With spring cleaning far behind, and summer fun all but over, it’s time to start fall home maintenance. Fall is the perfect time to perform important maintenance to your home so you’re not caught in the middle of winter with a drafty house or a malfunctioning heater. We’ve compiled the top eight fall home maintenance tips, along with what you can do to ensure your home stays warm and comfortable this winter.
1. Heating System
It’s important to inspect your heating to ensure it functions all winter long.
For conventional heating systems, you may already have a contract with the installation company. Many HVAC companies offer a fall/spring maintenance program. If not, start with your water heater. Ensure that your water heater is protected from the elements. The most favorable locations for your water heater to be is the attic, basement, or garage, where it can be safely insulated. For your heating unit, check the filters, gas lines, and flame. Make sure that you have a proper flame and oxygen flow. There should be no cracks, kinks, or holes in gas lines.
For wood stoves, check and make sure that all stove pipes are clean. Take a wire brush and scrape to remove any buildup. Inspect your catalytic combustor, which is located between the fire and stovepipes. Use a small wire brush to clean out any ash buildup. Make sure you have removed all ash from the stove before lighting a fire. Inspect the outside of the stovepipe and stove, being sure to remove any debris. Be on the lookout for creosote, which is a yellow, oily matter that should be removed.
2. Chimney and Fireplace
Chimneys and fireplaces cause some of the most expensive damage to homes. Build-up from creosote can easily ignite, causing a devastating fire. If you are unfamiliar with inspecting a chimney, it may be worth calling in a chimney sweep, which is usually quite affordable. Make sure to leave your flu closed when not in use, and always have a fireplace screen in front of open flames to protect your home from wayward sparks.
Windows may be a continual source of frustration for homeowners. There are many seal repair kits available at local hardware stores. Walk around the interior windows, placing your hand near the seal. Check for any breezes flowing through. Do the same process for doors. When you find one, mark it with a sticker or other indicator so you can tally how many repair kits you need. If a window is improperly sized, cracked, or broken, it needs to be replaced.
For doors, you can purchase draft preventers and other seal kits to improve the seal. Every 1/8 of an inch can lower a room a whole degree, so it can really pay off to have updated, well-sealed doors and windows.
4. Smoke Detectors, Fire Extinguishers, and First Aid Kits
Every six months, replace batteries in all the detectors in your home. Check the expiration dates on your first aid kit and fire extinguisher, and that each is up to date and in a convenient place. If you don’t have a fire escape route, this is a good time to draft one.
5. Indoor Pipes
Winterizing pipes is one of the easiest, most valuable ways to protect your home over the winter. Most home repair stores carry fitted insulation that can easily wrap around any size pipe. If you can’t afford to do every pipe in your home, give priority to the pipes that are closest to the outdoors, or most likely to freeze. It’s also a good idea to shut off water to any area that won’t be used, and to check pipes for leaks or cracks that may grow larger with the varying temperatures of fall.
6. Yard Maintenance
Fall leaves may be beautiful, but these can slowly rot, causing huge backup and damage in gutters. This backup will cause water to spill over the gutter and into your yard and walking areas, which can cause damage to your home and make walking conditions dangerous. Disconnect all garden hoses, and store them coiled and flat in a cool, dry place. If possible, turn of water to all outside faucets and drain them to protect the outside pipes from damage. Also, store any outdoor furniture that may become damaged from snow or ice.
7. Roof Inspection
A roof inspection may seem overkill, but harsh winter winds and heavy snow can take a toll on your home. It may be a good idea go up to your rooftop to check for any broken tiles or cracks. It’s important to take care of any damage now to avoid repairs during the cold winter months.
8. Stock Up on Winter Supplies for Your Home
Before prices on winter gear soars, stock up on winter items such as snow shovels, firewood, or sidewalk salt. It’s better to have the supplies now than to have to run to the store during a snowstorm!
These fall home maintenance tips are quick, easy, and affordable. It might be a good idea to brush up on home repair insurance coverage as you’re making improvements and renovations. As the adage says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – especially when it comes to home repairs.
Pop Quiz: When preparing to send you child to college be sure to review:
1. Their college essay
2. Your bank account
3. The film “Animal House”
4. Their insurance coverage
If you selected insurance, you go to the head of the class. When your child moves from home to college there are a number of insurance questions to consider, especially if he or she is planning to live off–campus. Remember, not all insurance polices have the same terms and conditions. Consult your insurance professional to determine the limits and types of coverage that apply to your family’s lifestyle.
Home sweet dorm
Insurance companies consider college students to be residents of their parents’ home, temporarily residing elsewhere. They also consider your dorm-room contents to be “personal property, located off premises”.
Most homeowners/renters policies limit coverage up to 10 percent of personal property, off premises. If you have $75,000 of contents coverage at home, you will have $7,500 for an off premises dorm room. You will need to decide if that’s enough to repair or replace all electronics and other items likely to fill your trunk, back seat, and roof rack in the fall. If it’s not, you might consider purchasing a separate renters policy or property policy for the dorm room.
Moving on up
Nearly one-fifth of college students rent off-campus apartments. Most insurance companies consider these apartments to be a permanent residence. Therefore, the apartment will not be covered under the parents’ homeowners/renters policy for contents or liability.
Generally, the person who signs the lease is held liable (and may be sued) if someone is injured on their leased premises or by their property. A roommate or parent may also be sued, whether they’ve signed the lease or not, if the injured party thinks the roommate or parents might be responsible for the claim.
Regardless of who signed the lease, when your child is living off-campus they should obtain their own renters policy. Many insurance companies will not insure multiple names, or unrelated names, on a single policy. However, if you, as a parent signed the lease, you and the student should be named as insureds on the policy.
The annual premium for renters insurance is very reasonable, usually less than $250 a year for about $15,000 worth of contents.
Up and away
Studying abroad can provide a host of insurance issues. For example, an insurance company can suspend theft insurance at a student’s domestic residence if he/she has been studying abroad for more than 45 days. Consult your broker to make sure your child is covered in at least the following major areas:
- Theft of personal property
- Trip cancellation/interruption
- Emergency medical evacuation and/or repatriation coverage
- Health and/or hospitalization
Few colleges allow freshman living on campus to bring their cars. But 70 percent of the rest of the students have them. Things to consider if you child has a car:
- Leave the car at home: You might be eligible for a reduced rate if the car is titled in the student’s name, no one else will be driving it, and the student will reside more than 100 miles away from the car.
- Take the car to college and:
- Notify your insurance company that the car will be garaged in another location. Premiums can be affected positively or adversely by a location change.
- State laws vary. For instance if your child goes from a “straight-liability” to a “no-fault” state, their liability coverage may not be adequate. Increasing or decreasing policy coverages will impact their premium accordingly.
- Consider letting your child assume the title to the car if they are 18 years or older. As the titleholder they must get their own auto policy. This will decrease your liability exposure.
- Discourage your child from allowing others to drive the car. Regardless of who may be using the car and for what purpose, your child is still responsible for the car and what is done with it.
Insuring your legacy
Experts recommend obtaining or increasing your existing life insurance to cover the total cost of your child’s tuition. When figuring that cost you will want to include: tuition, room and board, transportation, books, and supplies. Whether you have a college fund prepared for your child or are paying as they go, life insurance is a secure method to safeguard your child’s education.
After a long day of work, you check the mailbox and see the letter your family has been waiting to receive for weeks. The letter is from one of the colleges your child has applied for, and it feels heavier than the other letters that have come. As a parent, no matter how old they get, you can never stop worrying about your children. It is easy to think about what you can do to protect your baby when they leave you soon, because you know that this letter is the ONE. Tower Insurance Agency is here to help you and your soon-to-be college student.
Insurance on your College Student’s Car?
Insuring a young driver is expensive. Some parents opt to take a cheaper route, by putting a car in their child’s name and getting a totally separate auto policy under the child’s name. While this saves a few dollars, in the long run it can be detrimental if your child is involved in an accident as most policies offer less coverage for a young driver. It is usually better to keep your child on your policy with high limits and an umbrella policy. Also discuss your child, their responsibility in sharing cars with roommates and friends. It is not uncommon for a student to drive his/her roommate’s car on occasion, and there can be issues if neither party is properly insured.
Are my College Student’s appliances and computer covered while away at school?
While every policy is different, most homeowner’s policies cover personal property “owned or used” by an insured if it is damaged or lost due to a covered peril. Your child is an insured as courts have determined that dependent children are covered, even when away from home. Another common stipulation can be that under some policies, personal property usually located at an insured’s residence, other than the resident premises, is only allotted 10% of the policy’s coverage. For instance, if you have a policy for $100,000 and your child loses $15,000 worth of property while away at school, the policy will only cover $10,000, and you would be responsible for the additional $5,000.
Your home is your sanctuary. It is a place where fond memories are made and relaxing evenings are spent after a busy day. Your home is a safe haven where you and your family most feel at ease. If your home is under-protected or you’ve had a recent burglary, this may compromise the security you feel in your own home.
There were more than 2 million burglaries in the United States in 2012. While that number is down from the previous year, it is still a statistic that no one wants to become a part of. Using a few simple home security tips and tricks, you can protect your belongings, thwart would-be thieves and increase your feeling of security while home and away.
Prevention begins outside your home from the minute it comes into view. Take a walk around your property with a critical eye to see what changes it needs. Here are a few you may have missed:
1. Don’t provide places for thieves to hide: Trim trees and bushes that may give someone a place to hide or unnoticeable access to your windows. You should trim back any shrubs that are high enough to block a window.
You will also want to consider the lighting of your property. Look for places around your home that are very dark and may allow a thief access to your home under the cover of darkness. Consider installing lights in various places that can light up entrances. Motion detection spotlights are the best option to conserve energy and not annoy your neighbors or yourself with the bright lights.
2. Don’t let thieves know you are not home: If you are planning to go on vacation, never announce it beforehand. We are a society that likes to share, and thieves love that about us. Sending a tweet that you’ve arrived at the airport or posting a status update on Facebook indicating that you can’t wait to leave for your cruise is a great way to alert thieves that your home is empty. Save all updates about your vacation and picture sharing for when you return.
In addition, if you are planning to vacation, have a trusted friend or neighbor stop by every day to pick up the mail, newspapers and any fliers that may be left at the door. If a flier has been sitting on your front door for days, a thief could take notice and know you are on an extended leave.
Any time you are going to be gone during the night, even if it’s just returning from work after it gets dark, you should have interior lights set to a timer. Having lights on will keep thieves guessing and will let you feel safer when you come home.
3. Keep your yard clean to prevent giving thieves an advantage: Many times, thieves will gain access to your home through a window they have broken. It is best that we don’t give them a tool to do that. Clean up your yard of broken tree limbs after a storm. Ensure your kids put away their toys after playing outside. Never leave a ladder outside in the yard; a thief could use your ladder to gain access to a higher window that is more likely to be unlocked. Use the same precautions for tools, whether they are gardening or for the barbecue; lock them up when they aren’t in use.
4. Install a home alarm system: While an alarm may not keep burglars from getting inside your home, it will deter some and bring the police to your home quickly, limiting what a thief is able to take. Home security systems will only work if you always remember to engage the alarm. You should have your alarm engaged while you are away or while you are at home as many thieves will attempt to break into one part of your home while you are busy in another. Also, some insurance companies may lower your home insurance premiums for having a home alarm system installed.
5. Take precautions to protect windows: If you are purchasing new windows for your home, it might be worth the upgrade to buy shatterproof glass. This would prevent anyone from breaking a window to gain access to your home. If new windows aren’t in the budget, consider adding a security film to windows. This will prevent the glass from shattering upon breaking and may deter thieves from continuing their attempt to break in.
6. Secure sliding glass doors: Sliding glass doors have incredibly flimsy locks. A thief can easily pop them in an instant, giving quick access to your home. Installing a security bar for sliding doors would make gaining access to your home more difficult. This measure of protection is a must-have for all sliding doors and windows.
7. Always lock doors and windows: Keep windows locked when you are not home, when you go to bed at night and when they are not in use. If you like to sleep with a window open at night, install window locks that only allow the window to open a few inches.
You should also keep your garage door down, even during the day. Having the garage door open invites thieves inside to look around. It gives them quick, easy access inside your home. Even if they can’t take something at the time, they can get enough of a look to see if your home is worth a visit later.
8. Change the locks as necessary: If you’ve just purchased a home from someone, your first order of business should be to meet the locksmith at your new home. You have no idea who is out there with a key just waiting for the moment to use it. In addition, if you’ve had a breakup recently, it is time to change the locks. The person may give you the key back, but you have no idea how many copies are out there. Having the locks changed is good for the peace of mind.
Keeping your family, your belongings and your home safe and secure does not involve a lot of money. A few simple changes such as the home security tips mentioned above can protect everyone and everything for years to come.
After a long, dark winter, spring’s bright sun and warm winds are, well, a breath of fresh air. The only downside? All that sunshine spotlights your leaf-filled gutters, cracked sidewalks and the dead plants in last year’s flower beds. Dwight Barnett, a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors, shared this checklist to help you target the areas that need maintenance so you can get your chores done quickly, leaving you time to go outside and play in the sunshine.
- Check for loose or leaky gutters. Improper drainage can lead to water in the basement or crawl space. Make sure downspouts drain away from the foundation and are clear and free of debris.
- Low areas in the yard or next to the foundation should be filled with compacted soil. Spring rains can cause yard flooding, which can lead to foundation flooding and damage. Also, when water pools in these low areas in summer, it creates a breeding ground for insects.
- Use a screwdriver to probe the wood trim around windows, doors, railings and decks. Make repairs now before the spring rains do more damage to the exposed wood.
- From the ground, examine roof shingles to see if any were lost or damaged during winter. If your home has an older roof covering, you may want to start a budget for replacement. The summer sun can really damage roof shingles. Shingles that are cracked, buckled or loose or are missing granules need to be replaced. Flashing around plumbing vents, skylights and chimneys need to be checked and repaired by a qualified roofer.
- Examine the exterior of the chimney for signs of damage. Have the flue cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep.
- Inspect concrete slabs for signs of cracks or movement. All exterior slabs except pool decks should drain away from the home’s foundation. Fill cracks with a concrete crack filler or silicone caulk. When weather permits, power-wash and then seal the concrete.
- Remove firewood stored near the home. Firewood should be stored at least 18 inches off the ground at least 2 feet from the structure.
- Check outside hose faucets for freeze damage. Turn the water on and place your thumb or finger over the opening. If you can stop the flow of water, it is likely the pipe inside the home is damaged and will need to be replaced. While you’re at it, check the garden hose for dry rot.
- Have a qualified heating and cooling contractor clean and service the outside unit of the air conditioning system. Clean coils operate more efficiently, and an annual service call will keep the system working at peak performance levels. Change interior filters on a regular basis.
- Check your gas- and battery-powered lawn equipment to make sure it is ready for summer use. Clean equipment and sharp cutting blades will make yardwork easier.
With more and more families every year having both parents work full time, there has been an increasing need for help around the house with childcare and chores like cleaning, laundry and running errands. If you’re hiring household help it’s important to understand how having domestic workers (including nannies, housekeepers, caretakers, etc.) around your home can impact not only your insurance coverage- both your auto and your homeowners- but also how it could have tax implications for you. If you don’t understand these issues, the result could be something quite atrocious.
Who’s The Boss?
No, not Tony, not Angela and not even Mona. You are the boss. Yes, that’s right- though you may not immediately think of it in those terms, if you hire a full time nanny or house keeper they will most likely be considered your employee. The IRS has criteria to help you determine who is and isn’t an employee, which can be found on their website. If your housekeeper or nanny is your employee, you are responsible for verifying their employment eligibility and paying employment taxes (notably, failure to do this has prematurely ended the careers of several politicians in the past few years). It’s important that when hiring help around the house that you determine these things up front so that you can comply with the law and avoid having to pay penalties or fines down the road. Just like you have an Insurance Agent to help you with your insurance, you should contact a tax professional with questions on the tax implications of hiring household help.
Do I need to provide my household employee with Worker’s Compensation Coverage?
It really depends on what state you live in, but most states exempt household employees from the worker’s compensation laws. However, you may have more peace of mind if you choose to provide this type of coverage voluntarily. In most cases, your homeowner’s insurance policy would provide household employees with some medical payments if they were injured during the course of their work, but it may not be adequate depending on the injury. Unless prohibited by your states worker’s compensation laws, you can voluntarily purchase a worker’s compensation policy to cover your household employees, which could provide you with some immunity from having your employee take action against you under most states worker’s compensation laws. Some states though will not allow you to enter the worker’s compensation system while at the same time exempting you from the worker’s compensation laws, in which case there is additional coverage you can add to your homeowner’s policy. This additional coverage is called the “Voluntary Compensation and Employers Liability Coverage for Resident Employees Endorsement.” Because these scenarios will vary from state to state, it’s best that you review your situation with your Trusted Choice agent, who can help you decide the best way to provide coverage for your household employees.
Are household employees covered by my auto insurance?
Whether it’s a housekeeper running to the store for more cleaning supplies or a nanny picking your kids up from school, chances are that at some point a household employee will use a car that you own. The good news is that coverage follows the vehicle, and so your auto policy would provide coverage if your employee was found liable for an accident in your vehicle. There would also be coverage if your employee was injured- unless you have worker’s compensation for them, in which case that would be the policy that would provide them with coverage.
If your household employee is driving their own vehicle they would have coverage under their own auto policy, but more importantly, so would you if they were found liable for negligent actions in the course of driving their own car while performing employment related duties. With the potential that you might be held liable for the actions of your employee, it’s critical that you know what kind of insurance coverage they have. If your employee is providing child care, you also want to make sure that their auto policy has appropriate amounts of coverage for your children in the event they are injured in an accident while in the nanny’s car. If they’ll be driving their own car, strongly consider requiring that as a condition of their employment that they have enough coverage that you feel comfortable with. An insurance agent can help obtain coverage that works for both you and your employee.
Are household employees covered by my homeowners insurance?
Some of that depends on whether the employee lives with you in your home. If you furnish a nanny or housekeeper with living quarters, contents that you own and provide to them to use, such as furniture, would be covered. As long as they’re staying in your home as part of their employment (and don’t have a separate rental agreement with you) your policy would also provide some coverage for any personal items that they bring with them, but the policy will only provide coverage up to a certain amount, so for valuable items, such as jewelry or electronics, you want to make sure any live-in employees also carry their own insurance for their possessions.
If your household employee does not live with you, there are still other parts of your homeowner’s policy that could be impacted by their status as your employee. In several lawsuits across the country household employees have sued their employers for invasion of privacy for the use of so-called “nanny cams,” which are hidden cameras in the house to record the employee’s behavior. Many homeowner/employers see the use of these cameras as a way to monitor potential abuse of trust on the part of an employee. Because a standard homeowner’s policy only provides liability coverage for property damage and bodily injury, you should make sure that you ask your Trusted Choice agent about adding a “Personal Injury Endorsement” to your homeowner’s policy to give you additional protection from this type of action.
A standard homeowner’s policy may not provide coverage to your household employee though if they were sued while working for you except in very limited circumstances. Therefore it’s important that both you and your employee understand that they may want to have their own liability insurance – either a commercial liability policy or business owners policy. Their own personal homeowners or renters insurance wouldn’t apply since they preclude business activities.
The Magic of an Umbrella
Finally, having what’s known as a personal umbrella policy can help sooth some of the anxiety of household employees. Like the name implies, umbrella policies offer additional coverage above what is typically in a homeowner’s or auto policy. While personal umbrella policies are not uniform from one insurance company to another, they’re worth looking into for the additional coverage for you and your employees.
Families that hire household help should be aware of the implications of having someone working for them in their home. Having an Insurance Agent to help you understand these issues could be just the spoonful of sugar you need to help the medicine go down.