Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Most Important Blog Post You'll Read Today: Safety in Your Craft Room

This is the home of fellow crafter, Lisa Tehonica Pontious in John-
sonburg, Pennsylvania, when a fire erupted overnight on Decem-
ber 20, 
2013,in the home's second floor.  The home has since been
Photo by Joseph Bell for The Kane Republican
It can happen so quickly:  a spark, a flash, the bolt of lightning, a frayed wire.  Fire.  

Within four months (from December 2013 to April 2014), three of my crafting friends lost most of their household possessions --- including all of their scrapbooking supplies -– to fire.  While none of these fires originated in their craft rooms, or in the case of two, not even within their own homes, the result is the same: tragic. 

(Pictures of their horrific losses, as they've shown on Facebook and other media, accompany this blog post.)

We know that things can be replaced, and blessedly, each of these friends’ families survived these blazes with minor injuries.  But pulling the pieces of a household after a fire together takes time; craft rooms are on the low list of priorities, for sure, when clothing, bedding, furniture, appliances, etc. all need to be bought, sometimes with limited funds. 
These are the steps leading to former
craft room of Sharelda Mendoza.
(Photo source: S.Mendoza Facebook)

This blog post is dedicated to craft room safety, and several steps you can do to both prevent tragedy, and also to recuperate after a devastating loss in your craft room. 
First, let’s talk about some of the obvious safety steps you should be taking in your craft room to prevent fires.  

1. The primary step is to BAN open flames totally from your craft room.  That means, no flame-lit candles, ever!  If a craft step requires melting or burning over an open flame, take that step outside to safety, and also where there is improved ventilation. 

2. No smoking in the craft room!  Not only can a lit cigarette fall off an ashtray, but you need to remember that many of the chemicals used in a craft room are flammable, and a spark from a match or cigarette lighter can start a deadly fire.
The mess left behind in the craft room of Sharelda Mendoza.
(Photo source: S. Mendoza, Facebook.)
3. Familiarize yourself with the flammable chemicals in your craft room, and store them properly. Think we as papercrafters don't use chemicals?  How about your adhesives?  Adhesive removers? Paints and paint removers?  Bleach, ammonia, vinegar, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide are all used in techniques in papercrafting. Store them in appropriate containers, out of reach of small children, and never, ever mix them without knowing their interaction. Use them in a well-ventilated area, away from a heat source (e.g., the sun, a glue gun), wires/outlets and flames.
Here is the devastating result of the recent fire in the
home of crafter Ginna Redding.
(Photo source: G. Redding, Facebook)

4. When using tools that generate heat (e.g., a glue gun, an iron), don't just turn it off. Unplug it.  An iron, glue gun, craft gun (embossing heater), toaster oven, hot plate, etc. are often used in a crafter's arsenal to melt or heat-fix powders or adhesives and other crafting items like beads, Shrinky Dinks and more.  Use them on a protected, heat-resistant surface. Heat- producing tools should not be used by children, nor near open water sources.
This is the finger of crafter Anel Laurens,
after she burnt it using a hot glue gun.

(Source: A. Laurens, Facebook)

5. Take care when handling hot objects to prevent skin burns.  
Plaid, the manufacturer of Mod Podge, sells Hot Glue Gun Finger Caps -- if you're inclined to burn your fingers while crafting, this is a small investment in self-protection. 

6. All of your electronics should be used with a surge protector.
We serious crafters not only use our computers and laptops, but also have our craft rooms equipped with television and stereos, along with sewing machines, and with some of the finest cutting machines available. All of today's cutting machines and many sewing machines rely on computer chips to work properly. A zap from an errant lightning bolt can not only kill your costly machines, but can start a fire in your craft room.  When using your machines, plug them into a surge protector ("strip").  

(Photo source: ClickArt Online) 
If you live in a high-frequency thunderstorm zone or at high topography, consider getting a Whole House Surge Protector as well. For the best protection, unplug all of your machines when not in use.  And during a thunderstorm, power down and work on something that doesn't require electricity, for safety's sake.

7. Equip your craft room with a smoke detector, and a small fire extinguisher just in case. Our papercrafting rooms have a tremendous amount of paper and scraps in them; it will burn faster than kindling. Be sure that if a fire starts in your craft room, you'll be able to detect it if you're not in it, with a smoke detector.  Check its batteries monthly; replace them twice a year, e.g., at Daylight Savings Time start and end.  It would not be a bad idea to have a fire-rated fire extinguisher in your room, in the event all of your best precautions (above) fail and a small fire starts. Stay calm and extinguish, but if it's too much, dial 9-1-1 as quickly as possible for emergency assistance.  

8. Use adequate ventilation in your craft room.  We all know about stinky markers and adhesives, a goo-removal sprays -- do you know the damage you're doing to your lungs by inhaling such stuff? Read the product label, and pick the safest; open a window if possible or move your stinky work to a room with a window.  

(Source: Environmental Protection Agency)
9. Beware of those hidden air issues, like radon in our crafting basements.  Do you live in an area of the country that is ripe for radon exposure?  And are you crafting in a well-sealed, insulated basement?  I once was. When I went to sell my home, the Realtor required radon readings. I found out that my basement -- where I spent my free time crafting and playing with my daughter in our finished play areas -- held some of Pennsylvania's highest readings ever recorded for Radon, an odorless gas that has been associated with lung disease including cancers.  My spending four hours there per day was equivalent of smoking 8 packs of cigarettes in those four hours!  Radon is easily (though not inexpensively) remediated; the easiest and cheapest remediation is to open those windows and have a fan to circulate your air.  

The after-effect of mold on a dollhouse.
(Source: www.todayandtomorrow.net)
10. Crafting in a basement?  Watch out for water and mold!  Paper and water only mix in papier-mache. One of the nation's most dangerous black molds, stachybotrus, thrives on paper products and drywall. If you live in flood zone or have a damp basement, be sure your paper products are stored in water-tight plastic containers, lifted off the floor with pallets or shelves, where wicking can occur to lift water through many storage containers. Use a dehumidifier religiously, and a sump pump where necessary.

Paper mites. (Source: www.harvesthoneyinc.com)
11. Store paper products away from insects (like paper mites and termites), but NOT in cedar! Did you know that cedar closets -- used to keep away moths -- can impart not only a cedar smell on your products, but also can leave cedar oils on your paper, causing discoloration?  

12. Carry adequate insurance on the contents in your craft room!  First things first: Contact the carrier for your Homeowners' Insurance policy to find out how much insurance you have to replace the contents of your home, should you ever have a fire, flood or other catastrophe.  Be sure it is adequate to cover the contents in your craft room, by doing a general inventory first. Consider the cost of all of your supplies -- not just the price you told your hubby that you paid for it!  If you're anything like me, that's thousands of dollars right there, to replace it. Then there's the cost of your machines, your furniture, your tools .... again, thousands of dollars. When I did a very cursory review of the "stuff" I had in my craft room, I came up to at least $40,000.  At minimum!  

If you do not have adequate contents replacement insurance, consider increasing it. The cost per month per $10,000 coverage is usually minimal, and will be well worth-it if you lose your toys.  

While I have heard that a crafter's/hobby rider is available, my insurance does not offer such a rider. Check with your insurer to see if one is available, and consider that investment.  

If you run a business from your craft/hobby, e.g., pay tax on income from sales (such as if you are an Independent Consultant for Close To My Heart like me, Stampin' Up, Thirty-One, Origami Owl, Ahni & Zoe or more ...), or if you sell your wares at a craft show and demonstrate income/pay tax, consider getting Business Insurance.  This separate policy can cover your goods, supplies and finished products should they be damaged or stolen while you are demonstrating or selling them away from home, and also can be a source for a Certificate of Liability Insurance should the site where you've arranged a crop require such from you.  

If you are a renter, get renter's insurance to replace the contents of your apartment or home. 

13. Keep an inventory of the "stuff" in your craft room to demonstrate value, in the event of loss.  The easiest way to keep an inventory is two-fold. First, film a video of your craft room and its supplies. Open drawers and scan over its contents. Show your machines in operation. Show your furniture. Don't be shy!  Next, don't just keep that video on your computer -- store or share it on sites like YouTube or DropBox.  You don't have to make the video public -- just keep it for yourself, so you can access it remotely should you ever be unable to get into your home.  

Second, when you buy a major purchase like a new cutting machine, computer or furniture, save the operating instructions (on which you've written the serial number) and the receipt together in a page protector that you've stored in a binder.  If possible, save this binder in a fire-safe place, like a fire-resistant cabinet or safe. Consider buying a fire-resistant cabinet for all of your family's important documents. These can be as cheap as $80 and go up to thousands of dollars, depending on size and fire/water resistance.  

... and MOST IMPORTANTLY, store those finished albums and un-scrapped photos safely, away from water, fire, mold, insects and other hazards.  With today's technology, you can easily scan or have scanned every one of your priceless, irreplaceable photographs and stored off-site, on disk, or online.  Do it today!

For more on safety in the craft room, be sure to download and read, "Art and Craft Safety Guide," publication # 5015 by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, in partnership with The Art & Creative Materials Institute (ACMI); Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, Inc. (ACTS); and, The National Art Education Association (NAEA).  


Claire Spielman said...

Wonderful article...thanks for sharing such great info!
Creative Wishes

gayle-rn said...

Ellen, thank you so much for this helpful info. I'm reading this as I am in the process of creating a new craft/ sewing/quilting rooms. So you see this really is making me sit up and pay attention. So thank you again.

Cathy said...

a ton of great information!!

Kate said...

Thanks so much for this post. We're moving in June and I feel much more confident having these tips fresh on my mind as I think about setting up my new craft room.

Diane said...

Hi Ellen,
Thanks so much for sharing this post. I am so sorry to know that your friends experienced these losses. Recovering after a major fire is so very difficult.
I am referring people from my blog to read your post since it contains such useful and valuable information. Thanks again for pulling it all together.

Unknown said...

THanks for the reminders and great advice. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday taking pics of everything in my SB room, and printing it out, labeling and counting. What an eyeopener!! First of all I certainly don't need anything else, but it also told me I have thousands of dollars worth of supplies and machines, etc. My husband will be taking this info to our insurance person for further review. Diana Tuttle

goodie girl said...

Lived through an office fire. Not fun. Lost my first Cricut and cartridges in the fire along with many other items.
Please note that surge protection power strips do not last forever. Surge protection strips can short out and cause a fire. Better protection battery backup. Protects from power surges, has a different design so that if or when it shorts out it does not spark a fire. Information from the fire captain of city and fire crew member with the guard.

Barbl484 said...

Great info. Thanks so much!

Unknown said...

This is quite an important reminder for any homeowner who are into the crafts. Crafts and fires aren't a good mix, and fireproofing your crafts room is only half of the battle. Getting home and business insurance can cover some of the damage if ever, but prevention is always better than picking up the pieces afterwards. I hope people take to heart your suggestions. Take care!

Steven Keltsch @ Allied Insurance Managers