Protect Your Family From the Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

With winter weather affecting us all in our attempts to remain comfortable, it's also the time of year which presents the greatest risk for an invisible threat. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, invisible gas that results when certain fuels do not burn completely. And it can be deadly. That's why it's important to know how to prevent it, detect it, and protect yourself and your family from its effects. In the home, carbon monoxide is most commonly formed by flames and heaters, as well as vehicles or generators that are running in an attached garage. As temperatures drop and more people are cranking the heat and hovering over the stove inside and warming up the car's engine before hitting the road, it's especially critical to ensure your family's safety against this lethal gas. Since carbon monoxide cannot be detected without a carbon monoxide detection device, it is essential to install and maintain one or more detectors in your home.

Detector Tips For Safeguarding Your Household

  • The International Association of Fire Chiefs recommends a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home, including the basement. A detector should be located within 10 feet of each bedroom door, and there should be one near or over any attached garage.
  • Each detector should be replaced every five to six years.
  • Battery-only carbon monoxide detectors tend to go through batteries more frequently than expected. Plug-in detectors with a battery backup (for use if power is interrupted) provide less battery-changing maintenance.
  • Thoroughly read the installation manual that comes with the individual detector you purchase. Manufacturers' recommendations differ to a certain degree based on research conducted with detectors for specific brands.
  • Remember that carbon monoxide detectors do not serve as smoke detectors and vice versa. You can, however, purchase a dual smoke/carbon monoxide detector that can perform both functions.
  • Do not install carbon monoxide detectors next to fuel-burning appliances, as these appliances may emit a small amount of carbon monoxide upon startup.

In Case Of Exposure We hope you never have to use the following tips from the Mayo Clinic, but please read on for good information that could help save a life. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been exposed to carbon monoxide, check for the following symptoms:

  • Dull Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of Breath
  • confusion
  • Loss of Consciousness

If any of the symptoms exist, move the individual into fresh air and seek emergency medical care immediately.


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Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween is an exciting time of year for kids, and to help ensure they have a safe holiday, here are some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

All Dressed Up:

  • Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
  • Consider adding reflective tape or striping to costumes and Trick-or-Treat bags for greater visibility.
  • Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes.
  • When shopping for costumes, wigs and accessories look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.
  • If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child's costume, make sure it is not sharp or too long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he stumbles or trips.
  • Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
  • Do not use decorative contact lenses without an eye examination and a prescription from an eye care professional. While the packaging on decorative lenses will often make claims such as “one size fits all,” or “no need to see an eye specialist,” obtaining decorative contact lenses without a prescription is both dangerous and illegal. This can cause pain, inflammation, and serious eye disorders and infections, which may lead to permanent vision loss.
  • Teach children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they have an emergency or become lost.

Carving a Niche:

  • Small children should never carve pumpkins. Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.
  • Consider using a flashlight or glow stick instead of a candle to light your pumpkin. If you do use a candle, a votive candle is safest.
  • Candlelit pumpkins should be placed on a sturdy table, away from curtains and other flammable objects, and should never be left unattended.

Home Safe Home:

  • To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, parents should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
  • Parents should check outdoor lights and replace burned-out bulbs.
  • Wet leaves or snow should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
  • Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater.

On the Trick-Or-Treat Trail:

  • A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
  • If your older children are going alone, plan and review the route that is acceptable to you. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
  • Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.
  • Because pedestrian injuries are the most common injuries to children on Halloween, remind Trick-or Treaters:
  • Stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
  • Carry a cell phone for quick communication.
  • Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
  • If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
  • Never cut across yards or use alleys.
  • Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out driveways.
  • Don't assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn't mean others will!
  • Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.

Healthy Halloween:

  • A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
  • Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books or pens and pencils.
  • Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
  • Try to ration treats for the days following Halloween.

Source: aap.org


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Stay Safe On That Hayride

7 Tips for Fall Fun Safety

There's perhaps nothing that more embodies fall than heading down to the local pumpkin patch. You can pick out the perfect gourd for carving, purchase apple cider and donuts, wander through a corn maze and hop on a hayride. Seriously, who doesn't enjoy riding through a farm or orchard while sitting on a bale of hay? Surprisingly, when searching for hayride safety tips online, few articles are found. The best resource seems to be from the Haunted House Association, is written for operators, but we can easily apply their recommendations as safety tips for riders.

  • Follow the posted rules. A reputable business operating a hayride should have posted rules, probably near the waiting area or cash register. Read them, and take some time to explain them to your children.
  • Listen to ticket takers, attendants and operators. These people not only know the rules of the hayride, but are also probably reciting them. They will correct anyone they see doing something wrong.
  • Do not stand on the ride. Once the ride starts, don't stand, plain and simple. Hay can be slippery, and a moving wagon is not a stable surface to stand on.
  • Do not throw the straw. This seems kind of innocent yet can be another unsafe behavior as it can lead to others throwing hay and turn into a hay throwing bonanza.
  • Do not use cameras or other devices that will distract you. You may really want to take a quick photo of your family on the hayride to post on Facebook. Please don't. While the ride is moving, it's important to keep your focus on the ride.
  • Hold on. It's one simple way to help ensure you won't fall off the ride.
  • Keep arms and legs inside the wagon. You don't know the trail the wagon will travel. There might be some tight spaces. Keeping your arms and legs inside the wagon will help make sure nothing hits you.

It's a lot of common sense, but it's easy to get caught up in the fun and forget the rules. And hayrides are a lot of fun - more so when everyone is safe. Please take care and enjoy all that fall has to offer safely.


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Personal Umbrella – The Ultimate Best Buy

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A personal umbrella policy is sometimes misunderstood.. That's unfortunate because the personal umbrella is an insurance “best buy”. It is inexpensive and does its job well. Let's take a look at just what this policy does, determine if you need one, and decide if it's worth it to purchase a policy for yourself. We'll look at factors that set the cost of a personal umbrella. And finally, give you a few tips to keep in mind when personal umbrella shopping.

What is a Personal Liability Umbrella Policy?

The personal umbrella is a form of liability insurance. A great deal of confusion is eliminated if the word “liability” is inserted between the words “personal” and “umbrella”. That means it protects you from bodily injury and property damage for which you are legally liable.

I will use the term personal umbrella. But just remember it is a form of liability insurance. Some consumers believe it is a catch all policy that insures property. Not so!

A personal umbrella “floats” over your other liability policies. For example, let's suppose your automobile insurance limits are $300,000 per person/ $300,000 per accident /$300,000 property damage. If you invest in $1,000,000 personal umbrella policy you will have increased your auto liability protection by $1,000,000. So now you have auto liability protection of $1,300,000.

A key benefit is it gives you an extra layer of protection over all your policies with liability coverage. Your homeowners, renters, auto, boats, motorcycles, second home, etc. will now have an extra layer of suit protection. That is why it is called an “umbrella” policy.

The most common personal umbrella limit is $1,000,000. However, more families are deciding that a $1,000,000 limit is not enough protection in today's litigious society. So consumers are buying personal umbrella policies with higher limits. Limits up to $10,000,000 are available.

Do I need an umbrella policy?

When I hear that question from clients, my answer is, “Probably”. You can determine if you need an umbrella policy by answering three questions:

  • Do you earn a pay check?
  • Do you own anything?
  • Do you want to keep what you own and your full pay check?

These questions may sound a bit silly, but I am being very frank. You see, when an attorney is seeking damages, he will take what he can get for his client. That means your personal assets and your future earnings are on the line when you are sued. If you have no assets, once an attorney gets a judgment, he will use a garnishment to get to your future earnings.

So the question you must decide is can I get rid of this risk? A personal umbrella is a giant step in eliminating the risk of attorney fees and a large judgment against you.

Is an umbrella policy worth it?

Your appetite for risk will determine if a personal umbrella is worth the peace of mind it provides. Let's explore this question a little more. A journalist, who claims to be a financial planner, recently wrote that since only a small percentage of lawsuits were over a $1,000,000 dollars she did not think it was necessary for the average family to consider an umbrella liability policy.

It is true that most lawsuits are under $1,000,000. However, the number of large lawsuits is growing. And if you happen to be the unfortunate one to be sued for a large amount, the financial and emotional impact is devastating. Think of it this way… the number of policemen shot on duty is small, but does that justify a policeman not wearing their bullet proof vest?

The other issue is attorney fees. Consider for a moment suffering a judgment of $500,000 with attorney's fees of $300,000. Excessive? Not if you consider it is wholey possible to be sued for $3,000,000 and have a complicated defense involving numerous specialists. A personal umbrella would pay the judgment and attorney costs.

Most professional financial planners advise you to pass the risk of a large personal loss to an insurance company. So they recommend purchasing a personal liability umbrella. They say it's worth it.

The personal liability umbrella is a good risk management technique for most people. Personal umbrellas provide high limits of protection for an inexpensive price.

How much does it cost?

Cost is an important consideration when shopping for a personal umbrella policy. The price varies depending on the exposure to risks. For example, if you have a home with a pool, two cars, young drivers, a boat, a motorcycle and vacation home, you have more exposure to lawsuits than a family with a home, and two cars. So the family with more toys will pay more for a personal liability umbrella policy. It is really that simple.

Prices for a personal umbrella insurance policy start at $125 annually. The family with two cars and a home will likely pay between $180 and $250 a year for a $1,000,000 policy.

What else do I need to know when shopping for a Personal Liability Umbrella policy?

  • You cannot pick and choose what exposures you want covered. For example, if you own a boat you cannot exclude it from coverage under a personal umbrella policy.
  • The company issuing your personal umbrella policy may require you to raise the underlying liability limits on some of your policies, if those limits are too low.
  • Some companies will write a personal umbrella policy even if they do not write your underlying policies.
  • Most personal umbrellas do not cover business risks of any kind.

The personal umbrella policy is widely available and is an inexpensive risk management tool. It allows you to manage your risk in our changing world.


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Pros and Cons of Higher Deductibles for Auto, Home and Business Insurance

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As insurance costs rise, more individuals, families and businesses are looking at using higher deductibles. Choosing the right insurance deductible is important and it does take some thought.

There are advantages and disadvantages to increasing your deductibles. So here are some things to consider before you make a decision to increase your personal or business insurance deductibles. First, let's take a look at individual and family considerations and then we'll look at business considerations.

The idea behind insurance is to save you from a catastrophic loss from which you cannot recover. This sounds reasonable but it does not mean everyone should use high deductibles. For example, if you are elderly and living on a fixed income, high deductibles are not likely a good choice. Especially, if your savings are limited. This may be true for younger insurance buyers, too. If you have no savings or the ability to borrow, you should consider a low to moderate deductible.

In addition, you must consider the worst case scenario before choosing a deductible. When a catastrophic event occurs, it may involve your home and your auto. Can you stand the financial impact of two large deductibles for the same occurrence? If not look for a policy that only charges one deductible if both your home and auto are involved in the same claim.

If your circumstances allow you to consider a larger deductible, here are the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

  • Higher deductibles reduce your insurance costs.
  • Allows you to self insure minor claims.
  • Improves your cash flow.
  • Removes the temptation to turn in small claims, which can result in larger premiums and can lead to policy cancellation.

Disadvantages

  • You may not have the financial ability to pay for a larger loss out of your pocket.
  • Sometimes claims take a while to settle, so you may be forced to fund more than just the deductible on a temporary basis if your claim requires immediate repairs.

Buying Tip: Most insurance companies have a “sweet spot” regarding deductibles. You may find that a $2,500 deductible has less impact on your premium than a $1,000 deductible. Request pricing using several deductible options, that way you can determine the best value.

Business Insurance and Deductibles

A business may have more deductible options than are available to personal insurance buyers. A business may also have more flexibility in using large deductibles. Evaluating how to use large deductibles to manage business insurance premiums takes some planning. Here are the advantages and disadvantages for the business use of high deductibles.

Advantages

  • Allows you to self insure and manage smaller nuisance claims.
  • Large deductibles allow flexibility. If your business buys several types of insurance policies, you can use large deductibles on just the policies and exposures you choose.
  • If you use very large deductibles, you get the advantages of self insurance without the regulatory burden many states apply to business self insurance programs.
  • You can use large deductibles to weather the dramatic swings in business insurance pricing which occur on a cyclic basis.
  • You can use large deductibles to control premiums after a large loss. If your business suffers a large claim and your premiums for that line of exposure have risen dramatically, use a large deductible to control or reduce the increase in premium.
  • Large deductibles can increase your cash flow by lowering your insurance premiums.

Disadvantages

  • You can't expense off a premium you did not pay, but you may be able to deduct your share of a large loss from your taxes.
  • A large loss when your cash flow is slim can use up your reserves or force you to borrow.
  • Some large commercial claims can take so long to settle that the claim process can impact your cash flow. I suggest being very cautious about putting large deductibles on liability lines of insurance for this reason.
  • Beware that some contractual relationships, such as leases and construction contracts, may limit the size of the deductible you are allowed to use on insurance related to the contract.

Buyer Tip: You may have a hidden deductible about which you are unaware. It is called co-insurance. Many commercial insurance policies contain a co-insurance clause. Co-insurance requires that you insure to value as agreed to in the policy. If you do not, your claim settlement will be substantially less than you expected after the co-insurance penalty and deductible are applied.

Large deductibles do have advantages…but not for everyone. You must evaluate your situation to determine the advantages right for your family or business.


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Auto Insurance State Minimums Probably Aren’t Near Enough

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There are a wide variety of silly and somewhat funny things we can do from time to time, like telling people that dihydrogen monoxide is coming out of the sink (dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water), but one thing you should avoid falling for as a consumer is being told that carrying only the state mandated minimum coverage is adequate auto insurance protection.

In an auto accident, drivers can be legally liable for their passengers' injuries. While most states have mandatory minimum limits of liability required of all drivers, many of these requirements may not be sufficient in covering injuries sustained in an auto accident. In some states, this required amount may be as little as $25,000 per person and $50,000 total for all injuries in an accident - which may not be enough when you consider the severity of certain injuries and the number of passengers that could be involved. Remember that this limit also applies for all injuries caused by an accident for which you are liable, including passengers of other cars.

So what are the right limits? Like many answers... It depends. Everyone's situation is different, but as an independent insurance agency we can help you understand what issues you should consider when evaluating what liability limits to purchase.

For Instance:

  1. How much would it take to compensate a victim? If you were to cause a severe, life altering injury to someone, consider how much money it would cost over time to compensate them. It's likely higher than $25,000.
  2. What assets do you have and what is your net worth? Think about your home, your car, savings, investments, etc. Having adequate insurance to protect these assets is something you should consider.

Naturally you might wonder if increasing your liability limits will increase the price of your insurance premiums. While you'll pay more for the additional coverage, it's likely that it won't be very much to raise your liability limits, and in the long run it offers you more financial protection. You may be able to offset some of those expenses by raising your deductible or through other discounts. This is where we can help identify the different options available to you.

There is no definitive rule of thumb for making sure you have "enough" insurance but it's important that you feel comfortable with the amount you have, because nobody likes to be made a fool of when it comes to an insurance claim.

Source: trustedchoice.com


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Are Car Insurance Ads Mind-Boggling to You?

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Well, do not feel bad, you are not alone. Car Insurance ads are mind-boggling. Most of them are based on price, then price, and lastly, price. Frankly, it is not that simple.

I am sure you have heard the phrase, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. Gertrude Stein wrote this in her 1913 poem from called Sacred Emily. When it comes to insurance the phrase should read, “A rose is not a rose is not a rose”. Not all insurance is created equal. You have also probably heard the phrase, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. This is true of auto insurance.

Most people want a good deal. When you hear the TV shout, “You could save up to 40% on your car insurance”, it gets your attention. Most people do not hear the word “could”.

We usually hear what we want to hear. We do not like paying for insurance but we have to have it by law. We have to have it to protect ourselves. So why not pay the lowest possible premium?

What is interesting is that experienced independent insurance agents “can also save you up to 40% on car insurance”. They can evaluate and guide you into building a policy that best protects you while still saving you money. Everyone's protection needs are not the same. So purchasing a cookie cutter policy is probably not going to provide the protection you need. The worst time to find this out is after a claim.

Let's look at an example. John Q. Driver needs auto insurance. He drives a company car so he only needs insurance on his personally owned car. So he contacts BuyCheapInsurance.com and gets a quote. Being the smart shopper John is, he gets other quotes to compare. Therefore, he contacts his agent and directs him to quote with the same benefits. BuyCheapInsurance's premium is $85 per month. The independent agent's quote is $100 per month. Sounds like BuyCheapInsurance.com did just what they said they would do and saved him 15%, right?

A month later, John has an accident in his company vehicle. The company insures that vehicle, so no problem right? Wrong. You see, the insurance that his employer provides on the company car only protects the owner of the vehicle, not John. For example, the party that John injures hires an attorney and sues his company and John. After all, John was driving right? His company's insurance repairs the other party's car, repairs the company car, and pays damages to the injured party. It does not protect John personally; however, the plaintiff's law firm wants more money for their client. Who is left to sue? That's right, John. John bought insurance on his personal car. However, John needed an endorsement called “extended non-owned” on his personal auto insurance policy. This endorsement covers John personally for the non-owned company car he was driving.

How was John to know he needed this endorsement? That is where an experienced independent agent may have helped. If he had called the agent and taken advantage of their expertise, he would have been advised he needed that endorsement which probably would have cost him an additional $2 per month. Does John feel like he got a good deal with BuyCheapInsurance.com now?

In addition, if John would have spent a little time speaking with the professional agent and allowed the professional independent agent to evaluate all his personal insurance needs, his auto premium would have likely been less than the $85 per month he received from BuyCheapInsurance.com. By providing an insurance package for his home and auto, the agent could have applied all the discounts John was unaware of, and received a lower premium on both his home and auto.

The moral of the story is what John already knew. “A rose is not a rose is not a rose”, and “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. One more rule of thumb to consider when looking for personal insurance, “The more questions an agent asks, the better”. Why? They are looking for ways to earn you discounts while looking for potential gaps in coverage you do not even know exist. So take advantage of an experienced agent's knowledge and expertise. It will likely save you premium dollars with no gaps in coverage.


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Do You Have the Right Car Insurance?

Drivers too often miss out on the best value. Here's how not to make that mistake: Car insurance is inherently tricky to navigate because you don't find out just how well it works (or doesn't) until you have an accident. And if you're lucky, that doesn't happen too often. So how do you know if you have the right kind of car insurance for your budget and lifestyle? U.S. News interviewed a handful of car insurance experts to find out what you should do before making a final decision on your policy in order to get a good deal and decrease the chance of being surprised by unexpected costs after an incident. Here's their best advice: When choosing a policy, start by asking friends for recommendations. "It always makes sense to first ask people who you respect who they have auto insurance with, and if they were happy when they had a claim," says Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry group.

COMPARING APPLES TO APPLES When comparing policy prices, be sure to compare similar policies, cautions Phil Reed, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds.com. Auto policies vary by length of time, level of service and an array of add-ons and options, he says. Instead of just searching the Internet to compare quotes that are nothing more than a price based on practically nothing, Reed recommends getting on the phone with a local insurance professional, too. Certain car safety features can help lower your rate as well.

OVER THE RAINBOW At the same time, there's no need to obsess about constantly chasing a better deal. Jeff Blyskal, senior writer at Consumer Reports, says when the magazine asked readers to try to get a better deal with a competing insurance provider, only 12 percent of respondents were able to do so. That's despite the slew of auto insurance advertisements that would have you think a better deal is always just around the corner. Once you've settled on an insurance provider, you'll have the chance to consider various add-ons to your policy. In general, the more you pay upfront, the greater the coverage you'll have. For example, you can opt for a higher deductible in order to minimize your rates – probably a good move for anyone who considers themselves a careful driver and can afford the higher deductible in the event of an accident. You might also want to consider rental coverage. Auto insurance policies often allow you to add on coverage for renting a vehicle while your car is getting fixed after an accident, and if you only have one car, that kind of coverage can pay off. "Every customer who didn't have rental coverage wished they had it," says Richard Arca, senior manager of pricing at Edmunds.com and a former insurance adjuster. It typically adds about $20 for six months to a policy, he says. On new and leased cars, GAP insurance can also make sense. You've might have heard that when you buy a new car, it loses value as soon as you drive it out of the lot. Leased vehicles also often carry a lower fair market value than what you owe on the vehicle. That means in either of those cases, if you total the car, the insurance company will only reimburse you for the car's fair market value – and you could be out a lot of cash. GAP coverage, which stands for "guaranteed auto protection," safeguards people from that problem. "It's highly recommended for people who lease vehicles," Arca says.

Source: money.usnews.com


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Prepare Your Yard for the Hot Weather

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Summer is almost here! Take the time to get your yard in shape so you'll be ready for the coming hot weather.

Prepare Your Soil

Begin with a soil test. The quality of soil tends to change over the years; normally the earth becomes increasingly acid the more it is planted. Your test results will enable you to make informed decisions about how and what to fertilize and plant. Spring is the best time to fertilize. You will be replacing nutrients in the earth that were depleted by harsh winter weather and preparing your lawn and garden for healthy, abundant growth. Don't wait until the summer months, as fertilizer can actually harm green growth during periods of intense heat. Aeration is an additional method of soil preparation. This mechanical process loosens soil which has become compacted with the pressure of winter snow, so that water and fertilizer will be able to penetrate optimally.

Prepare Your Lawn

Sowing or turfing your lawn works best in the autumn. However, if you can't wait, take care of this task ASAP to give the grass a head start before the summer heat. Prepare the ground first by removing weeds, tilling and mixing in sand if your soil has high clay content. Whether your lawn is newly planted or well established, it is important to water it deeply so that the moisture will reach right down to the grass's roots. Early evening is the ideal time.

Watering

If you're planning a vegetable garden, decide how committed you feel to watering. Space-saving container and vertical gardens are very popular this year; however, they do require more frequent irrigation than the traditional method. This is a particular concern in areas where local conservation ordinances limit watering. To reduce the amount of time and water you'll need to keep your plants moist and healthy, mulching is a very viable option. Cover the base of plants with organic material such as grass clippings or shredded leaves to help keep moisture in the soil.

Care for Your Yard

Put up a fence to protect your yard from rambunctious neighborhood pets and kids, especially during the dog days of summer, when your lawn will be especially vulnerable to damage. Check out Richmond fencing materials to plan an attractive system that offers privacy and security. To avoid trampling of your lawn or garden by your own family and guest, you might want to build a path which will direct traffic off of green areas. Tiling or graveling a dedicated outdoor dining area will have the additional advantage that you won't have to move your picnic table or other lawn furniture each time you want to cut the grass. And speaking of cutting the grass, spring is the time to check your lawn mower to see if it will need a tune-up after its winter hibernation. If your lawn is large, you might want to look into hiring a lawn care service.


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Getting the Most Out of Your HVAC System This Summer

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April showers bring May flowers... and often June, July and August heat waves. If you'd like to enjoy your HVAC cooling system to the fullest this summer without breaking the bank, spring is the time to take a few simple steps to prepare.

First Things First

Why not do a test run of your cooling system right now? This way, you can see how well it's working and troubleshoot any issues before the thermometer soars way out of sight. Besides safeguarding your family comfort, you'll be able to quickly get professional help for problems that are beyond your DIY scope. Rule of thumb: HVAC technicians are almost invariably easier to get hold of during the off-peak season – and their rates may reflect this. Next, go outside and inspect the exterior unit for debris, dead leaves and plant growth that have the potential to block the airflow.

Regular Maintenance

Make sure you check your HVAC filter regularly. During heavy summer use, the filter will likely need to be washed or replaced about once a month (possibly more if you live in an especially dusty area or have house pets). While you're at it, dust the grates as well. Clean the evaporator coils annually, straightening any bent ones. Schedule your annual HVAC tune-up if you are due for one. A system that is over 10 years old may need some additional maintenance so you want to make sure you've got the time to get it all tuned up before you'll be depending on it.

Save Electricity ... and Cash

Use your HVAC system's programmable thermostat to schedule operation for times when you are at home. Efficient use of this handy device can save you close to $200 per year on your utility bills. When your family's schedule changes, reassess your needs and adjust the programmable thermostat if appropriate. For further savings, set the thermostat a few degrees higher than you normally would and use a low-energy-consumption fan to help circulate the cool air. Ceiling fans should be switched to turn in the correct direction (counter-clockwise); this directs hot air upward and away from the center of the room.

Keep Cool Air In, Hot Air Out

Prevent leakage of precious cool air by sealing around the HVAC unit and your ducts' seams and connections. Then wrap the ducts in insulation. If the ducts pass through an attic space, consider insulating that too. Sealing and insulation require a certain amount of effort but will be well worthwhile in energy efficiency both summer and winter. It's recommended to seal around windows, doors and baseboards also or even to replace windows if necessary. Close your windows and drapes during the day to exclude the hot air; then open them at night to ventilate your home. You may wish to install interior or exterior blinds, shutters, shades or awnings, particularly on south- or west-facing windows. Additional energy effective window treatments such as reflective films and insulated panels are available as well. Reduce the heat that is generated inside your home by using your electric clothes dryer during cooler hours and cooking at off-peak times, microwaving or barbecuing outdoors.


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Spring Cleaning Tips

Spring has arrived, which means it's time for spring-cleaning! You may not be looking forward to spending the next few weekends removing the grime that winter left behind, but you know the result is worth it: a cleaner, brighter, fresher home. To help you get started, we put together a list of tips you can use for your annual cleaning project.

Clean light fixtures using a stepladder, sponge, all-purpose cleaner and a cloth. If you don't own a stepladder, use an extended-reach tool. Polish light bulbs with a microfiber cloth dampened with water.

Restore wood furniture with a microfiber cloth and a mixture of ½ teaspoon of olive oil and ½ cup of vinegar or lemon juice in a spray bottle.

Clean synthetic carpeting with a shampooer or extractor. Hire a contractor for delicate carpeting.

Smooth leather can be restored with an upholstery cleaner and conditioner.

Polish stainless steel with a light mist of wax-based aerosol spray and a clean, lint-free cloth to give it a shiny look. Don't use abrasive cleaners that might scratch or ruin the surface of stainless steel.

Wash windows on a cloudy day. Washing windows on a sunny day can dry the cleaning solution too quickly, leaving streaks on the glass. Use rubber-edged squeegees and a screw-on extension to reach high spots.

Refresh curtains by vacuuming, steam-cleaning or dry-cleaning them. You can also clean sheer curtains in the dryer on a low setting with a fabric-softener sheet.

Clean under appliances and furniture. Move heavy furniture (such as sofas and beds) and kitchen appliances just enough to vacuum the areas underneath.

Wash walls, baseboards and woodwork with a sponge and a mixture of warm water and dishwashing liquid. Dry the surfaces after cleaning using a piece of cloth.

Brush dust from your refrigerator's condenser coil (typically found behind the toe grille) to prevent it from overheating. Use a long-handled bottle brush and a vacuum cleaner with an attachment hose.

Check your crawl space for any signs of water damage, mold, pest infestation, damage of windows and vents, worn out insulation, and humidity levels. Call a professional to investigate any signs of water damage, as this could weaken the integrity of your walls and the strength of your foundation. For signs of mold, decide if it's something you can clean yourself, or if not... then a mold specialist should be called.


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Facts About Flash Floods

Flash floods occur as a result of heavy rainfall, rapid snow thaw, city drains overflowing or dam/levee failures. They occur quickly and unexpectedly, within 6 hours of the events that caused them. Here are more facts to give you an idea of how dangerous flash floods can be:

  • Every region in the United States can be affected by flash floods, especially low-lying areas: near river beds and coastlines.
  • Cities are more likely to be affected by flash floods due to the predominant impermeable surfaces, such as asphalt, and the lack of natural drainage systems.
  • The water from flash floods can reach a height of 20 feet, which can severely damage anything in its path.
  • Just 2 feet of floodwater moving at 9 feet per second (standard speed of flash floods) is enough to sweep vehicles away, move 100 pound rocks, uproot trees or level buildings.
  • Just 6 inches of rapidly moving floodwater can sweep someone off their feet.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, an average of 75 people have died from flash floods in the United States per year.
  • Nearly all who perished during flash floods tried to outrun the waters rather than going to a higher area.
  • Two thirds of the deaths claimed by flash floods occur in vehicles, when the drivers try to pass through the floodwater.
  • Flash floods can cause extensive structural damage: 12” of floodwater on a 2,000 square foot building can cause $50,000 worth of damage or more.
  • Flash flood warnings are issued by the National Weather Service when a flash flood is imminent.

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Why Every American Needs an Independent Agent

Independent Agents do all the work– We are advocates who can check on several markets for clients to ensure they have the best premiums and plan provisions based on their information and needs. Clients only have to give us their information once, and we take it from there. For consumers, it's like having a personal shopper for insurance.

Independent Agents deliver outstanding service– when our clients have a coverage question or have a problem with a claim, they get to speak with a live person who they know and trust. We can quickly help our clients with a tricky coverage question or get them the assistance they need.

Clear Benefits of an Independent Agent:

Personal Service
An experienced professional to assess your needs, offer unbiased advice and support you should the unexpected happen.

Peace Of Mind
Your independent agent is a member of your local community and can handle your full range of insurance needs all in one place.

Value
Your independent agent can access insurance coverage from multiple carriers to provide you with the best mix of savings and pricing. When it comes to financial security and insurance protection, your insurance agent is a trusted advisor who offers personalized and expert advice to you and your family, now and in the future.

Relationships Matter
Despite what you might think by seeing all the insurance commercials out there, three out of four Americans insist on using an agent when purchasing insurance.


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It’s Tax Season. It’s Also IRS Phone Scam Season.

It's Tax Season. Prepare Yourself for IRS Phone Scams

Your phone rings. When you check, the caller ID shows it's the IRS calling. (Three letters that can give you a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach.) But you think to yourself: I don't believe I owe any taxes. And I haven't even submitted this year's return. Why are they calling me? But it says it's the IRS, so it must be them…right?

WRONG.

For a number of years scammers have been calling people across the country, spoofing the caller ID, claiming to be IRS officials, and demanding immediate payment of fines or back taxes. Their goal is to trick you into giving them personal information and/or get you to send cash.

So the REAL IRS has assembled a number of tips to help you understand what the criminals are doing and how to avoid becoming a victim of one of their scams:

  • Scammers try to scare you. Many phone scams use threats to intimidate and bully you into paying a bogus tax bill, usually through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. They may even threaten to arrest, deport, or revoke your license if they don't get the money. (If they don't get through to you, they may also leave “urgent” callback requests through phone “robo-calls,” or via phishing email.)
  • Scams use caller ID spoofing. Scammers often alter caller ID to make it look like the IRS or another agency is calling. The callers use IRS titles and fake badge numbers to appear legitimate. They may use your name, address and other personal information (even your Social Security Number) to make the call sound official.
  • Cons try new tricks all the time. Some schemes provide an actual IRS address where they tell you to mail a receipt for the payment you make. Others use emails that contain a fake IRS document with a phone number or an email address for a reply. These scams often use official-looking IRS letterhead in emails or regular mail that they send you. They try these ploys to make the ruse look official.
  • Scams cost victims over $23 million. You probably think “I've heard this before; they won't fool me.” But the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration has received reports of about 736,000 scam contacts between October 2013 and November 2015. Nearly 4,550 victims have collectively paid over $23 million as a result of the scam. The crooks get more sophisticated every year. The communications look and sound more real all the time too. And we'll bet that a certain number of those 4,550 victims thought they wouldn't be scammed either.

So to protect yourself, remember the following:

  • The IRS will NOT call you to demand immediate payment. The IRS will not call you if you owe taxes without first sending you a bill in the mail.
  • The IRS will NOT demand that you pay taxes and not allow you to question or appeal the amount you owe.
  • The IRS will NOT require that you pay your taxes a certain way. For instance, require that you pay with a prepaid debit card.
  • The IRS will NOT ask for your credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
  • The IRS will NOT threaten to bring in police or other agencies to arrest you for not paying.

Phone scams first tried to sting older people, new immigrants to the U.S. and those who speak English as a second language. But it has become such a profitable enterprise, the crooks now try to swindle just about anyone. And they've ripped-off people in every state in the nation. Stay alert. Don't let the next victim be you!


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Teens, Social Media and a Parent’s Liability

For many the high school experience comes with social pressures and obligations to fit in and belong, and sadly this can lead to exclusion and isolation of some students. At some point everyone probably said something in their teen years in the heat of the moment that they now wish could be taken back, but today's teens face the added burden that if they convey those statements on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, their words could be around for a lot longer than just the heat of the moment.

In addition to hurt feelings, cyber bullying could potentially damage someone's reputation. With college admissions offices and employers beginning to look up applicants on social networking sites, rumors and gossip have the very serious potential to damage someone's ability to get into the college of their choice, or find a job. For parents, this could create a potentially serious exposure to a lawsuit if their children engage in cyber bullying.

Aren't my kids covered under my insurance?

Generally speaking, any coverage a parent has through their homeowners or renters insurance policy also provides coverage to other residents of the household, including teenage children. Standard homeowners and renters policies include liability protection for bodily injury or property damage, which would pay for the costs to cover medical bills or repair/replacement costs if a child injured a friend in a pick-up basketball game or if they were at a friend's house and accidentally spilled soda on a $13,000 oriental rug, subject to the policy's deductible.

But what if a child were to post rumors about other teens online that implied negative information that could damage that person's reputation? Interestingly, a standard homeowners or renters policy would not cover these instances.

What can be done?

In order to cover claims from that kind of situation, homeowners and renters policies must have what is called an endorsement- extra language that is inserted into the policy to expand coverage- in order to have liability protection extended to cover "personal injury".

As insurance professionals we will be able to tell you if your current insurance policy already has this personal injury endorsement by reviewing it, and if it doesn't, we would be able to help you get one. You may be surprised to find that this expanded coverage may not cost you much in additional premium. A personal injury endorsement will pay the costs up to the limits of your policy to defend you, pay a judgment or settle a case when legal action is brought against you or your children for defamation.

Make sure that if you're a parent, you talk to your children about social media, how they use it and what's expected of them regarding personal responsibility. It's critical that they understand how their use of social media not only has the potential to hurt others, but that it could impact your family as well.

Some parents choose to actively monitor their children's use of social media, and there are various software programs available to assist those who want to closely monitor what their children do in social spaces for parents who want access to their children's profiles. No matter what you choose to do, begin with treating others with respect as the best way to avoid this type of risk.

Be Aware of What Your Kids Are Doing Online

  • Know the sites your kids visit and their online activities. Ask where they're going, what they're doing, and who they're doing it with.
  • Tell your kids that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is reason for concern. Installing parental control filtering software or monitoring programs are one option for monitoring your child's online behavior, but do not rely solely on these tools.
  • Have a sense of what they do online and in texts. Learn about the sites they like. Try out the devices they use.
  • Ask for their passwords, but tell them you'll only use them in case of emergency.
  • Ask to "friend" or "follow" your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, are being cyber bullied. Explain that you will not take away their computers or cell phones if they confide in you about a problem they are having.


Sources: stopbullying.gov | trustedchoice.com


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Don’t Be Fooled: Auto Insurance State Minimums Probably Aren’t Enough

There are a wide variety of silly and somewhat funny things we can do from time to time, like telling people that dihydrogen monoxide is coming out of the sink (dihydrogen monoxide is the chemical name for water), but one thing you should avoid falling for as a consumer is being told that carrying only the state mandated minimum coverage is adequate auto insurance protection.

In an auto accident, drivers can be legally liable for their passengers' injuries. While most states have mandatory minimum limits of liability required of all drivers, many of these requirements may not be sufficient in covering injuries sustained in an auto accident. In some states, this required amount may be as little as $25,000 per person and $50,000 total for all injuries in an accident - which may not be enough when you consider the severity of certain injuries and the number of passengers that could be involved. Remember that this limit also applies for all injuries caused by an accident for which you are liable, including passengers of other cars.

So what are the right limits? Like many answers... It depends. Everyone's situation is different, but as an independent insurance agency we can help you understand what issues you should consider when evaluating what liability limits to purchase.

For Instance:

  1. How much would it take to compensate a victim? If you were to cause a severe, life altering injury to someone, consider how much money it would cost over time to compensate them. It's likely higher than $25,000.
  2. What assets do you have and what is your net worth? Think about your home, your car, savings, investments, etc. Having adequate insurance to protect these assets is something you should consider.

Naturally you might wonder if increasing your liability limits will increase the price of your insurance premiums. While you'll pay more for the additional coverage, it's likely that it won't be very much to raise your liability limits, and in the long run it offers you more financial protection. You may be able to offset some of those expenses by raising your deductible or through other discounts. This is where we can help identify the different options available to you.

There is no definitive rule of thumb for making sure you have "enough" insurance but it's important that you feel comfortable with the amount you have, because nobody likes to be made a fool of when it comes to an insurance claim.



Source: trustedchoice.com


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Was Your Home Loan Sold? Quick, Call Your Insurance Agent!

Do you have a mortgage? Yes? Then at some point in your home-owning life, you have received a letter telling you that your mortgage has been sold to another lender. There's certainly nothing unusual about it when this happens, as home loans are sold every day in the United States. It is a very common practice. Typically, the letter tells you that nothing will change for you and – "you do not need to do anything."

WRONG!!! - You should contact the insurance agent that handles your home insurance.

Here's Why: If your home insurance is part of your escrow then your agent needs to know and needs to change the Mortgagee endorsement on your policy.

Every year your insurance company sends a bill to the company that owns your loan. Your lender sends a check from your escrow account to pay for your Homeowner’s insurance for the next year. If your insurance company does not have the correct lender information the bill will be sent to the wrong company and the bill will not be paid. Believe it or not – that is not the big problem.

Here is the BIG PROBLEM. Your new lender wants to know you have insurance that will pay to replace your home in case of a total loss – they want to know they will get their money! If your new lender does not get a bill or see some form of proof that you have insurance – then the lender will put insurance in place for you. And guess what? The insurance the bank puts in place can cost up to THREE TIMES MORE than what you are paying now and that is just for your house and wouldn't include insurance for all your belongings inside your home.

If this occurs the lender is simply going to pass the high-cost of this other insurance along to the home owner in the form of a much higher mortgage payment on your next statement, which can cause unnecessary panic and confusion.

The lesson – keep your Insurance Agent updated on any change regarding not only your home, but your lender as well. Your agent wants to be up to date and will appreciate the call and it's a simple change that only requires a few moments to complete.


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Home Inspections Before Winter Weather Comes

This time of year can be just great here in Maine. However, you won't get much fireside snuggling done if your chimney clogs or your roof springs a leak. And while prepping your home for winter weather isn't much fun, once you do it, your peace of mind can last all season long.

Here's a handy checklist to make sure the weather stays outside where it ought to be.

Furnace Follies
If you have a forced-air furnace, visually inspect the outside of your system, the ducts, and other points attached to the unit. Repairing potential air leaks is easy to do with a little duct tape. It's also a great time to clean or replace the filter according to the manufacturer's instructions. If you can reach them, vacuum off the blower blades while you're in there.

Winter Weather Stripping
A common source of heat loss and drafty spaces is faulty door or window weather-stripping. Check for drafts by holding a lit candle a couple of inches from the seam. If the flame moves (and you're sure it's not the dog breathing over your shoulder) you could have a leak. Typically these are easier to replace entirely than "spot repairing" and kits for doing so may be found at any hardware store.

Chim Chim Cher-ee
Creosote is the black, scaly deposit left behind in wood-burning chimneys. It slows airflow and is an enormous fire hazard. While the chimney is cool, take a flashlight and look for build-up past the damper (at the mouth of the flue near the base of the chimney). If you burn a lot of wood during the season–or very resinous wood like pine–cleaning the chimney is an annual must-do. This is one repair where hiring qualified professionals is best because they have the proper tools and experience to make sure it's done right.

Stormin' the Doors
Operational storm doors and windows prevent additional drafts and save energy costs. Make sure the hinges are lubricated and adjusted so they close properly. If you have interchangeable glass panels, make sure to install them instead of leaving the screens over winter.

Rain Gutter Braining
Clean gutters help prevent many cold weather problems from arising, such as basement flooding, siding damage, and door and window leaks. Clean gutters also help keep your foundation dry and repair-free. Plus, if your gutters are holding too much water they can pull free of eaves and fall off at any time, posing a hazard to your noggin.

Show Your Best Siding
In some cases you'll need to hire a professional to make siding (or paint) repairs, but you can easily inspect for cracks and separations, peeling paint, or other damage that's not difficult to repair yourself. Usually, a little caulk and some paint do the trick. But don't leave it to chance–or leave it too long–because when water gets behind siding it's expensive to repair as well as a health hazard.

Put a Lid On It
If possible, check your roof close up. You can use binoculars to inspect safely from the ground. Look for missing tiles, cracked shingles, and "bald spots". If you have a composition roof past its warranty, make sure to check for brittleness, a sure sign it needs replacing. Also, if you notice lots of asphalt granules in your newly spotless rain gutters, it's a sign your roof is eroding and needs replacing soon. Lastly, make sure to check the flashing around the edges of the roof for damage.

Taking just a few minutes this time of year to inspect your home for these common cold weather entry points and it will prevent more costly repairs, reward you with a lower energy bill, and help you have a relaxing holiday season.


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5 Big Insurance Mistakes

TRYING TO SAVE MONEY? AVOID THE FIVE BIGGEST INSURANCE MISTAKES.

With far too many Americans out of work, and others forced to make ends meet with less money, many people are looking for ways to cut costs. There are smart ways to save on home and auto insurance; however, there are also mistakes that can result in being significantly underinsured.

When money is tight, it is extremely important to be financially protected against a catastrophe with the right amount and type of insurance by taking a few simple steps, it is possible to cut costs and still be protected should disaster strike.

Following are five of the biggest insurance mistakes that consumers should look out for:

Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding. When real estate prices go down, some homeowners may think they can reduce the amount of insurance on their home. But insurance is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding, not the sales price of the home. You should make sure that you have enough coverage to completely rebuild your home and replace your belongings.

A better way to save: Raise your deductible. An increase from $500 to $1,000 could save up to 25 percent on your premium payments.

Selecting an insurance company by price alone. It is important to choose a company with competitive prices, but also one that is financially sound and provides good customer service.

A better way to save: Check the financial health of a company with independent rating agencies and ask friends and family for recommendations. You should select an insurance company that will respond to your needs and handle claims fairly and efficiently.

Dropping flood insurance. Damage from flooding is not covered under standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. Coverage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), as well as from some private insurance companies. Many homeowners are unaware they are at risk for flooding, but in fact 25 percent of all flood losses occur in low risk areas.

A better way to save: Before purchasing a home, check with the NFIP to check whether it is in a flood zone; if so, consider a less risky area. If you are already living in a flood zone area, look at mitigation efforts that can reduce your risk of flood damage and consider purchasing flood insurance.

Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car. In today’s litigious society, buying only the minimum amount of liability means you are likely to pay more out-of-pocket—and those costs may be steep

A better way to save: Consider dropping collision and/or comprehensive coverage on older cars worth less than $1,000. The insurance industry and consumer groups generally recommend a minimum of $100,000 of bodily injury protection per person and $300,000 per accident.

If you don't own your home, neglecting to buy renters insurance. A renters policy covers your possessions and additional living expenses if you have to move out due to a disaster. Equally important, it provides liability protection in the event someone is injured in your home and decides to sue.

A better way to save: Look into multi-policy discounts. Buying several policies with the same insurer will generally provide surmountable savings.


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Scheduling Under Homeowners

SCHEDULING ITEMS UNDER YOUR HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE

Perhaps it's the latest electronic gadget or large screen hi-def television, or new sporting goods gear or maybe a piece of sparkling jewelry. If you happen to receive or purchase a particularly expensive item, you may consider purchasing extra protection, just in case.

Why would I need to schedule valuable items?

The protection provided for personal property under the typical homeowners, condo or renters policy is very broad, and includes coverage for your furniture, clothing, and appliances. It only provides limited coverage for valuable items such as jewelry, silverware, furs, and art. It may not cover some types of loss that may be important to you, such as the stone falling out of your diamond ring, your china being accidentally broken or your rare coins being stolen.

What types of property can be covered?

Here's a quick listing of some of the items typically covered:

cameras (video or still) and related equipment
china and crystal
coins (rare and current)
firearms
furs
golfer's equipment
jewelry
musical instruments
personal computers
stamps (rare and current)
silverware
works of fine art, including paintings, etchings, pictures and other bona fide works of art (such as oriental rugs, statuary, rare books, manuscripts and bric-a-brac) of rarity, historical value or artistic merit.

If you own something of value that is not listed above, it may still be eligible for coverage.

How to Schedule Personal Property

The process for scheduling valuable personal property differs from one insurance company to another. The insurance company keeps copies of appraisals or recent receipts for the items on file. The dollar amount of the value of the items added determines the price of scheduled property insurance.

Scheduling items allows you to purchase better protection for your special property than would be available under the typical homeowners policy. In addition to being able to purchase higher limits of coverage, more perils are covered.


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