Category: Home

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.

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.

Is the Aluminum Wiring in Your Home a Problem Waiting to Happen?

Any electrician will tell you that copper wiring should always be used for the electricity in your home. But copper is expensive and that can be a hindrance, in some instances more than others. In the mid 1960s to the early 70s copper was far too expensive to be used in homes and was replaced by aluminum as the preferred material.

Aluminum wiring that was installed during this time period is called “old technology” wiring. Such wiring has properties that make it a potential fire hazard. When subject to stress over a period of time, aluminum wiring will deform more rapidly than copper. Likewise, prolonged exposure to heat will make aluminum expand far more quickly than copper. Aluminum wire is extremely brittle and is subject to corrosion from oxidation. This corrosion interferes with its ability to properly conduct electricity.

If you suspect your home has aluminum wiring, there are certain waning signs to look for that indicate you may have the potential for a fire:

·   Face plates on outlets or switches are warm to the touch

·   Lights that continually flicker when they are on

·   Circuits that don’t work properly

·   Smelling burning plastic when you are near outlets or switches

Unfortunately, not all failing aluminum wired connections issue warning signals. Some aluminum wired connections have been known to fail without any prior indication of trouble.

What methods of remediation are available to homeowners that will prevent a tragedy from happening? One way is to eliminate the aluminum wire itself.  Depending upon the style in which your house was built and the number of basements and attics you have, it may be possible to rewire your home. An electrician would install a copper wire branch circuit system, which would essentially eliminate the function of the existing aluminum wire inside the walls. This is expensive, but it is the most effective solution to the problem.

A less expensive alternative is the crimp connector repair. This involves attaching a piece of copper wire to the existing aluminum wire branch circuit with a specially designed metal sleeve. The metal sleeve is called a COPALUM parallel splice connector. This special connector can only be installed with the AMP tool that was developed for this purpose. The AMP makes a permanent connection. The repair is completed with the addition of an insulating sleeve around the crimp connector.

There are two other repair methods that are significantly less expensive than COPALUM crimp connectors, however, neither of these repairs is considered as safe. The first of these, called “pig tailing”, involves attaching a short piece of copper wire to the aluminum wire with a twist-on connector. The copper wire is connected to the switch or wall outlet. These connectors have proven to overheat over time.

The second repair uses switches and outlets labeled “CO/ALR”. These devices perform better with aluminum wire when properly installed than the types of switches and outlets usually used in the old technology aluminum branch circuit wiring.  However, CO/ALR connectors are not available for all parts of the wiring system. These wiring devices are also not fail proof.

Insuring Your Collectibles the Smart Way

If you have spent considerable time and money on a collection you probably want to ensure that it is well protected.  Homeowner’s insurance does not necessarily cover large collections and it is best to find out whether you are covered before an incident of loss, rather than after.  Most homeowner’s policies cover items such as jewelry, stamps or antiques, and value them between $500 and $2,000.  Generally, if your collection is worth more than $3,000 it is a good idea to purchase separate insurance.  Talk to your insurance provider to find out the cost of a specialized policy or ‘floater’ for your collection.  Compare this cost to that of a specialty insurer.

A specialty insurer focuses on fine collectibles and will help you determine what type of insurance is best for you.  Also, specialty insurers may charge less than most homeowner’s insurance rates.  A specialty insurer will also provide more extensive coverage for your collection, such as coverage while in transit, accidental breakage, shipping loss and fumigation from fire damage.

It is important to know what documentation is needed and when it will be required.  Some policies require documentation of the collection at the time of coverage, yet others may only want documentation in case of a claim.  The documentation requirement may be a listing of the items along with pictures, while some companies will accept a videotaped account or may require receipts of purchase.  Specialty insurers generally require an appraisal of your collection.  In some cases, you may underestimate the value of your items, so it is best to consult a qualified appraiser who can assist you in determining and documenting the value for insurance purposes.

Insurance premiums may be less if there is minimal chance of loss.  For example, if you have a valuable collection stored in your home, it might be prudent to install an alarm system.

If you own a valuable collection, make the decision to insure it and allow it to be enjoyed for generations to come.

The Best Defense Against Mold Is a Good Offense

Recent natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina have once again put mold in the spotlight.  And since flooding can occur in the winter due to the abundance of melting snow and heavy rains, homeowners need to familiarize themselves with the steps to eliminate mold from their homes.

First, it is important to understand the reasons to keep your home mold free.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to mold poses a potential health risk.  People with mold sensitivity can find themselves with a stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing, or skin irritation.  Those with mold allergies can have difficulty breathing and experience shortness of breath.  If someone with a weakened immune system or chronic lung disease is exposed to mold, they can develop mold infections in their lungs.  The point is to eliminate the problem before it becomes a health issue.

As we know, mold develops because of excessive moisture, so the key to prevention is to identify and eliminate moisture from developing in the first place.  The Insurance Information Institute recommends that homeowners take the following precautions:

Reduce humidity in your home


  • Keep the humidity level in your home between 30 and 60 percent by using air conditioners or dehumidifiers.
  • Use exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Never install carpets in damp areas, such as basements or bathrooms.
  • Never let water accumulate under houseplants.


Use mold-reducing products


  • Clean bathrooms with bleach or other mold-eliminating products.
  • Add mold inhibitors to paint before application.


Keep your home and belongings dry


  • Fix leaky pipes, faucets and hoses.
  • Keep gutters free of leaves and other debris.
  • Maintain your roof to prevent water from seeping into your home.


Be careful after a flood or other water damage


  • ·Properly dry or remove soaked carpets, padding and upholstery within 24 to 48 hours after a flood to prevent mold growth.  Anything that cannot be properly dried should be discarded.
  • Remove standing water as quickly as possible.  Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and inhaled.
  • Wash and disinfect with bleach, or other mold-eliminating products, all areas that have been flooded.  This includes walls, floors, closets and shelves, as well as heating and air-conditioning systems.


If you find that despite your best efforts you have mold problems, there are two options to remediate the situation.  The first is to clean it yourself.  If you choose this option, you should limit your own exposure to the mold and its spores.  The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you wear certain protective gear during cleanup, most importantly an N-95 respirator, which can be purchased at most hardware stores.  Some N-95 respirators look like a paper dust mask with a nozzle on the front, while another popular style is made of plastic or rubber and has a removable cartridge that traps the mold spores.  No matter what style you use, in order to be effective, the respirator must fit properly.

The second item the EPA recommends is a pair of long gloves that extend to the middle of your forearm.  If you are using a mild detergent, ordinary household rubber gloves are fine.  If you are using a disinfectant, chlorine bleach, or other strong cleaning solution, you should use gloves made from natural rubber, neoprene, nitrile, polyurethane, or PVC.  The third protective piece of equipment you should wear are goggles without ventilation holes. 

If there are still signs of mold after cleaning or if the mold returns, you should choose the second option and have the area cleaned by professionals who specialize in mold removal.