Fall Home Tips To Protect The Environment

Some simple changes to your annual autumn routine can help protect the environment, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says.

Protect Air Quality

Got leftover fuel? If any fuel is left in your gasoline-powered lawn mowers or garden equipment, add a fuel stabilizer and then run the machine for a brief period before you pack it away for the winter. This will make it easier to start next spring. Your snow blower also will benefit by adding fuel stabilizer to fresh fuel because it's hard to predict how soon you will use it. It's also a good idea to change the oil (but make sure you dispose of it properly), check the spark plug, pump up the tires, lubricate any drive chains and inspect any belts and replace them if they look suspect. Like lawn mowers, snow blowers have no catalytic converter and pollute many times more than the average car, so it's better to use them sparingly and give your shovel a workout for the light snowfalls.

Each year, inspect your wood-burning heaters, stoves and fireplaces for cracked heat exchangers or fireboxes, and defective or blocked flues. Make sure your stove or fireplace has a sufficient air supply and is drawing air properly so harmful pollutants such as carbon monoxide are not pulled into your home. Never burn treated wood, magazines, color newsprint, plastics or garbage. When burned, these products can release toxic fumes and odors that are harmful to your health.

Old wood stoves generate excessive wood smoke that can affect your health and the environment. Update your wood stove and fireplace. If they're more than 12 years old, replace them with a new, efficient one certified by EPA. For more information on fireplaces, wood heaters, furnaces and indoor pollution visit the EPA Web site at http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/combust.html.

Prevent Soil Contamination

If you heat your home with oil, check your tank leaks. Keep your fill pipe visible and accessible for the delivery driver. And if you take your tank out of service, remove the tank, lines and fill pipe completely. Some fuel oil delivery companies have accidentally delivered heating oil to homeowners' fill pipes that had no tanks attached to the other end, resulting in spills and damage that cost thousands of dollars to repair. After the snow flies, be sure to keep vent lines free from snow and ice to prevent pressurizing.

Household Chemicals

As part of your fall cleanup, don't forget that some household chemicals will freeze in an unheated garage. To find out if a product will freeze -- read the label! If the product contains water, or says "soap and water cleanup" or "keep from freezing," it's most likely a water-based product. Once it's frozen, it probably won't perform as expected. Common water-based products include latex driveway sealer, latex paint, paint-related items such as caulks and adhesives, and some liquid pesticides (weed killer, bug spray, etc.).

Always follow instructions on the label about proper storage and safety precautions. Because fumes and the possibility of fire make indoor storage for flammable items a bad idea, share these unused chemicals with a neighbor who can use them up or call your county's hazardous waste disposal facility for drop-off locations. To prevent accidental poisoning, any chemicals stored indoors should stay in an area where children and pets can't get into them. Consider using a locked cabinet.

See the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Web site for additional ideas: http://www.pca.state.mn.us.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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