Resources – Homeowners Insurance Tips and News Fri, 28 Jun 2013 15:01:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Identify and Eliminate Mold Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:07:19 +0000 The Dangers of Mold

Mold is a common but potentially dangerous substance found in many homes and other buildings. There are thousands of varieties, but the most common are greenish, white, brown or black in color and often have a dusty texture. While trace amounts of mold exist in the air and on surfaces, prolonged exposure to household mold can cause a number of health issues.

Exposure to molds like Alternaria can trigger hay fever-like allergic symptoms, coughing and wheezing, as well as nasal stuffiness and eye or skin irritation. People with chronic respiratory diseases may experience difficulty breathing or develop fungal infections in their lungs. More serious reactions to molds have been reported, but the link between these symptoms and mold exposure has not been conclusively proven.

Mold flourishes in moist, humid environments. Nutrients that encourage mold to develop can be found in many building supplies. Spores can enter the home from the outside through open doors and windows as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. Airborne spores also attach themselves to people and animals and are thus carried indoors.

Common Household Sources of Mold

Paper products, cardboard, ceiling tiles and wood products that have been exposed to moisture encourage the growth of certain molds. Mold can also grow in dust, lint, paints, wallpaper, insulation materials, drywall, carpet and upholstery. Leaking roofs, pipes, walls or even plant pots will support mold growth as well. Water damage, excessive humidity, water leaks, condensation or flooding all contribute to the spread of mold in the home, particularly the highly toxic Stachybotrys chartarum, a greenish black mold.

Best Treatments for Eliminating Mold

Mold can usually be eliminated from hard surfaces by a thorough cleaning with products like Mold Armor or Moldex, soap and water or a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water. If the mold is present in porous or absorbent materials, those may need to be thrown away.

To keep mold out of the house, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises use of an air conditioner or dehumidifier. The home should have sufficient ventilation, including exhaust fans in kitchen and bathrooms. If repainting is necessary, mold inhibitors can be added to paints. Bathrooms should be carpet free and cleaned with mold-killing products. Water leaks, condensation, infiltration or flooding should be corrected to prevent mold from growing and the home inspected for indications of visible mold. Serious cases will require professional mold removal services such as ServiceMaster Clean.

Permanent Mold Solutions

Serious mold problems will require professional cleaning services and may even lead to extensive home repairs. Homeowners facing restoration issues can consult expert repair sites such as This Old House, Mr. Handyman or Bob Vila. It may be possible for homeowners to make minor repairs on their own; however, professional services from a company like SERVPRO, which offers restoration for significant mold damage, could become necessary.

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Hurricane Preparations and Insurance Advice Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:04:30 +0000 Hurricanes are powerful and often deadly storms whose strong winds and heavy rains can wreak havoc on businesses and homes. In the event of an impending hurricane, it is essential to prepare for days or even weeks without power or access to fresh food and water. Homeowners may also consider investing in insurance coverage to protect against losses caused by these terrifying storms.

Preparing an Emergency Kit
The most important element of an emergency kit is a minimum three day supply of both food and water. A flashlight with extra batteries and a first aid kit are crucial items as well. The Ready website provides a comprehensive list of necessary items, as well as additional emergency supplies, required for a first aid kit and supplies for those with special needs such as infants or the elderly. The Weather Channel and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) blog also offer advice on hurricane preparedness. Hurricanes arrive with several days of advance warning; these preparations should be made as soon as possible.

Evacuation Plan
Before evacuating, it is important to secure your house against the storm. Cover all of the windows with permanent storm shutters, or board them up with 5/8” marine plywood. Install straps or additional clips to fasten the roof to the frame structure in order to reduce roof damage. Trim any trees and shrubs around the home to increase wind resistance, and clear loose or congested rain gutters. Reinforce garage doors, as wind entering a garage can cause dangerous structural damage. Finally, bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and any other loose items. Close and lock doors and windows, and unplug electrical equipment and appliances. Additional suggestions can be found on the Ready website as well as The Weather Channel.

In the event that an evacuation becomes necessary, local officials will provide information to media outlets. Other warning methods such as sirens or telephone calls may be used as well. Some people simply choose to evacuate on their own when they feel threatened. Make sure the car to be used for evacuation has a full tank of gas, as gas stations may be closed or unable to pump gas during power outages. Most importantly, follow recommended evacuation routes. Shortcuts may be blocked or flooded, or there may be downed power lines and always be sure to designate a meeting spot in the event of a separation.

Further evacuation guidelines are provided by FEMA on their website.

Keeping Current on the Weather
During a severe storm like a hurricane, having up-to-date weather information is critical. The National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center tracks all developing storms and issues advisories; it also provides links to hurricane preparation. AccuWeather’s Hurricane Center is another source for information on current and developing storms as well as general facts about hurricanes. The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Central is an additional resource for current weather and storm preparedness.

Hurricane Insurance
Flood damage is one of the most common results of a hurricane, but it is not covered unless additional flood insurance, offered by the National Flood Insurance Program, is purchased. SmartMoney reports that flood insurance costs an average of $600 annually, while homeowners living on high-risk coastlines can expect to pay almost $6,000. Homeowner policies do pay for wind damage, including broken windows, torn roofs and interior damage from water falling into the home, as well as tree limbs or entire trees blown onto a home, garage or shed. Tree removal is typically covered up to $500.

Traditional insurance policies often do not cover the damage caused by hurricanes; as a result, 18 coastal states have allowed hurricane deductibles to be incorporated into homeowner policies, according to Insurance Information Institute. However, residents will have to pay a costly deductible, as high as 1% to 5% of the total amount the home is insured for, before the insurance policy takes effect. Some states allow policyholders to pay a higher premium in return for a traditional dollar deductible, depending on how close to the coast their home is located. On an encouraging note, most standard homeowner policies will pay for a family’s living expenses, including food and housing, while the home is being restored.

Preparing for a hurricane can be stressful; however, failing to do so could be the cause of even more stress. Remember, the earlier these precautions are taken, the better.

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Easy Ways to Make Your Home Safer Mon, 16 Jul 2012 19:03:40 +0000

You may feel safer in your home than anywhere else, but statistics show that you might not be as secure as you imagine. In the United States, about 20 million people are hospitalized every year due to injuries that happen in their homes.  Roughly 7 million of those injuries cause some type of disability, and nearly 20,000 of them are fatal.

Children and pets are especially vulnerable to accidents, since tend to be more active and are less able to recognize danger. However, accidents are common among adults as well. The good news is that you can significantly reduce the chances of injury by following some simple home-safety tips.

Fall-Proof Your Home

The most common cause of injuries at home is falling, which can result in sprains, broken bones and even more serious injuries. Fortunately, it isn’t hard to remove potential falling hazards from your home.

Perform a quick walk-through, covering every room of the house. Look for any clutter in your doorways, halls and other walking spaces. Make sure children’s toys are put away safely. Loose rugs can trip you, so secure them under heavy furniture or remove them completely. Tuck away any wires or cables that protrude underfoot. If you see any broken or dim light bulbs, replace them. Poor lighting is a common cause of falls so be sure all rooms are properly lit.

Prevent Poisoning

Toxic substances are especially hazardous to children and pets, but a significant number of adults also poison themselves each year at home. Help prevent accidental poisoning with an inventory of all toxic chemicals in your house, such as cleaning products, lighter fluid and medications. Check all of the lids to make sure they are tightly closed. Sealed caps keep vapors locked inside the bottle, and prevent contents from spilling onto the ground where toddlers or animals might find them.

Use a mop or wet rag to wipe down windowsills and furniture. This will remove paint chips and other particles that could end up in children’s mouths. Also, keep prescription and over-the-counter drugs in their original containers and out of reach of children. Medicines are common sources of poisoning.

If you suspect poisoning, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers 24-hour hotline at 1-800-222-1222. Keep that number handy in case of emergency. The association will send refrigerator magnets and stickers for your phone upon request.

Minimize Carbon Monoxide

You may have given little thought to carbon monoxide in your home, but this colorless, odorless gas can be deadly in large quantities. All fuel-burning appliances, including gas stoves and heaters, burn oxygen and emit carbon monoxide. Wood-burning fireplaces can be a major source of carbon monoxide, as well.

Prevent poisoning by making sure vents and chimneys are not blocked, and open a window if you use a gas-powered space heater. To monitor levels in your home, buy a carbon monoxide detector. Similar to smoke detectors, these gadgets display a digital reading of carbon monoxide levels and emit an alarm sound if levels climb too high.

Additional Resources:
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Problems: Colorado State University identifies common sources of carbon monoxide in this guide, and offers steps to eradicate the deadly gas from  your home.

Home Fire Prevention: The United States Fire Administration provides this tip sheet to help you prevent fires and take the safest actions if a fire starts.

Poisoning: First Aid: This guide from the Mayo Clinic goes over the symptoms of poisoning and how to treat them, as well as when to call for help.

5 Ways to Make Your Home Safer: This article from This Old House outlines five suggestions for increasing the safety in your home. Topics include smoke alarm testing, kitchen habits and drowning prevention.

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8 Common Misconceptions About Recycling Mon, 11 Jun 2012 14:58:05 +0000 Recycling was one of the first steps to kicking off the environmentalist movement. Although the concept of repurposing has been around for thousands of years, the United States first became acquainted with recycling in a formal sense in the 1970s. It took quite some time to catch on, but recycling is now simpler than ever, with even several public eateries offering easy-to-decipher recycling bins. Although recycling is one of many steps towards sustainability and a greener earth, it also has its caveats.


  1. It’s important to sort recyclable materials

    Most avid recyclers think that it is necessary to have separate bins for cans, paper, and plastic because they believe that all of the recyclable materials must be sorted out by hand at the recycling plant. In fact, modern recycling plants have machines that use things like magnets to target specific materials. These are called single-stream recycling plants, and they are becoming increasingly common. Single-stream recycling is a fantastic innovation because people are far more likely to recycle when they don’t think of it as a hassle, trying to determine which materials go in what bin. Plus, it allows for automated truck routes for the collection trucks, conserving gas and allowing for less air pollution.


  3. All recycled materials ends up in local recycling plants

    Jerry Powell, who owns three recycling publications including Resource Recycling, debunks the idea that everything you recycle is repurposed in your local recycling plant. In actuality, he notes, 25% of all scrap material collected in the United States is exported to China. There are conflicting views about what is done with the recycled materials once they get to China. The Environmental Protection Agency is under the impression that China uses responsible recycling methods, while the Government Accountability Office sees China as a developing country, potentially practicing unsafe recycling methods subject to environmentally unfriendly results. Even if recycled material stays in America, it doesn’t necessarily make it to recycling plants. Gene Jones, executive director of Southern Waste Information Exchange, says that recycling plants occasionally get so inundated with recyclable materials that they sometimes have to resort to dumping them into landfills.


  5. Biodegradable waste is eco-friendly

    Many people are under the impression that biodegradable waste is better for the environment and doesn’t need to be recycled because it breaks down naturally in landfills. In fact, biodegradable waste releases the greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide. When methane leaks into the atmosphere, it takes its environmental toll by worsening global warming. Theoretically, some landfills operate under the notion that methane can be harnessed and used for energy. However, biodegradable waste decomposes too quickly to capture the methane for energy purposes. Furthermore, biodegradable plastic releases the most methane in the average landfill, according to Rodale News’ Emily Main.


  7. Everything with the recycling arrow symbol is recyclable

    The recycling symbol is easily identified as three “chasing arrows,” which are said to represent the three steps of the recycling mantra: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Most people see the symbol and assume that the item can be recycled. Inside the chasing arrows is a number, which identifies the type of resin used in the product. Not all resin types can be recycled, thus the symbol is very misleading. In order to know whether or not the plastic can be recycled, you must identify the particular resin that corresponds with the number and contact your local recycling agency to determine if it is acceptable at their plant.


  9. Recycling is completely eco-friendly

    People may not realize that recycling, too, has its environmental impact. For example, the trucks that pick up recyclable materials dispel just as many pollutants as regular garbage trucks. The difference is that these trucks pick up far fewer recycling materials than garbage trucks pick up waste, so the same amount of gasoline is used and pollution is incurred for less actual product. The factories where recyclable materials end up use equipment that has its own environmental footprint. Likewise, while yearly reports suggest that the environment is better off due to more recycled waste, the numbers don’t take consumption or more packaging into account. According to Forbes, some of the materials produce more greenhouse emissions when recycled than they would if the waste was just reduced. The factories themselves shed pollutants.


  11. Landfills are becoming scarce

    Environmentalists would have you believe that the world is becoming so crammed with trash that we won’t be able to move around in the next 10 years or so. We are nearly bullied into recycling because of this threat. Nobody will argue that recycling doesn’t have its benefits, but the idea that we are running out of room to store trash is simply absurd and untrue. According to Rich Trzupek, environmental consultant and senior advisor to the Heartland Institute, the United States has only used about 560,000 acres’ worth for landfills. That only accounts for 0.02% of the United States’ soil. The real problem is that landfills are now placed outside of cities where they can grow larger without the waft of trash smells trickling into residential areas, thus trucks have to transport waste farther away to reach its destination. This causes more pollution from transportation.


  13. Glass is easily recyclable

    Glass is the most expensive material to recycle, and because of the work involved, many recycling plants want nothing to do with it. Likewise, if glass breaks during the collection process, it contaminates the rest of the recycled materials. Debbie Brady of Pocatello, Idaho’s Sanitation Department notes that glass is made of sand, and thus will not hurt the environment. It can be disposed of with the normal trash and sit for thousands of years in a landfill without any environmental impact. Further, Brady adds, “It takes 23 glass bottles with a total weight of 10 pounds to deliver the same environmental benefit as recycling six empty aluminum cans with a weight of three ounces, or a pound of newspaper, plastic or tin.” By the time you figure in the cost of collecting, storing, handling, sorting, shipping and processing glass, the benefits are virtually null.


  15. Garbage gives us cancer

    There are so many cancer claims these days; it’s becoming a bit ridiculous. Of course, it’s easy to point fingers at stagnant trash and call it carcinogenic. Most people will not refute the idea that landfills are gross, smelly, and hard on the eyes. However, the EPA has extensively researched the dangers of living near a landfill, inhaling landfill gas, and ingesting tap water in areas near landfills, and found that there are no added dangers to those who live near landfills. In short, trash poses no immediate threat to our health.

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