It happens: Sewer backup

Sometimes sewer backups happen. We look for someone to blame, but often there just isn’t blame to be found. How do we prevent it from happening? And if it does, how do we protect ourselves from the financial storm that follows?

Suppose for a minute that you just spent $10,000 converting an unfinished basement into your awesome new recreation room. Somehow, the sewage backup that occurred three weeks later, ruining your new carpet, furniture and recently installed drywall didn’t factor into your vision of awesomeness. What a horrible, stench-filled mess. You’re disgusted, angry and someone’s going to have to pay for this affront. Wait until you find out that someone is you.

Let’s start with your local sewer utility: wouldn’t it be their fault? The answer is “maybe,” but more likely it is “probably not.” Because sewer utilities provide a public health service, and in many cases are governmental entities, even when they are responsible they may enjoy some form of immunity or cap on damages that limits their liability. State laws vary, so this scenario could differ based on your location.

Next, the backup might not have occurred in the sewer main at all; it could have been an issue with your lateral – the sewer line running from the building to the sewer main. In almost every case, the sewer utility is not responsible for the maintenance and working condition of the lateral; the property owner is. Repairing or replacing the lateral is expensive. Thankfully, many plumbing contractors can perform a camera inspection to determine its condition. Often clogs, including root balls from trees, can be removed at a reasonable cost.

So it’s nobody’s fault, but the homeowner’s insurance policy will cover this claim, right? Again, it depends. Many homeowner (and for that matter, business) policies exclude sewer backup. Unless your policy has been endorsed to specifically provide this coverage, there is likely no coverage. Fortunately most companies are willing to add coverage for a modest premium. Check with your agent to confirm that your policy includes this coverage, or add it if you don’t.

Could this loss have been prevented? There are multiple backflow prevention devices available that can be installed by a plumber. Check with your local plumber to see if this is a sensible option for you; particularly if your property has a history of sewer backup issues. Your local sewer utility can often be a helpful resource for prevention ideas as well. These devices aren’t 100 percent effective, so you’ll want to do your homework.

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
blog.cinfin.com

Bright idea: Check your holiday lights

Holiday lights can brighten the season – literally and emotionally – but they also present potential risk for fire and shock hazards. Before installing holiday lighting, take extra time to do a safety check to protect people and property.

Holiday lights and other decorative lighting contribute to an estimated 150 home structure fires per year, according to the National Fire Protection Association, with an average of nine deaths, 16 injuries and $8.4 million in direct property damage per year. Electrical failures or malfunctions were factors in 64 percent of the fires.

Reduce the risk of fire and shock from holiday lights by taking these steps recommended by theConsumer Product Safety Commission:

  • Use indoor and outdoor lights that conform with safety standards and that have been tested for safety by a recognized testing laboratory.
  • Use only lights that have plugs containing fuses.
  • Check each set of lights, new or old, for broken or cracked sockets, frayed or bare wires or loose connections. Throw out damaged sets. Always replace burned-out bulbs promptly with the same wattage bulbs.
  • Ensure extension cords are rated for the intended use.
  • Forego electric lights on a metallic tree. The tree can become charged with electricity from faulty lights, and a person touching a branch could be electrocuted.
  • Check labels before using lights outdoors to be sure they have been certified for outdoor use.
  • Stay away from power or feeder lines leading from utility poles.
  • Fasten outdoor lights securely to trees, house walls or other firm supports to protect the lights from wind damage. Use only insulated staples (not nails or tacks) to hold strings in place. Or, run strings of lights through hooks (available at hardware stores).
  • Turn off all holiday lights when you go to bed or leave the house.
  • Use caution when removing outdoor holiday lights. Never pull or tug on lights – this could cause stress on the connections that could create a fire hazard.
  • Plug outdoor electric lights and decorations into circuits protected by ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to protect against electric shock. Portable outdoor GFCIs can be purchased where electrical supplies are sold. GFCIs can also be installed permanently to household circuits by a qualified electrician.

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends switching to LED lights to reduce heat and the risk of combustion or burnt fingers. In addition to being sturdier and more resistant to breakage, LED holiday lights last longer and consume 70 percent less energy than conventional incandescent light strands. It costs only $0.27 to light a 6-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LEDs compared to $10 for incandescent lights.

A new safety rule for seasonal and decorative lights went into effect in June, allowing the CPSC to remove hazardous seasonal and decorative lights from the market faster and more effectively. If lights do not meet safety standards, the agency can require the manufacturer to recall the lights and can block imports of unsafe lights.

As you inspect newly purchased lights, check for:

  • wires that appear frayed, damaged or inadequate to carry the current according to the manufacturer’s instruction
  • strands that do not remain intact and functioning or pull out of the plug when stretched
  • lights that do not shut off to guard against excess current – such as with a fuse or ground fault circuit interrupter

To report a dangerous decorative or seasonal light, go online to www.SaferProducts.gov, call CPSC’s Hotline at 800-638-2772 or use its teletypewriter for the hearing impaired at301-595-7054.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International, a nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to promoting electrical safety at home and in the workplace, offers additional safety tips for Indoor Lights and Electrical Decor.

 

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
blog.cinfin.com

Prep your car for travel in winter weather

Smartphones offer drivers a sense of security, with the promise that help is just a phone call away. But especially in extreme conditions, don’t count on your phone alone to keep you safe or to share your location in an emergency situation. Keep in mind that location services are not always accurate depending on network coverage in your location, the cell tower your phone connects to and other variables.

Take additional precautions before winter travel in case you become stranded in your car. Before setting out, tell your family or a friend which route you will be taking. If you become stranded, it’s better in most cases to stay with your car and let rescuers find you. Keep your phone plugged in and fully charged during your trip to better ensure it operates when needed. But if your smartphone location sharing lets you down, your preparations can keep you safe and comfortable while you wait for help.

SERVICE YOUR VEHICLE

Before heading out in the winter, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Ready.gov website outlines items a mechanic should check on your car:

  • Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
  • Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels.
  • Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.
  • Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly.
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights – check that all are functioning properly.
  • Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
  • Thermostat – ensure it works properly.
  • Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.
  • Install good winter tires – make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
EMERGENCY KIT

In addition, carry an emergency kit in your car:

  • a shovel
  • windshield scraper and small broom
  • flashlight
  • battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • water and snack food
  • matches
  • extra hats, socks and mittens
  • first aid kit with pocket knife
  • necessary medications
  • blanket(s)
  • tow chain or rope
  • road salt and sand
  • booster cables
  • emergency flares
  • fluorescent distress flag
IF YOU BECOME STRANDED

If you are broken down or stuck in your vehicle in a winter storm, stay put and wait for help. Consider these tips from the Montana Department of Transportation:

  • Keep calm
  • Indicate to others that you are in trouble if you are on a well-traveled road. Use the signaling devices in your survival kit, emergency lights on your vehicle or raise the hood and tie something bright to your antenna
  • Remain in your vehicle unless you see a house or building within walking distance
  • Run the engine to keep warm, but do it sparingly
  • Check the exhaust pipe of your car to ensure snow has not blocked it. If this happens, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Exercise, clap your hands, move your arms and legs vigorously or do other isometric exercises to keep your circulation going
  • Take turns on watch if possible
  • Stay awake if you are alone
  • Ensure other drivers can see you if you are pulled over. Use hazard lights or auxiliary warning devices such as reflective triangles or flares; place the first one 10 feet from your car, the second 100 feet away and the third 200 feet away. On an undivided road, put one triangle 100 feet in front of your car, one 10 feet behind and another 100 feet behind.

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
blog.cinfin.com

Flue season: Have your fireplace and chimney inspected

Home heating fires are the second leading cause of home fire deaths after cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Fireplaces, chimneys and flues account for a significant number of home heating fires.

Homeowners with a wood-burning fireplace or solid fuel stove or insert can protect your property and your family by having a qualified professional inspect and clean your chimney at least annually to prevent a buildup of creosote.

Creosote is a tarry residue or solid organic compound caused by incomplete combustion of wood that can build up in chimneys and ignite a chimney fire. A heavily used fireplace or stove may require periodic cleaning throughout the heating season. NFPA statistics show that failure to clean creosote from chimneys was the leading factor in 28 percent of the home heating equipment fires between 2007 and 2011.

The U.S. Fire Administration offers a series of videos showing how to safely build and tend a fire. Additional tips for safe fireplace and wood stove use:

  • Equip your fireplace with a sturdy glass or metal screen to stop sparks from flying into the room.
  • Inspect your fireplace’s flue prior to use for any obstructions or blockage by using a flashlight and looking up the flue. This also assures that the flue’s damper control is open prior to lighting the fire.
  • Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from the fireplace or wood stove. NFPA statistics show 53 percent of fires resulting in home heating fire deaths were caused by having heating equipment too close to things that can burn, such as upholstered furniture, clothing, mattresses or bedding.
  • Only adults should build and tend a fire; enforce a three-foot “kid-free zone” around fireplaces and wood stoves.
  • Always use the right kind of fuel, specified by the manufacturer, for inserts. For fireplaces and wood stoves, use only seasoned wood. Green wood increases creosote buildup.
  • Do not burn cardboard, wrapping paper or other rubbish in the fireplace or wood stove.
  • Never use lighter fluid or any flammable or combustible liquids to start the fire.
  • Make sure a fully charged fire extinguisher is nearby and accessible.
  • Install smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors as recommended, change the batteries twice a year, and test them according to manufacturer’s recommendations, usually monthly.
  • Put out fireplace fires before going to sleep or leaving your home.
  • Allow ashes to cool prior to cleaning out a fireplace or wood stove. Ashes that seem cool may contain concealed hot embers for several days after your last fire. Place the ashes in a covered metal container and keep the container outdoors a safe distance away from your home or any buildings.Have fireplace inserts or wood stoves installed by a qualified professional who can meet the established NFPA 211 standard. Never attempt to install them yourself. According to the NFPA, 10 percent of fires involving heating appliances actually involve the ignition of structural members where flues or chimneys pass through a building’s wall.

Additionally, check with your Ayres insurance agent to assure coverage. Visit our website at The Ayres Group.

 

Courtesy of Cincinnati Insurance

Keep safe and warm when using space heaters

Many of us use portable electric space heaters to help keep us warm, but they can be hazardous if not used properly. Take precautions to keep your family safe from fire or burns.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an average of 50,100 home heating fires occurred in the U.S. each year from 2008 to 2010. About 900 fires are attributed to portable heaters. While they represent only 2 percent of home heating fires, portable heaters were involved in 45 percent of all heating fires with a fatality.

Before you use an electric space heater:

  • Check to be sure the heater is clean and in good condition. Thoroughly inspect the cord and plug of electrical heaters for damage. You can check whether it is certified by Underwriters Laboratories.
  • Place heaters out of high traffic areas and on a level, hard, nonflammable floor surface – not on carpets, rugs, furniture or countertops.
  • Place the heater at least three feet from combustible liquids as well as flammable items such as draperies, blankets and sofas.
  • Take care when moving around space heaters not to brush up against them or drag loose clothing.
  • Do not use space heaters to thaw pipes, cook food or dry clothing or towels.
  • Keep children and pets away from an electric space heater as accidental contact could result in serious shock or burns.
  • Do not place heaters under desks or other enclosed areas.
  • Never leave the heater operating while unattended or while you are sleeping.
  • Never power an electric space heater with an extension cord or power strip.
  • Never run an electric space heater’s cord under rugs or carpeting.

Note that unvented kerosene and gas heaters have been banned in many jurisdictions. Kerosene, gas and propane heaters — anything that uses combustible fuel — present additional risk of death or injury from carbon monoxide poisoning and are not recommended for use in closed spaces.

As an added precaution, check smoke alarms to be sure they are in proper working order before using electric heaters.

Life insurance: A tale of three automobiles

People have a variety of needs when purchasing life insurance. Term insurance answers some of those concerns, and permanent insurance addresses others. I always ask clients, “Are you concerned about ‘if you die’ or ‘when you die’?”

  • If you are worried about “if you die,” then you’re probably thinking about what happens to your loved ones if you die unexpectedly, or at a time that doesn’t fit with your life plan. In this situation, the conversation should probably start with term insurance.
  • If you are concerned about “when you die,” then you’re probably thinking about when you die after a long and complete life, with concerns for your heirs and assets. When this is the case, I start the conversation discussing permanent insurance.

However, the answer can often be yes to both concerns. So what should you buy first? Let me tell you about a friend of mine with three cars:

  • He drives a small, four-door sedan as his everyday car. It’s leased, and he uses it for basic transportation to and from work and for trips around town. When the car gets too many miles on the odometer, he’ll just trade it in for another one.
  • My friend also has a big sport utility vehicle on hand for when he needs it: family vacations, trips with his son’s lacrosse team, or when he has to haul something or tow a trailer. If he takes care of this SUV, it’ll last a long, long time. In fact, it has already logged over 200,000 miles and is still going strong.
  • Finally, my friend has an old German sports car. This is his baby, his toy. He drives it only once in a while, but each year it’s worth more than it was the year before. I know he plans to keep it forever.

I realize not everyone is fortunate enough to have three cars, but if they do it’s a safe bet that each vehicle serves a different purpose. This is a lot like life insurance  ̶  many people have multiple policies, and usually each policy was bought at a different time during their life and serves a different need. It’s completely reasonable that a person would have both term andpermanent insurance.

First and foremost, a person with no life insurance needs straightforward, inexpensive protection  ̶ for “if you die” unexpectedly. Think of the man with no car  ̶  what he needs most is simple, inexpensive transportation.

A first-time life insurance buyer might not be able to meet all needs right away. Instead, strive to meet the biggest need (basic, inexpensive protection) probably with term insurance. Once your immediate needs are met, you can come back at a later time and work to make your insurance plan more complete with permanent coverage  ̶  just like that family who buys a pickup truck or mini-van for when the car just isn’t enough.

Think about it  ̶  would you ever expect someone to buy a huge SUV or sports car for their first vehicle? Not unless money were no issue…and money is almost ALWAYS an issue. Don’t make that mistake with life insurance.

If you’ve already met your basic needs, then absolutely strive to complete your insurance program. But if you are considering your first life insurance policy, your first goal should probably be to meet your most immediate and basic needs. Your local independent agent can help you examine your needs and set your priorities.

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
blog.cinfin.com

Words to make a parent nervous: Teen driver

New teen driver. As both the father of a new driver and an underwriter, those words make me nervous. But some proactive discussion among the new driver, his or her parents and your local agent can make the teenage driving years a lot less stressful.

Readiness – First, make sure your teenager is ready to be behind the wheel. Even a delay of six months could allow your teen enough time to be ready for the responsibility of driving.

You set the tone – Your driving habits have an impact on how your child will behave behind the wheel. Set a good example by being a safe, courteous, defensive driver.

Safety first – Make sure that you are providing your teen with a safe vehicle to operate, free of any maintenance issues.

No texting and driving – If your teenager has a cell phone, discuss the dangers of texting or talking while driving.

Obey all traffic laws – Make sure your new driver understands the need to obey all traffic laws, especially driving the speed limit. Remind your teen to wait until all passengers have buckled their seat belts to start the car; seat belts are mandatory in every state except New Hampshire. Check the Governors Highway Safety Association website for more details.

You make the rules – In the first few months, it may be helpful to limit your teen’s driving to areas close to home, then work up to driving longer distances and on the interstate highways. Set a limit on the number of passengers in the vehicle; 46 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws restricting passenger numbers for young drivers. You may want to set your own rules that are even more restrictive. Consider limiting driving time to daylight hours or lighter traffic times while your teen gains confidence behind the wheel. Again, many states have already enacted daylight restrictions.

Seek good advice – I found it very useful to have my son sit down with our local, independent agent to discuss the new responsibility of driving and the impact it could have on our family and others. My son seemed to listen more closely to another adult discussing these matters than he would have if I were the person speaking. My agent stressed never drinking and driving, driving defensively, limiting the distractions (including the radio), as well as what to do in the event of an accident or vehicle breakdown.

Think about insurance – My agent also discussed with my son the financial consequences his driving habits could have on our insurance premiums. By obeying all traffic laws and avoiding situations that could lead to an accident, we could avoid any potential premium increase that may result from a moving violation or claim. Other factors that may lower your premiums are to have the teen drive a standard vehicle (avoid the sportier models) and consider higher physical damage deductibles.

By teaching your child to be a responsible driver through discussions and leading by example you can keep your teenager, their passengers and other drivers safe and save money on your car insurance. With this knowledge, you can definitely make your life a little less stressful during those teenage driving years.

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
blog.cinfin.com

Life insurance may be cheaper than you think

How much does life insurance cost? Probably a lot less than you think. A recent LIMRA study found that 63 percent of consumers polled indicated that life insurance was too expensive, yet 80 percent of consumers overestimate its cost by nearly threefold. LIMRA is a leading insurance and financial services trade association.

Today’s consumers have many sources of data at our disposal. We can research everything from pots to pains, yet many of us make incorrect assumptions about one of the most important and basic decisions concerning our family’s financial future: purchasing life insurance.

Various factors determine your cost for life insurance, the most basic of which are age and health. Generally, your premium is lower the younger you are when you purchase life insurance. Additionally, premiums are lower for healthier individuals, and there are things you can do to lower your insurance costs.

  • Live a healthier lifestyle. Every choice has a consequence. Life decisions regarding tobacco use, food consumption, care for chronic illnesses and driving habits all affect the cost of your life insurance premiums. Making healthy life choices improves your quality of life and can lower your health risk and life insurance premiums.
  • Consider your recreation choices. While jumping out of an airplane may be an amazing rush, skydiving will likely increase your cost of life insurance. Dangerous pastimes such as scuba diving, skydiving and auto racing can adversely affect your risk and increase your premiums.
  • Make decisions based on facts, not fear. When making decisions on purchasing life insurance, make them based on facts. Do your research and know your options. A local independent agent can be an invaluable asset. Your agent can guide you to a plan that best meets your family’s needs and fits your budget.

Don’t just assume that you cannot afford life insurance. Learn the facts, and make an informed decision. Your family’s financial future may depend on it. Contact your Ayres Group Representative today.

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
blog.cinfin.com

Replacement cost for your home’s contents

If you want to restore the comforts of your home in the event of a loss, it’s best to choose replacement cost coverage on your household contents. It could be worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars to your family.

Most homeowners insurance policies cover personal property for its actual cash value. To cover your contents for the cost to replace them – new for old –  request replacement cost contents coverage.

WHAT IS ACTUAL CASH VALUE?

Actual cash value is replacement cost minus reasonable depreciation. The actual cash value of your household property is what the items are worth at the time of a loss. For example, a television set usually lasts about 10 years. If you own a 5-year-old TV, about half of its life is used up. While you would pay $800 to replace it with a new one, its actual cash value is around $400. Homeowners insurance usually pays actual cash value (after the deductible) for your damaged or stolen TV.

REPLACEMENT COST CONTENTS COVERAGE IS AVAILABLE

With replacement cost contents coverage, no deduction is made for depreciation. Your homeowners insurance pays the full replacement cost of a new item of the same kind and quality, minus the policy deductible. Most policies require that you actually replace the item before replacement cost is paid.

Ask your local independent agent about replacement cost contents coverage. It lets you recover costs up to the full amount of your contents insurance limit. For example, your 10-year-old TV has an actual cash value of $100, but it would cost $800 to replace it with a new one. With replacement cost contents coverage, you could receive the full $800 for the new TV, subject to policy conditions, deductible and content limits.

This coverage would not apply to rare or antique items, those with sentimental value, or items insured under special limits of liability.

Talk to your local Ayres Group agent to learn about options to insure your comforts of home at appropriate values.

Courtesy of The Cincinnati Insurance Company
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7 questions to ask your agent about homeowner insurance

When you’re shopping for homeowner insurance, remember that policies can vary widely. Some coverages may be included, and others may be available for additional premium.

 

Here are some questions you might want to ask your independent insurance agent:

    1. Is my home covered for full replacement cost? This is one of the key distinctions between homeowner policies, and you’ll want to know the answer. If your home is covered only for its current market value – or worse, your loan amount – you are likely underinsured and would not be able to rebuild the home to its current state in the event of a loss. Make sure the insured value takes into consideration all of your home’s features. The cost to rebuild is likely to be significantly more than the current market value or your loan amount.
    2. How much is the deductible on my policy? The deductible is the amount of a loss that you pay. If you can afford a high deductible with savings or other resources, you can usually reduce your premiums. Your agent can help you find the right balance.
    3. Does my policy include earthquake coverage? Not all policies do. If yours doesn’t, you may be able to obtain earthquake coverage for additional premium. Your agent can advise you on the need for earthquake coverage in your area. Don’t assume that you don’t need it.
    4. How much coverage do I have on the contents of my home? Contents coverage is usually a percentage of the insured value of the home. Some policies automatically provide contents coverage of 50 percent of the value of the structure, others provide 70 or 75 percent. And, you may be able to increase the amount of coverage for additional premium.
    5. Does my policy insure against water damage from sewer backups, sump overflows or water pressure from below the ground surface? Most standard policies do not provide coverage for these losses, but you may be able to obtain coverage for additional premium.
    6. Does my policy provide any coverage for disappearance of jewelry or silverware? While a policy may provide a specified limit of coverage for theft of these items, “mysterious disappearance” of these items may not be covered. Ask your agent to clarify this, and inquire if coverage is available at additional premium.
    7. Does my policy provide any liability coverage for slander, libel, defamation of character, invasion of privacy or identity theft? Some homeowner policies automatically cover these items while others require an extra premium. Know before you buy.

Ask your Ayres Group agent to help you evaluate your needs and your situation so that you have no surprises should you have a claim.