Childproofing Your Home

Parents worry endlessly about how to protect their children, but many overlook one of the biggest threats to their children’s safety and well-being — their own home. Experts say that children between the ages of 1 and 4 are more likely to be killed by fire, burns, drowning, choking, poisoning, or falls within the home than anything else.

In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about 2.3 million children are accidentally injured every year and more than 2,500 are killed. That’s why it’s so important to carefully childproof your home.

We know that home safety measures can seem overwhelming, so below we have provided some tips to properly protect your children from potential accidents.

Scope out the territory

The most effective way to ensure your baby’s safety is to take a baby’s-eye view of your home. Get down on your hands and knees and see how things look from down there.

What’s within reach? What looks tempting? Where would you go if you could crawl, toddle, or walk?

This will help you figure out which cupboards, drawers, and other spaces your child might get into. As he starts walking and climbing, you’ll have to reevaluate again, looking higher each time.

Carefully lock up or stow away every potential poison or other hazard, including cleaning products, medicines, vitamins, and knives. Use gates to limit your child’s access to areas of your home that might contain dangerous items.

Protect outlets

It’s a good idea to protect electrical outlets with outlet covers. Unfortunately, the removable little plug-in caps can easily end up in your baby’s mouth. Instead, replace the outlet covers themselves – at least those that are accessible – with ones that include a sliding safety latch.

If you’re using extension cords in your home, cover any exposed outlets with electrical tape.

Use caution with furniture and fixtures

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 16,000 children under the age of 5 went to the emergency room in 2006 with injuries caused when television sets, bookcases, and other furniture and appliances tipped over on them.

Large or heavy bookcases, dressers, and appliances are real hazards: Bolt whatever you can to the wall. Push items like televisions back from the edge of the furniture they’re on or move them out of reach, and then secure them, too. Always put heavier items on bottom shelves and in bottom drawers to make furniture less top-heavy.

Install gates

Most parents consider safety gates essential childproofing tools. They allow you to open outside doors for air while keeping your child indoors, they contain him within a designated room, and they block his access to dangerous stairways and forbidden rooms (such as the bathroom or kitchen).

Unfortunately, if out-of-date or used improperly, safety gates can themselves pose a hazard to children. In general, look for gates that your child can’t dislodge but that you can easily open and close. (Otherwise, you’ll be too tempted to leave them open when you’re in a hurry.)

Never use pressure gates at the top of stairs. Instead, install a gate that screws to the wall – it’s much more secure.

Check ties on blinds and curtains

According to the CPSC, the cords on window coverings are a frequent cause of strangulation of children, killing a child between the ages of 7 months and 10 years every month in the United States.

Window blinds pose a particular hazard because a baby’s neck could become trapped in the cords that raise the blinds or run through the slats. A child can become entangled in a looped window cord and strangle in a matter of minutes. Use cordless window coverings wherever possible, and avoid placing your baby’s crib near a window.

Secure your windows and doors

According to the CPSC, every year about eight children under the age of 5 die from falling out of windows in the United States, and more than 3,000 are injured.

Always open double-hung windows from the top or fit them with locks to prevent small children from opening them.

Low windows shouldn’t open more than 4 inches. Window stops are available that can prevent windows from opening more than this. Some newer windows come with window stops already installed.

Window screens are not strong enough to prevent falls. To make windows safe, install window stops or window guards, which screw into the side of a window frame, have bars no more than 4 inches apart, and can be adjusted to fit windows of many different sizes.

Prevent drowning

According to the CPSC, more than 430 children under age 5 drowned between 2005 and 2009 – not in a pool, but in their own home. Accidental drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4.

Most in-home drowning deaths involve babies in bathtubs. Never leave your baby unattended in the tub – even if he’s in a ring or bath seat. Supervise your child whenever he’s in the bathroom, and install a safety latch on your toilet lid to prevent him from accidentally falling in.

Additional Distracted Driving Tips

Employers May Be Held Liable

Not only is distracted driving dangerous for individuals, but there is a growing concern among business owners and managers that they may be held liable for accidents caused by their employees while driving and conducting work-related conversations on cellphones.

Under the doctrine of “vicarious responsibility,” employers may be held legally accountable for the negligent acts of employees committed in the course of employment. Employers may also be found negligent if they fail to put in place a policy for the safe use of cellphones.
Tips for Safer Travel

Keep these safety tips in mind when driving:

  • Pull Off the Road – Don’t drive while calling or texting; pull off the road to a safe location.
  • Use Voice-activated Dialing – If you must dial from the road, program frequently called numbers and your local emergency number into your phone and use voice-activated dialing.
  • Never Dial While Driving – If you must dial manually, do so only when stopped or have a passenger dial for you.
  • Take a Message – Let your voice mail pick up your calls while you’re driving. It’s easy—and much safer—to retrieve your messages later on.
  • Know When to Stop Talking – If you must make or receive a call while driving, keep conversations on brief so you can concentrate on your driving. If a long discussion is required or if the topic is stressful or emotional, end the conversation and continue it once you are off the road.
  • Don’t Take Notes While Driving – If you need to write something down, use an audio recorder or pull off the road.
  • Know Where You’re Going – If you’re using a navigation system, program in your destination before you start driving and use the audio setting to avoid having to look at the screen for directions.
  • Don’t Eat or Drink While Driving – Eating takes both your hand off the wheel and your eyes off the road, so don’t do it. Furthermore, spills can easily cause an accident. If you have to stop short, you could also be severely burned.
  • Groom Yourself At Home – Shaving, putting on makeup, combing your hair or other forms of preening are distractions and should be done at home, not while driving.

Top 8 Auto Insurance Myths

When it comes to auto insurance, deciphering coverage provisions, exclusions, and premium calculations is already hard enough. However, to complicate matters there are a number of myths floating around that can make it near impossible to understand your policy.

In fact, in a recent survey by insure.com, 52 percent of respondents had a misunderstanding of their auto insurance coverage. There were some questions where over 65% of the participants answered incorrectly!

Below we are going to point out the most common myths associated with auto insurance and provide the correct information in regards to each one.

Please remember that if you ever have a specific question in regards to your auto insurance policy, please feel free to reach out to our office.

One speeding ticket will make my car insurance rates go up.
Sometimes this is true, but in many cases, you have to get two tickets before your rate goes up. Your driving history, the length of time you’ve been insured with a company and how fast you were going when you were cited can affect whether your rate increases or not. Keep in mind that a speeding ticket may not be the sole reason your rate increases, as several factors are considered when reviewing them.

If someone driving my car causes an accident, I won’t be held responsible.
It’s possible you’ll be financially responsible for an accident — even if someone else is driving your car. In most states, the car insurance policy covering the vehicle is considered the primary insurance, which means that the insurance company for the vehicle must pay for damages caused by an accident. Even so, it’s still possible that the driver’s insurance company could be responsible for some of the damages. Why? If the vehicle’s insurance limits are too low and don’t cover all the damages, the driver’s insurance may be next in line to pay for the remainder of the damages.

Car insurance rates go down dramatically when drivers turn 25.
Younger and older drivers typically have the most car crashes, and customers of different car insurance companies have different claims experiences. When determining auto insurance rates, insurers generally consider a variety of information about you, including age, vehicle information, claims history and the claims experience of other customers like you.

While it’s generally true that rates will go down when you turn 25 if all information about you and your vehicle remains the same, changes in one or more of the other pieces of information used to calculate a rate could lead to you getting a higher, lower or the same rate when you turn 25.

Auto insurance rates aren’t regulated, so auto insurance companies can charge what they want.
Each state requires auto insurance companies to file how they calculate customer rates, and insurers cannot deviate from these filed rates. Each state also has regulators who review that information and the rates companies charge.

I only need the bare minimum amount of car insurance.
Many states have minimum car insurance requirements, but the minimum amount of required insurance may not cover all of your costs. If you cause an accident that results in a lawsuit and your insurance limits don’t cover all of the damages, your assets could be pursued.

Comprehensive coverage protects drivers in all situations.
Comprehensive coverage is one type of protection available on an auto insurance policy (others being Collision, Uninsured Motorist, etc.). Comprehensive coverage pays only for damage caused by an event other than a collision, including:

  • Fire
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Weather (hail, floods, etc.)
  • Vehicle collisions with animals

I can use Rental Reimbursement coverage to rent a car for my vacation.
Unless your insured car is in the shop as the result of an accident, you won’t be able to use Rental Reimbursement to rent a car for vacation. Depending on the limits you selected when you bought your policy, Rental Reimbursement coverage pays for some or all of the cost of a rental car — but only when your insured car is in the repair shop because of a car accident.

Cheaper cars cost less to insure.
If your cheaper car has a large engine, weighs a lot or is an unusual model, it might cost more to insure than a more expensive small car. However, if you have a cheaper car, you will pay less for comprehensive coverage, which covers damage caused by vandalism, hail, fire or animal accidents.

Life Insurance Purchasing Guide

Did you know almost 60% Americans don’t own any type of life insurance policy? This is according to the latest study done by the Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (www.lifehappens.org).

Life insurance allows your spouse and/or family to receive money to help offset funeral expenses, lost income, and future financial needs.

Purchasing the right policy can be a daunting process, though, which is why we wanted to include what we feel are our top tips to buying a life insurance policy.

If, as you read this information, you have any questions or would like life insurance quotes to evaluate your options, please contact our office.

Why Should I Buy Life Insurance?
If someone depends on your income for their livelihood, like a spouse or child, then you should strongly consider buying life insurance. Life insurance provides the financial support families need if a loved one were to pass away unexpectedly.

How Much Life Insurance Should I Buy?
Figuring out the right limit to use depends upon a variety of factors. Lost income, funeral expenses, college expenses, mortgag

e loans, consumer debt balances, and additional expenses are just some of the elements you should consider as you evaluate how much to purchase. There are a number of life insurance calculators available to assist you with this process for free.

Which Type of Policy is Right for Me?
There are four basic types of life insurance to choose from; depending upon your financial situation, investment aspirations, and desired limit, some options will work better than others.

The four types of policies are term life, whole life, universal life, and variable life.

Term Life Insurance. Term life insurance, just as its name implies, is a policy that has a specified “term” to the policy. Typical terms are 10, 20, or 30 year, and it is the most common form of life insurance.

Term policies are typically the LEAST expensive because they only provide insurance protection and they do not accumulate cash value. Many term policies include the flexibility to convert them into whole life policies as the individual’s income and needs change.

Whole Life Insurance. Whole life insurance, also known as permanent insurance, provides protection through your entire lifetime. As long as you pay your premiums the policy will never expire, regardless of your health condition.

Another major difference between whole life and term is it accumulates a cash value that can be borrowed against or withdrawn. However, because of these two major differences the premiums for a whole life policy are higher than those of a term policy.

Universal Life Insurance. Universal life insurance is similar to whole life insurance in that it provides protection throughout your lifetime and accumulates a cash value. Where it differs, though, is in its flexibility with limits and premiums.

Universal life insurance actually gives you the freedom to increase or decrease your coverage and control the amount and frequency of your premium payments as your insurance and financial needs change.

Variable Universal Life. Variable Universal Life is very similar to universal life with one major addition: variable universal life policies allow policy owners to apply their premium dollars to a variety of investment options. This option offers the possibility for an increased rate of return over a normal universal or permanent policy, but that means it is also subject to market risks associated with investing.

How do I know if the policy I buy is from a reputable insurance company? The policy you buy is only as good as the company insuring it. You need to know the company will be around if you need it to pay a death claim. There are actually a few different rating agencies that rate insurance companies on their overall financial strength and their ability to pay claims. A.M Best, Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch are all companies that independently evaluate the financial soundness of insurance agencies and assigned them ratings based upon their findings.

Each company rates insurance companies a little differently so you may want to look at multiple ratings as you select a company. You will want to look for an “A” (or AAA depending upon the rating agency) rating and a positive financial outlook to help ensure you select a financially secure insurance company.

How should I purchase my policy?
While you can certainly purchase life insurance online, we recommend working with a life insurance expert or financial planner. Working with a specialist can help you determine the right life insurance product and select adequate policy limits.

Also, by working with a licensed agent it will be much easier to make changes to your policy and receive guidance and answers to your questions as your needs change.

What kind of questions should I ask?
A lot of people simply don’t know what questions they should ask in regards to their life insurance. You should make sure you clearly understand the product you are purchasing, which is why we’ve included a few examples of questions you should be ready to ask.

  • Is the policy renewable?
  • Can the policy be canceled?
  • Can I make changes to the policy?
  • How long is the premium guaranteed for?
  • Are there any special policy provisions?
  • What are the exclusions on the policy?

What can I do to help reduce premiums?
There are actually a number of things you can do to help save on your premiums aside from reducing limits or changing insurance products. Since your current health condition is one of the primary factors used to determine your premium, any changes you can make to move yourself into a “preferred” or “super-preferred” risk class will greatly reduce your premium.

To do so, though, may involve losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, or lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. And, while it may take some work, moving into the more “preferred” risk classes can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a policy.

Should I always keep the same policy?
Financial situations and family additions are just a couple of reasons why you should evaluate your life insurance needs every few years. Income growth and additional children can significantly affect the limit and type of policy that will fit your situation. We recommend working closely with an agent or financial advisor who understands how to properly address your changing needs.

*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.

How to Properly Insure Jewelry

Insuring Jewelry

Knowing how much personal property coverage you have on your homeowners or renters policy is a good place to start with insuring jewelry. Most of the time, you’ll be covered up to a certain limit if it is stolen ($2,500 total). But with the average value of an engagement ring in the US costing around $5,000, homeowners insurance policies will most likely not cover the full value.

Since your standard policy most likely only covers part of your jewelry’s cost (and there’s usually no coverage for items that are lost or damaged), you may have to add additional coverage to insure the full cost should you ever need to replace your jewelry. This is done through a personal articles floater attached to your homeowners policy.

For high valued items, like engagement rings, the item is on a “schedule” and insured separately. Usually you can expect to pay around $1-2 per $100 of the item value. If the ring or piece of jewelry is brand new, the receipt from purchase can help determine the value.

Prior insurance carrier declarations are also good documentation to have on hand if your jewelry has been previously insured. It’s a good idea to get a professional written jewelry appraisal done to make sure that the item is being insured at its correct value. This is especially true if the jewelry is an heirloom or hasn’t recently been purchased.

Remember that the value of jewelry can change over time. It is important to have a recent appraisal done every 2-3 years and update your policy when the value of jewelry changes to ensure adequate coverage.

Another important factor is insuring your new jewelry in a timely fashion. You’ll want to make sure you’re covered even if something were to happen in the days after purchasing or receiving it as a gift.

Once you have jewelry insurance, keep your current appraisal, policy information, and any documentation about the piece in a safe place should you ever need to make a claim. It’s recommended you also take pictures of the pieces (which should be included in a professional written appraisal).
*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.

Winter Weather Checklist

As we continue to experience freezing weather all across the country, it’s important to ensure your home is prepared for the plummeting temperatures.

A frozen pipe or collapsed roof will not only cost thousands of dollars in repairs to either you or your insurance company, but it will almost certainly displace you and your family from your home until the work is complete.

Below you will find a few tips on how to prevent potential damage to your property from freezing weather.

Also, if you would like to know how your homeowners insurance policy would respond to the scenarios below, please feel free to give our office a call.

WINTER WEATHER MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

PREVENT ROOF COLLAPSE: Heavy snowfall can put a strain on a roof that could cause significant damage and even potential collapse. Unless your roof structure is damaged or decayed, most residential roofs, regardless of the location of the house, should be able to support 20 pounds of snow per square foot of roof space before they become stressed.Here’s how to determine the weight of snow/ice on your roof:

  • Fresh snow: 10-12 in. of new snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so you could have up to 4 ft. of new snow before the roof will become stressed.
  • Packed snow: 3-5 in. of old snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so anything more than 2 ft. of old snow could be too much for your roof to handle.
  • Total accumulated weight: 2 ft. of old snow and 2 ft. of new snow could weigh as much as 60 lbs. per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity for most roofs.
  • Ice: 1 inch of ice equals 1 ft. of fresh snow.
Snow Removal: If you feel the load on your roof exceeds 20-25 pounds per square foot, you should consider removing snow from your roof. For safe removal that won’t endanger you or damage your roof, use a snow rake with a long extension arm that will allow you to remove the snow while standing on the ground or hire a snow removal contractor.

PREVENT ICE DAMS: During freezing weather, heat from your home can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.

A two-step approach is the most effective way to reduce the size of ice dams. First, keep the attic floor well insulated to minimize the amount of heat from within the house that rises into the attic. Second, keep the attic well ventilated so that the cold air outside can circulate through it and reduce the temperature of the roof system. The colder the attic, the less thawing and refreezing on the roof.

Step One: Insulating the attic. The attic floor should be airtight, have sufficient insulation, and keep the transfer of heat from the downstairs to the attic at a minimum. Even a well-insulated attic floor may have a number of openings that can permit warm air from below to seep up into the attic. For instance, these items may cut through the attic floor:

  • Exhaust pipes and plumbing vents
  • Fireplace and heating system chimneys
  • Light fixtures

Seal all openings around these penetrations, but be careful not to block attic vents with insulation. Additionally, pull-down stairs or a set of regular stairs leading up to the attic from the lower level can be avenues for rising heat. Weatherstripping around the edges of the attic access door and insulation on the attic side of the door should minimize the passage of heat to the attic.

Step Two: Ventilating the attic. There are several ways to ventilate your attic. To the extent that household heat penetrates the attic, it should be able to rise and escape through, for instance, a ridge vent, while soffit or eave vents pull in cold air to replace it. Proper ventilation of the attic to let cold in, together with air sealing and insulation on the attic floor to help keep household heat out of the attic, work to minimize the likelihood of ice dams.

PREVENT FROZEN PIPES: Frozen pipes are one of the biggest risks of property damage when the temperature drops. In fact, a burst pipe can result in more than $5,000 in water damage. Prevent costly water damage caused by frozen pipes by using the following guidance.
  • Insulate all attic penetrations.
  • Ensure proper seals on all doors and windows.
  • Seal all wall cracks and penetrations, including electrical conduit and other utility service lines.
  • Place a monitored automatic excess flow switch on the main incoming domestic water line to provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve when the space is unoccupied.
INSTALL WEATHER STRIPPING AND SEALS: Prevent freezing temperatures from entering your home or business by installing weather stripping and seals. This offers two major benefits – it will keep severe winter weather out of your home or business and sealing your property shut also greatly increases energy efficiency by limiting drafts and reducing the amount of cold air that enters. Inspect the following areas of your home or business for leaks to determine possible areas to seal.
  • Windows and doors
  • Vents and fans
  • Plumbing
  • Air conditioners
  • Electrical and gas lines
  • Mail chutes