Camping Safety Tips & Tricks

Did you know that over 40 million Americans will go camping at least once per year?  Or that over 7 million Americans will go camping on Memorial Day weekend alone?

While becoming one with nature is clearly a draw for many of us, camping comes with some inherent dangers that aren’t typical concerns in the cities and suburbs.

Sudden thunderstorms, unruly insects or animals and health hazards like dehydration and altitude sickness can all put a serious damper on what should be an amazing outdoor experience. Luckily there are ways to decrease the chances of camping dangers affecting your next trip.

Below you will find some tips and tricks to ensure you camping trips are safe, fun, and, most importantly, bear free.


Overall Safety Tips

  • Travel with a companion. You don’t want to be by yourself in case of an emergency. Leave a copy of your itinerary with a responsible person. Include such details as the make, year, and license plate of your car, the equipment you’re bringing, the weather you’ve anticipated, and when you plan to return. If you’ll be entering a remote area, your group should have a minimum of four people; this way, if one is hurt, another can stay with the victim while two go for help. If you’ll be going into an area that is unfamiliar to you, take along someone who knows the area or at least speak with those who do before you set out. If an area is closed, do not go there. Know ahead of time the location of the nearest telephone or ranger station in case an emergency does occur on your trip.
  • Be in good physical condition. Set a comfortable pace as you hike. A group trip should be designed for the weakest member of the group. If you have any medical conditions, discuss your plans with your health care provider and get approval before departing. Make sure you have the skills you need for your camping or hiking adventure. You may need to know how to read a compass, erect a temporary shelter, or give first aid. Practice your skills in advance. If your trip will be strenuous, get into good physical condition before setting out. If you plan to climb or travel to high altitudes, make plans for proper acclimatization to the altitude.
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the trail conditions and season.
  • Be weather wise. Keep an eye on current and predicted weather conditions. In this area, weather can change very quickly. Know the signs for approaching storms or changing weather conditions. Avoid bare ridge tops, exposed places, lone trees, streams, and rocks during lightning storms. Find shelter in a densely forested area at a lower elevation. Even in the summer, exposure to wind and rain can result in hypothermia.
  • Learn basic first aid so you will know how to identify and treat injuries and illnesses. Carry a first aid kit with you. Learn how to identify the symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, hypothermia, and dehydration, and know how to treat them.
  • Make camp before dark. Traveling after darkness has resulted in many accidents from falls, so travel only during daylight. Set up camp well away from the edge of cliffs, and learn the terrain during daylight. If you have to leave camp after dark, stay in areas you have seen in daylight, go with a friend, and always use a good flashlight.
  • Think before you drink! No matter how clean or pure stream water looks, it’s likely to contain water-borne parasites and microorganisms that can cause discomfort and sometimes serious illness. Pack your water in, or purify through chemical treatment.

Outdoor Safety: Camping Tips

  • Pack a first aid kit. Your kit can prove invaluable if you or a member of your group suffers a cut, bee sting or allergic reaction. Pack antiseptics for cuts and scrapes, tweezers, insect repellent, bug spray, a snake bite kit, pain relievers, and sunscreen.
  • Bring emergency supplies. In addition to a first aid kit, this includes: a map, compass, flashlight, knife, waterproof fire starter, personal shelter, whistle, warm clothing, high energy food, water, and insect protection.
  • Check for potential hazards. Be sure to check the site thoroughly for glass, sharp objects, branches, large ant beds, poison ivy, bees, and hazardous terrain.
  • Avoid areas of natural hazards. Check the contour of the land and look for potential trouble due to rain. Areas that could flood or become extremely muddy can pose a problem.
  • Inspect the site. Look for a level site with enough room to spread out all your gear. Also, a site that has trees or shrubs on the side of prevailing winds will help block strong, unexpected gusts.
  • Build fires in a safe area. Your open fires and fuel-burning appliances must be far enough away from the tent to prevent ignition from sparks, flames, and heat. Never use a flame or any other heating device inside a tent. Use a flashlight or battery-powered light instead.
  • Make sure your fires are always attended. Be sure you have an area for a fire that cannot spread laterally or vertically – a grill or stone surface is ideal. When putting the fire out, drown it with water, making sure all embers, coals and sticks are wet. Embers buried deep within the pile have a tendency to reignite later.
  • Pitch your tent in a safe spot. Make sure your tent is made of a flame-retardant fabric, and set up far enough away from the campfire. Keep insects out of your tent by closing the entrance quickly when entering or leaving.
  • Beware when encountering wildlife. To ward off bears, keep your campsite clean, and do not leave food, garbage, coolers, cooking equipment or utensils out in the open. Remember that bears are potentially dangerous and unpredictable – never feed or approach a bear. Use a flashlight at night – many animals feed at night and the use of a flashlight may warn them away.
  • Beware of poisonous plants. Familiarize yourself with any dangerous plants that are common to the area. If you come into contact with a poisonous plant, immediately rinse the affected area with water and apply a soothing lotion such as calamine to the affected area.

Outdoor Safety: If You Get Lost

  • Pay close attention to your surroundings and landmarks, and relate this to your location on a map.
  • Stay calm if you get lost. Panic is your greatest enemy. Try to remember how you got to your present location.
  • Trust your map and compass, and do not walk aimlessly. If you are on a trail, don’t leave it.
  • Stay put if it is nightfall, if you are injured, or if you are near exhaustion.
  • As a last resort, follow a drainage or stream downhill. This can be hard going but will often lead to a trail or road.

10 Tips for Buying a Home Security System

We don’t want to alarm you (couldn’t help ourselves), but, according to the FBI, more than 2 million homes are burglarized in the United States every year. This means that someone is breaking into a home somewhere across the country about every 13 seconds. To avoid being the victim of a burglary, getting a home security system is your best option.

Many consumers, though, don’t know exactly what to look for in a home security system. Are there specific features I need to add? What questions should I ask potential vendors? Where and how should it be installed? With these questions in mind, here is a list of 10 things you should know before you buy a home security system. You’ll learn not only the basics, but also what to look for in a system to protect your valuables and your family.

Also, keep in mind that a home security system will also provide premium savings to your homeowners insurance policy. If you would like to find out more, please contact our office.


 

1. Home security systems are affordable.  Even if you are on a limited budget, you can have a home security system. You might want to consider a traditional burglar alarm system; this will give you sensors on your doors and windows, and alert you to any intruders. While not as advanced as a home security system, it will provide adequate protection for your valuables and your family.

If your budget allows, you can opt for a system that is larger, is more advanced and has extra features. This can include fire alarms, carbon monoxide alerts and intruder alerts, and can provide you with immediate access to emergency personnel. A more advanced system can also include the use of asset protection devices.

2. The installation process varies. The installation process of your home security system depends on what type you purchase. A traditional wired system will need to be installed by a professional, and often requires some drilling (and holes in your walls) to connect the sensors to the main alarm system.

On the other hand, a wireless system is much easier to install, as no drilling is required. In most cases, wireless systems are powered by battery, although some are powered by solar panels.

Installation will also depend on the company you purchase it through; special equipment may be needed to connect you directly to the security company or emergency personnel. Ask what is required for the installation so that you are prepared for the process (and the potential mess).

3. Security systems operate even during power outages.  Many homeowners are concerned about how the home security system is powered. Suppose you are on vacation and get word that there was a storm in your neighborhood that knocked out the electricity. Is your home security system still on? Is your home protected? Should you return home?

Don’t be alarmed: No matter what type of system you have, it will continue to operate even when there is no power at your home. A traditional system that is powered by electricity is typically low voltage, which means it doesn’t actually take a lot of power to run the system. And these types of systems contain a large battery that will back up the system when the main power is out.

Another option is a solar-powered security system. You can set this up to be only one component, such as an outdoor security camera, or your entire system can be run on solar power. A solar-powered system is more costly, but if you are looking for a “green” solution that will provide security even when there is no electricity, this is the best option.

4. Burglar alarms are not home security systems. There are major differences between a burglar alarm and a home security system; the latter provides additional benefits to help protect you and your family, and it may be the better investment. Before signing up with a company, it is important that you know what you are getting, what is protected and how the system works.
A burglar alarm is the traditional type of alarm system that has sensors on doors and windows. It will alert you or law enforcement (depending on your settings) that an intruder has entered into your home. This is extremely beneficial — but a home security system can also warn you about environmental dangers, such as fire, carbon monoxide and even flooding.

5. Size does matter. Although some security companies may tell you there is only one kind of security system for everyone, this is not true. In fact, several types and sizes are available, each of which can be customized to fit your needs. Sure, doing so will cost more; but it also will provide you with a higher level of security, as it will be designed specifically to fit your home and your way of life.

A small system might be fine for an apartment or small home. If you have a larger home, you’ll need a system that can handle a larger amount of information and monitoring. A large home requires a system that covers all the doors and windows, as well as the grounds.

6. Many systems offer personal security. Suppose you slipped while walking down the stairs and couldn’t get to a phone. How long would it take before someone came looking for you? Many home security systems are equipped with technology that can be beneficial in a medical emergency.

In most instances, you can get a pendant or bracelet that allows you to push a button to immediately be put in contact with emergency personnel. When you purchase this type of service, help will be available to you 24 hours a day. This option is great for the elderly, as well as those who live alone or don’t have neighbors close by.

7. Choose your provider carefully. Now that you have determined the importance of a home security system, and know what services are available, you will need to choose a service provider. First, consider how long the company has been in business. We recommend you choose a company that has at least 10 years of service, but that has updated, modern equipment. This track record will give you not only customer feedback, but also peace of mind.

Second, consider the distance between you and the monitoring location. We recommend that you be no more than 250 miles away. The farther away you are from a monitoring location, the longer it can take for the alarm to relay, which could delay the amount of time it takes for someone to get to your home.

8. Additional services may not be worth it. As you begin calling home security companies, you will be offered additional devices and services that can be added to increase your security. However, not all of the devices are worth the price you will have to pay.

For instance, if you have no valuable paintings or jewelry, or other items that you want specifically protected, then you would not want to pay for asset protection devices. On the other hand, if you do have high-priced items in your home, then asset protection devices are definitely worth investing in.

Other high-tech devices you might find worth the cost are personal alarm systems, which provide you with immediate access to emergency personnel, as well as security cameras that can be linked to your smartphone. This allows you to monitor your home even while you are away; it is the way of the future.

9. Asset protection devices protect valuables. You can install devices that will alert you if your valuables have been tampered with. Asset protection devices let you know when, for example, a jewelry box has been opened, a painting has been moved or a safe has been tampered with, even if there is no physical evidence.

Asset protection devices are not only beneficial when it comes to theft, but also they give you peace of mind. For example, if a repair person or house cleaner comes into your home while you are away, you will know whether they disturbed your valuable items. When thinking about asset protection devices, consider how many you will need.

10. There are other less-obvious benefits. Aside from the security of knowing that your personal possessions are protected, there are other benefits to having a home security system that just might help you make the decision to purchase one.

For instance, many homeowners insurance policies offer a reduction on premiums for those who have a home security system installed. In addition, more advanced home security systems can provide you with an alert if one of your appliances is not working properly and could cause damage to your home. Furthermore, home security systems give guests, babysitters and nannies peace of mind, knowing that they are safe and secure in your home.

Insuring Teen Drivers

Did you know that vehicular fatalities are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. And though fatality rates for teens have steadily dropped since 1975, teens remain 3 times more likely to crash per mile driven than adults.

Thankfully, you can play a big part in keeping your teen safe. To help you navigate through this important milestone in your child’s life, here are 9 tips covering everything from safety to saving money on car insurance for teenage drivers.

If you have any questions on insuring your own teen driver, please feel free to give our office a call.


 

1. Invest in a safe-driving courseThe more practice young drivers have behind the wheel, the better. Since inexperience results in many teen motor vehicle accidents, approved safe-driving courses can help teens gain experience and helpful skills. Check with your state’s department of motor vehicles to get an approved list.

Safe-driving courses can be taken online or in person and usually last anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. Most courses are affordable, but it never hurts to shop around. And while you’re looking for ways to save, don’t forget to ask your insurer about a car insurance discount for taking an approved safe-driving course.

2. Get the safest car for your teen driver.  When it comes to choosing the right car for your teen, safety and reliability are key. Choose the safest car you can afford. Whether you buy a brand-new car or a used model, look for advanced safety features like front and side air bags, antilock brakes, head restraints, and electronic stability control. If a crash occurs, these safety features can be lifesavers.

Before you settle on a vehicle, make sure you check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Top Safety Picks for the crash test rating of the car you have in mind.

3. Implement your own graduated licensing program.  Even if your state has an excellent graduated drivers licensing program, consider implementing your own set of rules until you’re comfortable with your offspring’s driving skills.

  • Restrict nighttime driving: The IIHS reports that most fatal crashes for young drivers occur between 9 p.m. and midnight, so it’s a good idea to take away the keys after 9 p.m.
  • Limit the number of passengers: It may be fun for your teen driver to play chauffeur to his or her friends, but studies have shown that the presence of passengers actually increases accident risk. Teen drivers are more likely to be distracted when they have friends in the car, and the presence of peers also leads to riskier driving practices.
  • Supervise driving: Even though your child may be a bona fide licensed driver, he or she still lacks the necessary experience to handle difficult driving situations.

4. Have a heart to heart.  Driving is a privilege — make sure that your young driver knows it. Before you hand over the keys, clearly spell out your expectations for good driving behavior.

A parent-teen contract detailing your policies regarding passengers, alcohol use, texting while driving, speeding, etc. — and the consequences should your child fail to live up to his or her responsibility — will make sure that you and your teen are on the same page.

5. Practice what you preach.  Set a good example for your young driver. Drive safely, buckle up, and avoid distractions (like texting, talking on the phone, or eating) behind the wheel.

6. Discuss driving costs. If your child has to pay for some car-related expenses (gas, a portion of the monthly insurance premiums, oil changes, etc.), chances are he or she will take driving more seriously and be safer on the road. So make sure your child knows who will pay for what and, when possible, have your teen help out with the cost of car ownership — even if it’s just buying gas every once in a while.

7. Set a zero-tolerance drinking policy.  The statistics for underage drinking are sobering. According to the Center for Disease Control, youth aged 12 to 20 consume 11% of all alcohol in the U.S. So though you might like to avoid the subject, turning a blind eye to teen alcohol use won’t make the problem disappear.

8. Keep a squeaky-clean driving record.  Since every vehicular infraction tarnishes your record and raises your insurance premiums, practice safe driving to keep your record clean. If you’ve added your child to your policy, make sure he or she also follows safe-driving practices. Since speeding is the most common driving violation in the teenage population, make sure your child follows speed limits at all times. (Investing in a vehicle tracking device could be a good option if you’d like to monitor your child’s speed.)

9. Encourage good grades. Aside from helping your young family member advance through life, good grades can also help you and your young driver save on car insurance. If your child is a full-time high school or college student and maintains a high GPA, he or she could be eligible for a Good Student discount.

7 Excluded Homeowners Claims

Our hope is that you never have to experience any disaster to your home that requires submitting an insurance claim to our office.

What worries us even more, though, is submitting an insurance claim assuming there is coverage only to find out the claim is actually excluded on your policy.

With that in mind we have put together a list of the top 7 most-frequently-excluded claims on homeowners insurance policies. While we are always working to provide you with the insurance coverage you need, subtle changes we are unaware of (like a trampoline purchase for instance) may have a dramatic effect on the coverage your insurance company is willing to offer.

We hope that by sharing this list we can help uncover some potential gaps in your policy and provide you with some insight on how to properly cover them.

If you have any questions at all specific to your policy, please don’t hesitate to contact our office.


Mold and Water Dam

A spike in mold-related claims at the turn of the century led most insurers to strike the coverage entirely from their homeowners policies.

Since 2000, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mold-related claims submitted to insurance companies. The peak came around 2002 when Ed McMahon filed a $20 million lawsuit against his insurance company for mold-related damages. After that, many insurance companies stopped providing coverage completely or limited their coverage to a very small amount.

Sewer Backup

The only thing worse than having a bathroom or basement overflowing with sewage is the fact that you may have pay the entire bill yourself.

Sewage backups are a standard exclusion on many homeowners insurance policies. Without purchasing the additional rider (which is usually less than $100), there is a very good chance you will have to pay for the cleanup yourself.

We will often see the homeowners try to get their cities to pay for the damages, but without being able to prove negligence it is a very difficult thing to do.

Natural Disasters

Depending on where you live, your insurance policy may exclude coverage for certain natural disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes, and flood.

If you live in an area likely to be involved in a natural disaster, then your insurance company may be reluctant to provide coverage for the incident. For example, almost every homeowners insurance policy excludes any coverage for earthquakes, floods or landslides. That coverage must be purchased through a specialty insurance company.

Also, if your home is located in a very remote area far away from any fire station or you live in coastal area, then your insurance policy may not provide damage from fire or wind.

Neglect

Home damage that happens over a long period of time like a slow water leak or a termite infestation may leave you with the bill.

Homeowners insurance policies are written to cover “sudden and unexpected losses” that happen to your home. Insurance companies expect you to care for your home and deal with any maintenance issues that come up. This means problems like a slow water leaks or infestations are usually excluded on your insurance policy because they develop over a long period of time and should have been detected by the homeowner.

Bruce Johnson, author of “50 Simple Ways to Save Your House ,” recommends conducting regular home inspections to detect any potential problems. Tour the exterior of your home to look for cracks, decay or water damage. Check the condition of the roof and inspect the basement or crawl space for other hidden problems, including rodent droppings, termites or leaks.

Trampolines

Some hazards like a swimming pool or swing set may cause an increase in your premiums while other hazards like trampolines may outright excluded on your policy.

According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, there are approximately 98,000 trampoline-related injuries every year with fractures and dislocations accounting for 48% of those injuries.

With that in mind many insurance companies are now excluding any injury related to trampolines. In fact, some insurance companies will actually cancel your insurance policy if they find out your have purchased one.

So if you have purchased a trampoline be sure to speak with our office to find out how it will affect your liability coverage and insurance policy.

Dogs

Dog bites now account for over one-third of all homeowners insurance claims with average damages totaling over $10,000.

With total damages now exceeding $310 million a year, it is easy to see why insurance companies are very leery to insurance residences with dogs. Whether or not your insurance company will surcharge for owning a dog or provide coverage at all depends upon the breed of dog you own.

Troublesome breeds like pit bulls, German shepards, Rottweilers, and huskies may make finding an insurance policy that will provide liability coverage very difficult. Providing proof of dog training and a proper fenced-in enclosure with help prove to insurance companies you are taking the necessary steps to protect yourself and others, and they may be willing to discount your premiums for doing so.

Intentional Damage

If your rebellious teenager or estranged spouse intentionally damages your home, there is a good chance you will be paying for the damages yourself.

Intentional damages caused by an insured person – you, your spouse, dependants or any relatives living in the home – aren’t typically covered by your homeowners insurance policy. Estranged spouses are a very gray area for insurance companies: while they may not live at the residence, they may still be listed on the deed or have an insurable interest in the home, which will give insurance companies a right to deny any claim from their destruction.

* Disclaimer
The above information is to be used as guidance only, and should not be considered as definite in any particular case. Every policy is different and you need to read through your policy and consult with your agent to best determine how your coverage will respond. Within this article we simply cannot analyze every possible loss exposure and exception to the general guidelines above.

Dangers of Unlicensed Contractors

One of the first principles of gambling is this: Never take a risk you can’t afford to lose.

When you hire an unlicensed contractor to do work on your property, or you fail to secure the necessary permits for that work, you are doing just that.

Here’s why: When a general contractors take jobs, they will hand off parts of it to one or more subcontractors. But the general contractor has overall responsibility for legal compliance, safety, quality of workmanship and just about everything else that happens on the job site.

Now here’s the dirty little secret: If you don’t hire a licensed and insured contractor to handle your project, you’re the general contractor!

If your unlicensed contractor breaks a sewer line, you’re responsible. If a worker gets hurt and can’t work for two years, and there’s no workers compensation coverage in place, you are on the hook for that workers’ medical bills and lost wages.

To find out more about the risks involved in hiring unlicensed/uninsured contractors, please read below.  And, if you’re curious to find out how your homeowners insurance will respond to these types of situations, please give our office a call.


 

General contractors take on a ton of responsibility. With that comes an equal measure of potential liability. That’s why licensed and responsible general contractors carry a lot of insurance, from general liability insurance to workers compensation insurance.

All these different forms of insurance coverage ultimately protect the customer if things don’t go according to plan. In fact, some states won’t even issue a contractor’s license if the minimum level of insurance isn’t in place.

Additionally, all subcontractors (when preforming work for the general contractor) will either have their own insurance or they will be operating under the general contractor’s license and insurance coverage. Either way, you as the customer will enjoy a substantial level of protection simply by virtue of using a licensed and bonded contractor. Their insurance protects you from having to bear the financial consequences of a job gone wrong, or a workplace injury.

What Can Go Wrong With Unlicensed Contractors?

Many things can go wrong on a construction job, from injuries to shoddy workmanship to destruction of power, sewer or water lines. Ultimately, all issues are the responsibility of the general contractor. The general contractor and their insurance carriers are the primary payers in the event something goes awry on the job. This also means that if you are personally operating as the general contractor, you must be aware of the potential risks and litigation that could arise.

What’s more, your standard homeowners insurance or landlord liability insurance will not cover you for these events. Most of these policies exempt damage caused by the knowing use of illegal or unlicensed contractors.

Consequences for Landlords

Landlords should be very wary of property management companies that make use of unlicensed or uninsured contractors. When they do, they are potentially putting you at risk, too.

If your property manager brings in an unlicensed or uninsured contractor, and something goes wrong, courts have generally held the property owner liable along with the property manager.

The Danger of Hiring Friends as Contractors

Hiring friends as contractors doesn’t make the liability and risk issues go away. Everyone can enter an arrangement with the best of intentions, but when your buddy falls off the ladder and files a claim with his insurance company, the company may well pay the claim and then go after you in subrogation proceedings (the area of law in which insurance companies fight to get reimbursed after paying their customers’ claims).

In one California case, Mendoza v. Brodeur, a homeowner asked his neighbor to do some work for him on his home. But the neighbor got hurt on the job. The homeowner thought he was hiring an independent contractor who had his own insurance. The court rejected that reasoning, and found instead that the homeowner was the neighbor’s employer and therefore should have had workers compensation coverage in place to cover the possibility of injury on the job. Since workers compensation wasn’t there, the homeowner has to cover the costs personally.

Summary: the Risks of Hiring Unlicensed Contractors

Failing to hire an insured, licensed and street-legal contractor could potentially cost you everything you own. If the worst happens, you could be sued into bankruptcy. Additionally, most homeowners insurance policies specifically exclude damages arising from the work of unlicensed contractors, so they will not protect you. Therefore, if you have a home project that presents any sort of risk, we highly recommend hiring a licensed general contractor to assist with the job.

Social Host Liability

Now is the time of year for social gatherings, whether it’s a family holiday party or New Year’s Eve bash, if you are planning to serve alcohol at any type of party it is important to take steps to limit your liquor liability and make sure you have the proper insurance.

Social host liability, the legal term for the criminal and civil responsibility of a person who furnishes liquor to a guest, can have a serious impact on party throwers. Most of these laws also offer an injured person, such as the victim of a drunk driver, a method to sue the person who served the alcohol. There are circumstances under these laws where criminal charges may also apply.

While a social host is not liable for injuries sustained by a drunken guest (as they are also negligent), the host can be held liable for third parties, and may even be liable for passengers of the guest who have been injured in their car.

Before planning a party in your home, it is important to your homeowners coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for this kind of risk. Homeowners insurance usually provides some liquor liability coverage, but it is typically limited to $100,000 to $300,000, depending on the policy, which might not be enough.

Most importantly, whether you are hanging out with a small group of friends for cocktails or throwing a big family bash, remember that a good host is a responsible host, and takes steps to ensure guests get home safely if they have been drinking.

If you have any questions on how your homeowners policy will respond, please feel free to give our office a call. 

How to Protect Yourself and Your Guests

  • Consider venues other than your home for the party. Hosting your party at a restaurant or bar with a liquor license, rather than at your home, will help minimize liquor liability risks. 
  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.
  • Be a responsible host/hostess. Limit your own alcohol intake so that you will be better able to judge your guests’ sobriety.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. Eating and drinking plenty of water, or other non-alcoholic beverages, can help counter the effects of alcohol.
  • Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve alcohol to guests who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening. Switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
  • If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.
  • Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.

 

Winterizing Your Vehicle

Climate changes don’t affect just you―they also affect your car. In regions that don’t enjoy mild winters, you wouldn’t dream of heading outside without a heavy coat if the wind chill brought the temperature below freezing. Don’t expect your car to function properly without some attention to its winter needs, too.
Engine Oil in the Winter

The oil in your engine changes depending on how hot or cold the engine is running. Because the outside temperatures will influence the internal temperature of your engine, you need to make sure you’re using the proper oil for the conditions.

During the winter months, if you live where temperatures get below freezing, you’ll want to switch over to thinner―less viscous―oil. If you run a 10W-30 in the summer, for example, try moving to a 5W-30 when changing your oil in the fall or winter. If you are in doubt, refer to your manual or the manufacturer.

Engine Coolant
Your car’s coolant system is not only intended to keep your engine from overheating, it is also responsible for protecting your valuable engine against corrosion. Before the weather gets too cold, make sure you are using coolant with ethylene glycol to help protect your engine.

Every vehicle requires a certain ratio of coolant to water, and your owner’s manual or repair technician can explain what your engine needs. For most vehicles, a winter ratio is 60% coolant to 40% water. Adjusting this ratio is an important step in winterizing your car, so if you need help, ask someone who is experienced and knowledgeable.

Additionally, some engines can only take specific types of coolant. Be sure to check your vehicle manual to make sure you are putting the right type of coolant into your car.

Cold Weather and Battery Capacity

It isn’t only your engine that doesn’t like to start in the winter. Your battery capacity is reduced by the cold weather, too. A thorough inspection of your battery, cables, terminals, and fluid will help you make sure your car is ready for the winter.

Check over the battery cables for cracks and breaks. The terminals should fit snugly with no loose connections. You can check your battery fluid by uncovering the refill hole (or sometimes holes). If the level is below the bottom of the cap, refill with distilled water.

To read the level of charge in your battery, you will need to turn the engine off. Some batteries have a built-in hydrometer eye that tells you the amount of voltage remaining in the battery. If you prefer, a handheld hydrometer can be used to collect the same information.

While you’re inspecting your battery, look around for the manufacture date. Knowing how old your battery is can clue you in to when it will begin to lose charge. Shopping for a new battery? Never buy one with a six-month-old manufacture date.

Snow Tires

When it comes to really dealing with winter weather, your tires are out there mixing with the snow, sleet, and ice. Driving in snow can be very difficult and sometimes dangerous; still, the reality is you need to get to work.

Mounting the right tires on your car or truck can give you a huge advantage when trekking through snow. Many car makers and tire manufacturers recommend changing all four tires to snow tires in the winter. If you don’t swap all four, the difference between snow and summer tires can cause other problems for your vehicle.

If you live off the beaten path, you can even buy snow tires with studs to help you get where you’re going all winter long. When spring comes, though, you’ll be glad to get out of the heavy winter tires because your fuel efficiency and handling will improve with a less aggressive tire.

Another option is all-season tires that you drive year-round―winter and summer. The advantage of all-season tires is that you don’t change the tires before winter or need to keep two sets of rims. Of course, the disadvantage is that you don’t get all the great features of a specialized seasonal tire.

Windshield Treatment

An easily overlooked part of your winterizing program is your windshield. If you have ever driven behind another vehicle kicking up wet, dirty road snow, then you already have a true appreciation for windshield washer fluid.

For best results in clearing off cold, heavy grime, select a washer fluid with an antifreeze solution. But beware―some washer fluids can be harsh and damage your car’s paint.

Frozen Out

Door locks can freeze in cold weather and break your key if you try to force them open. The old fashion cure was warm water, but what if you’re not at home and don’t have any warm water nearby? Discount stores, auto parts stores, and even hardware stores sell glycerin you can use for de-icing. Think about where you keep it, however, because if the de-icer is in the glove box of your frozen-shut car, then it won’t help you any.

Stock a tube at home in the garage and also in your desk at work. That way whenever your locks freeze up, you’ll be able to solve the problem.

Emergency Kit

If you don’t already have an emergency kit in your car, consider putting together a few basics and stowing them in the trunk. Naturally, you’ll want to be sure your spare tire is in good shape with all the tools to change it out. But you might also want a few other emergency items in case you slide off the road and get stuck in a snow bank:

  • Flares
  • Gloves
  • Drinking Water
  • Phone Charger / Backup Battery Charger
  • Shovel
  • Radio
  • Engine oil
  • Washer fluid
  • Coolant
  • Flashlight

When you take the time to winterize your car, you become more comfortable driving in cold, snowy climates. A short commute quickly becomes difficult when your vehicle isn’t equipped to handle snow and ice. By planning ahead, you can make winterizing your vehicle an annual ritual in the name of safety and vehicle reliability.

Fun Halloween Facts and Safety Tips

Did you know that over $2 billion will be spent on Halloween candy this year? Or how about $330 million on just pet costumes?

We know that Halloween is one of children’s favorite holidays. The chance to dress up in a costume and fill bags with candy is a sure way to excite any youngster. (Plus, the fact that the average trick-or-treater consumes the equivalent of 220 packets of sugar on this holiday doesn’t hurt either.)

For parents, though, the night can be a little stressful as you worry about your kids’ safety. With that in mind, we have compiled an infographic with 31 interesting statistics and facts associated with Halloween along with a brief list of safety tips. We encourage you to take a look at it just in case there is a tip or two that will help you avoid any potential accidents or danger.

Safety Tips

Trick-or-treating
Make sure your children take flashlights so they can avoid tripping over obstacles on the sidewalk or in yards. Flashlights and glow sticks will also help your children be seen by motorists.

If you allow your older kids to go out without your supervision, make sure they go out in a group. Don’t ever allow your kids to go out alone or even in pairs; make sure they go out with at least 3-4 other kids.
Map out their route so you know where they will be and when they should be home.

Tell your kids to only stop at familiar homes where you know the residents and where the outside lights are on.
Instruct your kids to WALK from house to house and NEVER run.
Make sure your kids know to never enter anyone’s home, to never accept rides from strangers, and to never take shortcuts through yards or other dimly lit areas

Costumes

Costumes should be light enough to be clearly visible to motorists. You may even want to add reflective tape to both your child’s costume and bag.

Make sure your child’s costume is labeled flame-resistant.
Costumes should be short to prevent trips and falls.

Try cosmetic face paint rather than a mask. Masks, especially on children, may not fit properly and can obstruct vision.

Be sure to remove all face paint that night to prevent skin irritation.

Candy
Don’t allow your child to eat any candy before you have a chance to inspect it for choking hazards or tampering.

Only permit your child to eat candy that is unopened in its original wrapper. Any homemade or unwrapped candy should be discarded.

A good way to prevent your kids from eating any candy before they get home is to make sure you give them a meal or snack right before they go out.

Above all else, limit the amount of candy your child eats after they get home or you will be dealing with one big stomachache.

Adults
Use additional caution when driving a vehicle. Lookout for children who might run into traffic from behind parked cars or other obstacles.
Turn on your porch and any other exterior lights to welcome trick-or-treaters to your home.

Remove any obstacles from your lawns, steps or porches that could be a tripping hazard for children or adults.
Keep all jack-o’-lanterns from doorsteps or steps where a child could brush by the flame with their costume.
If you keep your jack-o’-lantern inside, place it on a sturdy table away from curtains or other ignitable decorations and out of reach from children and pets.

Preventing Water Damage Claims

Did you know that water damage is the number one cause of homeowners insurance claims?  In fact, 98% of all basements will experience some sort of water damage and approximately 37% of all homeowners will report a financial loss from water damage.
 
Even just a small leak can present major problems.  For example, just a 1/8 inch pipe crack can quickly add up to 250 gallons of water per day!  
 
Even though most homeowners insurance policies cover basic water damage claims up to the purchased limit, implementing some simple prevention techniques is much easier than submitting a claim.
 
Below we have included an infographic with additional information on water leaks along with some prevention tips. 
 
If you have any questions on how your policy will respond to water damage, please feel free to give our office a call.

Be Careful Where you Plant. Some plants and trees, like weeping willows, have pretty invasive roots. If you’re not careful, they’ll grow right into your sprinkler system, drainage field, pipes, foundation, and septic tanks. Plan before you plant to keep roots away from any water lines and well away from your home’s foundation.

Clean Out Your Gutters.  If you’re seeing lots of leaves, birds’ nests, sticks, and whatnot up there, your gutters may not be doing their job. And on a rainy day, a clogged gutter can send water spilling into your home’s foundation, through the roof, or down into your basement. That could cause some serious water damage! So next time you’re doing some seasonal cleaning, make sure those gutters are clean. And if your gutters are too high, be safe and get a professional to check them.

Keep an Eye on Your Water Bill. With so many water pipes hidden behind walls and in the floors in your house, you might not know there’s a leak until the damage is done. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your monthly water bill. If you see it starting to creep up, or get one that’s uncommonly high, it’s a pretty good sign that you may have a leak somewhere.

Use a Drain Snake Instead of Unclogging Chemicals.  Chances are at some point in your life you’ve used one of those powerful chemical drain cleaners to get things moving again. But as convenient as they may be, most folks don’t realize those caustic chemicals are also eating away at their pipes. If you rely on them a lot, you could be setting yourself up for leaks. That’s why owning a drain snake is a good solution to clear away clogs. They’re pretty inexpensive, you can get them at your local hardware store, and they can cut through most any clog you’ll have without damaging pipes.  Drain snakes also have less impact on our environment and won’t leave your eyes red and teary. 

Never Pour Grease Down Your Sink.  It doesn’t matter if you flush it with hot or cold water. It can still congeal and cling to your pipes, and could still cause some serious damage and blockage.  The safest thing to do is just to pour your grease in an empty can, and either let it sit or put it in the refrigerator. Once it hardens you can toss it in the trash and get rid of it. Done and done.

Water Damage Infographic