Halloween Safety

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

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 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.

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.

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.

Tips to Avoid Purchasing a Flood Car

As we’ve all seen recently in the news, hurricanes (and the floods that result from them) can create enormous damage to properties and vehicles. In fact, one recent estimate from Hurricane Harvey, estimated over 200,000 vehicles would be totaled due to flood damaged.

If you are in the market for a new vehicle, be wary, as flood vehicles offer a tempting opportunity for criminals to defraud unsuspecting consumers. By definition, a flood vehicle has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged.

If the vehicle is so damaged that it is no longer operable, the driver’s insurance company settles the claim by buying the vehicle and selling it as a “salvage” at an auto auction.

Dishonest and unscrupulous car dealers buy the vehicles, dry and clean them, yet leave plenty of hidden flood damage. They then transport the vehicles to states unaffected by the storm or natural disaster and sell them as used vehicles to unsuspecting buyers.

These dishonest dealers will not disclose the damage on the vehicle’s title as they are required, which is a crime called “title washing.” The vehicles are then sold with the hidden damage.

Below are some tips to help you avoid purchasing a vehicle that may be flood damaged.


Fraud prevention tips

Consumers can take preventive measures before purchasing a used vehicle to avoid being victimized by flood vehicle fraud:

  • Select a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally doesn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers as they will often be damaged due to flooding.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history. Ask whether it was in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back rubber boots around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators: Ferrous materials will show signs of rust and copper will show a green patina
  • Aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Trust your instincts: If you don’t like the answers or the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

Protecting Your Home from Mold

When it comes to keeping your home mold-free, a strong offense is definitely your best defense. To prevent mold, eliminate moisture from your home and be on the lookout for signs of possible growth, such as musty smells or watermarks on walls and ceilings.

Caught early, mold can usually be removed by a thorough cleaning with bleach and water. To prevent mold from re-growing, however, it is essential that the source of the moisture be eliminated and the affected area properly dried, cleaned, and if necessary, replaced. Also, remember to bag and dispose of any material with moldy residue such as rags, paper or debris.

Mold, like rot and insect infestation, is generally not covered by a homeowners insurance policy. Standard homeowners policies provide coverage for disasters that are sudden and accidental. They are not designed to cover the cost of cleaning and maintaining a home. If, however, mold is the direct result of a covered peril such as a burst pipe, there could be coverage for the cost of eliminating the mold.

To help prevent the growth of mold in your home, take a look at our suggestions below.  If you would like to find out how your homeowners insurance will respond in the event of a mold-related claim, please contact our office.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mold is everywhere. It grows year-round and can be found both indoors and outdoors. Outdoors, mold is commonly found in shady, damp areas and in soil. Indoors, it can be found where humidity and moisture levels are high, such as in basements, kitchens, bathrooms and on ceilings and wall interiors where water from leaky pipes, roofs or windows can accumulate. While most molds pose no threat to humans, the CDC warns that certain molds can produce hay fever-like allergic symptoms. If you or your children have symptoms associated with mold, see a physician. Keep in mind, that many symptoms associated with mold exposure are common to other illnesses.

Reduce Humidity In Your Home

  • Keep the humidity level in your home between 30 percent to 60 percent by using air conditioners or dehumidifiers.
  • Put exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Don’t install carpets in damp areas such as basements or bathrooms.
  • Don’t let water accumulate under house plants.

Use Mold-Reducing Products

  • Clean bathrooms with bleach and other mold killing products.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paints before application.

Keep Your Home and Belongings Dry

  • Inspect hoses, pipes and fittings – Consider replacing hoses to major appliances like washer and dishwasher every five years. A typical water hose costs $5-$10
    • Refrigerator ice maker and water dispenser
    • Water heater
    • Washer
    • Dishwashers
    • Kitchen and bathroom sinks
    • Bathroom toilets
  • Keep gutters clean of leaves and other debris.
  • Maintain your roof to prevent water from seeping into your home.

Be Careful After A Flood Or Other Water Damage

  • Properly dry or remove soaked carpets, padding and upholstery within 24-48 hours after a flood to prevent mold growth. Anything that can’t be properly dried should be discarded.
  • Remove standing water as quickly as possible. Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and inhaled.
  • Wash and disinfect all areas that have been flooded. This includes walls, floors, closets, shelves, as well as heating and air-conditioning systems.

If you have any questions regarding mold and homeowners insurance, contact our office. We can provide information on how to maintain your home and may also be able to provide the name of an expert in mold-remediation. You can get more information on mold by accessing the Center for Disease Control.

Keeping Kids Safe with Cell Phones

It’s natural to worry when your child is ready for her first cell phone, even if you think he or she is generally responsible. Yes, this device is an instrument of connection, and it will allow you and your child to be more connected when you’re apart. But it’s also a symbol of separation, a reminder that your child is now spending enough time at a distance from you – and other supervising adults — to need it. Worse, it’s a harbinger of the dangers lurking in the outside world that threaten to pop up and menace your child at any time, without you there to stop them.

Unfortunately, the statistics around children and cell phone usage won’t help:

  • Studies show that texting begins in the fifth grade, on average.
  • Half of all kids admit they are addicted to their cell phones and worry that they use them too much. Their parents agree, and 36 percent of parents say they have daily arguments with their kids about their phones.
  • Only 4 percent of parents believe their teens have ever texted while driving, while 45 percent of teens admit that they routinely text while driving.
  • Only 11 percent of parents suspect their teens have ever sent, received or forwarded a sexual text, while 41 percent of teens admit they’ve done so.

The problem isn’t with kids today. In fact, the research shows that teens today are more responsible than previous generations. No, the problem is that smart phones pose new risks. Luckily, as a parent things can be done to decrease the risks around cell phone usage.  Below we have listed a number of tips to help:

And while we can’t be there to have these conversations in your stead, we’re here to help protect you most all other risks faced by you and your family.  For any insurance questions, you can always contact our office.

Cell Phone Tips

1. Don’t give your child a phone too early. If your child is with a trusted adult, he shouldn’t need a cell phone. It’s when kids start to walk to school by themselves, or otherwise are without supervision, that they need a cell phone for safety reasons. The younger your child when she gets the cell phone, the more you’re asking of her, because it will just be harder for her to act responsibly with it. Can you trust that she’ll follow your rules about which apps to download, for instance?  How often does he lose things? Some parents give their younger child devices that are more limited than a smart phone, that can’t be used to go online, or to call anyone not authorized by the parent.

2. Agree to rules, before that first cell phone. Most parents think a “contract” with their child is unnecessary and silly. But a written agreement is a great way for your child to step into this new responsibility without you “over-parenting.” When that first cell phone comes with written rules and responsibilities in the form of a signed agreement, young people learn how to handle them responsibly. If you ask your kids what they think the rules should be, and negotiate until you’re happy, they will “own” those rules.

3. Use parental controls.There are parental control apps available for all phones, and iphone have built-in parental controls that can be enabled.

4. Build a foundation. Don’t just buy a cell phone, give a lecture, and hope for the best. Instead, see this as a year-long project. In the beginning, plan to talk with your child every single night about his mobile use that day. Review with him what calls and texts came in and out, what apps he used. Ask how it felt to him to use his phone. Did it change anything in his life to have those calls and texts come in? Were there any challenges as he considered how to respond? When you see a mean text from one friend about another one, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to ask him about social dynamics, listen to the dilemmas he’s facing, and coach him about how to handle these challenges.

5. Talk, and listen. At the dinner table, comment on news stories that involve cell phones, from sexting to dangerous apps to driving deaths. Ask questions about what your child thinks, and listen more. You might find, for instance that your teen thinks sending nude selfies via Snapchat is fine because the photo will self-destruct. But does your child realize that the receiver can take a screenshot, and that there are now apparently ways to subvert the auto-notification that should tell the sender a copy has been made? And does your child know that having a photo of an underage person on his cell phone is illegal?

Cell Phone Suggested Rules

1. Never write or forward a photo, or anything in a text, that you wouldn’t want forwarded to everyone in your school, your principal and your parents.

2. Always ask before you forward a text or photo.

3. Always ask before you take a photo or video.

4. Never post your cell phone number on Facebook, or broadcast it beyond your friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.)

5. Never broadcast your location except in a direct text to friends (because it leaves you open to stalking.) Don’t use location apps that post your location.

6. Never respond to numbers you don’t recognize.

7. If you receive an unsolicited text, that’s spam. Don’t click on it. Instead, tell your parents so they can report the problem and have the caller blocked.

8. Don’t download apps without your parents’ permission.

9. Set up your charging station in the living room so your phone is not in your room at night.

10. No cell phones at the dining room table.

11. No cell phones out of your backpack while you’re in class.

12. If you’re driving, turn off your cell phone and put it in a bag where you can’t reach it in the back seat. (Make sure you have directions before you start out.) Cars kill people.

13. Monitor your phone usage to prevent addiction. Our brains get a little rush of dopamine every time we interact with our phones, so every text you send or receive, every post or update, feels good. Why is that a problem? Because it can distract us from other things that are important but maybe not so immediately rewarding, like connecting with our families, doing our homework, and just thinking about life. To prevent addiction, make sure you block out time every day — like during dinner or homework — when the phone is off.

Back to School Tips for Parents

Move over, summer–a new school year is coming! With the start of school, families face new organization challenges. School bells ring–and so do early-morning alarm clocks. Paper piles swell as hand-outs and homework stream into the house.

Shorter autumn days bring a hectic round of sports, activities and events, and calendars fill with cryptic notes. Can the holidays be far behind?

Get organized now for the best school year ever! Use these ideas to prepare your home and family for the busy days ahead.

Making the First Day Easier

  • If your child seems nervous, remind him or her that there are probably a lot of students who are uneasy about the first day of school. This may be at any age. Teachers know that students are nervous and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
  • Point out the positive aspects of starting school to create positive anticipation about the first day. Your child will see old friends and meet new ones. Refresh his or her positive memories about previous years, when he or she may have returned home after the first day with high spirits because of a good time.
  • Find another child in the neighborhood with whom your student can walk to school or ride on the bus.
  • If it is a new school for your child, attend any available orientations and take an opportunity to tour the school before the first day.

Backpack Safety

  • Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back.
  • Pack light. Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the center of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10 to 20 percent of your child’s body weight. Go through the pack with your child weekly, and remove unneeded items to keep it light.
  • Always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles.
  • If your school allows, consider a rolling backpack. This type of backpack may be a good choice for students who must tote a heavy load. Remember that rolling backpacks still must be carried up stairs, they may be difficult to roll in snow, and they may not fit in some lockers.

Traveling To and From School

School Bus

  • Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.​
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
  • Make sure your child walks where he or she can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see him or her, too).
  • Remind your child to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street, just in case traffic does not stop as required.
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus. Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with food allergies and can also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan.​


  • All passengers should wear a seat belt and/or an age- and size-appropriate car seat or booster seat.
  • Your child should ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s seat belt fits properly (usually when the child reaches about 4′ 9″ in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age). This means that the child is tall enough to sit against the vehicle seat back with her legs bent at the knees and feet hanging down and the shoulder belt lies across the middle of the chest and shoulder, not the neck or throat; the lap belt is low and snug across the thighs, and not the stomach.
  • Remember that many crashes occur while novice teen drivers are going to and from school. You should require seat belt use, limit the number of teen passengers, and do not allow eating, drinking, cell phone conversations (even when using hands-free devices or speakerphone), texting, or other mobile device use to prevent driver distraction. Limit nighttime driving and driving in inclement weather. Familiarize yourself with your state’s graduated driver’s license law and consider the use of a parent-teen driver agreement to facilitate the early driving learning process.


  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bake lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.

Walking to School

  • Make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.
  • Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school. In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
  • Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision.
  • If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely.

Eating During the School Day

  • Studies show that children who eat a nutritious breakfast function better. They do better in school, and have better concentration and more energy.
  • Most schools regularly send schedules of cafeteria menus home and/or have them posted on the school’s website. With this advance information, you can plan on packing lunch on the days when the main course is one your child prefers not to eat.
  • Look into what is offered inside and outside of the cafeteria, including vending machines, a la carte, school stores, snack carts, and fundraisers held during the school day. All foods sold during the school day must meet nutrition standards established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). They should stock healthy choices such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy products, water, and 100% fruit juice.
  • Each 12-ounce soft drink contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar and 150 calories. Drinking just one can of soda a day increases a child’s risk of obesity by 60%. Choose healthier options (such as water and appropriately sized juice and low-fat dairy products) to send in your child’s lunch.

Developing Good Homework & Study Habits

  • Create an environment that is conducive to doing homework starting at a young age. Children need a consistent work space in their bedroom or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study.
  • Schedule ample time for homework; build this time into choices about participation in after school activities.
  • Establish a household rule that the TV and other electronic distractions stay off during homework time.
  • Supervise computer and Internet use.
  • By high school, it’s not uncommon for teachers to ask students to submit homework electronically and perform other tasks on a computer. If your child doesn’t have access to a computer or the Internet at home, work with teachers and school administration to develop appropriate accommodations.
  • Be available to answer questions and offer assistance, but never do your child’s homework for him or her.
  • Take steps to help alleviate eye fatigue, neck fatigue and brain fatigue while studying. It may be helpful to close the books for a few minutes, stretch, and take a break periodically when it will not be too disruptive.
  • If your child is struggling with a particular subject, speak with your child’s teacher for recommendations on how you or another person can help your child at home or at school. If you have concerns about the assignments your child is receiving, talk with his or her teacher.
  • If your child is having difficulty focusing on or completing homework, discuss this with your child’s teacher, school counselor, or health care provider.
  • Some children may need help remembering their assignments. Work with your child and his or her teacher to develop an appropriate way to keep track of his or her assignments–such as an assignment notebook.
  • Establish a good sleep routine. Insufficient sleep is associated with lower academic achievement in middle school, high school and college, as well as higher rates of absenteeism and tardiness. The optimal amount of sleep for most adolescents (13 to 18 years of age) is in the range of 8 to 10 hours per night.

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.


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.


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.


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.