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Robert Lamoureux: Keep your home safe this holiday

Your Home Improvements

Posted: December 24, 2010 4:15 p.m.
Updated: December 25, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Hi Robert,
Do you have any tips for holiday safety? We had a neighbor once whose Christmas tree caught fire, and I’ve always had that in the back of my mind.

Could you also tell me if you recommend the ABC fire extinguishers? 

Thank you very much.
Happy holidays,

Ronna K.

Hi Ronna,

Happy holidays to you, too. Holiday safety tips are a big topic.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are approximately 250 fires directly attributed to Christmas trees every year in the U.S.

To avoid becoming a statistic, use a tree stand that allows for water and keep plenty of water in the base. A well-watered tree is very difficult, if not impossible, to burn, but a dry Christmas tree, like a Scotch pine, will be completely engulfed in flame in only three seconds after ignition.

Check the base often and keep it full. Refill at least every morning and evening. Then, once Christmas is over, dispose of the tree quickly.

This is where many homeowners get into trouble. They leave the tree up too long. It gets neglected, dries out and becomes a fire hazard.

Make sure that the tree is securely seated in the stand, and there is no chance of it toppling over.

Also, don’t place the tree next to a working fireplace.

You don’t want any sparks popping on the tree, decorations or gifts.

Don’t place the tree near a heater vent. If it is, cover the vent with a piece of plastic to keep heat off of that tree.

Christmas tree fires are usually started by faulty lights, electrical problems or candles. Strings of lights can get damaged from being rolled up and stored in the attic year after year.

Inspect all of the lights, and check for open insulation and exposed wiring.

Also, use only UL listed extension cords and lights on the tree and exterior of your home.

You can get non-UL listed lights from any swap meet but this is a fire waiting to happen.

Never run cords under carpets. Make sure all of the connections are exposed. You don’t want anything on the connections in case they arc.

Don’t overload the circuits. Follow the manufacturers’ recommendations regarding light strands.

If they say use only three, then use only three. They are the ones that spent millions of dollars testing their products. It’s important to follow any safety guidelines they stipulate.

Always, always turn the lights off when you are not at home. Set them on a timer or manually turn them off in the evening.
The same is true with candles. You don’t need to leave them burning all night as it is a safety hazard.

Make sure there is a smoke detector in the same room where the tree is located. If you don’t have one, they are easy to find, battery operated and cost only $5. Although code does not require every room have a smoke detector, every room in my home has one — except the kitchen, because of how my wife cooks.

Regarding fire extinguishers, since most fires in the home are kitchen fires, you should always keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Keep them near the exits and on each floor. Make sure everyone in your family knows how to use the extinguisher properly in case of emergency.

Fires are divided into four categories: 

A — Common combustible fires, like paper and wood
B — Flammable liquid fires, like gasoline and cooking oils
C — Electrical fires
D — Flammable metal fires, like magnesium and sodium 

When buying an extinguisher, check the coding to see for what category fires it is designated.

An ABC fire extinguisher is the standard for home use as it covers all types of fire that could happen in most homes.
Hi Robert,
For the last three years, my HOA has been sending the same contractor/handyman to fix a leak in my living room.

He has caulked every crack in the stucco above my living-room window, yet with every rain it leaks and leaks and leaks.

I am at my wit’s end. How can we fix this?  What are they supposed to be doing? 

Do you have any idea what the problem may be? 

Thank you,
Carolyn C.

Hi Carolyn,

First of all, they need to open up the drywall where the leak is located. Then perform a water test to ascertain the cause and exact location of water intrusion. This requires two men — one to wait and watch and one to test.

Begin the water test at the line of water intrusion. If it’s at the top of the window, then drips to the sill, then that’s were you begin. Every 15 minutes, slowly move upward along the exterior wall until you get it to start leaking.

The problem could be any number of things.

They may find the leaking is due to bad paper or paper that was not lapped properly. When you’re lapping paper, you start at the bottom and work your way up, overlapping by 6 inches.

I’ve seen countless times where the paper wasn’t lapped, or it was lapped backward, and sometimes there are gaps.

The paper is your waterproofing. Starting at the bottom, working your way up, overlapping 6 inches allows the water to penetrate through the porous stucco, and then roll down over the face of the paper as it is designed.

The problem could be the sizlecraft, which is the paper around the window. When this paper deteriorates, it will cause leaks.

It could be the window frame itself or bad flashing. If it’s a two-story building, water could be intruding as high up as the roof line and running all of the way down and out through that window.

The only way to know for sure is to thoroughly water test, slowly working your way up, until you get the window to leak.
We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contracting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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