If ever there was a time when we could all use more joy, it’s summer 2023. So why are we pointing out all the risks that come with the season? Simple: By being well briefed in advance, you can enjoy yourself more — confident that, in the unlikely chance something dicey comes up, you’ll be prepared for it.
To help, we’ve consulted professionals with expertise in all aspects of summertime activity. Heed their suggestions, be careful out there, and make this a fabulous summer for you and your loved ones.
Stay safe around the house
Prepare yourself for extended power outages
In early May, AccuWeather was forecasting hotter-than-average summer temperatures over much of the U.S., along with moderate to severe chances of extreme weather in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Combine that with overloaded electrical grids and you get conditions ripe for blackouts, brownouts and power shortages.
- Because water is critical when the power goes off, store in your home at least 3 to 6 gallons of bottled water per person — enough to last three days — along with chlorine dioxide tablets to purify additional water, if available nearby.
- Be sure you have a manual can opener in your kitchen, since you’ll likely be eating out of the pantry.
- Also have on hand flashlights, battery-powered lanterns and spare batteries; solar-rechargeable lanterns are also a good idea in sunny areas. But skip the candles; one study found that 24 percent of fatal home candle fires happened during outages.
—Tony Nester, survival instructor and author of When the Grid Goes Down: Disaster Preparations and Survival Gear for Making Your Home Self-Reliant
Protect your home from fire risks
Home fires, which spike around July 4 but can happen in any season, burn with astonishing speed nowadays, in part because of open floor plans and synthetic home-goods materials.
- On average, you have three minutes or less to escape, versus about 17 minutes a few decades ago. If you’re on an upper floor and have only one staircase, you need an alternate exit plan — one that might require readily available gear, like an emergency ladder.
- Check all smoke alarms at least twice a year; they should be on the ceiling or high on walls on every level of the house, inside every bedroom and outside sleeping areas.
- Sleep with your bedroom door closed to buy some protection against a fire’s smoke, carbon monoxide and soaring temperatures.
- Finally, don’t cause fires. While smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in older adults, cooking fires are the leading cause of fire-related injury. When pans are on the stove at any temperature, stay close and keep a watch on them.
—Steve Kerber, executive director, UL Fire Safety Research Institute
Protect your home from bug infestations
Climate change means pest migration. Nearly half of participants in a 2022 survey said their home had sustained damage from insect pests like termites and wood-boring beetles.
- The highly destructive Formosan termite is expanding its range in warm areas of the U.S. Regular termite inspections and professional treatment as needed can prevent or knock out an infestation.
- Call for help if you see warning signs such as pencil-thin mud tubes along your home’s foundation or discarded wings after a termite swarm.
- Bedbug infestations rise in summer too. If you travel, keep these bugs from hitching a ride home by inspecting hotel mattresses for dark or reddish spots, keeping your suitcase on a luggage rack and unpacking clothes directly into the washing machine when you return home.
—Blake Layton, entomology specialist, Mississippi State University Extension Service
How you can prevent crazy cooling bills
Because up to 30 percent of a cooling system’s energy usage can be sapped by leaks and cracks, use caulk or weather stripping to keep your air-conditioned air inside.
- Help your home circulate by moving furniture, plants and objects that block air registers and vents.
- Consider buying an internet-connected smart thermostat, which can save you up to 10 percent on your annual cooling bill; you might save even more if your utility company offers a rebate on the purchase.
- Close curtains and blinds on sun-facing windows to block rays that naturally increase indoor temperatures.
- And when you’re warming up food at home, use a microwave oven if possible; it cooks efficiently and minimizes heat buildup.
—Adam Cooper, managing director, consumer solutions, Edison Electric Institute
Protect yourself from grilling mishaps
More than 19,000 burned barbecue chefs and their hungry guests end up in emergency rooms every year, and an average of 4,900 structures are damaged by fire — most from gas grill fires.
- Before the start of grilling season, check the tank hose and connection points for leaks or breaks; spray them with a light solution of soap and water while the propane tank valve is open. If you see bubbles, shut off the tank, because there may be a leak.
- If you smell gas when lighting the grill, turn off the tank, then the grill.
- Keep your grill clean, since built-up grease and drippings cause many fires. Should a grill catch fire, shut the lid to cut off the oxygen supply, if you can do so safely; then close off the gas tank and turn off the grill.
- Don’t use a fire extinguisher, which can spread flames.
—Susan McKelvey, spokesperson, National Fire Protection Association
Watch out for home-repair scams
Defend yourself against tricky summer scams
Knowing the red flags once helped us spot scams. But these days, many scams are virtually unrecognizable as scams, such as fake travel sites and messages from people pretending to be relatives trapped in foreign jails. We face sophisticated criminal enterprises, so it’s more important than ever to shore up our defenses.
- Password-protect laptops, tablets and smartphones. Use biometrics, such as facial recognition or fingerprints, where possible.
- Set your electronic devices to automatically install updates for operating and protective software.
- Do not click links from emails or texts; type the web address you know to be legit into your browser.
- Install a virtual private network (VPN) if you use public Wi-Fi.
- Answer calls only from people you know; if unsure, let them go to voicemail.
- The biggest red flag is when an unexpected communication causes a highly emotional reaction. That’s the calling card of today’s scammers. Disengage and talk to someone you trust about what’s at issue.
—Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud prevention and a nationally recognized expert in fighting fraud
Summer typically brings an army of scam contractors going door-to-door. They’ll claim they just happen to be repaving a driveway nearby and have leftover material, or they’ll offer to repave your driveway for a really low price. If you bite, here’s the likely outcome: They will take your money and do the work shoddily, fail to finish it or not do anything at all.
- Beware of anyone offering to do work unsolicited. Instead, do the shopping and picking yourself.
- Get referrals from family, friends and others, and then get multiple bids on the job.
- Before agreeing to work with one, verify the contractor is insured and complies with licensing and registration required by your state.
- Scammers target older homeowners. The Better Business Bureau says consumers are left with a median loss of $1,500.
—Tobie Stanger, senior editor, Consumer Reports
Protect yourself from gardening accidents
Mishaps involving lawnmowers and other power garden equipment sent more than 112,000 adults to U.S. emergency rooms in 2021. But handheld tools pose a hazard too: They injured another 43,000 people.
- Don’t work outside if you’re distracted, overheated or overtired.
- Don’t let grandkids ride on the mower with you.
- Shut all gear down completely before cleaning or adjusting.
- Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated, especially on hot days and while doing strenuous work.
- Wear gloves when using hand tools, since mature skin is less resistant to cuts, scrapes and punctures.
- Avoid working in uncomfortable body positions; for example, pot plants at a table or gardening bench rather than on the ground.
- Finally, put a mat or folded blanket under your knees when kneeling.
—Alyssa Spence, associate director, North Carolina Agromedicine Institute