Water leaking from your toilet tank will not only cost you money when it comes to your utility bill, but it can also cause water damage to your bathroom floor and premature wear of your toilet’s internal workings. To find out whether your toilet tank is leaking, add some red food coloring to the water in the tank. Come back in about an hour and see if the water in the bowl is pink. If it is, you have a leak.

If you find that your toilet is leaking from the tank to the bowl, the flapper needs to be replaced. To change your toilet’s flapper, first shut off the water supply to your toilet. To do this, simply turn the water valve located directly behind the toilet. Remove the tank lid and flush the toilet in order to empty the tank. Use a towel or sponge to mop out any excess water left in the tank. Remove the flush chain from the lever, and then slide the old flapper up off the overflow tube. Slide the new flapper in place over the overflow tube, reconnect the chain, and turn the water supply back on.

Your home’s electrical system is a crucial component, and it needs regular monitoring for efficiency and safety. Be on the lookout for the following potential hazards:

Loose Outlets
A loose wall outlet may seem like a minor annoyance, but it can quickly turn into a serious problem. Years of constantly using an outlet can wear it down, causing whatever you plug into it to slip out. When a plug isn’t secure, it causes the connection to arc in your wall. This then creates a spark that can either shock you or start a fire within your home. The good news is that old outlets can be repaired easily and inexpensively.

Cracked or Missing Covers
Missing or cracked outlet covers are more than just a cosmetic concern. Pets or young children could be injured from a powerful shock. An exposed outlet also means that the wiring and box behind are not protected, allowing the box to move around freely and sever the surrounding wires. Replacing a cover is another simple repair, and it’s also one to take care of quickly to prevent any safety issues.

Power Surges
A surge in your home can have several causes, like a lightning strike or even overloading an outlet. Older homes are especially susceptible to power surges if they have not been recently updated. While it’s possible to resolve a surging problem yourself, it’s best to get it looked at by a professional. An inspector will check your wiring and any connected devices and recommend a solution.

Flickering or Dim Lights
Flickering and dim lights can be a side effect of frequent power surges, but there are other causes to consider, like a loose bulb in a lamp or ceiling light. Check that all your lights are screwed in tightly and that they are the correct wattage for the fixture. If you are still experiencing a problem, it could be from frayed or corroded wires. This is another instance where it is best to call for backup as soon as possible.

Extreme Usage
Swap out older fixtures and bulbs for more energy-efficient ones to cut down your usage. While it might be expensive to redo your home’s wiring, it should be at the top of your list. Not only will you save money in the long run, but you’ll also help protect yourself and your home from an electrical emergency.

Fire extinguishers seem simple, but there’s quite a bit to know when it comes to choosing the best model for your home. Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. Fire extinguishers are made for different purposes.
Each fire is different, and so is every fire extinguisher. That’s why extinguishers are divided into five main classes:

  • Class A extinguishers are best for fighting wood or cloth-based fires.
  • Class B are best used for flammable liquids such as gasoline, grease, or oil.
  • Class C can be used against electrical fires that originate at outlets or in appliances.
  • Class D extinguishers suppress metal fires and are more likely to be found in factories. 
  • Class K are used in commercial kitchens for cooking oil and animal fat fires.

2. You also need to choose the right extinguishing agent.
A common assumption with fire extinguishers is that they all produce a white chemical cloud to subdue flames. In fact, there are six types of extinguishing agents, and each reacts a different way. You can choose from ABC power, wet chemical, CO2, water mist, clean agent, and foam varieties. 

3. Place extinguishers around your home.
It is crucial to strategically place extinguishers throughout your space. Keep an extinguisher on each level, and be sure to place extinguishers in the kitchen, the garage, and the mechanical room, along with a smoke alarm.

4. Plan and practice fire extinguisher safety.
Before a fire starts, you and your family need to be prepared. Create both a fire prevention plan and an escape plan for when you need to get to safety. As you practice using an extinguisher, always remember the PASS method:

  • Pull the pin 
  • Aim at the base of the fire 
  • Squeeze the handle slowly 
  • Sweep from side to side

Following these best practices for your fire extinguisher will reduce your risk of injury and potentially save your home.

Time to make sure that your family is protected against radon exposure. It’s estimated that 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. and over 1 million homes in Canada have elevated levels of radon. While this is scary to think about, there are ways to lower your home’s risk.

What exactly is radon?
Radon is an odorless and colorless gas that forms when radioactive metals in rocks, soil and groundwater break down. This is a naturally occurring process, meaning everyone has some level of exposure to radon at all times. However, prolonged exposure can occur when there are cracks and gaps in a home’s foundation.

What homes are most at risk?
Foundation issues can occur in homes regardless of their age or architecture. A newly built home is just as susceptible as an older one. This goes to show that it pays to be proactive in monitoring and mitigating radon in your home no matter where you live.

What can be done?
While you won’t be able to achieve a 0% exposure level to radon, you can significantly lower the odds. Here are a few ways to keep your home safe:

  • Consistently test for radon and have a monitor installed. 
  • Increase airflow in your home.
  • Seal up cracks and gaps.

Incorporate radon-resistant construction techniques if you’re purchasing a new build.

When was the last time you reviewed your home insurance policy? If you are like most people, you have a set-it-and-forget-it approach to your homeowner’s insurance, consider getting reacquainted.

In addition to replacement and repairs, you need to think about what you own inside of that dwelling, about liability if someone is injured on your property, and how you would pay for things like hotels and restaurants if you need to stay elsewhere for a while. And of course, every insurance has its exclusions. Do you know what’s NOT covered in your policy?

Here are some things you should review whether on an existing or new policy:

  • Replacement coverage. Stay updated on how much it would cost to rebuild–an independent insurance agent can help. Renovations can affect the value, and you need to be aware of building code requirements that might not apply to your existing place. Ask about guaranteed replacement coverage, which covers the cost regardless of spikes in labor or materials.
  • Personal property coverage. Personal property includes everything from clothing and furniture to electronics and even the food in your fridge and freezer. Take an inventory of everything you own, including photos of pricier or rare items in particular. Check whether your policy covers the cost to buy new items or whether you would receive actual cash value, which would take depreciation into consideration. You might also need an additional policy for expensive items like furs or jewelry.
  • Liability insurance. Most policies have a minimum coverage of $100,000 but you probably want three to five times that. Forbes recommends having enough to cover all of your assets, i.e. the house plus car and money in the bank, etc.
  • Additional Living Expenses (ALE) or Loss of Use coverage. Covers the cost of hotels and restaurants if you cannot live at home.

Policy exclusions usually include things like floods, earthquakes, windstorms, nuclear hazards, etc. You will need separate coverage for those. Also consider home business coverage and identity theft coverage, among others.

I know this is a hot topic for many and there are no easy answers for teachers, students or parents. There are different learning styles, needs, and concerns to address. These different environments are being created in your home with in-person, hybrid and distance learning depending on your school district, and being prepared for changes if health metrics change.

I love the creative ways people have set up their home offices and learning spaces for children of all ages.  Everyone is learning not one size fits all with children or spouses or roommates.  Many have tried one way and then tried another. Through it all, I have seen everyone adjusting or tweaking their set up.

Facebook yard sale sites have many items being offered at great prices that are gently used or sometimes new since they did not work. It is a great way to change a set up or freshen up your space.

I know several people who were already working from home and had their own office space, have to give up their space to a spouse now working from home or to their children for a distance learning or hybrid space.  Whatever the reason, it seems many are adapting and rolling along with the changes.

Many are finding humor in the day to day distance learning and virtual meetings. As a former teacher, I know children especially younger ones are often entertaining in the classroom, I can only imagine the distance learning classroom. Finding humor and laughing has been touted as part of healthy living, and I have many friends who should live long lives as they document these moments were find ourselves during the pandemic.

Personally, I am enjoying the extra time with my daughter and parents and keeping myself busy with some projects around the house. Mainly the focus is going through everything and deciding if we are keeping it or not. We have sold many items on Facebook online yard sale sites or donated many items. There is a bit more to go through, but we are working through it and not in a rush. We are enjoying cleaning out, decluttering, and organizing our home along with fixing up some areas or changing things around.  

Remember, we are in this together, find the humor, laugh, smile, and love the ones you are with during the pandemic. Find ways to create new traditions even if temporary during the holidays. I pray for you to remain safe and healthy!

Computer Innocence

Seniors weren’t raised with computers and tend to be less savvy to hackers’ tactics. For example, they may not question the authenticity of a pop-up window that say their computer has a virus, and they need to call a number or click on a link to fix the problem. Microsoft estimates 3.3 million Americans across all age ranges fall victim to tech support scams each year with annual loss of $1.5 billion.

Virus Vulnerabilities

In a late 2016 survey by Home Instead, Inc., approximately 20 percent of U.S. and Canadian seniors in their 70s or older, said they weren’t using any anti-virus software on their computers. Those who do have anti-virus software installed on their devices may not be updating their software or staying current on other, more effective services.

Financial Factors

Seniors typically fall into two categories: access to liquid financial assets or large “nest egg” or haven’t saved sufficiently fearing outliving their assets. They also tend to have good credit ratings. These factors and others make them attractive targets for investment scams or “claim-your-prize-now” schemes.

Social Media

Social media helps seniors feel connected to long-distance friends and relatives. Facebook is the dominant social media for most seniors. It’s also a convenient way to fill voids in other social interactions, potentially setting seniors up for accidentally “oversharing” personal information, which makes them easier targets for scammers.

Trusting Nature

Many seniors like to help people and have big hearts. People raised in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were often taught to be polite and trusting, rather than skeptical. They’re generally more likely to help others without doing background research on the individual or charity in question.

They’re also more likely to go out of their way to help relatives, which sets them up as victims of scammers impersonating a family member with a medical or overseas “emergency” that requires immediate funds.

Seniors also fall victim to family members who don’t have their best interests at heart. According to the National Council on Aging, in nearly 60 percent of all elder abuse and neglect incidents, the perpetrator is a family member, typically an adult child or spouse.

Cognitive Impairments

Scammers are well-versed in manipulation and description techniques, which can be even more effective with seniors, who may have some degree of cognitive impairment.

Time on Their Hands

Many seniors have plenty of time to talk—and may be lonely—which makes them more vulnerable to scam artists who befriend them or pretend to have a romantic interest, later milking them for money. More than a third of seniors surveyed in the latest National Poll on Healthy Aging said they felt a lack of companionship at least some of the time, and 27 percent reported sometimes or often feeling isolated.

Medicare

In the U.S., where Medicare provides medical insurance for people ages 65+, scammers may masquerade as Medicare officials attempting to:

  • “Verify” Social Security numbers (and steal this personal information)
  • Obtain Medicare numbers (to purchase medical services or reimbursements)
  • Acquire other useful personal and financial information (claiming to send free medical equipment)

Scammers may also threaten loss of coverage if the information isn’t provided, claiming it is required due to new policies, addendums, or a need to send a new, updated card. When in doubt call Medicare directly.

Prescription Drugs

Since seniors are often on a fixed income and may face higher prescription drug expenses than the rest of the population, they are more likely to order prescription drugs online to save money, potentially falling victim to dangerous counterfeit prescription drug scams.

Online Pharmacies

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating a growing number of counterfeit prescription drug operators each year. What’s the best way to ensure an online pharmacy is safe? In the U.S., make sure the answer is “yes” to these four questions:  1) Are they licensed to operate in your state? 2) Do they require a doctor’s prescription? 3) Do they have a physical address and phone number in the U.S.? 4) Do they offer a licensed pharmacist to answer questions?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in every year from 2009-2016, for example, seniors faced $3,288 average total expenditures, compared to $1,539 for younger people.

Home Ownership

Seniors are more likely to be homeowners, which makes them potential targets for related scams, including pitches to reduce your property taxes by having your home’s value reassessed—for a fee.

In the so-called “woodchuck” scam, fake contractors convince seniors, living alone, that they need expensive tree-trimming services, a new roof, or other costly home projects, subsequently fleecing them for thousands of dollars.

Senior homeowners are also vulnerable to scams involving reverse mortgages or home equity loans. Family members caregivers, and home repair companies will encourage seniors to borrow excess equity then proceed to relive the homeowner of their funds.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Impersonators

Imposter scams are the leading type of consumer fraud—and imposters’ favorite strategy is to pretend to be an IRS official. More 2.4 million Americans have been targeted by scammers impersonating IRS officials, and collectively lost more than $72.8 million from this scam.

The IRS insists that it will not:

  • Call to demand immediate payment or call about taxes owed without initially mailing a bill.
  • Demand that taxes be paid without providing an opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
  • Require a specific payment method or ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • Threaten to involve law enforcement groups.

Medical Identity Theft

Medical identity theft occurs when scammers use someone’s personal information—especially a Medicare or private health insurance number—to obtain prescriptions drugs, treatments, and medical devices in their name. Unfortunately, there are no legal protections of medical identity theft. This can lead to victims being denied necessary medical treatments or health insurance. The scammer and victim’s medical history becomes co-mingled too. It is important to read medical and insurance statements carefully and immediately notify providers and insurers of unrecognized claims.

Grandparent Scam

A con artist calls an older person, masquerading as a grandchild. They may already know the name(s) of grandchildren (information gleaned from social media), or the con may initiate the conversation with “Hi Grandma/Grandpa. Do you know who this is? You may offer a name, then scammer proceeds as this person and explains the fake emergency often adding “I’m so embarrassed. Please don’t tell Mom and Dad.” Scammer is relying on their kind heart, proceeds to persuade them to send money in an untraceable method.

Fake Charities

Before contributing to an unfamiliar charity, potential donors should conduct background research to confirm the charity is legitimate and has a solid reputation. The site https://www.charitynavigator.org/ is an excellent place to start. To proceed with a donation, call them, mail a check, or make a gift on the charity’s website. Never provide a gift card or credit card number to an inbound caller. Charity scams ramp up following natural disasters, so be especially alert for con artists attempting to leverage these events.

Sweepstakes and Contest Scams

Legitimate contests and sweepstakes never require winners to spend money to claim their winnings. Know that any legitimate issuer of prizes over $600 will insist upon the winner submitting an affidavit, to verify tax information. That means any check over $600 that doesn’t require an affidavit is a fake. It is essential to understand that anyone who deposits fraudulent funds can be held personally responsible for any losses, potentially including fines and bank account closure.

Social Media Spies

Hackers, scammers, and identity thieves rely on information gleaned from social media sites to execute various con schemes. To reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim:

  • Keep privacy settings locked down to control who can see your posts.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
  • Don’t share personal phone numbers, home addresses, information about vacations, or details about children and grandchildren (like their names and where they go to school).

Scammers use technology extensively through false email messages, fake pop-up windows, malicious website links, and fraudulent phone calls on both landline and mobile devices.

The scams involve quick cash, stealing your medical identity and most have a sense of urgency. When it involves financial solutions immediately, you should be suspicious.

These can include calls or emails requiring you to act now to collect a prize, avoid a fine or jail, or save someone from a dire situation – always step back before acting. If a pressing need involves money, chances are it’s a scam.

How to fight back on your phone?

DO register your phone number with the DO NOT CALL REGISTRY at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or 888-382-1222. This service will not block scammers, but legitimate telemarketers will stop calling within a month. I have found you have to do this yearly.

DON’T answer unrecognized calls unless you’re expecting a call from an unknown number.  Let the call go to voicemail, then review the message. Most con artists will hang up before leaving a message.

DO independently verify facts from any callers asking for money or sensitive personal information.

DON’T share private information in social media posts that may be useful for imposter scams, including phone numbers, home addresses, and names of relatives. (Also, don’t accept unknown friend requests and keep your account settings private.)

DO be wary of government imposters. Officials from the IRS, the Social Security Administration, Medicare, and other government agencies will never call you unless you contact them first or they’ve sent mail correspondence explaining a situation that requires your attention.

DON’T say “yes” to an unknown caller.  Scammers may be trying to obtain a recording of your voice, which can be used to verify approval of charges to your phone, cable, or internet bill or a credit card. If you sense something sketchy, hang up quickly.

As we age, people start to think about what the best option for their living arrangement is: active adult living community 55+, independent/assisted living communities, multi-generational homes, or aging in place. Whatever you decide there are ways to help you live longer in your home independently safely.

Walk Your Way to Health

All types of physical activity deliver health benefits. For seniors, a daily walking routine is often the best option. Harvard Medical School cites various studies that have confirmed that walking counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes, reduces cravings for sweets, eases joint pain, and boosts immune function.

Achieving these benefits may require only 20 minutes of walking a day, five days a week. To gain even more from your walks, take them outdoors, with or without a friend. These short bursts of activity can improve your mental outlook in addition to your physical health.

Embrace One-Floor Living

Talk to a universal design specialist to learn how to prepare your home so you can age gracefully. You may need to make significant renovations, or your home may only require a few small changes to accommodate one-floor living.

If your house doesn’t lend itself to a first-floor bedroom, can’t accommodate assistive equipment in the shower, or requires more renovations than you’re willing to make, consider moving to a different home.

It will be easier to change your address now than to wait until health issues dictate a move. You’ll have more time to make decorating decisions and get settled in, so the new house becomes “home” to you and your family.

Get Comfortable With Technology

Technology is rapidly changing many aspects of life, from opening up new ways to receive medical care, new options for staying in touch with family and friends, and new says to manage tasks around the home.

If you aren’t already familiar with tablets and smartphones, take a class at your local library or community center, and learn the basics. (Obviously in person classes will have to wait until we are no longer under a stay in place order, but you may have a family member that through Face Time, Skye, or other video chat options could help you learn about your devices to help you, maybe even a grandchild). You’ll be pleasantly surprised by all the benefits these devices can offer.

Robots and smart homes will play a significant role in independent living. Soon, you’ll be able to control your entire home, from opening windows and unlocking doors to changing the thermostat and ordering delivered meals—all with your voice!