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By Derrick Gelsomino, Nov 29 2016 07:07PM

Ice, snow and wind can have devastating consequences on your home; fortunately, there are precautions you can take to avoid winter related damage. Keep in mind, the time to winterize is when the leaves begin to turn and not when the snow begins to fall.

Outside

Clean out gutters. Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from gutters, so melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming, which is what happens when water is unable to drain through the gutters and instead seeps into the house causing water to drip from the ceiling and walls.

Install gutter guards. Gutter guards prevent debris from entering the gutter and interfering with the flow of water away from the house and into the ground.

Trim trees and remove dead branches. Ice, snow and, wind could cause weak trees or branches to break free and damage your home or car, or injure someone walking by your property.

Repair steps and handrails. Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice.

Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations. Use caulking to seal cracks and wall openings to prevent cold air and moisture from entering your home. Caulk and install weather stripping around windows and doors to prevent warm air from leaking out and cold air from blowing in.

Inside

Keep the house warm. Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees to keep pipes from freezing inside the walls of your house, where temperatures can be much colder.

Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic, it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. Water then can refreeze, leading to more ice build-up—and even ice dams that can damage your roof. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes, and you may also consider insulating garages and other unfinished areas to keep pipes from freezing.

Provide a reliable back-up power source. In the event of a power outage, continuous power will keep you warm and help to prevent frozen pipes, or a frozen battery operated sump-pump. Consider purchasing a portable generator to ensure safety.

Have your heating system serviced. Furnaces, boilers and chimneys should be serviced at least once a year to prevent fire and smoke damage.

Check pipes. Look closely for the presence of cracks and leaks, and have them repaired immediately. Pipes in attics and crawl spaces should be protected with insulation or plug-in heating cable. When purchasing heating cable, be sure to select UL®-listed models with built-in thermostats to turn on the heat on when it is needed. And always follow manufacturers instructions closely.

Install an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This will protect the system against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can help prevent your pipes from bursting.

Remove combustible items placed near any hart sources. This includes wood stoves and space heaters.

Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Not only do residential fires increase in the winter, but so does carbon monoxide poisoning—so check that your detectors are in working condition on a regular basis.

Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence. The quicker you shut off water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better your chance of preventing major damage.

Hire a licensed contractor to look for structural damage. (And have all necessary repairs performed as soon as possible.) Also, inquire about measures to prevent flooding from melted snow and ice runoff. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump pumps and other improvements can prevent water damage to your home and belongings.

Flooding

Flooding related to melting snow can overburden sewer systems, causing raw sewage to back up into the drains in your home. Backed up sewers can wreak havoc, causing thousands of dollars in damage to floors, walls, furniture and electrical systems. Sewer back-up is not covered under a typical homeowners or renters insurance policy, but must be purchased as either a separate product, or an endorsement. Nor is sewer backup covered by flood insurance, which is a separate policy available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), that covers floods from tidal surge and overflowing bodies of water.

By Derrick Gelsomino, Nov 16 2016 02:57PM

With Thanksgiving a week away, this might be a good time to remind you of some important safety tips to make sure their holiday is a safe and happy one.

Of course, with Thanksgiving comes food. Lots of food. And all too often in the midst of the holiday cooking and festivities, tragic accidents happen. According to claims data, there are more fires related to deep fryers on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year, with grease and cooking-related claims more than doubling on that day. And deep fryer fires cause $15 million in property damage every year, with a majority of incidents happening on Thanksgiving, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Here are some more sobering facts from the American Red Cross…

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires on Thanksgiving Day and of home fires and home fire injuries in general.

Cooking fires nearly double on Thanksgiving Day, occurring more than twice as often as on any other day.

Thanksgiving Day home fires cause more property damage and claim more lives than home fires on any other day.

It can be a dangerous holiday, and a busy time for insurance brokers too. Here are some tips that can help keep your insurance customers safe during their holiday cooking. Use your insurance software to send homeowners insurance clients a quick reminder email.

Holiday cooking safety tips

Don’t leave your cooking unattended whether you’re frying, grilling or broiling your food.

If simmering, baking, boiling or roasting food, check it regularly, stay in the home while cooking, and use a timer so you don’t forget the stove or oven is on.

Don’t wear loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking.

Keep children away from cooking areas by enforcing a "kid-free zone" of three feet around the stove.

Keep anything that can catch on fire such as pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains away from your stove top, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.

If you use a turkey fryer, make sure it is outdoors and in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures that could catch on fire, and away from moisture that can cause serious burns from steam or splattering hot oil. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Smoke alarms save lives. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen and use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

After your guests leave, have someone perform a safety check to make sure all candles and smoking materials are extinguished.

For a safe and happy holiday, it’s hard to go wrong with the “ounce of prevention” method. But if one of your customers suffers a holiday cooking disaster and needs to file a claim, be sure you’re there with a quick and helpful response. You just might be the holiday cheer they need.

By Derrick Gelsomino, Oct 20 2016 05:32PM

Time to say good-bye to summer and get ready for shorter days, cooler nights and falling leaves. Autumn, which officially occured Thursday, September 22 this year, has its own set of challenges for drivers in all parts of the country. With these tips for routine fall car care and safe driving, you can weather the autumn roads.

Get your ride ready for fall

Picture yourself stranded on the side of a country road with a flat tire, a dead battery or failed brakes that caused you to slam your car into that charming stone wall. Throw in an autumn rain storm to add to the misery. Bet you’re wishing you’d taken time for a little routine fall maintenance. October is Fall Car Care Month, but why wait?

Check the battery and charging system. If your battery is more than three years old, think about replacing it before it fails on a dark, lonely road. At minimum, make sure the connections are clean, tight and free of corrosion.

Check your tires for uneven or excessive wear and tread depth. Have your wheels aligned and rotate the tires to prevent early wear.

Check your brake linings, rotors and drums for wear. Make sure the fluid levels are up.

Check the HVAC system to make sure your heater and ventilation is working properly. Change the air filters while you’re at it.

Check the windshield wiper blades. These should be replaced every six months, anyway, so might as well do it now. Fill up the windshield washer reservoir, too.

Fall road hazards

The autumn leaves drift by your window. They also pile up on the roadway. Rain falls. The leaves turn to slimy slick patches that are as dangerous as ice. They obscure potholes, curbs and street markings. Watch for them. On the other hand, if you live in areas of the country that are drought-stricken, avoid parking your car over piles of dry fallen leaves (or any dry foliage). Your catalytic converter could spark a fire.

Frost and ice. While September frosts are unusual in most parts of the country, they do happen, particularly in shady spots on roadways. Be especially careful when driving over bridges, which can freeze up faster than the rest of the road because they are exposed from the top and bottom.

Fall is deer mating season, so the danger of a deer darting onto a road, especially between dusk and dawn, increases now. Running into a deer will definitely ruin your day and your car. They tend to run in small herds, so if you see one, be alert for more. Allow more distance between you and the car ahead and always buckle up. If you do hit a deer, pull to the side of the road, turn on your hazard lights, call the police or highway patrol and stay in your car. Do not attempt to approach the animal. If it isn’t dead, it could injure you. Document the incident, ideally with photos, for insurance purposes.

Fall weather hazards

Sudden, often severe rain storms are a major fall weather hazard. They often come after long, dry summers have allowed oil to build up on the roads. Oil and water don’t mix. Add in somebody driving fast or foolishly and you’ve got a recipe for a wreck. Slow down when it’s raining, use your windshield wipers, turn on your headlamps, avoid hard braking and give yourself extra time to stop.

Fog is another weather-related driving hazard. Temperature conditions in fall increase its likelihood in autumn, especially in low-lying areas, or places surrounded by trees, hills or mountains. Fog not only impairs your vision, it also muffles sound and alters perceptions of distance. If you have to drive in it, drive slowly, taking care not to overdrive your headlamps (never use high beams).

Sun and lack of it

Although we won’t officially go off Daylight Savings Time until the end of October, the sun is setting sooner. That means you may be encountering glare earlier than usual on your afternoon commute. Adjust your route, if possible. Invest in good, anti-glare sunglasses. Keep your windshield clean. Drive slower and leave extra room between you and the driver ahead.

As the days get shorter, you’ll be doing more dusk and after-dark driving. Keep your headlights clean and properly aligned. Turn them on as soon as sunlight fades.

People

The kids are back in school. Keep an eye out for them and drive slowly in school zones and along routes to schools where kids walk or ride bikes.

Lots of people like to jog or walk along the roadways, especially at dawn and dusk when visibility is at its lowest. You’ll need to watch for them and be prepared to stop quickly. Drive a little slower, keep your headlights on and be prepared to use your horn (a gentle beep beep) to alert them to your presence.

Safe driving any time of year is a good way to keep your car insurance premiums down and qualify for safe-driving discounts.

By Derrick Gelsomino, Oct 17 2016 07:30PM

Halloween can be a holiday full of festivities, fun and costumes if you follow a few tips to ensure safety and protect your home from liability. Don’t allow the risk of a homeowners insurance claim to spoil the fun.

Whether you will be hosting a party or welcoming trick-or-treaters, opening your property to the public can leave you vulnerable to insurance claims and lawsuits.

The following 10 Tips will assure Halloween home safety...

Create a Clear Path – Keep the area around your home clear of obstructions so that visitors don’t stumble and injure themselves. Especially at Halloween, clear away lawn ornaments, gardening equipment, toys, etc. to help avoid a liability.

Confine Your Pets – For the safety of your pets and your guests, keep dogs and cats away from the front porch or areas where they might jump on or even bite unfamiliar visitors.

Keep the Lights On – Be sure that trick-or-treaters and other visitors are able to see clearly after dark to avoid falls and other injuries on your property. You will not only help avoid a liability claim, but you’ll deter burglars who are always less inclined to approach a well-lit home.

Avoid Open Flames – While candles and luminaries set the spooky mood on Halloween, they can easily be overturned and result in homeowners insurance claims for fire damage. Consider light sticks and battery-powered lanterns instead.

Jack-o-Lantern Safety – Unattended Jack-o-Lanterns lit by candles can easily be tipped over by trick-or-treaters or pets. Avoid fire damage claims by using a battery-powered light in your pumpkin.

Supervise Pumpkin Carving – Enjoy the fun but assure home safety by having an adult or supervised older child carve the pumpkin this Halloween. Better still, use a special pumpkin cutter for extra safety.

Think Before You Serve – You are responsible for the safety of guests who will visit your home this Halloween. Offer only commercially-packaged treats to trick-or-treaters. Likewise, be sure to serve non-alcoholic beverages to your older party guests and never serve alcohol to anyone who is under-age. If you are setting the mood at your party by using dry ice in a punchbowl, be sure to keep the chips out since they can cause severe injury if ingested.

Assure Home Security – If you will be away from home during Halloween, don’t forget to set your security alarm system before you go. This is a prime time of year for mischief and burglaries. So be sure to also activate motion-sensitive lights and alert your neighbors that you will be away.

Test Your Home Smoke Alarms – While you are testing your home security system, don’t forget to test your smoke alarms well in advance of the Halloween celebrations to minimize the chance of having a claim for fire damage.

Check Your Homeowners Insurance – Take a moment to speak with your insurance agent to be sure you will be fully protected for whatever plans you have for the Halloween Holiday. The time to find out that your coverage is incomplete is NOT after you have a claim.

By Derrick Gelsomino, Oct 6 2016 01:34PM

With spring cleaning far behind, and summer fun all but over, it’s time to start fall home maintenance. Fall is the perfect time to perform important maintenance to your home so you’re not caught in the middle of winter with a drafty house or a malfunctioning heater. We’ve compiled a few fall home maintenance tips, along with what you can do to ensure your home stays warm and comfortable this winter.

Chimney and Fireplace

Chimneys and fireplaces cause some of the most expensive damage to homes. Build-up from creosote can easily ignite, causing a devastating fire. If you are unfamiliar with inspecting a chimney, it may be worth calling in a chimney sweep, which is usually quite affordable. Make sure to leave your flu closed when not in use, and always have a fireplace screen in front of open flames to protect your home from wayward sparks.

Windows

Windows may be a continual source of frustration for homeowners. There are many seal repair kits available at local hardware stores. Walk around the interior windows, placing your hand near the seal. Check for any breezes flowing through. Do the same process for doors. When you find one, mark it with a sticker or other indicator so you can tally how many repair kits you need. If a window is improperly sized, cracked, or broken, it needs to be replaced.

For doors, you can purchase draft preventers and other seal kits to improve the seal. Every 1/8 of an inch can lower a room a whole degree, so it can really pay off to have updated, well-sealed doors and windows.

Smoke Detectors, Fire Extinguishers, and First Aid Kits

Every six months, replace batteries in all the detectors in your home. Check the expiration dates on your first aid kit and fire extinguisher, and that each is up to date and in a convenient place. If you don’t have a fire escape route, this is a good time to draft one.

Indoor Pipes

Winterizing pipes is one of the easiest, most valuable ways to protect your home over the winter. Most home repair stores carry fitted insulation that can easily wrap around any size pipe. If you can’t afford to do every pipe in your home, give priority to the pipes that are closest to the outdoors, or most likely to freeze. It’s also a good idea to shut off water to any area that won’t be used, and to check pipes for leaks or cracks that may grow larger with the varying temperatures of fall.

Yard Maintenance

Fall leaves may be beautiful, but these can slowly rot, causing huge backup and damage in gutters. This backup will cause water to spill over the gutter and into your yard and walking areas, which can cause damage to your home and make walking conditions dangerous. Disconnect all garden hoses, and store them coiled and flat in a cool, dry place. If possible, turn of water to all outside faucets and drain them to protect the outside pipes from damage. Also, store any outdoor furniture that may become damaged from snow or ice.

Roof Inspection

A roof inspection may seem overkill, but harsh winter winds and heavy snow can take a toll on your home. It may be a good idea go up to your rooftop to check for any broken tiles or cracks. It’s important to take care of any damage now to avoid repairs during the cold winter months.

Stock Up on Winter Supplies for Your Home

Before prices on winter gear soars, stock up on winter items such as snow shovels, firewood, or sidewalk salt. It’s better to have the supplies now than to have to run to the store during a snowstorm!

These fall home maintenance tips are quick, easy, and affordable. It might be a good idea to brush up on home repair insurance coverage as you’re making improvements and renovations. As the adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - especially when it comes to home repairs.

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