby, children should never be permitted to play with fire tools and equipment or close to the fireplace. Make sure that your child knows how important fire safety is.

Get It Inspected – Make sure to have a certified chimney sweep thoroughly inspect and clean your chimney. It should be checked at least once a year or after about 80 uses.

So what are you waiting for? Get your fireplace cleaned out and prepped for use before your friends and family come over for the holidays! Nothing beats hanging out with your family in front of a roaring fire, but make sure, too, that your home is properly protected in the event of an accident. Call your friends at Madison Mutual at 1-800-766-MMIC to make sure your policy is up-to-date. Happy holidays!

The 6 Tips You Need to Know When Driving in November

November is the month we tend to associate with turkeys, hot chocolate, and cornucopias. In the midst of all the fall weather fun and holiday joy, however, we need to start associating the month of November with something a bit more serious – the increased number of wildlife that appears on or near our roadways.

Studies have shown that November is the month that has the highest number of reported wildlife-related collisions. In fact, it is well-known that deer activity, for example, increases quite drastically between late October through November, which also increases the potential of seeing deer very close to or on our roads. With the dwindling hours of daylight we experience at this time of the year (along with that pesky time change), our visibility can be compromised more easily, making it more challenging to see deer and other wildlife at twilight, night, and in winter weather conditions.

Increase your awareness and sharpen your driving skills with these 6 tips below!

Be Attentive Always – The road should command your full attention as it is, but if you had to give driving your absolute and undivided attention, this month would be the right time. This goes double for sunset and sunrise, which is when many wildlife creatures are the most active. Put away your smart phone (it can wait!), stop fiddling with the music, and tell your friend on your Bluetooth that you’ll call later.

Heed the Signs – If you’re driving in areas that have special signs that indicate that animals could be present, make sure you heed those warnings! Slow down a bit, and use extra caution. Remember, those signs were posted for a reason!

Scan the Sides – It’s not enough to just look at the road itself when driving; you need to scan the sides of the road as well. Look for any sort of reflective features in the grass – your headlights will typically illuminate any creature’s eyes that could be standing in the shadows. Also, be extra cautious in areas that have a great deal of vegetation next to the road. Wildlife might not be visible in these locations.

Look for Others – If you happen to see an animal on or near the road, please keep in mind that there could be others nearby as well. Deer, for example, like to travel in groups, so if you see one, you will more than likely see at least one more. Slow down and keep your eyes peeled!

Slow Down – We’ve mentioned decreasing your speed throughout several of these tips, but we felt that this deserved its own section. Reduce your speed, especially at night and definitely if you see an animal near or on the roadway. Additionally, do your best to stay in your lane. Several serious accidents are a result of the driver swerving to avoid wildlife or driving at high speeds and losing control of their vehicle.

Wear Your Seat Belt – Not only is this a big rule of the road, but it can also save your life. Always put on your seat belt. Remember, even the slightest collision could result in serious injuries.

Of course, even with all of these safety precautions, it’s always a smart idea to be covered in case something happens anyway. Make sure that your auto insurance is up to snuff – call the experts at Madison Mutual Insurance Company at 1-800-766-MMIC or by learning more about our policies online at www.madisonmutual.com!

Keep the Holidays Happy: 5 Common Holiday Hazards You’ll Want to Avoid

We can finally prepare our Thanksgiving bibs, blast Christmas music, and enjoy coffee out of red cups because holiday season is here! While the fun we spend with our family and friends around fireplaces, Christmas trees, and dinner tables is now upon us, so are the hazards that surround them. So, it’s important to wrap your presents and your mind around these potential holiday malfunctions. After all, we don’t want the happy in “happy holidays” to be replaced by firemen and copious amounts of stress.

If you follow these safety tips, you’ll be sure to have days full of joyful celebrations instead of hazardous ones.

Online Shopping Fraud:

When our lives become busy and we can’t drive to the mall, our computer and online stores become our best friends. However, while you’re browsing the web and picking out an ugly holiday sweater, make sure you’re doing so safely.

Ways to ensure safety and reduce online shopping fraud include:
*Keeping up-to-date with your software and virus protector
*Visiting online stores you know and trust
*Creating strong passwords
*Paying by credit card
*Keeping records
*Refraining from dispensing any financial or personal information

House and Car Theft: It’s scary to think that our home or car can be invaded, so we want to make sure that doesn’t happen! When it comes to your home, make sure you always leave a light on when you leave. Hide presents out of view, or better yet, close all curtains and shades. To avoid car theft, keep it on lockdown. Don’t leave bags and packages in the back seat or in plain sight. Put purchases in the trunk and park in well-lit areas. Both your home and car should always be locked, and for extra safety matters, invest in an alarm. There’re some holiday discounts floating out there, so take advantage of them!

Social Media: We love social media, especially during the holidays. The lit-up Christmas trees, extravagant family meals, and the beautiful holiday destinations all provide social media worthy pictures and comments. However, before we make social media posts, it’s important to know what not to do. If you use a public computer, log out of accounts and never save passwords. Most importantly, do not post that you’re going out of town. Keep your whereabouts private, even if you want to flaunt it. Besides, you can always post about your latest adventures after you come back!

Cooking: Holiday cooking is one of the best parts of the season. It’s when family traditions are shared and laughter ensues. However, it can be chaotic and messy, so it’s important to practice safety in the kitchen. Before you start cooking, make sure your stovetop and oven are clean and free of grease and dust. Clean the exhaust hood and duct over the stove regularly, too. Also, it’s important to stay in the kitchen while the stoves are burning and ovens running. If you need to leave, set a timer so you can hear when the food is ready. If kids are around, keep them away from the kitchen by creating a kid-free zone. Lastly, purchase new smoke alarms. You don’t want your feast to go up in flames and disrupt the wonderful holiday aromas. However, just in case a fire occurs, know how to use a fire extinguisher and have one ready to blow out the fire before it creates a gigantic holiday blaze.

Defensive Driving: Everybody is always in a rush during the holidays; it’s easy to get caught up on the road and not pay attention to what you’re doing. Take a different route this season and become a defensive driver. Practice BBB (blinker before brakes) and don’t use a cell phone or any other electronics while on the road. Be alert, not sleepy or under the influence. Just make the time for driving safely. Life may speed up, but it’s important that you still drive safely.

We hope that this list can help you prevent holiday hazards, but we know messes happen, even when you’re prepared. So check out our car and home insurances, and if you run into a problem, visit our website http://madisonmutual.com/ or give us a call at 618-656-3410. We want you to rejoice this holiday season and be happy.

We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a hazard-free holiday year!