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Life happens. Even with the best of intentions, maintenance plans, and insurance coverage, the occasional unavoidable crisis will present itself. When people think of homeowners' insurance claims, they often associate it with major disasters such as wildfires or tornados. In these scenarios, there's not much that policyholders at ground zero can do to avoid disaster.

But the reality is that many losses are entirely preventable. The state of Massachusetts expects 50,000 to 60,000 homeowner's claims each year.Some of the most common claims, such as residential flooding, are only attributable to the weather eight percent of the time, according to a study from U.S. plumbing and drain service company Roto-Rooter. The rest? Appliance and/or plumbing failures that can usually be detected and repaired well before you find yourself filling out claims paperwork.

Statistics like these, combined with anecdotal evidence, suggest that many of the incidents that result in homeowner's insurance claims are problems of our own making. However the upside to creating our own insurance woes is that there is ample opportunity to prevent them - with a little proactive attention.

Here are 10 examples of completely preventable insurance claims, followed by a practical tip for reducing the likelihood of having to file. Note: At least six of them involve some type of water damage.

1. Loose/Damaged Washing Machine Hose(s) - Alternating water temperatures, shaking machines and containment in low-traffic areas make this issue a common homeowners' insurance claim.

Tip:  Replace plastic hoses at least every three years, and inspect frequently for irregularities. If possible, situate your machine in a more visible (or at least audible) area.

2. Bath Tub/Shower Grout and Edge Leaks - Small leaks and slight decay may not seem like a big deal, but that water has to go somewhere - and it's usually right into your floors and walls. Over time, this can lead to major repairs in plumbing, carpentry, etc. More often than not, these repairs are not covered by standard homeowners' insurance policies.

Tip:  It's simple. Water that flows into your bath or shower needs to stay there, or travel down the drain. Close doors and curtains. Frequently inspect and repair seals, calling in a professional when in doubt.

3. Toilet Issues - If you've never experienced problems with toilet leaks or overflow, you're in the minority. However consistent attention is key to sparing yourself and your family thousands of dollars in damages.

Tip:  Toilet wobbling? It might not be properly installed. Experiencing a leak? Call your landlord or a qualified expert immediately. We can't overstate it enough: this is no time to wait until "later."

4. Refrigerator Leaks - While tougher to identify than toilet or shower cracks, the water and plastic lines that extend from your fridge can cause extensive kitchen damage in short order. 

Tip:  If you're comfortable or handy, check the lines regularly for kinks. If uncertain, contact an experienced professional.

5. Roof Damage - Most homeowners' insurance policies will provide coverage for roof deterioration caused by unpreventable triggers, such as vandalism or fire. That's not going to be much help when it's time to repair a roof brought down by nagging leaks.

Tip:  Basic roof maintenance, such as gutter cleaning and shingle replacement, is key to a longer life. But don't try to stretch your roof past its time. 

6. Chimney/Fireplace Fires - Relaxing in front of the family hearth during the cold winter months is a great source of comfort and warmth. But according to the Chimney Safety Institute of America, "Your chimney…adds architectural interest to your home, but its' real function is to carry dangerous flue gases from your fireplace." A dirty or blocked chimney cannot succeed in its mission - with dangerous and expensive consequences.

Tip: Implement all fire safety best practices and maintain a regular chimney-cleaning schedule.

7. Hot Water Heater Leaks - There's always plenty of complaints when the hot water runs out, but it's entirely possible that quick heat loss reflects poor tank performance or sediment presence.

Tip: If your water heater is more than five years old, a qualified technician should inspect it at least every year.

8. Electrical Fires - Does your "surge protector" ironically resemble an overloaded circuit hazard? Do you hide cords under the carpet for aesthetic reasons?  If you answered "yes" to either question, you've got a preventable homeowners' insurance claim on your hands.

Tip: Unplug any and all appliances not actively in use. Never route cords under rugs.

9. Cooking/Candle Fires - Open flame (or gas) is often necessary for preparing food, warming and illuminating the home. But next to water damage, fire devastation is the number one source of homeowners' insurance claims.

Tip:  Similar to what Smokey the Bear would say, only you can prevent most fires. Be vigilant at all times and always practice safety. 

10. Garage Door Opener Theft - Sometimes it's just easier to park on the street than pull into the garage. But smart criminals on the lookout will take it as an opportunity to gain entrance

Tip:  If your car is not in the garage, don't leave the door opener behind in your vehicle!

Published in Homeowners

Here's are important tips to get your fireplace ready for the winter season from our friends at Trusted Choice

 

fireplace

Once the sun sets this time of the year, you feel the cool air creep in. It’s those crisp, cool evenings that often give homeowners the itch to start a fire in the fireplace and curl up on the couch. Before you have your first fire of the season, take these safety steps to ensure a relaxing, cozy night doesn’t turn into a stressful situation.

  1. Hire a professional to clean and inspect your chimney. In addition to creosote build-up, therecan be other issues such as leaves or birds’ nests that pose a problem. The chimney structure and liner should also be looked over carefully for any signs of deterioration.
  2. Stock up on seasoned hardwood. Ideally, you want wood that has been split and stacked for at least 6 months. Not only will you get more heat out of this type of wood, but it leaves less creosote behind, reducing the main risk factor for a chimney fire.
  3. Have the right supplies. Use kindling instead of a flammable lighter fluid, and build the fire on a metal grate. Use a metal screen or glass doors to keep sparks from flying out of the fireplace. Store matches and lighters up high.
  4. Move items near the fireplace. Over the summer, the hearth might become a place to store any number of items, including magazines, books, pillows, and toys. Make sure all items are moved a good distance from the fireplace.
  5. Educate children about fireplace safety. Make sure they know to stay away from the fire and never play with matches or a lighter.

There’s nothing better than the first fire of the season. Gazing into the flames and hearing the wood crackle is the perfect way to end a long day. Before you use your fireplace this fall, follow these steps to ensure a safe experience.

Published in Homeowners

ChubChub

 

July 15 is National Pet Fire Safety Day and here are some prevention and rescue tips from The American Kennel Club and ADT Security Services.

To help reduce the estimated 500,000 pets affected by home fires each year, The American Kennel Club and ADT Security Services today launched the inaugural "National Pet Fire Safety Day." This nationwide awareness day educates pet owners about potential risks when pets are left home alone and provides them with proven prevention measures to ensure their safety.

According to a recent AKC study, 88 percent of pet owners consider their pets to be valued family members so it makes sense to include them in fire prevention plans and rescue alerts should a house fire strike. As part of National Pet Fire Safety Day, AKC and ADT have developed helpful prevention, escape and rescue tips for pet owners.

"One of the hallmarks of responsible dog ownership is keeping pets safe and planning for unexpected emergencies, including house fires," said AKC spokesperson Lisa Peterson. "Pet proofing the home, developing pet-friendly escape routes and alerting rescuers of your pets presence with ‘window clings’ is the best way to keep your four-legged family member from harm."

That’s something Lia Wentworth of Maryland knows well. One Sunday morning she and her family left their Labrador Retriever "Justice" home alone. They didn't realize they left a pot of boiling water with plastic baby bottles on the stove. When the water evaporated, the bottles began to emit a toxic smoke. No one knew Justice was in trouble because there was no flame. Luckily, the Wentworth’s had a monitored smoke detector and the firefighters were alerted. Their prompt response saved Justice's life.

"National Pet Fire Safety Day" Tips to Keep Pets Safe from House Fires:

  • Extinguish Open Flames - Pets are generally curious and will investigate cooking appliances, candles, or even a fire in your fireplace. Ensure your pet is not left unattended around an open flame and make sure to thoroughly extinguish any open flame before leaving your home.
  • Pet Proof the Home - Take a walk around your home and look for areas where pets might start fires inadvertently, such as the stove knobs, loose wires and other potential hazards. 
  • Secure Young Pets - Especially with young puppies, keep them confined away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home.
  • Keep Pets Near Entrances – When leaving pets home alone, keep them in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them. 
  • Practicing Escape Routes with Pets – Keep collars and leashes at the ready in case you have to evacuate quickly with your pet or firefighters need to rescue your pet.
  • Since Pets Left Alone Can’t Escape a Burning Home – Use monitored smoke detectors which are connected to a monitoring center, providing an added layer of protection beyond battery-operated smoke alarms.
  • Affix a Pet Alert Window Cling – Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window. This critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets. You can obtain a free window cling by going to www.adt.com/pets or at AKC Responsible Dog Ownership Days events. Details are available at www.akc.org.
  • Keep Your Information Updated - Firefighters are familiar with pet alert window clings so keep the number of pets listed on them updated. Knowing the accurate number of pets in the house aids rescuers in finding all of your pets.
Published in Homeowners

Home security is an important topic these days. Unfortunately, a home burglary happens once every 15 seconds in the United States. This translates to a staggering 2.2 billion burglaries each year. Burglars targeting residences will mainly strike during daytime hours when they assume most homeowners are at work. Many people are surprised to learn that the main point of entry for burglars is through the front door. Deadbolt locks help a lot, but they are not enough to deter a determined burglar. A home security system can be a crucial defense against thieves. The best security system for you might take some research – but we hope this guide will help you make the right decision for your family.

 

 

What Are the Advantages of a Home Security System?

Most people purchase home security systems mainly to protect their homes from burglars. In addition to serving as an effective deterrent against property crimes, these systems can also save your home from excessive fire damage and protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. They are typically equipped with several types of sensors that can notify a team of experts of problems around the clock. This way, if you leave an appliance on and it begins to smolder, the security company can have the fire department at your house within minutes to contain any flames.

Another advantage to having this type of system installed in your home is that most insurance companies will reward you for being proactive. They do this in the form of significant discounts on your home insurance policy. These discounts can range from 2 to 20 percent and this can help to mitigate the cost of 24/7 monitoring of your home.


What Features Should I Look for in a Home Alarm System?

When it comes to deciding on a home security system, think “layered security.” Layered security is having more than one type of protection. This can include sensors on the doors and windows that trigger home alarms, alarm services that include security cameras mounted outside your residence, and motion sensors that can turn on lights and activate alarms. Glass-break sensors are also a smart addition, as many wireless sensors will not detect the shattering of glass.

Some features that you can expect the best home security system companies to provide include:

  • Control panels and keypads
  • Smoke and heat detectors
  • Carbon monoxide detectors
  • Motion sensors
  • Wireless window and door sensors
  • Glass break sensors
  • Pressure mats
  • Panic buttons
  • Alarmed screens for your windows
  • Video monitoring
  • Flood monitoring in your basement, bathroom and garage
  • The ability to monitor and control your system remotely

Not all of these features may be important or appeal to you. The best home security system for you is one that offers everything you want at a price you can afford. There are many home security companies out there, so there is no need to compromise and give up a feature you want just because the company you choose does not offer it.

How Do I Select the Best Home Security System Provider?

Hiring a home security system provider is easy; hiring the best home security system provider takes a bit a research. Consumer Reports recently noted that the range of services and costs among home security companies varies significantly. Because you have many options and the prices can vary greatly from company to company, it’s a good idea to make careful comparisons when you shop.

  1. Assemble a list of providers near you. You may want to include both smaller, local companies and large national companies in your list.
  2. Compile a list of features that are important to you. Eliminate any companies on your list that do not offer those features.
  3. Research each of these companies online. Sites such as Consumer Reports and Angie’s List will provide unbiased reviews of the companies you are considering. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the companies you are considering are trustworthy. Eliminate any companies that are rated poorly by these sites.
  4. Research price quotes from companies on your list. Keep in mind that there may be additional, less obvious fees such is if you must pay to lease the equipment used each month or if there are added costs if the service alarm is activated.

Based on the rates, narrow you list down to three or four companies and arrange to have each of them come to your house to give you an quoted price for installation and monthly service fees.

An important factor to consider when choosing a home security system is customer support and monitoring. Customer service should be friendly and efficient and the representative who came to your home should have been knowledgeable about what the company does and does not offer.

Home security systems include round-the-clock monitoring and can range from $20 to $60 per month, depending on the company and the features and services you choose.

Beware of Hidden Costs or Pitfalls

Scams and of hidden fees may be charged by one company, but not others. For example:

  • Early termination fees: Some companies will require you to sign a contract for a given number of years. Sometimes this is required of all customers and other times it is offered as a way to get discounts or free installation. Be aware of high early termination fees that are are applicable even if you move out of the house.
  • Promises by a salesperson: Sometimes, less scrupulous sales personnel will make promises to entice you, but if these terms are not in the contract you sign, you could be locked into an agreement that isn’t ideal. Be sure to get all sales agreements in writing and included with your contract.
  • Security company liability limits: If your home is broken into or damaged, your home security company may be liable for a portion of your losses. The liability limit your security company has may cover the deductible on your home insurance policy, or it may be used to cover your entire loss. Some companies have very low limits for how much liability they will pay and you may be agreeing to these low limits when you sign the contract. Be sure to ask about this and read the contract carefully.

Do Not Rely Exclusively on Your Burglar Alarm

While home security systems can alert authorities of an intruder in your home, unless you live next door to a police station, you should not expect the police to arrive instantaneously. Burglars will still have time to grab some belongings and run. This is where layered security comes in. By taking additional precautionary steps, you can minimize your risks.

Some things you can do to keep your property safe include:

  • Always lock your door when you are not at home
  • If you have an alarm system installed, be sure to use stickers on your window or signs on the lawn to alert potential burglars that you are protected
  • Even if you do not have a dog, “beware of dog” signs may give a burglar pause
  • Keep your lawn and front porch clean and well kept, so that the front door to your home is easily visible by passers-by
  • Leave a radio on and tuned to a talk station when not at home
  • When you go on vacation
  • Ask a neighbor put some garbage in your cans and put them out on collection day
  • Put in a stop mail request with the post office
  • Put some lights on timers
  • Avoid advertising that you are on vacation by posting on social networking sites

 

Get Peace of Mind Knowing that Your Home Is Protected

Of course, home security systems are not all created equal. The brands available to you may vary depending on your home’s specifications, and it is possible that one company might better meet your budgetary and some security needs than another. The important thing is that you review everything that your prospective companies offer before making a decision about which is the best home security company for you.

Once you have chosen a home security system and install it in your home, you can breathe a little easier knowing that your family and your possessions are safely protected from the dangers of fire and theft.

And of course, as an additional measure of protection, make sure your insurance is up-to-date and you have the best coverage for your needs. Contact us at Baldwin / Welsh & Parker (BWP) for personal attention.

Published in Homeowners

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