4 Ways to Prepare Your Farm for Storm Season

As we all know, it’s been a crazy winter – snow and 70+ degree weather all in the same week! Those drastically changing weather patterns will also bring higher winds, rain storms, and lightning. As a farmer, you and your farm can be greatly affected by these late spring and summer storms. Here are some things you can do to prepare your farm for storm season.

1. Consider Cattle Coverage

Did you know lightning can strike a tree then travel hundreds of yards underground? If they’re standing close together under a tree, several livestock can be affected by a single lightning strike. That’s how these 32 cows were killed on a Missouri farm last summer (2017). What a tragic, and expensive, loss.

At Bruce Gardner Insurance Agency, we offer insurance for cattle. Would it be worth it to add coverage to your farm policy to protect your cattle for this season? If you’re buying and holding for the summer and selling in the fall, we can add cattle coverage to your policy in the spring and remove it in the fall. Contact us to find out more about our cattle coverage.

2. Practice Lightning Safety

Of course, it’s important to protect yourself and your employees from lightning, too. Here are some lightning safety tips and myths from the NOAA and National Weather Service. Lightning is unpredictable and has an unpredictable path. It doesn’t hurt to remind your employees of the dangers of lightning and how they can practice safety on the job.

3. Protect Your Property from High Winds

You can also prepare your farm for storm season by protecting farm structures from the damage of high winds. I like to go back to the old phrase, “It’s time to batten down the hatches!” Are there any loose boards that need fixing? Barn siding that needs an extra screw to hold it in place? There’s always something to fix or paint. Now is a good time to take a look at these items before the heat of the summer and the worst of the storms.

4. Document Your Farm Equipment Storage

Speaking of farm structures, do you know what’s stored in every single building on your property? We all know when the roof comes crashing to the ground, it’s hard to know what all was inside that building. Take pictures of what you have stored in each of your farm buildings. This will be very useful information in the event of a claim. As for the pictures, make sure to back them up so you have multiple copies. It’s also helpful to email them to your insurance agent. We can add the photos to your account

A few preventative measures now to prepare your farm for storm season can make a big difference later. So brush up on your storm safety, batten down the hatches, and snap some pictures of your storage.

We hope you have a safe storm season on the farm.

Why to Hire a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep to Inspect Your Stove

Your chimney should be cleaned and inspected once a year. We highly recommend you use a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) certified chimney sweep.

Benefits of Hiring a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep

CSIA has worked for over 30 years to prevent chimney fires and other home heating disasters by providing expert-led education and training to industry professionals. For your safety, it’s best to use a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep®.

This professional will…

  • Check your stove to make sure it’s installed correctly and working efficiently.
  • Inspect for possible fire hazards around your stove and non-combustible clearances.
  • Clean and inspect your chimney and inspect the chimney cap.

In addition, a CSIA certified chimney sweep will point out any issues with the current installation of your wood stove or other potentially dangerous situations.

Dangers of Not Using a Certified Chimney Sweep

The education and training of a CSIA certified professional means more safety for you.

Natural Gas Stove Vent PipeIn this recent photo, a non-certified chimney sweep cleaned this chimney, but didn’t mention that the vent pipes were installed incorrectly. (Vent pipes are required to have a ¼ inch incline per foot of the exhaust pipe.) This cleaner took apart the elbow and simply replaced all the pieces as they were found.

This is a natural gas stove. First, natural gas usually burns clean, which wouldn’t require the chimney to be cleaned. Second, it also vents carbon monoxide, which could leak into the house if it’s not vented correctly. A carbon monoxide leak is dangerous and can make people very sick.

In this case 3 things went wrong:

  1. A chimney was cleaned that didn’t need to be.
  2. An improperly installed natural gas stove vent pipe was taken apart and put back together in the same way it was found without addressing the issue.
  3. The clearance from the vent pipe to the beautiful wood mantel is less than an inch. The current guidelines require 18 inches! Another issue that was not addressed by this non-certified chimney cleaner.

Both wood stoves and natural gas stoves can be hazardous if they’re not installed and maintained properly. Most contractors will install a stove correctly, but in this case the contractor did it incorrectly, the chimney cleaner replaced it incorrectly, and it wasn’t until the insurance agent saw it and said, “We have a problem!” that something was done.

If you want to make sure your natural gas or wood stove meets installation guidelines, have a CSIA certified professional inspect it!

Have Your Natural Gas Stoves Inspected, too!

Natural gas stoves use a clean fuel and the chimney doesn’t need to be cleaned annually like a wood stove. However, a CSIA certified chimney sweep can come and inspect your stove to make sure it is installed properly and working efficiently. Especially if you’ve taken the Do-It-Yourself approach, get your work checked with an inspection from a certified professional.

Find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep Near You

You can quickly find CSIA certified chimney sweeps on the CSIA website by searching your zip code. There are quite a few professionals up in Harrisonburg who come through the Lexington, VA area regularly. There are also some over in Lynchburg and Roanoke, VA who will make the trip.

To make sure you’ll get a certified professional, ask these questions before you let someone service your home.

Fall is a very busy time of year for chimney sweeps. People usually wait until the last minute to have their chimney cleaned and inspected. This year I’m guilty of it too. Next year, I plan to schedule my chimney cleaning in April at the end of the burning season.

Your safety is important! Hire a CSIA certified chimney sweep to get the job done right.

Tips to Prevent Mosquito Bites

Summer in Virginia brings warmer weather, high humidity and plenty of mosquitoes. Not only are mosquito bites itchy and uncomfortable, but mosquitoes can also carry serious diseases. Here are some tips to prevent mosquito bites and their harmful effects this summer.

Empty Standing Water After it Rains

We’ve had a lot of rain this season. Did you know standing water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes?

As the temperatures warm up this summer, it will get worse. To prevent this, empty the standing water around your house after it rains.

Check places like your garbage can, flower pots and other containers, as well as wagons and other kid’s toys that can hold a little bit of water. Make sure your gutters are cleaned out too! The build up of leaves in your gutters can stop the flow of water. That means water sits in your gutters after it rains instead of draining like it should.

Cover Yourself Up to Prevent Mosquito Bites

“Clothing provides the best protection”, according to this Scouting Magazine article. In the warmer summer weather, we tend to wear less, not more. But when you know you’ll be in a place with lots of mosquitoes, it helps to cover up more.

If you’re going camping, hiking, picnicking by the river, fishing or even getting ready to watch fireworks, there will be mosquitoes all around. Choose lightweight pants and long-sleeved shirts to prevent mosquito bites. If you’re by the water, remember to wear your life jacket too!

For even more coverage, wear a hood, long-brimmed hat, or even a handkerchief around your neck or tucked under your hat. As an added bonus, this extra coverage will protect you from harmful UV rays.

Use Insect Repellent Too!

For another layer of protection against mosquito bites, or a first layer if you can’t cover up, use insect repellent. The same Scouting Magazine article says, “The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using an insect repellent that contains at least 20% DEET. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends products with up to 30% DEET for kids. (DEET should not be used on children under 2 months)”. [cub scout article].

Spray insect repellent on the exterior of clothing. Don’t forget about your hats and socks!

You may think it’s easier to use one product that will protect against both bugs and the sun. But think again. “The CDC advises against using products that contain both bug repellent and sunscreen. Instead, use separate products. Apply the sunscreen first, let dry and then apply the repellent,” Scouting Magazine instructs.

Insect Repelling BandsAlternatives to Bug Spray

Now there are so many alternatives to bug spray. We like to use bracelets that contain an insect repellent. They’re quick to put on, easy to remove and reusable. My son uses these while playing baseball. There are plenty of insects waiting in the outfield.

Whatever product you choose, keep some on hand in your outdoor bag, sports bag or right by the front door so you don’t forget to use it. We hope you protect yourself and your family this summer and use these tips to prevent mosquito bites.

Why to Wear Your Life Jacket During Fishing Season

Spring is a good time of year to go fishing on land and boat. It’s especially important to you wear your life jacket during this season, even if you’re standing on the bank or edge of a lake or river, because of additional rainfall, winter melt and water temperatures.

Wear Your Life Jacket When There’s Fast Moving Water

The winter melt can raise some streams and make them fast water. Also, the banks may be less stable because of the runoff. The chance of the bank breaking or falling apart is a little bit higher due to the excess moisture.

In fast moving water, a life jacket, or PFD (personal flotation device) keeps you at the surface level and makes it easier for a rescue. According to the PFDMA (Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association), “it only takes 60 seconds for an adult to drown, and 20 seconds for a child to drown.”

Wear Your Life Jacket When The Water is Cold

Regardless of the water’s speed, cold water can also be dangerous. You might think a life jacket is unnecessary when the air temperature is nice and warm, but the water temperature can still create a chilling effect. When you fall into cold water, you can be at risk for hypothermia.

Hypothermia is a physical condition that occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below normal to 95° F or cooler. But wearing a life jacket can slow this process and increase your chances of survival. Hypothermia Prevention: Surviving in Cold Water explains how flotation and insulation are important in increasing your survival time. For example, a life vest offers more protection than a collar type personal flotation device, and insulated jackets protect even more of your body from the cold water.

This PFDMA Brochure gives more tips on selecting the appropriate personal flotation device.

How Cold is “Cold” Water?

“Cold water (less than 70° F) can lower your body temperature, causing hypothermia. If your body temperature drops too low, you may pass out and then drown,” according to this PFDMA Brochure.

Another source says water temperatures as high as 75° and 80° F can be dangerous.

Cold Shock Response & Hypothermia

Extremely cold water is even more dangerous because you’re at risk of cold shock response before hypothermia even sets in. This article describes “when you first go into extremely cold water there is this weird response called a cold shock response. People start to hyperventilate immediately. For one to three minutes you breathe very fast and deep, uncontrollably. If you go underwater, you could swallow water and die.” But a life jacket can help keep your head above water.

After cold shock goes away, your body temperature begins to drop. That’s when you’re at risk for hypothermia. The more of your body that’s submerged, the quicker your core body temperature will cool, “even if the water temperature is 20° higher than the air temperature.” A flotation device, such as a life jacket, keeps more of you out of the water. This slows the cooling and gives you more time for help to arrive.

Wear Your Life Jacket When You’re On a Boat

What if you’re fishing on a boat? Life jackets are required to be on a boat. The best place to carry a life jacket on your boat is on your body. In the event of an emergency, you don’t have to think about where your life jacket is… it’s where it needs to be.

It’s important to wear your life jacket while fishing on land and on boat throughout the whole year. This fishing season, please remember to wear your life jacket.

Protecting Your Eyes with Safety Glasses

When was the last time you wore safety glasses to protect your eyes?

There are several activities of children and adults that can be a danger to your eyes, like Nerf guns, sports, using the weed trimmer, and cleaning out your wood stove. For the cost of $5 or so, you can get a pair of safety glasses to use during these times.

Safety Glasses for Nerf & Sport Activities

Nerf guns are a fun toy for children of all ages…and that includes adults. In our household, we’ve made it mandatory that safety glasses are worn if there are any “bullets” or darts in the guns. We call them our “shooting glasses.” The direct impact of a Nerf bullet in your eye is strong enough to cause permanent damage. This isn’t life or death, but damage to your eye’s retina is possible, even through your eye lid. Protect your eyes during play time with Nerf guns with safety eyewear.

Safety glasses are also great for sports for children, such as soccer. There is protective eyewear specifically designed for sports that are meant to stay in place during running and excessive movement.

Weed Trimming & Wood Stove Cleaning

For adults, safety glasses are great to wear while you’re using your weed trimmer. Weed trimmers kick debris all over the place. I don’t see many people trimming their weeds while wearing shorts because they want to protect their legs. What about protecting your eyes? If you’re going to wear pants to protect your legs, you should be wearing safety glasses to protect your eyes. Again, its a very small cost for these glasses compared to the cost of damage to your eyes.

Another good time for this protective eyewear is when cleaning your wood stove. This will protect your eyes against dust and ash from the stove.

Consider other activities you do that are a risk to your eyes and invest a small amount in a pair of safety glasses.

Life Jackets Save Lives

Life jackets save lives. It’s a coast guard regulation that you have to have a personal flotation device (life jacket) on any boat, and you have to have enough for at least one per person. It’s nice that it’s on the boat, but just think how life would be different if you were required to wear your life jacket.

Here are a few examples of when wearing a life jacket could have made a difference between life and death.

The Cost of Not Wearing Life Jackets

  1. Two teenagers set out in a boat from a Florida coastal town to go to Bermuda. Recently, the last footage was released of the boys leaving the inlet right before they hit the ocean. If you look closely at the boys, you’ll notice they don’t even have T-shirts on, much less life jackets. It was going to be a fun day in the sun. We don’t know what happened to them, but it’s possible that wearing their life jackets could have made a difference and led to a rescue.
  2. Another tragedy recently happened at Sylvan Beach outside of Syracuse, NY. A fisherman dropped his tackle box in the water from the canal wall of an inlet. He jumped into the water to save the box and passed it to his mother. The cold water temperatures took effect, he went underwater and drowned. What if he had been wearing a life jacket? He still would have been very cold, but his head would have been above water and he could have been rescued.
  3. About 15 years ago, I was sitting at the kitchen table listening to the local news of two sisters who drowned in a white water rafting accident. Neither one was wearing a life jacket. They were both accomplished swimmers, but were no match for the swift waters. I looked at my teenage boys and told them “That’s why we always wear life jackets. I don’t want them in the hull, I want them on your body. If there’s an accident, you won’t have time to get to them and put them on.”

That’s the whole point. An accident is an unforeseen event. In an emergency, could you get to the life jacket in your boat, put it on and secure it before you’re in the water?

The Benefits of Wearing Life Jackets

Alternatively, if you’re wearing a life jacket, you’ll be bobbing in the water instead of spending energy trying to stay afloat, allowing much more time for rescue. Life jackets save lives.Disney Cruise Rescue

Just in April of this year, there were three people rescued from their capsized boat by a Disney cruise ship. In this image (right), you can barely make out the dark spot that is the overturned boat. They were found in open water 40 miles from the nearest coast. Regardless of who they were, they were wearing their life jackets…and they were rescued.

I’m sure Smith Mountain Lake, as well as other rivers and streams in Virginia, have claimed lives because people weren’t wearing life jackets. I’d like to see a safer world.

Let’s spread this message, “If you’re near water, wear a life jacket.

How to Prevent Freezing Pipes in Your Home

Freezing pipes lead to insurance claims from water damage. In many cases, it’s a simple repair or simple maintenance that can prevent the damage.

Pipe Repairs to do in Advance of Freezing Weather:

Most pipe freezes occur in thinner structures of piping. Quest plumbing has a very strong record of failing by cracking and/or leaking. Quest plumbing needs to be removed and replaced with either Pexi or copper. Pexi has a very good record when it comes to freezing without splitting. Copper piping will freeze and crack.

For all toilet and/or sink connections, we recommend using a stainless steel, braided connecting hose. It’s a good repair to do and it will last for years. We recommend the same type of connecting hose for clothes washers as well.

How to Prevent Freezing Pipes During a Cold Spell:

Here is a checklist of simple things you can do to keep your pipes from freezing.

  • Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow warm air into those closed spaces.
  • Set the faucet to a very slow drip.
  • Don’t close off sections of your house that have plumbing lines passing through it during freezing cold weather. This will improve the warm air circulation throughout your home and around the pipes.
  • If you’ll be away from your home for several days during the winter, turn your heat down, but not off.

Here’s an additional resource with more tips for preventing freezing pipes inside and out.

Wood Stove Safety Tips: Cleaning & Inspection

September is a great time to get your wood stove ready for the upcoming burning season. An annual wood stove cleaning and inspection, along with some additional safety precautions, will help make this happen.

Wood Stove Cleaning

To prevent chimney fires, annual chimney cleaning is recommended for your wood stove prior to the start of the burning season. In some cases, you might have to clean it more than once a year. The cleaning part is basic, and the purpose is to remove any buildup that may be on the chimney liner that could ignite.

Wood Stove Inspection

An annual wood stove inspection is also recommended by the Chimney Safety Institute of America. On their website, you can find a Certified Chimney Sweep in your area using the zip code search.

The inspection is not just for the chimney, but also for the stove, stove pipe to the chimney, and area surrounding the stove.

  1. Chimney and Thimble
    Woodstove Installation GuidelinesYour chimney and the thimble connecting your wood stove to the chimney is a very important transition section that needs to be checked for cracks where embers could fall and flames could reach into the framing of your house and start a fire.
  2. Stove
    Your stove should be checked to make sure the door gasket is in tack. Although cracking is rare, it doesn’t hurt to inspect the stove metal for cracks and other possible failures.
  3. Stove Pipe
    One thing that I look for, as an insurance agent, is how the stove pipe is put together and enters the chimney. I always look for 3 screws per connection. Also, each section of the pipe should sit inside the section below it so that residue can flow back down the chimney without being interrupted by interior seams. I’ve seen a number of houses that have this backwards because they are thinking of how the smoke leaves the stove, not how the creosote residue flows on the inside of the pipe.
  4. Area Surrounding the Stove: Floor Mats & Mantles
    Floor mats are recommended beneath and extending 18 inches out from all sides of your wood stove to catch any sparks or embers. I have seen floors modified using inlaid stone or ceramic tile in that area as an alternative to a floor mat. Floor mats of various sizes can be purchased at your local home improvement store.

Mantles above a wood stove need to be protected from overheating. In many cases, I’ve seen beautiful wooden mantles just inches away from a hot stove pipe. Any mantle within 18 inches of the stove or stove pipe needs to be shielded with some sort of heat sink to prevent overheating.

Safety Tips for Operating Wood Stoves

It is also recommended that chimneys of wood-burning stoves have chimney caps to keep water out of the chimney and reduce the sparks getting out during the burning season, and to prevent animals from getting in during the rest of the year.

Firewood stacked next to a wood stove is a hazard. Firewood needs to be stacked at least 18 inches away from your wood stove.

Also, as for adding wood to an operating fire, make sure any nearby doors to the outside are closed to reduce the stove draft from pulling the flames into the chimney. You don’t want to set your chimney on fire!

Now is a great time to prepare for the upcoming burning season with these wood stove safety tips. Find a CSIA Certified Chimney Sweep near you to get your wood stove cleaned and inspected for a safe burning season.

Home Fire Safety Tips

The end of the summer is the best time to prepare for the fall and winter wood-burning season. Here are a few home fire safety tips and recommendations to make it a safe burning season. Plus, download your own Home Fire Escape Plan to be prepared and practice fire safety with your family.

Smoke Detector Installation & Maintenance

  • A smoke detector, or smoke alarm, should be installed in every bedroom, outside every sleeping area, and on every level of your home.
  • Install your kitchen smoke detector at least 10 feet from the stove and other cooking appliances to avoid false alarms.
  • If you’re mounting the smoke alarm on the wall, it should be no more than 12 inches from the ceiling to the top of the alarm.

Some of the newer smoke detectors can be hardwired into your electrical system, but they often have a battery back-up. Most detectors require a 9 volt battery. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that smoke alarms should be tested monthly. They also say you should replace the battery at least once a year. It’s a good idea to change the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year to be extra safe, especially if you forget to test them monthly.

It is also recommended that the entire smoke alarm unit be replaced every 8-10 years. You can learn more about smoke alarm installation and maintenance from the NFPA website.

Home Fire Escape Plan imageHome Fire Escape Plan

It is also important for everyone in your household to know the plan for getting out of the house when they do hear a smoke alarm. Download Home Fire Escape Plan instructions to create your own plan so you and your loved ones can safely exit your home in the case of a fire.

Don’t Forget Carbon Monoxide Detectors

If you heat your home with gas, you should have a carbon monoxide detector near every bedroom. That includes basement bedrooms. This type of gas is a quiet killer. You can’t smell it. You can’t see it. So you need to protect against it with a carbon monoxide detector.

Kitchen Fire Safety Tips

If you experience a kitchen fire, extinguish it with a lid if it is on the stove top, or close the oven door. Both actions will suffocate the fire. Never throw water on a kitchen fire!

To help prevent kitchen fires, always stay in the kitchen while food is cooking.

Fire Extinguisher Locations

It is also a good idea to mount an ABC Dry Chemical Fire Extinguisher near the exit of your kitchen and away from the stove.

In addition to keeping one in the kitchen, I would also suggest you keep a fire extinguisher in the master bedroom, or an adult’s bedroom. Then it can be easily and quickly located if there is a house fire in the middle of the night. You may need it to be able to get from your bedroom to your children and safely get everyone out of the house.

Wood-burning Stove SafetyWoodstove Installation Guidelines

With an indoor wood-burning stove, 18 inches is the magic number for the distance from the actual stove to a combustible wall. In some cases, the room size doesn’t allow the extra room for stove placement like this. You can use heat sinks and/or fire mats as a barrier to absorb the heat that radiates against the wall of the house. The idea is to keep the wall from overheating and igniting.

Outdoor Wood Furnace Safety

Outdoor wood furnaces, or water furnaces, are becoming more popular. A big thing to consider here is the distance from the furnace to the house. Some furnace manufacturers have distance recommendations and some do not.

We at Bruce Gardner Insurance Agency feel that having 50 feet from the furnace to the house is enough space for any sparks to burnout. We also recommend having a spark arrestor installed to prevent embers and sparks from landing nearby and starting a fire. Find out more about how spark arrestors keep you and your neighbors safe.

Before you install your outdoor wood furnace, check with your local code enforcement office to make sure you are compliant with the outdoor wood furnace installation distance to your house, any additional structures on your property, and your neighbors.


Hopefully these home fire safety tips are nothing new, but serve as a reminder on how to have a safe burning season.

Free Site Review: If you’d like a site review of your fireplace, smoke detectors, outdoor wood furnace, etc. free of charge, we’d be happy to schedule an appointment.

Call Bruce Gardner Insurance Agency at (540) 463-6702 or email info@brucegardnerinsurance.com to schedule your free site review.

Cycling Safety Tips for Spring: Bicycle & Motorcycle Safety

Motorcycle Safety SignHave you ever been driving on a country road and suddenly come up on a cyclist? I know I have. Remembering when I used to ride, I relied on the driver to know I was there. I might call that a child’s perspective. But as a parent, I look at cycling safety through a different set of eyes. Here are some cycling safety tips for both cyclists and motorists to consider.

Cycling Safety Tips for Cyclists:

For cyclists this is a great time of year to do a safety inspection of your motorcycle and/or bicycle and gear, especially if it’s been stored and unused during the winter.

It is also important to do a safety check of your vehicle before you hit the road or trail. Each time, before you head out for a ride:
1. Check the air pressure in your wheels
2. Test your brakes
3. Bring a tire repair kit
4. Wear a whistle

This last one is a tip from a medical doctor who used to cycle with me.  If you do get into an accident, it’s much easier for you to whistle than yell or scream, if you need assistance. Not only is it easier for you to do, but also it’s easier for passers by to hear.

Don’t forget to wear a helmet! It’s required by law in Virginia.

Cycling Safety Tips for Motorists:

You’ll see more and more motorcycles and bicycles around Rockbridge County, Virgina as the weather warms up.

The big safety tip for motorists is to watch out for cyclists!

They are smaller and usually less visible. Plus, motorcycles stop and accelerate faster than other vehicles, so you don’t want to be too close.

If it’s a bicycle, be careful even if they’re riding on the side of road. I like to give a little extra room when passing too. The cyclist could hit a rock and go down or swerve left to avoid hitting something. Things happen.

If you see a motorcyclist stopped on the side of the road, it’s nice to stop and ask if they need help. It could be a blown tire, they could have run out of gas, or maybe they forgot to turn on the reserve, which I did once when I was a young cyclist…back when the earth was cold.

The bottom line is that motorcyclists and bicyclists are more vulnerable, especially on a curvy road or highway, which we have a lot of here in Rockbridge County, Virginia. Both cyclists and motorists should practice these safety tips as a precaution.