Recent General Posts

Avoid Unpleasant Visitors During Summer Travel

6/24/2016 (Permalink)

Summer means travel and vacation for millions of Americans, whether it’s a week or two or just a relaxing day trip. However, if unprepared, homeowners may come home to an unpleasant surprise, such as burst pipes, leaky water heaters, hail damage or even a burglarized home, as criminals often look to take advantage of unoccupied homes during peak travel times in the year.  

“Summer is a wonderful time of year with warmer weather, longer days and the chance to spend more time outdoors, but it’s important for homeowners to recognize that summer brings a number of unavoidable weather issues,” said Paul Quinn, head of claims customer experience with Farmers Insurance. “Our data shows that severe weather will take a toll on homeowners, who should look for ways to mitigate damage ahead of time, especially if they will be taking a vacation at any point during the summer and unable to take quick action to minimize damage before an oncoming storm.

There are a number of steps travelers can take before leaving and while away from home to reduce potentially unpleasant surprises:

 Unplug anything that doesn’t need to stay plugged in (i.e., televisions and computers).

Schedule a friend or neighbor to stop by the house randomly (to avoid a pattern or anticipated time) to remove boxes from the doorstep, check the mail, get notices and fliers from the door, etc.

Consider shutting off the water for your washing machine, dishwasher and toilets if you’re going to be away for an extended period of time. This can help prevent unpleasant surprises when you get home. You can also install wireless leak sensors in flood-prone areas like your basement, laundry room or bathroom, to notify you of leaks before significant damage is done.

Keep expensive and irreplaceable items like old family photos, art work, electronics and stamp collections off the ground in case of water damage. Keep them up on shelves and water-proof containers.

If you have outdoor furniture, bring items like glass tables, chairs and umbrellas inside to avoid damage to yard items or the exterior of your home.

Avoid posting on social media while away on vacation. If the temptation to post is unavoidable, ensure that all possible security measures are in place on all social sites.

Today’s smart home technology means electronics and lights can be controlled remotely, often through an app. Schedule random timers for lights throughout the home to deter burglars and vandals.

Most hotels provide an in-room safe. Place items that will fit inside the safe.  For larger items, hide them within your luggage or under clothing in the drawers. Avoid leaving items out and visible.

Don't Let Your Empty Home Go Unprotected!

2/18/2016 (Permalink)

Protect Your Empty Home!

Are you a planning a long vacation?  Relocating but your home hasn't sold yet? There are several things you can do to help protect your empty or vacant home. Take these steps to help protect your home from theft, water and/or fire damage, heating or electrical system malfunctions. 1.  Make Your Home Appears as Though It Is Continuously Occupied

  • Forward your mail, stop newspaper delivery, and ask a friend or relative to collect flyers or other items that may be left at your door.
  • Arrange for someone to remove snow or mow the lawn.  Make sure they mail the invoice (do not take the chance that they will tape it to the door or put it somewhere that is a dead giveaway no one is home).
  • Put motion-sensitive exterior lights and interior lights on timers and set them to come on at varying times to discourage prowlers. 
 2.  Take Steps to Protect Your Home from Thieves
  • Confirm that your alarm systems are in working order and have been activated.
  • Secure external doors and windows with deadbolt locks, security-type hinges and sturdy door frames that cannot be spread apart. Install slide locks or other equivalent security locks on sliding glass doors or French doors.
  • Store valuables that you are not taking with you in a safe deposit box or other secure offsite location.
  • Do not post your vacation or travel plans on social media sites, as potential thieves can use that information to learn that your house is vacant.
  • Standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for theft of personal possessions and damage to the home caused by the break-in. With replacement cost coverage, which is only about 10 percent more than actual cash value coverage, damaged property is replaced without deducting for depreciation.
 3.  Protect Your Pipes to Avoid Water Damage
  • Consider completely turning off the water supply if no one will be in the home for an extended period of time. If your home is heated by an older steam heating system, consult with your heating professional to determine if it is safe to turn off the water supply for your particular heating system. Also, if your home is protected by a fire sprinkler system, do not turn off the water to this system.
  • Drain your pipes of all water by opening the faucets, and flush your toilet to clear the water from the tank and bowl, then consider pouring antifreeze in toilet tanks and bowls to prevent any remaining water from freezing and cracking.* Always use non-toxic antifreeze rated for plumbing systems.
 ?4.  Keep Your Home and Plumbing Warm if Your Water Supply Stays On
  • If you decide against draining your water pipes, keep the furnace running to help ensure the home stays warm and the pipes do not freeze.
  • Set the temperature at 55°F or higher to help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities, where the water piping is likely located above freezing temperatures. Keeping room and cabinet doors open also helps heat to circulate and warm the areas where pipes are located.
  • Shut off the water to washing machines and dishwashers where possible, to avoid any leaks or broken hoses while you are away.
  • Turn off the heat source and water supply to hot water heaters (if separate from your boiler).
  • Consider shutting off and draining outdoor water faucets to prevent vandalism and freezing damage.
  • Have a water flow sensor and low temperature sensor installed on your main water supply pipe and hooked into a constantly monitored alarm system or your smart phone.
 5.  Perform Routine Maintenance Before You Leave
  • Have your heating system inspected and serviced before winter. Have your fuel tanks filled before you leave, and ask someone to check on heat and fuel levels regularly while you are gone.
  • Be sure to maintain electrical power if required to keep the heating system running. If electrical service to the home is to remain on, consider having a licensed electrical contractor inspect your main electrical panel, wiring and outlets, if necessary. This way, they can repair or replace anything that may be defective.
  • Have your roof inspected before you leave and clean your gutters to help prevent ice from building up.*
  • Remove dead trees or large overhanging limbs that could damage your house.
  • Unplug all unnecessary appliances before you leave. Make sure you can retrieve messages on your home answering machine or voicemail so it does not indicate FULL or unattended when someone calls.
 6.  Be Ready for Emergencies
  • Notify the police department that the property will be vacant, and provide emergency notification numbers.
  • Make sure your homeowners insurance is paid and up to date and valid for an empty/vacant or partially occupied property.
  • Install smoke detectors on at least every floor (preferably tied to a constantly monitored fire alarm system so the fire department will automatically be notified in case of alarm), and confirm that the sensors and system are tested regularly.
  • In higher wind-exposed or coastal areas, install storm shutters (or other mitigation measures, such as 5/8” marine plywood) to secure windows. Properly anchor personal property that will remain outdoors.
  • Ask a trusted friend, neighbor or relative to keep an eye on your home and be available in emergency situations. Give them access to your home so they can regularly monitor heating, electrical and water systems.
  • If the weather turns frigid, have them also check the roof for ice dams and inspect for leaks inside. Make sure they have your contact information and a list of local contractors they can reach if repairs or service are needed.
 No matter what you do or precautions you take, it is still possible that something could happen while you are away. If this happens, it will probably not be a pleasant experience, but it hurts less if you are prepared ahead of time. You may to go ahead and check your insurance policy and claim procedures before leaving. Create a home inventory and take lots of good quality pictures of everything in your house. This may take some time, but afterwards it is just a matter of keeping everything updated. Taking all of the precautions listed in this article will ensure that you have much less chance of a robbery or something bad happening while you are away. If the worst occurs, you will also be better prepared to deal with the situation.

Avoid Damage by Getting Your Home Ready for Fall

10/1/2015 (Permalink)

  Cooler temperatures and pretty soon falling leaves serve as a reminder that the fall season is fast approaching. As the seasons change, so do our activities and home needs. Even though summer has just ended, it’s a good time to do some seasonal maintenance to keep your home running smoothly. The weather can change quickly, especially if you live in a colder climate and you don’t want to be caught unprepared. A bit of attention now will save costly repairs and aggravation later.

 
 Interior Maintenance
•   Pipe Insulation.  
Your pipes are more susceptible to freeze damage when temperatures drop to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Wrap the pipes in insulation tubes made of polyethylene or fiberglass.  Take extra care with pipes that have frozen during previous winters or have been repaired in the last 12 months, as these pipes are more susceptible to damage. 

  • Investigate and identify any musty smells and odors. They are often an indicator that there is a hidden moisture problem.? 
  • Check the basement.  If you have a basement, look for cracked basement windows that could allow cold air to make contact with pipes. Check for worn or missing insulation around garage and utility doors. Reducing the amount of cold air in the area minimizes your pipes' vulnerability.

    
Exterior Maintenance
 

  •  Do a roof check for leaks. You should be able to do at least a visual inspection of the roof from the ground. Grab some binoculars to get a closer look or if you’re able and can do so safely, climb on up for a better view. Look for missing, damaged, or loose shingles. If your roof is flat, you may need to remove leaves and debris.
  • Check the chimney and fireplace.  Prevent chimney fires.  If you have a wood fireplace and use it often, have your chimney cleaned and inspected by a professional.
  • Fix Exterior Cracks.  Note any cracks or holes along the outside walls and foundation of your home. Filling holes and cracks with spray foam insulation and caulking can help stop the cold air from coming into contact with your water pipes during extremely cold weather.
  •  Clean the gutters.  Prevent icicles and ice dams.  Hire a service to clear your gutters or do it yourself. Remove leaves, nests, and debris from gutters and check for leaks.  
  •  Check water drainage. Rainwater downspouts need to be clear of obstructions and direct water away from foundations, walkways, and driveways. Add extensions to downspouts if necessary.
  •  Turn off faucets and store hoses. Drain garden hoses and disconnect from the outside spigots. Shut off exterior faucets, and if you have an older home, you may need to turn off the valve inside your home. Store hoses in a dry place so any residual water won’t freeze.
  •  Service sprinklers and irrigation system. Depending on your climate, your irrigation system may need to be drained and checked. Have a professional perform any necessary repairs and mark sprinkler heads near snow removal areas.

 

As you’re enjoying the last bits of summer, make sure that your home is prepared for the coming fall season. Preventative maintenance now will save money on expensive emergency repairs and wasted energy costs. Properly maintaining your home also enhances its value and appeal and is less effort than managing a crisis later. When the chilly weather approaches you and your home will be ready.
 
 

National Preparedness Month

9/1/2015 (Permalink)

Your planning should see your family through a minimum of three days if you have to evacuate your home and fourteen days if you stay in your home.    


Know what disasters you should plan for they can range from those affecting only you and your family, like a home fire or medical emergency, to those affecting your entire community, like flood, blizzards, and ice storms.  Fourteen days will statistically see your family through 96% of known disaster emergency situations. Seven days will only get you through 50% of known disaster situation. Consider more than fourteen days of survival for locally known situations where your area can be physically cut off from resupply for very long duration (seismic areas, land/snow/mud slide areas, below sea level areas, flood plains, low lying island areas and areas of difficult or single method access, for example by bridge, single road, boat, plane, trail, or by horse/mule access only). The 2004 Florida Hurricanes had some home areas without power for up to 22 days, but the area residents had access to vehicles and could travel to other towns for supplies. New Orleans' Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the good and the bad for planning and preparation.
Here in Nebraska we do not have hurricanes but we do have other natural disasters that can occur, like tornadoes, floods, blizzards and ice storms.  The list below is from Ready.gov web site.  Please visit the web site for more information. You can also visit the Red Cross web site for additional information.

Things you should do.

  •  Be Informed

  1. Learn what protective measures to take before, during, and after an emergency
  2. How to plan with your household and prepare in advance so you are ready
  3. Signs of hazardous events that come with very little warning
  4. How to protect your household during the disaster
  5. Begin recovery following the initial disaster.
  • Make a plan

  1. Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes know in advance
  2. How you will get to a safe place 
  3.  How you will contact one another 
  4.  How you will get back together 
  5.  What you will do in different situations
  • Build a kit

  1. Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days.
  2. Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food.
  3. Battery-powered or hand crank radio and extra batteries.
  4. Flashlight and extra batteries.
  5. First aid kit.
  6. Whistle to signal for help.
  7. Dust mask to help filter contaminated air. 
  8. Plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place.
  9. Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation.
  10. Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities.
  11. Manual can opener for food.
  12. Local maps.
  13. Cell phone with chargers.

Shutting Off Utilities

  • Gas 

    After a tornado, DO NOT USE matches, lighters, or appliances, or operate light switches until you are sure there are no gas leaks. Sparks from electrical switches could ignite gas and cause an explosion.
    If you smell the odor of gas or if you notice a large consumption of gas being registered on the gas meter, shut off the gas immediately. First, find the main shut-off valve located on a pipe next to the gas meter. Use an adjustable wrench to turn the valve to the "off" position.

  • Electricity

    After a major disaster, shut off the electricity. Sparks from electrical switches could ignite leaking gas and cause an explosion.

  • Water

    Water may be turned off at either of two locations:

    At the main meter, which controls the water flow to the entire property.
    At the water main leading into the home. If you may need an emergency source of fresh water, it is better to shut off your water here, because it will conserve the water in your water heater.

    Attach a valve wrench to the water line. (This tool can be purchased at most hardware stores.)
    Label the water mains for quick identification.