Author: steve hom

Power Up After the Storm with a Generator for Your Home

Ask any Floridian and they’ll tell you that an emergency generator is like gold after a hurricane.  Almost all of us live in a geographic area susceptible to earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, or ice storms.  In each of those disasters, a backup emergency generator can quickly become your most valuable possession.

Generators come in different sizes and types.  The larger the generator the more items you can operate at once.  You must balance your anticipated needs in an emergency with the cost of the generator. 

Generally, there are two types of generators to choose from.  The first type is the permanent standby generator.  This generator is installed as part of the electrical system in your home or business and provides power directly to the building’s wiring.  An automatic switch prevents the generator from “backfeeding” power to utility lines, as well as protecting the generator from damage once power is restored.  Permanent standby generators must be installed by a licensed electrician and require inspection from your city or county building department. 

The portable generator is probably more familiar to the homeowner.  With a portable generator, you can physically move the generator to the location required, and hook up specific items directly to the generator.  Most homes require a 5,000-watt generator, which cost between $500 and $3,000, depending on options and quality.  You may also opt for a smaller unit, capable of running a few lights, fan, and a television.  If you anticipate running a large appliance such as a full-size refrigerator, sump pump, or water-well pump, make sure your generator can start and maintain the item.  You do not want to ruin the motor of your appliance because you tried to operate it with a small generator that could not provide the appliance with the proper electrical current.

Before shopping for a generator, evaluate what items you will need in an emergency and the amount of current they pull.  Total the watts and look at generators that can operate the amount of wattage you require.  If you are unsure, consult the item’s owner’s manual for information on how much wattage it uses.  Also, keep in mind the type of emergency you anticipate.  If you live in the northeast and expect blizzard conditions, a generator that will safely operate your furnace will prevent frozen pipes, as well as keep you warm.  If you live in the coastal south and are planning for a hurricane, you will need a generator that can operate a cooling system, or at least a few fans, as well as your refrigerator.  And any home that is supplied by well water will require the well pump to be on a generator if you want to flush the toilet.

As with any household appliance, there are some safety hazards associated with generators.  As stated earlier, generators installed as part of your homes electrical system can backfeed current into your home, causing damage to equipment, or even cause a fire if not properly installed.  Consult a qualified electrician to install this type of generator.  Also, generators burn fuel and must be run outdoors.  Generators should never be run in a garage or in any room that connects to the house.  Cords to and from your generator should be properly sized to prevent overheating and damage to equipment.  By following these straightforward guidelines, you can enjoy heating or cooling, unspoiled food, working bathrooms, and even a little entertainment during an otherwise disastrous situation.

Protect Your Possessions with an Electronic Home Inventory

Having a homeowner’s insurance policy is not enough to thoroughly protect all the possessions in your home.  Only by documenting your goods and updating the list on a regular basis, can you ensure you have enough insurance, settle claims faster and substantiate losses for income tax purposes.  The process of creating a home inventory may sound overwhelming, but technology has made it quite simple.

A traditional home inventory is a basic list of all belongings along with receipts to substantiate their value.  Camcorders and digital cameras have added much dimension to home inventories.  Video taped inventories are especially useful as you can narrate along with the video.  

To create a video home inventory, walk through every room of your home and pan around the room with the camera.  Don’t forget to open drawers and closets to record and describe what items are there.  Whenever you can, note where you bought each item and its make and model.  Make sure to categorically include toys, music CDs and even clothing and linens, as the cost of replacing these items can be substantial.  Take particular note of expensive items including jewelry, furs and collectibles that may require additional insurance. 

In addition to documenting your possessions electronically, make sure that you keep copies of supportive records including sales receipts, purchase contracts and appraisals.  Also, record the serial numbers for major appliances and electronic equipment.  Serial numbers usually can be found on the back or bottom of these items. 

Follow the same steps when creating a digital photograph home inventory except make written notations about the items.  Whatever form your home inventory takes, take steps to ensure you store it properly.  Either print out the files or burn a CD.  Keep a copy in a safety deposit box or have a friend store it.   Keeping only one copy in your house will serve no purpose if your home is severely damaged by a fire or other widespread disaster.  The same is true if your sole electronic home inventory is wiped out through a computer hard drive crash. 

In addition to annually updating your home inventory, it is important to update to include newly acquired items.  The Insurance Information Institute has created Home Inventory Software that is free to the homeowners and renters.  The “Know Your Stuff – Home Inventory Software” is available  The software includes a customizable room-by-room list of possessions and can also store electronic images.

Save Your Life with a Carbon Monoxide Detector

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a clear, odorless gas that is a by-product of combustion of fuels like natural gas, liquid propane (LP), coal, oil and wood.  It is poisonous to humans and pets.  Each year, more than 10,000 Americans are disabled by accidental exposure to carbon monoxide.  Between 1992 and 1996, the number of non-fire CO poisoning deaths (excluding death by motor vehicle exhaust) averaged about 544 per year. 

The majority of CO poisoning deaths were connected with the use of household heating systems.1 Other consumer products that contribute to CO poisoning deaths include charcoal grills, gas water heaters, camping equipment, and gas ranges.   Between 1994 and 1998, approximately 10,600 people were treated in hospital for CO poisoning injuries associated only with consumer products.  Therefore, it is important to have heating systems and other gas appliances inspected annually not only for efficiency but more importantly for safety. 

Installing Your CO Detector

Homes with gas heating systems should have CO detectors, clear and simple.  A detector should be placed on each level of your home and especially near bedrooms or sleeping areas.  CO detectors can be mounted at any height and should be placed at least 20 feet away from any fuel burning appliances, and at least 10 feet away from kitchens and bathrooms.  If your CO alarm is triggered exit the house immediately and call emergency services.  Do not re-enter the home until a professional has completed a thorough inspection for the source of the excess CO.

Testing Your Carbon Monoxide Detector

It is now possible to determine if your CO detector is working by using a special testing device found at local hardware stores.  These devices simulate carbon monoxide by using a small tablet that when moistened releases a non-toxic gas.   If the detector is working properly the alarm will should go off.

With regular inspections of your gas burning appliances and heating systems and the installation of a carbon monoxide detector, death and injury from CO poisoning can be prevented.

1 Estimates of Non-fire CO Poisoning Deaths and Injuries; Executive Summary; U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission; June 1999

Don’t Let Water Damage Drain Your Wallet

Water leakage is the most common form of damage to the home.  With an average cost around $5,000 for water damage repairs, it’s definitely a problem worth a watchful eye.  Most of these damage claims are a result of a broken washing machine or hot-water heater.   While these appliances were once tucked away primarily in the basement, now they are conveniently located on main or upper floors.  When they malfunction the water leakage damages walls and ceilings causing extensive, time-consuming and costly repairs.

There are preventative measures you can take to reduce the chance of water damage in your home from a faulty appliance.  They involve the following:


  • An average water heater lasts about 10 years.   If you notice wet spots on the floor or rust forming on the tank it is a good idea to think about replacing it.
  • A worn out rubber or plastic hose is an accident waiting to happen.  Examine the hoses on your appliances and under sinks for leaks from water lines or drain pipes. Consider replacing them with stainless steel hoses which have a much longer lifespan.
  • If your air conditioning unit is located in the attic check it periodically and have it maintained by a professional.   Make sure that your service agreement includes inspecting and cleaning the unit annually.  A leak starting in the attic will do considerable damage.
  • Only run dishwashers and washing machines while you are home.  If the appliance should malfunction you can turn the water off in order to avoid a huge flood.  It is, of course, vital that you know where the main water shut off valve is located in your home.
  • For less than the cost of dinner you can purchase a water alarm.  They work much the same way as smoke alarms do and are simple to install.  They can be placed on the floor or wall mounted.  The alarm’s sensor will trigger if exposed to any level of moisture.


Some water damage is covered by homeowner’s insurance and some is not.  In some instances a policy will only cover damage if regular maintenance has been performed.  It is therefore essential that these areas are checked before you suffer losses that you can’t afford to cover.

Don’t Be Tripped Up By an Overload: Use Electricity Wisely

Hidden among the many benefits of electricity are an equal amount of hazards.   The valuable resource that makes our lives run so smoothly can be dangerous if not treated with the utmost respect when it comes to safety.  It’s estimated that 40,000 residential fires each year are caused by faulty electrical systems or just general misuse of the system.1 Electrical systems become dangerous when circuits are constantly being overloaded.  Regularly taxing a circuit can eventually wear it out, causing it to overheat and possibly start an electrical fire. 

In most homes, electrical circuits are designed with the anticipated electrical load in mind.  Each circuit can only handle a specific amount of wattage so it is helpful to know the wattage each appliance or device in your home uses.  For example a hairdryer can draw about 1400 watts and a vacuum cleaner about 600 watts.

Problems can occur when too many appliances are plugged into the same circuit.   If the circuit overloads it will trip and shut off the flow of electricity.  When a fuse or circuit breaker trips, it is important to find the exact cause of the short and have it repaired.  It can be potentially hazardous to merely replace the fuse or flip the breaker switch without determining the cause.

Another potential danger is in the misuse of extension cords.  People often will use an extension cord with an adaptor to plug many devices into a single outlet, which could overload the circuit.  An extension cord should be used as a temporary measure not a permanent solution.  If more outlets are required in a certain area, have a professional electrician install them.

Additional safety measures you can implement include:

  • During home remodeling always use a licensed electrician for any additions of electrical circuits.
  • Use ground fault interrupters on circuits in bathrooms and around wet or damp areas.
  • Extension cords should be three-pronged. They should be kept away from high traffic areas and never be placed under carpets.
  • Using power strips with their own circuit breaker protection offers better protection when using multiple appliances or electronics.

Finally, it is important to ensure that each breaker or fuse clearly identifies the appliance serviced by that circuit and that the breaker box is accessible at all times. You should also know where to locate the main trip switch that shuts down power to your house.  In an emergency situation, you may not have time to find the right switch.


[1] “1997 Residential Fire Loss Estimates”, Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Protecting Your Home from Strong Winds

Severe weather can produce strong winds that can seriously damage your home and threaten your family’s safety.  Unpredictable wind gusts can change direction and speed quickly and threaten the integrity of a building’s structure.  During high winds storms, flying debris can prove lethal. 

By maintaining a “tight seal,” keeping the outside wind from getting into your home, you may be able to keep your home safe from this type of damage and reduce the possibility of someone getting injured.


The following items can reduce the chance of your home being lifted off its foundation by providing uplift resistance:

  • Anchor bolts with heavy-gauge, square bolt washers can be installed during new home construction or added in existing homes to connect the floor construction to the foundation.
  • Plywood or OSB (oriented strand board) can connect the wall and floor components if properly nailed and installed.
  • Metal bracing connecting roof trusses or rafters to the wall framing.


Sheathing should be properly sized and nailed to comply with applicable building codes. Install underlayment material, such as asphalt-saturated felt. Provide separate, secondary water infiltration protection by sealing roof deck joints with a self-adhering modified roofing underlayment (thin rubber/asphalt sheets with peel and stick undersides located beneath the roof covering).

Roofing products with high wind resistance are available. Discuss with a contractor what measures can be taken to ensure the installation of your roof will be completed with high winds in mind. Insist they use hot-dipped, galvanized nails instead of staples to attach asphalt shingles.


To protect against flying debris, windows and glass doors can be fitted with impact-resistant laminated glass or covered with impact-resistant shutters.

Entry Doors

Solid wood or hollow metal doors are more wind resistant and are better equipped to handle wind pressure and flying debris.

Reinforce protection of entry doors by:

  • Making sure your doors have at least three hinges and a deadbolt security lock with a minimum bolt throw of at least one inch.
  • Consider not using double-entry doors, but if you do, install head and foot bolts on the inactive door of double-entry doors.
  • Since double-entry doors fail when surface bolts break at the header trim or threshold, check connections at both places. The surface bolt should extend through the door footer and through the threshold into the sub floor.

Garage Doors

Garage doors are especially vulnerable to damage during high winds, unless your doors are properly braced.

  • If building a new home, consider installing horizontally braced, singlewide garage doors instead of double overhead doors.
  • For existing homes, check with your garage door manufacturer for availability of retrofit bracing kits.
  • Garage door panels, especially for doublewide doors, may require both horizontal and vertical bracing to ensure stability.

Safe Rooms

It is a good idea to have a room in your home to go to in the event of a high wind storm.  If your home has a basement consider constructing a safe room, but if this is not possible then stay on the ground floor.  A safe room is constructed with reinforced floors, walls and ceilings and can be designed for both new and existing homes.  It will provide you with a safe haven during a major storm.

Manufactured Homes

Manufactured homes are especially vulnerable during high winds since they are not built on a permanent foundation.  While tie-downs can help they secure the frame, not the entire house and they can also weaken over time leaving the home susceptible to damage. The home’s foundation-to-wall or wall-to-roof connections may be compromised in the wind. Failure in either of these areas could result in a complete loss of the home.  A safe alternative might be a community storm shelter or other permanent structure to ensure your safety.

Pay Attention – Driving Distracted Could Be Your Demise

At one point in time a vehicle was a means to take us from point ‘a’ to point ‘b.’ Nowadays we not only travel in our vehicles, we eat meals in them, conduct business in them, read in them, watch TV in them, listen to cds and, of course, talk on the phone.     Cars are being equipped with more and more gadgets to seemingly make our life easier.  In the midst of this progress, we neglect to realize that easier isn’t always better, or, as in the case of driving while distracted, safer.  While perfecting the ‘skill’ of multi-tasking we sometimes forget that our vehicle is potentially a lethal weapon.

As with many common tasks for most of us driving a car is second nature.  Because of this most people feel that it is safe to perform various tasks while driving.  Accident statistics tell us otherwise.   We know from research that just thinking about things other than the road ahead has the same effect as removing your eyes from the road.  When you actually take your eyes off the road to perform a task, the distance you travel is longer than you would think, especially when traveling at a high speed.  It is usually far enough to hit someone or something that is suddenly placed in front of you.  When you look away from the road you are merely speculating that nothing in your path will change until you resume the task of driving.  When you do this you are gambling with your life and the lives of others.

The Network of Employers for Traffic Safety estimates that, nationwide, somewhere between 4,000 to 8,000 crashes daily happen as the result of distracted drivers.  A National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) survey revealed that 60% of cell phone usage takes place behind the wheel. 

While we may understand the risks we also know that our lives do not suddenly slow down because we want them to.  So what do we do?  Take steps to make our traveling safer and also take a minute to realize that the time to accomplish 10 different tasks isn’t when we are behind the wheel.

Some steps toward a safer commute include:


  • Use a hands free device when making calls and dial the number when the vehicle is stationary.
  • Do not answer phone calls during hazardous driving situations.
  • Be familiar with the controls on your car’s stereo system so that you can make adjustments with considerable ease.
  • Pull over to conduct business or finish challenging discussions.
  • Never attempt to look for lost items or retrieve an item off the floor while driving.
  • Be familiar with and adjust vehicle controls before starting out on a trip. 
  • Avoid eating, drinking and smoking while driving.


The life you save may not only be your own.  Saving time is not nearly as important as staying alive. 

Will Your Insurance Cover the Cost of Rebuilding Your Home?

After a disaster happens it is too late to determine if you have enough insurance to cover the cost of replacing your home and your lost valuables. And as we have seen from recent events, disaster has a way of striking without warning.

Savvy homeowners make it a practice to review their homeowner’s insurance on an annual basis to see if their policy still provides adequate coverage to rebuild their homes at current construction costs. This is especially important if you have recently paid off your mortgage and you only purchased enough insurance protection to satisfy your mortgage lender’s requirements.

When you evaluate your coverage, be sure not to confuse the real estate value of your home with what it would cost to rebuild it.  Another point to consider is whether or not your policy covers improvements such as a new kitchen or bathroom and major purchases, as well as rebuilding costs.

Most basic homeowner’s policies will provide replacement cost for damage to the physical structure of your home. Replacement cost covers the repair or replacement of damaged property with materials that are similar in kind and quality to what your home was built with.

For added protection beyond the estimated cost of rebuilding your home, you need a guaranteed or extended cost policy. This type of coverage is especially important if there is a widespread disaster that raises the cost of building materials and labor. A guaranteed replacement cost policy would pay to rebuild your home regardless of the actual cost. Insurance companies offer extended replacement cost policies, which provide an additional 20% or more of coverage above the limits found in the basic homeowner’s policy.

You should also consider purchasing additional coverage that will increase the protection of the standard homeowner’s policy:

  • Inflation Guard – automatically adjusts the rebuilding costs of your home to reflect changes in construction costs because of inflation
  • Building Code Upgrades – provides ordinance or law coverage that pays a specific amount toward increased building costs resulting from having to meet new or tougher building codes
  • Water Back-Up – insures your property for damage caused by the back up of sewers or drains

Standard homeowner’s policies do not include coverage for earthquakes or flooding, including flooding resulting from a hurricane. Flood insurance is available through the federal government’s National Flood Insurance Program, However, you may be able to purchase the coverage from the same insurer from whom you purchased your homeowner’s insurance. Earthquake insurance is also available through private insurance companies. You should speak to your agent about purchasing flood and/or earthquake coverage if you live in a geographic area that can be hard-hit by these types of natural disasters.

The second part of your coverage evaluation should include a determination of whether or not you have adequate protection for your possessions. You can do this by conducting a home inventory, which itemizes everything you own and the estimated cost to replace these items if they are stolen or destroyed. If you find that your possessions are not sufficiently covered, you can increase protection in either of two ways:

  • Cash Value Policy – pays the cost to replace your belongings minus depreciation.
  • Replacement Cost Policy – pays the actual cost of replacing the item.

If you have a replacement cost policy for the contents of your home, your carrier will pay to replace lost or damaged items with new ones that are comparable. If you have a cash value policy, your carrier will pay only a percentage of the cost of any new items because they have been used and have depreciated in value. Generally, the price of replacement cost coverage is about 10% higher than cash value coverage, but the difference in cost will more than pay for itself in the event of a major disaster.

Make Sure You Are Fully Covered Before Winter Storms Arrive

The beautiful and peaceful looking blanket of fresh snow that a winter storm leaves behind can be deceiving.  Winter storms can be extremely dangerous, causing extensive property damage and hazardous conditions.   Do you know what to do to minimize winter storm damage to your home?  If you do sustain damage, do you know what your homeowner’s policy will cover? 

Winter storms can cause a wide range of property destruction including wind damage, burst pipes and damage to buildings as a result of heavy ice or snow.  Typically, homeowner’s policies cover these categories of loss.  However, flood damage is generally not covered under a standard policy and additional coverage may also be needed for sewer and drain back-ups.

Winter storms not only wreak havoc during the course of the storm but further damage is possible as the snow starts to melt.  You should check your policy to see if this type of damage is covered.  Often damage due to melting snow is preventable and your insurance company may want to see that you took appropriate precautions before they will cover a claim. 

To prevent damage from melting snow:

  • Check for accumulation of snow on the downwind side of your roof and consult with a roofing contractor for safe removal. 
  • Keep gutters clean of leaves to prevent frozen snow or rain from creating an “ice dam” which can damage your home’s ceiling as the melting ice can spread under roof shingles. 
  • Watch for sewer and drain backups as snow melts.  Make sure to alert your local government officials if public street drains become clogged. 
  • Before a storm, remove dead branches hanging over your house.  After the storm, remove large amounts of snow from branches if they pose a threat.
  • Prevent freezing pipes by keeping your home warmer than 65 degrees.  You can also let faucets drip slightly to prevent freezing.  Know where your home’s main water shut-off valve is so that you can quickly turn off water to your house should pipes burst. 

If freezing pipes burst, the contents inside your home could also be damaged as a result of inclement winter weather.  To make sure you would be properly compensated for this type of claim make sure to:

  • Prepare a household inventory including photographs or videotape footage of your possessions.
  • Keep receipts for high value items.
  • Prepare a list of key insurance information including contact phone numbers and insurance policy numbers.
  • Keep a copy of these documents in a safe location outside of your home. 

Snow and ice can also leave you vulnerable to legal liability if someone slips and falls on your property or is hurt from falling ice.  While resulting lawsuits may be covered, you could be found negligent if you didn’t take reasonable steps within an appropriate amount of time to prevent such accidents.  Therefore, to ensure your family’s safety and that of visitors to your home, clear walkways and remove ice as soon as you can after a storm.

Can I Rent That Condo?

Not everyone wants to actually own a unit in a condominium complex which is why some purchasers buy units as investment properties. The practice has become widespread enough to become a major problem for many condominium associations. To understand the scope of the problem, you need to understand how the secondary mortgage market operates.

The secondary mortgage market is the place where primary mortgage lenders sell the mortgages they underwrite to obtain funds to originate other new loans. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are secondary mortgage lenders who originate a large number of condominium loans for purchase and refinance. They impose restrictions on the number of investor units in a condominium association. Usually no more than 40 or 50 percent of the units can be investment properties available for renting. If an association goes beyond these limitations, new purchasers as well as unit owners wishing to refinance find it difficult to get a mortgage from these lenders.

That’s one of the reasons why you need to check that the unit you are contemplating renting is a legitimate rental property under the condo association’s governing documents. They spell out the policy regarding renting. If the governing documents contain no rental restrictions, then owners have the right to rent their units at will.  However, some governing documents may allow unit owners to rent, but they must do so for a minimum period. That means you must rent the unit for a specific period of time like a year. This restriction is usually intended to prevent short-term rentals resulting in a revolving door of tenants. If there are specific restrictions allowing the board to make reasonable rules and regulations regarding rental issues; these rules cannot violate any state or federal statutes.

The importance of determining the legitimacy of the rental unit is also imperative in terms of safeguarding your rights as a tenant. There are two areas of major concern, rent increases and unlawful eviction. Your landlord may increase your rent, but the increase must be “fair and equitable.” If you are legitimately renting and you think that the rent increase is not fair and equitable, you can file a complaint with the local governing body that handles rent complaints.

The other concern is protection from unjust eviction. The “Just Cause” law protects tenants who live in a building or complex, which has at least five dwelling units. It says that your landlord can only evict you for certain reasons:


  • Nonpayment of rent
  • Refusing to agree to a “fair and equitable” rent increase
  • Not following rules and regulations of the building
  • Not following the provisions of the lease
  • Not meeting obligations toward the property such as protecting the property from being damaged, interfering with the neighbors’ peaceful enjoyment of the property; or failing to keep your unit clean and safe
  • The apartment is being permanently removed from the housing market
  • Your landlord plans to use the apartment as his/her own permanent residence