Lightning Safety Awareness – Get the Facts

It’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week. It’s good timing because July is the month with the most cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), four people have been killed by lightning so far this year. On average, 43 people died of lightning strikes each year over a 10-year period. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed, leaving 90% with various degrees of disability. Your odds of being struck in a given year are about 1/1,222,000. Your odds of being struck in your lifetime if you live to be 80 are about 1/15,300.

From 2006 through 2019, 418 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States.

  • 2/3 of the deaths occurred to people engaged in outdoor leisure activities
  • Males accounted for 79% of all fatalities
  • Fishermen accounted for four times as many fatalities as golfers
  • Beach activities and camping each accounted for about twice as many deaths as golf
  • Of work-related activities, farming was most dangerous
  • Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida are the top four states with the highest recorded number of lightning strikes
  • Florida ranks first in lightning strike fatalities
  • 1/3 of all lightning related injuries occur indoors
  • Lightning can have a range of up to 10 miles from the thunderstorm. It’s important to go inside at first sign of an approaching storm and to say inside up to 30 minutes after a storm has passed

Did you know that there are five ways that lightning can strike you?

Check out lightning myths & facts

NWS offers these tips about what you need to know to stay safe outdoors:

  • NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
  • When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
  • Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips – If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:

  • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
  • Never lie flat on the ground
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
  • Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

For many years, the advice was to assume a crouch position if caught outside, but NWS stopped recommending the crouch in 2008 because it simply doesn’t provide significant protection

Indoor Lightning Safety

Some victims were struck inside homes or buildings while they were using electrical equipment or corded phones. Others were in contact with plumbing, outside doors, or window frames. Avoid contact with these electrical conductors when a thunderstorm.

  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) says that power surges caused by lightning can damage the electronics in your home. They offer this advice:

  • Lightning protection systems intercept lightning strikes and provide grounding path for dangerous electricity to discharge safely, leaving occupants and homes safe from harm
  • Panel box surge protective devices (SPDs) serve as the first line of defense against harmful home electrical surges, limiting voltages by diverting currents at the electrical service entrance. Only qualified electricians should install SPDs
  • Point of use surge protectors protect electronics plugged into the device from surges, must be replaced over time or after a major surge event
  • Power strips do not provide surge protection
  • No surge device can handle a direct lightning strike. Unplug sensitive electronics well before a storm to prevent damage

Additional resources

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Insurance lingo watch: Actual cash value vs replacement costs

Sometimes, insurance lingo is quite confusing. Even simple terms can be misunderstood when you review your policies. One question that our agents hear all the time is “What’s the difference between cash value vs. replacement costs in homeowners insurance?” Here’s the scoop.

Cash value insurance coverage is the cost of the item minus depreciation. So, if a fire destroyed your entire home or a thief broke in and stole your TV, you would be paid for the cost of your home or TV less depreciation. That means you might not realize enough payment to rebuild your home or replace your TV in today’s market without dipping into your own pocket to supplement the costs.

Replacement cost insurance coverage, on the other hand, does not factor in depreciation. It pays you the cost to rebuild/replace in today’s marketplace. Most homeowners insurance policies quoted are for “replacement cost” by default but always check to be sure. Even with replacement cost coverage as an option, you need to review your policy limits with your insurance agent regularly to be sure they are sufficient for your needs.

There’s a third, less-common option called guaranteed or extended replacement cost. The Insurance Information Institute explains:

This policy offers the highest level of protection. A guaranteed replacement cost policy pays whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the fire or other disaster–even if it exceeds the policy limit. This gives you protection against sudden increases in construction costs due to a shortage of building materials after a widespread disaster or other unexpected situations. It generally won’t cover the cost of upgrading the house to comply with current building codes. You can, however, get an endorsement (or an addition to) your policy called Ordinance or Law to help pay for these additional costs. A guaranteed replacement cost policy may not be available if you own an older home.

As we noted, in most policies, replacement cost would be the default, but check. So why would anyone opt for actual cash value rather than guaranteed or extended replacement? Like most things in life, it comes down to cost. There may be some instances when an actual cash value coverage makes sense, such as on a vacation home.

Even when you have replacement cost coverage, there are some instances when that coverage might not be enough. One example is in the case of items that are irreplaceable or that increase in value over time, such as art, antiques, or special collections. Plus, most insurance companies set limits on how much a standard homeowners policy will cover for valuable items such as jewelry and furs. If you have valuables or special collections, talk about those with your independent insurance agent. You might need a policy add-on called a floater (more lingo!) to extend coverage for those items.

Of course, there are other coverage issues you need to consider in a homeowners policy, such as liability coverage. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer with guidelines on how to protect your home and your assets with adequate insurance coverage: How much homeowners insurance do I need?

There are no dumb questions, just dumb lingo

Insurance can be very confusing and that’s why having an agent as a guide can be great. Many TV ads make car and home insurance seem like simple choices, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. It’s important to fully understand what an insurance policy does and doesn’t cover so that you don’t face any unpleasant surprises at the time of a loss. Make sure that you talk over any lingo or unfamiliar terminology in your policy with your agent.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Stuck at home? Tackle that spring maintenance list!

Still stuck in the coronavirus lockdown? Most of us are! Why not make the most of your time by knocking off your spring home maintenance checklist? Get a jump start into summer and protect your investment to boot. If you need maintenance tools but you don’t want to venture out or hardware stores are closed, order supplies online.

Consumer Reports offers a compilation of springtime chores to get done if you’re stuck at home. Their list includes tips for:

  • Cleaning household filters
  • De-griming countertop appliances
  • Washing windows
  • Prepping your lawn mower
  • Sprucing up your Lawn
  • Getting your gas grill ready
  • Pressure washing your deck (or porch)
  • Organizing your garage
  • Checking your tires

For a good year-round home maintenance checklist, the American Society of Home Inspectors has a comprehensive list of tasks and suggests as to whether they should be completed periodically, in the spring or in the fall.

We also like this cute springtime infographic from ReadyNest – see below or click on the image for the original.

inforgraohicspring home maintenance list Related posts

Garage door maintenance tips: A handy infographic
New homeowners: Build your home maintenance tool-kit
Deck maintenance tips & tools: Don’t risk a collapse!

 

 

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Buying a new home? Add your insurance agent and an inspector to your advisory team

Thinking about buying a new home this spring? Do your homework now because home buying is likely to be the single biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you’ll probably work with a professional realtor and a mortgage lender. You should also add a private home inspector to your advisory team – we make the case with some rather alarming “what can go wrong” video clips below. And here’s another professional that you might not think to add to your team but that you should: your independent insurance agent.

The Hanover offers a great post on five ways your insurance agent can help in the home-buying process. Insurance agents are local experts who know the neighborhoods, school systems and community safety. As you narrow down choices, they can give you insurance cost estimates. Hanover notes that “the neighborhood, the size of the home, the presence of a pool or trampoline, and the distance from a fire hydrant and fire station are just a few of the things that can impact your home insurance premium.” We’d add checking to see if your home is in a flood zone.

Once you pick out the home you want, The Hanover says there is another important role your agent can play:

Insurance claims filed by previous owners can impact your home insurance premiums. Your independent insurance agent should be able to access this information using the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). If several claims have been made on the property, insurance carriers may be concerned that the house may have long-term problems, resulting in higher premiums. It is particularly important to pay attention to water damage claims that have been filed.

Whether you’re contemplating new home construction or buying an older home, hiring a private inspector can help you avoid winding up with a lemon. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed and credentialed.

An inspection usually occurs after you’ve made an offer on a home but prior to the close. An inspector will provide a report that will allow you to identify any problems and make remedial requests of the seller. You can also share the report with your agent to highlight any red flags.

Hiring an inspector isn’t a step you should skip. Sometimes, buyers who are looking at newly constructed homes have the misconception that because the home is new, they don’t need to hire an inspector before buying. That can be a big mistake learned the hard way.

The clips below make this case. They were compiled by Reuben Saltzman, who has a blog called The Home Inspector in the (Minnesota) Star Tribune. Saltzman has an annual tradition of compiling his top 20 funny/scary inspection photos, along with video compilations. We’ve included clips for this year and last, but you can find more of his annual top 20 inspection pics at this company website and also on his Facebook page. His pics and videos are amusing – but they are also an insurance agent’s nightmare, graphically illustrating problems that run the gamut: roofs, cellars, decks, plumbing, attic leaks, deck issues, water management and more. Chances are your own home walk through would spot many of these blatant problems – it’s what you don’t see but that a trained inspector would that could trip you up!

 

 

 

 

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Snowbirds: Tips for winterizing your home while away

Will you be making a seasonal move south to weather out the harsh winter months in a more favorable climate? Whether you’ll be gone for a few days or a few months, if you are traveling over the winter, there are some home maintenance tasks you should tend to so that you don’t come home to unpleasant surprises.

No one knows better than an insurance company what the common winter home hazards and problems can be – after all, they deal with the claims damage every year. This excellent infographic is courtesy of Travelers, one of our Renaissance Alliance insurance partners. It offers a good checklist to help you secure your home for an extended winter absence. While some of the tasks are suitable to prep for a long-term absence, others are handy for shorter travel periods, too, such as a week over the holidays or a midwinter vacation.

Click for a larger version.

infographic with tips about how to winterize your home for extended travel

Related posts:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Last-Minute Halloween Liability Issues

Halloween is scary enough, we don’t mean to add to your fright, but if you are a homeowner or an apartment dweller, there are some safety precautions you should take to greet the little ghosts and goblins who will be ringing your bell or roaming the streets.

A few years ago, Christopher Boggs wrote a great Guide to Homeowners Liability for Injury to Trick or Treaters. He notes:

When the porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered invitees; the homeowner is inviting them onto the property (though not for a mutual benefit). Because of this relationship, the homeowner owes the candy seekers the level of “reasonable” care that falls under Ordinary Negligence.

Now anytime you have anyone visit your home, they could suffer an injury or an accident – that’s why you have insurance. But on Halloween, a steady stream of small feet traipsing across your porch in the dark increases the risk. Plus, you are giving out food.

Here are some tips to minimize Halloween hazards and reduce your risk.

  • Keep porches and walkways well-lit and free of debris and clutter that might be tripping hazards
  • Put reflective tape on your steps and along your walkway
  • When decorating, avoid candles – use LED lights and battery-powered lights instead.
  • Keep pets away from kids to avoid bites, scares or allergic reactions. Even friendly pets can be overexcited or upset by the unusual activity and may be skittish or overly protective.
  • Avoid mystery treats. Distribute labeled treats and tell parents what they are and if they contain nuts.
  • Provide alternative allergy-free treats – consider small non-food trinkets.
  • Be cautious about any spooky pranks for kids or guests – make sure they are safe and not too scary to young children.
  • If you are hosting an adult party, you have particular responsibility to take care in the serving of alcoholic beverages. See our post on holiday parties and liability issues.
  • If you are driving any time on Halloween, be super cautious. Little monsters may be out at any hour and frequenting normally quiet neighborhoods. Be particularly cautious at dusk an early evening.

Protect your home and car too!

Halloween is a huge night for vandalism. Here are a few tips to protect your property from fire, theft and vandalism.

    • Don’t overload electrical circuits with lights.
    • Paper and dried plant decorations can easily ignite. Keep them away from flames, lights, and electrical cords.
    • Lock up bicycles, gas grills and other outdoor valuables.
    • Park your car in a garage, if possible. Mischief makers may egg your house or car.
    • If you don’t have shelter for your car, consider stopping at the car wash for a coat of wax that may offer some protection.
    • If you are out trick or treating with your kids or partying with your peers, make your home looks occupied. Leave lights and the TV on.
    • Doorbell cams and motion activated lights can offer added protection.
    • If your car or home is egged, deal with it right away that night or in the morning before damage can set in. See How to Remove Egg Stains From Your Car’s Paint Job and 4 Ways to Wash Egg off your home

    Call your agent

    If you should suffer any damage to your property or have any accidents during Halloween weekend, file a claim as soon as possible to get the claim process in motion. Be ready with the details of where and when the event occurred, along with the names and addresses of any injured parties or witnesses to the event. If there is damage to your property, report it to the police, take photos, and record the details so you won’t forget them later.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How well do you know your stuff? Create a home inventory!

Pop quiz – without looking, see how you do answering these questions:

  • What are the makes and years of your major kitchen appliances?
  • How many pairs of pants do you own? Jackets? Shoes? Boots?
  • What year did you buy your mattress and bed frame and what brand is it?
  • Name all the power tools you own. List the contents of your tool chest?
  • What brand of dinnerware and flatware do you own and when did you buy it?
  • List all your AV equipment, the make, the brand and the year you bought it.
  • Write down everything in your living room. Include what’s in the drawers and closets.

It’s not so easy remembering that stuff, is it?

It would be even harder if you were trying to recall all your stuff right after your house was destroyed in a fire or demolished in a hurricane. That’s why it’s important to keep a home inventory. If you find yourself under the terrible stress of recovering from a disaster or even a burglary, you don’t need the added burden of trying to remember all the possessions you lost so that you can be properly reimbursed by your insurer. A good home inventory will help you document your losses and make it easier to file a claim and get it processed.

You can record your “stuff” in a notebook (old-school style), but phones and computers have really simplified the process. A simple spreadsheet will do the trick, or use your phone to take  room-by-room videos and document with photos. Or download an inventory app. Just be sure that you have multiple copies, that you store your inventory in a safe and accessible place and you keep it updated. Even if you make a hand-written version, you can scan it and keep it online in cloud storage.

If you’ve never done a home inventory, it can be a daunting job, but there are tools to help. And going forward, things will be much easier if you get in the habit of taking photos of new purchases and saving receipts. Log serial numbers, when available.

Consumer Reports offers advice on How to Inventory Your Home for an Insurance Adjuster – including this short video:

Here’s more home inventory advice from people who should know: insurers.

If you are interested in an app to help you create a home inventory, here are some reviews of top picks:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Take the “What the Flood” quiz

How much do you know about flood insurance? Probably very little, unless you’ve had an experience with flooding or your insurance agent has discussed it with you. Check it out – take this quick What the Flood interactive quiz to see if you understand the insurance protection that would apply should common water damage scenarios occur. The quiz is promoted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), who offer great info on Understanding Flood Insurance.

Here are a few common flood insurance myths

  • Myth: I don’t need flood insurance because I already have homeowners insurance.

Reality. Homeowners insurance rarely covers flood damage – talk to your agent.

  • Myth: I don’t need flood insurance because I don’t live in a high-risk flood zone.

Reality: More than 20% of the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) claims come from outside high-risk flood areas.

  • Myth: It’s already hurricane season so I am too late to buy flood insurance this year.

Reality. You can purchase flood insurance any time, but it generally takes effect 30 days after purchase for coverage to take place.

Here’s a handy NAIC infographic that shows homeowners vs flood insurance coverage:

Why not have a chat with your insurance agent to find out if flood insurance makes sense for you? Here are some great questions that NAIC offers as discussion points when you talk to your insurance agent about flood insurance.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

What’s an insurance deductible?

Like many other industries, insurance has its own unique jargon that can sometimes make shopping for coverage seem overly complicated. Your local independent insurance agent is always happy to break things down for you and explain any language or terms that you don’t understand. One term that is commonly used in auto, health and in other insurance policies is “deductible.”

In simple terms, a deductible is the amount of money that you, the insured, must pay for a claim before your insurance will kick in.

If you have a deductible, it means that you will be responsible for any losses or payment of services up to the stated dollar amount in your insurance policy. Usually, deductibles are defined as a dollar amount, but they can also be defined as a percentage.

Deductibles can be beneficial both for the insured and for the insurance company. For the insured, it can be a way to are a way to reduce the cost of insurance: The more risk for loss that you, the insured, agree to pay before the insurance kicks in, the lower your premium. For the insurance company, it is a way to avoid the cost of processing and paying a high volume of small claims. Talk to you insurance agent about what deductible options are available to you and how they will affect the cost of your coverage.

Let’s look at an example: You are in an auto accident and your car’s damages are assessed at $1250 in damages. If your insurance policy has a $500 deductible, you will have to pay the first $500 of the damages to your car out of your own pocket and the insurer will pay the remaining $750. Generally, once the deductible is met, any future losses that you might have during the term of that policy will be covered in full.

The Insurance Information Institute has a great article on understanding your insurance deductibles that explains how deductibles work to prevent surprise costs and save money. It’s a good introduction with clear examples. They also discuss homeowners disaster deductibles for hurricane, wind/hail, flood and earthquake coverage. (Reminder: your homeowners insurance does not automatically cover you should your home be damaged by flood, earthquake, and other natural catastrophes – talk to your insurance agent about what your homeowners does and doesn’t cover.)

Businesses can also opt for deductible plans for certain types of business coverage such as workers compensation programs.

Many people are familiar with deductibles through their health insurance coverage. Learn more about health insurance deductibles at HealthCare.gov.

As with all insurance matters, you need to check your own policy. Insurance can vary by state law, by type of coverage, and by individual policy. It’s a good idea to read your policy and to ask your insurance agent to explain any terms that you don’t understand.

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Thinking of a side hustle? Check with your insurance agent

Today, it seems like everybody’s got a side hustle, which is essentially just a fancy rebranding of what used to be called moonlighting. But today’s moonlighting often comes with a twist …. these gigs often involve using your personal car or home to generate extra income. Whether it’s driving for Lyft, dropping off packages for Amazon, delivering meals through DoorDash, renting your home through Airbnb or just taking advantage of a tourist influx during a big local event by renting out your home, five words of advice: check with your insurance agent.

If your goal is earning some extra cash, make sure you understand and are covered for potential risks. You might think you are covered by working for a third-party service, but if you injure yourself or someone else while working, if you damage or lose someone’s property or if you suffer a loss to your own property, you may be on your own. Here are just two examples:

Home rental – If you want to start renting out all or a portion of your home through a peer-to-peer rental service, what happens if a guest is injured on your property? Or if a guest burns the whole place down in a cooking fire, will your rental service cover your home replacement?

Some services, such as Airbnb and VRBO, offer programs such as host guarantees or host liability insurance. On first glance, these may look adequate – $1 million liability coverage should be enough, right? But like most things, you need to read the fine print because there are conditions, limitations and exclusions that could leave you exposed to serious loss. You also should not assume that your own homeowners policy will provide coverage in a home rental scenario. Insurance Information Institute says:

Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies are designed for personal risks, not commercial risks. Some insurers now offer a home-sharing liability insurance policy that can be purchased on a month-to-month basis, but there may be exclusions and limitations, so read the policy carefully. If you plan to rent out all or part of your home on a regular basis, many companies will consider this a business use and you may need to purchase a business policy—specifically either a hotel or a bed-and-breakfast policy.

Ridesharing – Check with the service you are contracting with about any coverage that they might offer – states are increasingly mandating that third-party services provide some coverage, but again – there could be conditions, limitations and exclusions that leave dangerous gaps in your coverage. And it’s a mistake to assume that your own personal auto insurance will cover you. Insurance Information Institute says:

Generally a standard personal auto policy will not provide coverage for ride-sharing. A standard personal auto insurance policy stops providing coverage from the moment a driver logs into a TNC ride-sharing app to the moment the customer has exited the car and the transaction is closed.

They also advise:

Prospective drivers should ask the TNC what level of coverage it provides. Drivers should also contact their own auto insurer to address gaps, if any, in their liability protection. It is also recommended that TNC drivers review a copy of their TNC’s insurance contracts so they know the exact terms and conditions of the coverage.

Learn more: Ride-sharing and insurance: Q&A

These are just two common examples of so-called side-hustles, but other income-generating activities might call for other types of coverage, such as product liability or home business coverage. Your agent can also help you assess the adequacy of coverage offered by a third-party.  If you are considering a side-hustle, give your independent insurance agent a call to talk things over.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.