Assessing Your Property Taxes

Property Taxes

By Jon McCreath, NPI Property Inspector, Emerson, Georgia

In the last few years, most property taxes have risen in step with the increase in home values. But it never hurts to find out if your taxes are higher than they should be. Getting them reduced is a chore that’s worth the effort.

* First, look for errors that may be inflating the value of your house. Check the list of factors used to come up with your assessment on the property record card, which is kept at your assessor’s office. Look for obvious errors, such as the incorrect square footage or the wrong number of bathrooms.

* Because many appraisals are done on a drive-by basis, the assessor may have overlooked defects that could lower your tax bill, such as a wet basement or cracked walls. If you can show that the assessment was based on erroneous information, you may be able to get your tax bill reduced without going through the appeals process.

* Check out similar properties. Talk to your neighbors or property owners to see whether their tax bills went up as much as yours did. The homes you check should be of similar size and age as your own. If your assessment is considerably larger than theirs, you have a good shot at winning an appeal.

* Some localities base assessments on the cost of a home replacement plus the value of the land. An amount for depreciation is subtracted. Others use recent sales of comparable homes in the neighborhood. You might be able to challenge the assessment by doing your own research. A real estate agent could provide recent sales prices for comparable properties.

* Check to see if the assessor credited you with all the property tax relief available to you, including credits for senior citizens and veterans, or any local benefits.


McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia.
If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.
NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home.
Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

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Clothes Dryer Safety

By Jon McCreath, NPI Property Inspector, Emerson, Georgia

Clogged Dry VentAccording to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 15,000 fires are sparked every year by clothes dryers.  Lint and other debris can build up in your dryer vent, reducing air flow to the dryer, backing up dryer exhaust gases, creating a fire hazard.

Here are some of the signs that it’s time to clean your vent:

  • Clothing does not dry completely after a normal drying cycle.
  • Drying time for clothing takes longer than 35 to 40 minutes in duration.
  • A musty odor is noticed in the clothing following the drying cycle.
  • Clothing seems unusually hot to the touch after a complete drying cycle.
  • The dryer vent hood flap does not properly open as it is designed to do during the operation of the dryer.
  • Debris is noticed within the outside dryer vent opening.
  • Excessive heat is noticed within the room in which the dryer is being operated.
  • Large amounts of lint accumulate in the lint trap for the dryer during operation.
  • A visible sign of lint and debris is noticed around the lint filter for the dryer.
  • Excessive odor is noticed from dryer sheets that are used during the drying cycle.

Tips to decrease debris

  • Limit the use of dryer sheets used when drying clothing.  Instead of dryer sheets, use liquid fabric softener.
  • Only operate clothing dryers for intervals of 30 to 40 minutes per batch of laundry.  This allows more air circulation within the dryer and less lint build up from occurring.
  • When possible hang clothing such as heavy bedding, pillows and other large articles outside to line dry.McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia.
    If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.
    NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home.
    Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

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Extending the life of your water heater

By Jon McCreath, NPI Property Inspector, Emerson, Georgia

drain_water_heaterExtending the life of your water heater is something most homeowners don’t think much about.  Draining your water heater tank is something that you should do every year, and it only takes about 5-10 minutes.  How can this procedure extend the life or your water heater?

Over time, any type of water heater tank will build up sediment- which has three harmful effects on your home’s hot water system.  First, the sediment takes up space, effectively making your water heater smaller.  Second, the sediment can insulate the bottom of the tank in a gas water heater where much of the flame’s heat is absorbed into the water, or even cover a lower element in an electric water heater causing a reduction in heating efficiency.  Third, the sediment scratches the glass lining of water heater tank, resulting in exposed metal – which leads to rust and eventual tank failure.

You can extend the life of the tank and increase the efficiency of the system by simply draining a couple gallons of water off the bottom of the tank.
1. Shut the unit down, either by turning the gas valve to “pilot” or “off”, or flipping off the breaker to an electric unit.
2. Turn off the cold water supply line, usually located on the right side as you face the unit.
3. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve on the water heater tank, and run it to a drain.
4. turn on a hot water faucet somewhere in your home to allow the water to flow, and then open the drain valve toward the bottom of the tank.

Check the color of the water that drains- at first it may appear dark, but after just a few gallons it will become clear.  At that point, you can close the drain, and turn off the hot water faucet you had turned on previously.  Turn the cold water supply back on, turn the power or gas supply back on, and you’re done!  The next time you turn on a hot water faucet, there may be a couple of air pockets, so don’t worry if you hear a bit of noise as the noise should abate quickly.

While it may also be a good idea to have your water heater examined by a professional on a regular basis, draining your tank is relatively easy and can save you some money while helping to extend the life of your water heater.

McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia. If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

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Today’s Tip: Don’t Neglect Your Water Heater

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Water Heater_shutterstock_113790454If you’re like most savvy homeowners, one of your main goals is to maintain your appliances for as long as possible before the need to replace them forces a new purchase. Water heaters are no exception to this, and they are one of the most important appliances in your home.

How Long Does the Average Water Heater Last?
According to manufacturers’ information, the average life expectancy of a traditional tank-style electric or natural gas water heater is around eight to 10 years. Some estimates show that electric water heaters may last slightly longer — up to 15 years. Years can be added or subtracted, however, based on weather, the unit’s design, its original installation, and the level of maintenance the unit has been given. Maintaining your water heater on an annual basis may add as many as five years to the life of the unit.

How to Maintain Your Water Heater
The first step in providing the appropriate maintenance is to have a professional plumbing company perform an annual inspection. When managing electricity or gas with water, you’ll want to ensure that repairs and installations are completed by thoroughly trained, licensed and insured technicians.

The majority of work takes place during the process of draining and flushing the water heater. This should be done at least once a year. A technician will test the temperature-pressure-release valve (this valve stops the tank pressure from climbing too high). Next, they will drain the heater and stir up sediment by opening the cold-water supply valve. They will repeat this process is until the water runs clear.

Excessive sediment is important to remove, as it will not only cause the tank liner to crack, but it will also coat the anode rod with calcium and allow it to corrode. The anode rod is used to slow down corrosion inside the tank and extend the life of your water heater, and it should be replaced if it’s less than 1/2 inch thick or covered. A technician can also adjust your thermostat to the recommended 120° F (49° C). This prevents the tank from overheating and causing damage.

Looking to save even more on energy costs? A technician can help you with that, too. By lowering your water temperature by 10 degrees, you may save up to 5 percent on your utility bills! Enclosing hot- and cold-water pipes with foam pipe insulation will preserve water temperatures as well.

When Should You Replace a Water Heater?
Age is not always a prime indicator for appliance replacement, but an appliance does warrant evaluation if you are investing in more repairs as the unit ages. If your water heater is more than 10 years old, it could be on its last leg. Other signs that a water heater replacement is in your future: it operates intermittently, produces rusty water (a qualified plumber can tell you whether you have a rusty tank or the issue is in the pipes), makes rumbling noises (which may be caused by hardened sediment in your tank), or leaks.

McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia. If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.


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‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

McCreath1Backyard fences can provide a feeling of security and privacy, as well as a decorative element that pulls your yard together. But fence installation can be hard work, so if you’re interested adding one around your property, consider hiring a professional do it for you.

The cost of adding a fence to your property will depend on a couple of factors, the main one being the materials used. There are all kinds of backyard fences to choose from: Wood, vinyl, chain-link and wrought iron are some of the most popular. Another factor in the cost of a fence is the size of your yard.

Below are some popular fence choices:

Vinyl Fences
Sometimes vinyl fencing is more than three times the cost of wood, but there are advantages to this material. Vinyl is easy to maintain, easy to clean and more durable. In fact, it can be up to five times as strong as wood, and animals big and small will have a hard time chewing through it or damaging it. Vinyl fencing also comes in a range of colors and styles, so you’ll be able to find something that suits your house.

Wood Fences
Cedar and pine are the most popular wood fencing choices. When choosing wood as your material, you can either select from picket or privacy-fence styles, as well as the type and quality of the wood itself. Wood fences do require some maintenance, such as periodic cleaning and application of a water sealant or stain.

Chain-link Fences
If you’re more interested in security than privacy, chain-link fencing is a good option. Keep in mind that even though chain-link is galvanized, it is vulnerable to scratching and over time rust may develop.

Wrought-iron Fences
Wrought iron fencing is the king of backyard fences. It looks great and can really add the finishing touch to your home. The downside is that you will pay for that quality.

Fencing Price Considerations
Fence material is priced by the linear foot, so remember that fences used for privacy that block the view into your yard will require more material. Decorative features, such as post caps and gates, will also add to the price.

McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia. If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

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Keep Your Wood-burning Fireplace Clean and Safe

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Fireplace-Brick_shutterstock_120704617Now that winter has arrived, it is a great time to refresh your maintenance plan for your fireplace. The following tips can ensure that your wood-burning fireplace operates safely and at peak efficiency.

  1. It is important to set a maintenance schedule and stick to it.
  2. Dispose of ashes as they accumulate. Never use a regular household vacuum for cleaning of the fireplace; purchase an ash vacuum designed specifically for this function. It is also a good idea to keep an ash bucket near your fireplace. Remember to make sure that the ashes have cooled before you dispose of them.
  3. Cleaning any glass or other exposed surfaces is easier when done on a regular basis, so add this task to your weekly cleaning list during months when the fireplace is in use.
  4. Examine how the smoke is traveling through the chimney. Make sure all chimney joints are tightly sealed and the ventilation system is not clogged. If you find leaks in the chimney, call a qualified contractor to make the repairs.
  5. Check for creosote buildup and clean with a creosote remover if necessary.

Once you have gotten through the colder season, it is a good idea to conduct a “spring cleaning” on your fireplace. Clean the fire box thoroughly (refer to your owner’s manual for any specific guidelines). Generally, chimneys should be cleaned annually by a qualified chimney professional.

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Reverse Polarity: What it Is and Why You Should Be Concerned

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Outlet_shutterstock_67938619Quite simply, reverse polarity means that the wires in an electrical receptacle were installed incorrectly. A receptacle with reverse polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle.

A home inspector will flag any outlets that are reversed polarity. Why should you be concerned about reversed polarity? Most electrical appliances and devices are designed so that the on/off switch interrupts electrical power at the point of entry into the appliance, device circuitry or components. If the hot and neutral wires are reversed, then it is possible that the device could be energized even if the switch is turned off. Reversed polarity on an electrical outlet should be considered an unsafe condition, as the risks include damage to the appliance, short circuit, shock or fire.

How Can I Tell if My Receptacles Have Reverse Polarity?
You can purchase a plug-in type voltage tester at your local hardware store. These are generally inexpensive. The tester will include a chart that will tell you which lights should illuminate when you plug it in to a properly wired outlet. The chart will also indicate what the other lighting combinations mean, such as an open ground condition.

How Do I Fix Reverse Polarity?
Once you find a receptacle with reversed polarity, leave the plug-in tester plugged into the receptacle and find the circuit breaker that is delivering the voltage to that line. Turn the breaker OFF. When you return to the receptacle there should be no lights lit up on the tester. If there are, then you turned off the wrong breaker. Try again.

With the power to that circuit OFF, remove the cover plate and the two screws holding the receptacle to the wall box. Gently pull the receptacle out of the box. If there are any other wires inside the box, use a touch-style voltage tester to ensure that they are also OFF. If they are hot, find the circuit breaker feeding them and turn it OFF as well.

Inspect your receptacle. A receptacle with reversed polarity will have the white (neutral) wire screwed to the hot side (copper screw) and the black (hot) wire screwed to the neutral side (silver screw). The bare or green wire should be connected to the green ground screw on the receptacle. Simply remove the white and black wires and connect them to their properly intended sides of the receptacle. To wire it properly, the black gets connected to the dark or copper-colored screw and the white wire gets connected to the silver screw. If the wire looks brittle or damaged, use wire strippers to cut the old wire away and strip off a 3/4-inch fresh section of insulation. Wrap a strip of electrical tape around the screw terminals for added safety, resecure the receptacle to the wall box and attach the cover plate.

Finally, plug the voltage tester in to the receptacle and then turn the circuit breakers back on. When you get back to the receptacle, the tester should indicate proper wiring. If, for whatever reason it still reads reverse polarity, then the problem may be in another receptacle or in a junction box somewhere. In that case, your best bet would then be to call a licensed electrician.

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Hanging Holiday Decorations? Remember Ladder Safety

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

NPI Franchise Owner/Inspector Jon McCreath performing a roof inspection.

NPI Franchise Owner/Inspector Jon McCreath performing a roof inspection.

As we come into the holiday season, and bring out our ladders to hang decorations, it’s a good time to review some ladder safety tips. Take it from me, ladder accidents can happen to even the most seasoned ladder users. I took a tumble earlier this year, and the photo below shows what happened to my arm.

A Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) report on ladder safety revealed some startling statistics concerning the frequency and severity of ladder-related accidents. Every year thousands of people are injured and hundreds are killed. By understanding the causes of ladder accidents, the vast majority could be prevented.

  • More than 90,000 people receive emergency room treatment from ladder-related injuries every year.
  • Elevated falls account for almost 700 occupational deaths annually. These deaths account for 15 percent of all occupational deaths.
  • OSHA believes that 100 percent of all ladder accidents could be prevented if proper attention to equipment and climber training were provided.
  • Over the last 10 years, the number of ladder-related injuries has increased by 50 percent.
  • According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 50 percent of all ladder-related accidents were due to individuals carrying items as they climbed.
  • The most common type of ladder-related injury, with 32 percent, is fractures.

Ladder accidents are extremely common even though they are entirely preventable. Ladder accidents can stem from a wide variety of issues, but the following four causes account for the majority. If these simple safety tips for each cause are followed, ladder accidents could almost be eliminated.

1. Selecting the Wrong Type of Ladder
Each ladder is designed to support a maximum weight limit; if the climber exceeds that limit, the ladder could break and cause the user to fall or become injured. There are three basic types of ladders:

  • Type III: Household, light duty, load capacity of 200 lbs.
  • Type II: Commercial, medium duty, load capacity of 225 lbs.
  • Type I: Industrial, heavy duty, load capacity of 250 lbs.
  • For extra-heavy duty work, such as roofing and construction, there is the Type IA with a 300 lb. rating. The strongest type of ladder is the Type IIA (which can support 375 lbs.) for special-duty jobs, such as heavy industrial construction work.
Ouch! Injuries can be painful when you fall off a ladder.

Ouch! Injuries can be painful when you fall off a ladder.

2. Using Worn or Damaged Ladders
Another common contributing factor to ladder accidents is the use of old, worn or damaged ladders. Thoroughly inspect each ladder before using it. If any damage is found, do not use the ladder until it has been safely repaired to the manufacturer’s specifications or it has been replaced.

3. Incorrect Use of Ladders
Human error is by far the leading cause of ladder accidents. Never use a ladder in any other way than that in which the manufacturer intended it to be used. Important use tips include the following:

  • Do not lengthen or alter a ladder in any way.
  • Maintain three points of contact (feet and hands) at all times.
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes.
  • Do not carry anything while climbing a ladder.
  • No more than one person on ladder at a time.
  • Always face the ladder when ascending or descending.
  • Do not climb higher than the third rung on extension ladders or second rung on step ladders.
  • Never try to move a ladder while standing on it.

4. Incorrect Placement of Ladders
Follow these tips for correct placement of ladders:

  • Place the ladder on level and firm ground.
  • Ladders should never be placed in front of a door that is not locked, blocked or guarded.
  • If possible, have a helper support the base while a ladder is being used.
  • The feet of the ladder can be staked if you are using a ladder outside and no one is available to support the base.
  • Do not use a ladder that is too short for the job.
  • Do not place the ladder on anything to extend its reach.
  • Use a 1:4 ratio in placement of the ladder: Place the ladder base 1 foot away from the surface it is leaning against for every 4 feet of height to the point where the ladder contacts at the top.

Have a happy — and safe — holiday season!

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Proper Construction and Maintenance of Your Deck

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

McCreath BlogDepending on your geographic location, your deck may be one of the most popular areas of your home. Just like the rest of your home, decks require ongoing maintenance and inspection to make sure that all components are functioning as intended. A well-maintained deck adds both form and function to your home. Over time, however, several factors contribute to wear and tear, giving home owners a choice between replacing the deck or attempting deck repair.

Deck Maintenance
Cleaning and treatment of the deck boards is often overlooked. Decking is exposed to the elements and over time may show signs of water damage, fading color, and deterioration or rotting.

Decks require cleaning and treatment every couple of years, and this may include applying paint or sealant. Cleaners can restore some of the original color. Power washing the deck is an option for cleaning, but care is required in not using too much force or too narrow of a spray pattern. This is also a good way of removing algae, that unsightly green coating that you may see.

Once the deck is cleaned, and prior to treatment with paint or stain, examine the condition of the deck boards and replace any that may be deteriorated or rotting. If you are experiencing wood rot, it is important to determine why. There may be an issue with the gutters or flashing that is directing water onto a particular area of the deck. There are a number of restoring deck paints that are thick and able to fill in some cracks, but if the wood is too deteriorated, then rotting may continue under the paint.

The most common material used for decking is pressure-treated wood. Cedar and redwood are also used, but may require more frequent maintenance. Composite decking is now becoming more popular, as it requires less maintenance. Certain types of wood will shrink over time and may create gaps, and you may also find that the deck boards are cracking or splitting. It is best to replace any deck boards that show evidence of these issues.

Proper Deck Construction
Too often, decks are installed by inexperienced home owners and the structural integrity may be compromised. Ledger boards, fasteners, posts, footings and railings are all critical components of the deck. If any structural compromise is suspected, it is best to have the deck examined by a qualified contractor.

Decks should be attached to the house using ledger boards and lag bolts, and this is one of the most critical aspects of deck construction. Deck joists should be attached to the ledger board, either by joist hangers or setting atop a ledger strip. If using joist hangers, attention must be given to the manufacturer’s instructions, and you must use approved nails. If using a ledger strip, it should be a minimum 2 in. x 2 in. that is fastened to the bottom of the ledger board with three nails under each joist. The joists are then toe-nailed into the ledger board. Toe-nailing of the joists alone, without hangers or ledger strip, is not recommended.

Beams should be secured to the top of the posts, not to the side of the posts. Beam attachment to the posts should be done with either a bracket or by notching the post and securing the beam with bolts. The exception to this would be only for a low-level deck that has short-spanning joists and beams and a number of support posts.

Deck footings should generally be set below the frost line. In regions where the frost line is not an issue, it is common to see precast foundation blocks on top of the exposed grade. At a minimum, regardless of frost line, the footings should be set 12 inches into the soil. In colder climates, the minimum depth may be much higher, up to 36 inches in some cases.

Finally, your deck’s guardrails should be 36 inches minimum height, with balusters not exceeding 4 inches separation, and there should be a graspable handrail with four or more risers.

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Barbecue and Fire Pit Safety for the Summer

By Jon McCreath, NPI Franchise Owner, Emerson, Georgia

Photo by gargoylesoftware

Photo by gargoylesoftware

Throughout the United States, the summer months are those months when millions of us find ourselves enjoying the outdoors or chilling in the backyard. With summer come barbecues and evenings outside, sitting beside the fire pit. It’s important to remember that barbecues and fire pits require a certain amount of safety when in use. To keep your summer celebrations safe, keep these tips close by when using a barbecue or fire pit this summer.

Barbecue Tips
Grilled food is a true treat, especially when you don’t want to cook indoors during the warm summer months. Grills should always be used outside, in a well-ventilated area. To ensure safety, grills should be stationed away from the home, deck railings, and any low-hanging tree branches or plants.

The most important thing to remember is to never leave the grill unattended, especially if you have children and pets. The second most important safety item is to remember to keep the grill clean by removing grease and fat buildup. You can also clean or replace any trays that sit below the grill and collect food waste, oil and other grill debris.

Propane Tips
Propane can be found in both liquid and gas form. Because it is naturally odorless, an additive is added to the gas to give it a distinct odor to help people identify when the gas is around. Propane, when stored under pressure, is a liquid. When you hook up a propane tank to a gas grill, the tank is opened, which allows propane gas to leave the tank and power the grill. Liquid propane is very cold — so cold that it can cause freeze burns if it comes into contact with skin.

The way you store propane is important. A propane tank should always be stored and transported upright, and proper propane storage requires the tank be in a temperature-controlled area. If you store a propane tank in an area that’s susceptible to high temperatures, there is a risk of the pressure-release valve opening and releasing gas, which creates a fire hazard.

When transporting propane, make sure the pressure-release valve is closed and that there is cap or plug over the valve outlet. Tanks should always be transported in an upright position, sitting on the tank’s foot. During transport, the tank should be secured, even if it’s empty. You can secure the tank with a safety strap, seat belt or some kind of other container to prevent the tank from tipping over.

It’s important to remember not to transport more than four propane tanks at a time inside an enclosed vehicle. It is safe to carry more than four if you are transporting the tanks in the bed of a truck and they are secured to prevent escape.

Fire Pit Tips
Sitting beside a fire pit, enjoying a drink, roasting marshmallows or just listening to the crackle of the wood can be some of the most enjoyable and memorable moments of the summer. Fire pits are a great outdoor accessory, but they do require an amount of safety to operate.

A fire pit should be at least 10 feet away from any structure or combustible surface. Unless the owner’s manual says it’s OK, do not put a fire pit on grass, a wood deck, or in an enclosed deck or porch.

When it comes time to light the fire, be sure to always burn dry, seasoned wood that was cut at least six months earlier. In order to prevent sparks, keep logs no longer than three-quarters of the pit’s diameter. When starting the fire, don’t use gasoline, lighter fluid or kerosene, as these are not meant for fire pits! Use a fire starter or newspaper and kindling.

Do not light a fire in windy conditions, and it’s important to remember to stay up-to-date with burn bans or burn ordinances in your area. If the pit is located in an area near trees or bushes, pick up any leaves or combustible material from around the pit before starting your fire. Keep a bucket of sand, a fire extinguisher or a garden hose nearby in case things get out of control.

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