Category: Home

Protect Your Home from Power Surges This Summer with Surge Protectors

The arrival of summer can mean several welcome events: a return to outdoors living, an opportunity for vacation, and more time with the family. One of the issues people may not associate with summer are the power surges that often occur due to the tremendous demand for energy, especially to cool homes. A power surge is a brief spike in electrical power. While on the surface it may not seem like much to be concerned about, power surges can cause serious damage by burning up electrical circuits inside appliances. They can also damage electrical outlets, light switches, light bulbs, air conditioner components, and even garage door openers.

You can protect your valuable electrical appliances from the damaging effects of power surges. The most cost effective way is by purchasing surge protection strips. You can plug in your television, DVD player, and stereo into the strip and it should provide adequate protection against most surges. It’s a good idea to pick up a surge protection strip for the kitchen counter so that you can protect small electrics like the toaster, blender, food processor etc. You can also find surge protectors that fit into electrical outlets that will protect your phone and answering machine. You can buy most types of surge protectors in any local hardware store.

When it comes to your PC, however, you will have to be a bit more selective about protection, because of the delicacy of its internal components. Back-up power packs that are specifically designed to protect your hardware can be found in stores that sell computer accessories as well as in many electronics chain stores. They can be somewhat expensive, but are certainly less expensive than replacing your entire system.

Before you purchase any surge protector, there are certain features you need to look for. The first feature to look for is a surge protector that is labeled with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo. The UL logo tells you that the unit has been tested to determine if it meets certain standards. Any product that is UL tested will be labeled as a “transient voltage surge protector,” which means that it meets or exceeds the minimum standards required to be an effective deterrent against power surges.

A surge protector’s performance is rated in three ways. The first is clamping voltage, which is the level of voltage surge that has to occur before the surge protector kicks in and diverts excess voltage from the item being protected. You want to find a surge protector that has a low voltage number so that it takes less of a surge to activate it. Look for a protector with a clamping voltage of less than 400 volts.

The second way to rate a surge protector’s performance is response time: the amount of time it takes for the surge protector to respond to the surge. You should look for a unit with a response time of one nanosecond or less.

Just like any other appliance in your home, your surge protector will eventually wear out. The third performance-rating factor is energy absorption, or how much energy the unit will absorb before it fails. For the longest lasting performance, look for a unit rated between 300 and 600 joules. Remember, the higher the number, the longer the life of the surge protector.

Protect Yourself When Taking on a Remodeling Project

Due to sustained record low interest rates, many homeowners have elected to take on major home remodeling projects.  According to the National Association of Home Builders, approximately 26 million Americans spend more than 180 billion annually on home improvements.   In many cases, however, homeowners are not updating their insurance at the same time, leaving themselves extremely vulnerable.

Making sure you are appropriately insured should begin at the very start of a project.   A contractor should not be hired if they cannot produce their certificate of insurance.   The contractor should provide you with a copy of their certificate, which shows the type and amount of their insurance coverage.  This should include general liability, workers’ compensation and auto coverage, and the policy must be current. 

It is equally as important to make sure that any subcontractors that your contractor brings in to the job are similarly insured.  This is particularly important now, as insurance rates for the construction industry have recently risen significantly.  You want to make sure a member of your remodeling team didn’t choose a coverage lapse over a premium increase.

When you choose to take on a remodeling project yourself, you must review your own coverage for liability and property damage issues, particularly when bringing in subcontractors to help with the work.  As the homeowner, you may be liable if they are injured during the scope of your project.  Even if your current policy covers any injuries related to the renovation, we often recommend that homeowners carry umbrella liability coverage, which would cover a claim beyond normal limits.

In addition to liability issues, it is key to increase your homeowner’s coverage based on the added value to your home.  Kitchen and bathroom renovations are the most common and tend to be quite costly.   They also substantially increase the value of a home.

Homeowners should use caution not to over-insure themselves.  Don’t increase your insurance based on the cost of the remodel.  You should determine how much it would actually cost to rebuild your home with the added improvements.  This replacement cost is the amount that needs to be insured.  The cost to remodel also includes tearing out old materials.  Therefore, in some cases, the cost difference to rebuild the home may be less than the actual renovation cost itself. 

The most important item to consider is to contact your insurance agent to increase your homeowner’s limits before, not after, a renovation project.  This will ensure that you are covered should any fire or damage occur during a renovation.

Avoid Sewer and Drain Damage to Your Basement

Millions of dollars are spent every year repairing damage to basements caused by sewer and drain backups.  There are some ways these problems can be avoided, instead of having to repair the mess from a sewer or drain backup. 

Make sure your drainage systems are working properly.  The downspouts from your gutters should extend beyond the foundation of your home so that water is not left to trickle down basement walls.  Along those same lines, your yard should gradually slope away from the foundation, so surface water drains directly to the street.  Keep drain lines clear, especially if your gutters connect to storm sewers. 

There are several types of anti-backflow devices that can help reduce the chance of basement flooding.  Check-valve devices allow water and sewage to flow away from the drain, preventing backup into the drain.  Gate-valve devices close and shut off the flow of water and sewage, preventing backup.  Anti-backflow devices are either manually or automatically operated.

Sump pumps are another option to consider.  Single and dual-level sump pump systems are available, and a battery or generator can be used to power the pump in case of a power failure.  Sump pump systems should be checked monthly.  Check local building codes or consult your plumber to ensure your sump pump is connected properly.  Sump pumps should not be connected to your home’s waste plumbing system.

Despite your best efforts, sometimes water will still get in your basement.  Keep storage items off the floor and keep furniture on casters or shims, away from floor drains.  If your basement is finished, ensure that you consult plumbing and building professionals to design a drainage system that will prevent damage to your finished space. 

Despite the amount of damage backups can cause, many homeowners’ policies do not include coverage for sewer and drain losses.  Check with your agent to determine if an additional endorsement can protect you from this costly problem.

Is a Monitored Alarm System the Right Choice for Your Home?

Residential alarm systems get a lot of attention when talking about home security, but what choices do you have and what benefits are there?  Can you get a discount on your homeowner’s insurance if you have a system installed?  It is possible that just a sign from a security company on your window or in your yard may deter potential burglars, but educating yourself about what security companies have to offer can help you determine if an alarm system is right for your home.

Security companies offer a host of options, including protection against burglary, fire, and carbon monoxide, as well as medical monitoring and mobile monitoring.  In security systems, you have two basic choices:  monitored and unmonitored systems. 

Monitored systems will contact your monitoring company by telephone when activated.  The monitoring company will then dispatch the police, fire department, or other emergency personnel to your home.  The drawbacks, however, could be quite serious, depending on the situation.  The monitored system uses your telephone line to notify emergency personnel.  That means that your phone line will be in use and you would need a secondary phone line or a cellular phone to call for additional help.  If an intruder is bold enough to cut your telephone line before entering your home, the advantages of a monitored system are cut short.  Also, in the case of a false alarm, the police department may charge you for a trip out to your home.

Some monitoring companies will sell you the security system, but will not act as your monitoring company.  They may sub-contract with a monitoring firm who will be handling your monitoring.  You can find a secure monitoring company on your own, but if your company has an Underwriters Laboratory rating, you can trust they will be secure.

Unmonitored systems have advantages and disadvantages as well.  An unmonitored system usually has an audible alarm and possibly flashing lights, which notify neighbors that the security of your home has been breached.  This, however, poses a specific problem:  you must rely on your neighbors to take action if they see or hear your alarm system activated.  Your neighbors may not be at home, or, unfortunately, some neighbors will not want to get involved.  Consider organizing your community by initiating a neighborhood watch program and having get-togethers, so that you become vested in protecting each others safety.

For many, the advantages of a home security system are also financial.  Informing your homeowner’s insurance company that you have certain security measures in place can save you 5% to 20% on your homeowner’s policy.  Insurers will routinely give a 15% to 20% discount for homes equipped with a burglary and fire alarm system that is monitored by a third-party monitoring company.1

Considering an alarm system for your home may provide you with peace of mind, whether you are home or away.  Developing close ties to your neighbors can also provide you that same comfort.  If you are considering a monitored security system, contact your homeowner’s insurance company for details about discounts that may be available to you.  While the financial benefit from your insurance company may be an advantage to a security system, it may be greatly outweighed by the peace of mind you will feel in knowing your home is properly defended against burglary, fire, or other threats.


1 See

Practicing Safe Electrical Habits in Your Home

A new survey commissioned by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA) has shed considerable light on a serious problem:  electrical hazards in the home. 1  The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) says that there are an annual average of 165,380 electrical-related home structure fires, taking an average of more than 900 lives, injuring almost 7,000 people, and causing nearly $1.7 billion in property damage.  Suffice it to say, electrical hazards in your home are a serious concern.

There are several areas in your home that can easily be checked to greatly eliminate risk of electrical hazards.  Wall outlets should be checked for loose-fitting plugs, which can overheat and lead to fire.  Never force a plug into an outlet.  If the plug does not fit into the outlet, it should not be plugged in.  Along those same lines, never remove a ground prong from a three-prong plug so that it can fit into a two-prong outlet, as this can cause electrical shock.  Do not overload plugs or circuits with too many items.  Make sure all switch plate covers are secure and take care to cover wall outlets when children are around.  If you notice any discolored or hot outlet plates, take action immediately, as this may indicate a dangerous heat build up and possible fire threat.

Power cords and extension cords are also a potential safety concern.  Make sure you are only using cords in good condition, with no frayed or cracked housing.  Never nail or staple an extension cord to the wall or baseboard and do not place cords in high-traffic areas, or under items such as rugs, carpets, or furniture.  Keep in mind that extension cords are not permanent wiring and should not be used for prolonged periods of time.  Additionally, use power cords approved by Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) or another independent testing facility.  Make sure the cord has been rated for the type of application you need it for.

Check your light fixtures and light bulbs.  Does the wattage of the light bulb exceed the recommendation on the fixture?  If so, replace it immediately with a light bulb that does not have higher wattage than what has been recommended by the manufacturer.  Make sure the bulb is screwed in tightly, as loose light bulbs may overheat and can be a potential safety hazard. 

Ensure that all appliances, from kitchen to bathroom, are certified by an independent testing laboratory, such as UL, CSA, or MET Labs, and follow the manufactures instructions carefully.

When it comes to circuit breakers in your home, get familiar with them.  Create a map to outline all outlets, rooms, fixtures, and appliances and where they are on your circuit breaker.  Circuit breakers and fuses should be the correct size and rating for their circuit.  Never replace a fuse with a different size from the one you are removing.

Required in homes since the early 1970’s, consider a GFCI, or ground fault circuit interrupter, on all general-purpose circuits in your home.  A GFCI can prevent accidental shock and electrocution by shutting off a circuit when a “leak” of electric current is detected off the circuit.  GFCIs should be tested monthly and after every major electrical storm.

AFCIs, or arc fault circuit interrupters, help prevent fires resulting from outlets, switches, and frayed or cracked power cords.  The AFCI senses the particular signature of an arc and acts to immediately shut off the circuit.  AFCIs are required in all new home construction in bedroom circuits, but should be considered as a safety measure in all homes and on general-purpose circuits.

In summary, there are many simple steps you can take to ensure safe electrical habits are used in your home.  If you have questions about avoiding electrical hazards or how to further protect your home, consult a trusted electrician who can ensure your home is up to code and safe for you and your family.


1  See Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America and the Electrical Safety Foundation International’s safety tips at:

How to Prevent and Treat Mold in Your Home

The impact of mold has become a prevalent topic recently, but do you know all you need to know about its impact on you and your home?  Although certain molds may be discussed more than others, all molds are treated the same when it comes to their potential health risks and their removal. 

It is easy to know if you have a mold problem.  Large mold infestations can be seen or smelled.  Mold grows naturally in the environment and may enter your home through open doors, windows, and ventilation systems such as heating and air conditioning.  Mold spores may even attach themselves to your clothing and pets, which then bring them inside the home.  Once inside, mold attaches itself to areas with moisture, such as a leaky roof, pipes, wet wallboard, plant pots, areas of condensation, and where flooding has occurred.  Many building products make a hospitable place for mold to grow.  

Stachybotrys chartarum is a greenish-black mold, which grows in areas with a high cellulose and low nitrogen content, such as fiberboard, gypsum board, paper, dust and lint.  Even carpet, fabric and upholstery can easily support mold growth.  

The most common health concerns resulting from mold exposure are allergy-type symptoms.  The severity of the reaction depends on the amount and duration of the exposure to the mold.  Individuals with chronic respiratory disease, including asthma, may experience difficulty breathing.  Also, those on immune suppression therapy may be at an increased risk for health problems associated with mold.  If you feel that you or your family members are at risk for infection, see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Prevention is the key to combating mold. Just as with termites, buildings should be inspected for mold growth.  Areas affected by water damage should be inspected thoroughly.  Leaks and other conditions that supply moisture should be corrected, so as to prevent mold from taking root.  Remove and replace flood-damaged carpets and carpet pads.  Helpful tips are to keep humidity levels in your home below 50%, using air conditioning or a dehumidifier if necessary.  Also, make sure your home is well ventilated, checking heating and air conditioning units as well as exhaust fans.  Clean bathrooms and kitchens with mold-killing products.  And, consider using paint that contains a mold-inhibiting agent.

If you are going to rid your home of mold, a bleach and water solution will suffice for most jobs.  Mix 10 parts water to 1 part chlorine bleach and never mix bleach with ammonia.  Clean walls and other flood-damaged items with the bleach solution and discard moldy items.  Professionals may be needed to clean larger areas of mold.

Understanding Mold Exposures for the Homeowner

National estimates show that one in three houses has a moisture problem, and one in ten houses has enough mold that could cause allergic reactions.  All of us are exposed to some mold every day with no side effects. We may breathe in mold spores that are present in the air or eat foods in which mold has begun to grow. People with mold allergies, however, may have a reaction if exposed to too much of the fungus.

While not everyone is allergic to mold, if a person has a mold allergy it can cause a variety of reactions throughout the body, and in particular the central nervous system.  Symptoms can include the inability to concentrate, memory loss and headaches.  Children can react with behavioral and learning disorders, sometimes misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder or asthma.  One form of mold, black mold, is extremely toxic and can be deadly, especially to children with mold allergies.

Recently, a jury awarded a Wichita couple $1 million in damages because a house they bought was infested with mold the plaintiffs claimed had caused allergic reactions.  The jury ruled that the sellers were negligent in failing to disclose a leaky roof that caused the mold.  Around the nation, juries have awarded damages in the hundreds of millions of dollars for mold lawsuits, not only against previous property owners, but also construction firms, engineers, architects, and others alleged to be responsible for mold problems.  In fact, mold lawsuits have been one of the fastest growing areas of litigation in recent years. 

A homeowner’s insurance policy usually covers mold damage only if it results from something sudden and accidental, such as a burst washing machine hose.  But if the root cause was a maintenance defect or neglect, mold removal most likely would not be covered.  Due to skyrocketing losses from mold and other water-related damage claims, some homeowner’s policies in 44 states have exclusions for mold and other water-related damage in standard policies, according to the Insurance Information Institute.  Homeowners facing this change have two options:  purchase extra insurance for mold in the form of a rider or take measures to prevent the problem from occurring.  Riders can cost from $50 to $1,400 per year, depending on the insurer and location, according to a spokesman for Tillinghast, the insurance-consulting unit of Towers Perrin.

     What to Do About Mold

Whenever water gets into a house-through a leak in the roof, a burst pipe, a hard rain seeping into the basement, etc.-the affected area must be dried completely within 48 hours (72 hours tops) to prevent mold.

Mold can also result from high humidity, but this problem can usually be solved with a dehumidifier.  Yet another cause of mold is clogged air-conditioning coils.  Ask a service technician to check the air-conditioning coil to make sure the condensation drain line is free flowing and the coils are clean.

Mold may be present in your basement without your knowing.  Hold a flashlight toward the floor so that the light shines down the wall but not directly at it.  Look for shadows cast by the fuzz of mold, usually in a band on the bottom of the wall.  Also look at the tack strip under carpeting for signs of rot and behind baseboards for mold.  If you find mold anywhere, it may be advisable to contact a professional for further assessment.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, mold that covers an area smaller than a 3-by-3-foot square can be safely removed by a homeowner.  Many people use bleach on mold, but the EPA disagrees.  Bleach can kill mold, but the dead mold will remain and could cause the same allergic reactions as live mold.  Instead of bleach, just use detergent and water.  Detergent lifts the mold away.  Then dry the area as quickly as possible.   

For larger problems, you should consult a professional environmental consultant.  Fire and water damage restoration companies will provide free or low-cost assessments, too, but keep in mind there could be a conflict of interest with these companies.

For more information about mold, consult the EPA brochure, “A Brief Guide to Mold, Moisture and Your Home.” It’s available online at  For more in-depth information, see the EPA brochure “Mold Remediation in Schools and Commercial Buildings” which also applies to homeowners.

Stay Dry with Sump Pump Coverage

Outside a violent storm slams rain against your house, the streets fill with water, the rain rushes down the down spouts, but through it all you hear the comforting sound of the sump pump hard at work. Before going to bed, you check on the condition of the basement and find it remains dry. The sump pump is purring and easily removing the water rising in the pit. You sleep soundly.

The next morning, the storm has passed but you feel something is not quite right. You rush to the basement and find it completely flooded. The pump has broken down sometime during the night. You make a frantic call to your insurance agent to report the damage and what a relief when you learn you are covered — you elected sump pump protection with your homeowner’s policy.

Basements are areas that homeowners should never overlook when insuring their homes. Often valuable personal property is stored in basements, in addition to heating, cooling and refrigeration systems.

Subject to an additional premium and underwriting, homeowners’ policies may be endorsed to cover losses, either structural or personal property, caused by water that either backs up from a sewer or drain or overflows from a sump pump or similar system, even if the loss occurs from a mechanical breakdown of the sump pump (Damage caused by loss of electricity to the sump pump is not covered.). Such damage is normally excluded from basic homeowners’ policies. A deductible often applies to any occurrence covered by the endorsement and there is usually a maximum limit of liability for any loss.

Even with the sump pump or backup endorsement, water damage from flooding or from water below the ground’s surface continues to be excluded from homeowners’ policies. Most insurance policies are clear that if a flood is the cause directly or indirectly of the sewer back up or sump pump failure, the damage is not covered by either the homeowner’s policy or the sump pump endorsement.

But you can cover some of the losses from flooding by purchasing protection from the federal government’s National Flood Insurance program. This program will cover direct physical loss caused directly or indirectly by backups through sewers or drains; discharges or overflows from a sump pump or related equipment; or seepage or leaks on or through the insured property but only IF there is a general condition of flooding in the area and the flood is the proximate cause of the sewer or drain backup, sump pump discharge or overflow, or seepage of water.

Checking with your professional insurance agent and broker can forestall problems from water damage by making certain that you understand why you may need the optional coverages – sump pump and/or flood – to protect your home.

Sump Pump Tips

-A yearly check up of your sump pump can prevent problems in an emergency. A well functioning sump pump drains water from a pit and prevents water from overflowing into your basement.

-Check to see if any debris, garbage, or build up may have worked its way into the sump since the last time it was used.

-Connect a garden hose and fill the sump with water. If the pump does not start, you may need to replace the switch or even a fuse.

-While pumps do not have filters, they do have screens or small openings through which water flows. Check this area to make sure it is not plugged or clogged.

-While sump pumps are usually a good line of defense against flooding, under isolated conditions like a power outage, you may find yourself standing in knee-deep water surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of damage. If you live in an area where power outages are common, especially during severe thunderstorms, it may be worthwhile to invest in a generator to keep your sump pump operating.

Erin Brockovich Brought Mold to the Attention of Homeowners, Insurers Everywhere

The toxic mold issue gained national attention when activist-turned-celebrity Erin Brockovich testified before the California legislature in 2001 that she, her husband, and their three children were battling mold-related illnesses due to fungus that had contaminated their home. Since then, homeowners everywhere have been curious about the more that 100,000 species of mold that contaminate homes and can cause damage to the lungs and nervous system.

In fact, one of most toxic molds, Stachybotrys (pronounced “stack-e-botris”), has been found in all 50 states and grows in areas that are wet, including in leaky plumbing, sewer backups, and even around frequently overflowing washing machines. Unlike, Stachybotrys, most molds are not hazardous to you if you are healthy. Too much exposure to most molds, however, may cause asthma or hay fever or serve to worsen other existing symptoms, according to experts.

Even if mold in your home does not cause health problems, it establishes itself in the wood of your home, causing “dry rot.” This can quickly turn a homeowner’s worst nightmare into a devastating reality.

Dead mold eventually causes wood to dry and shrink, breaking up into irregular chunks. Cracks in the wood then act like straws, siphoning up moisture and carrying it to the undamaged portions of wood. Left unchecked, this process keeps recurring, continually rotting more wood, and can cause severe structural damage to your home.

Even so, insurance companies typically consider mold damage a home maintenance problem and, consequently, it is excluded in standard home insurance policies, which cover mold damage only if it is the result of a covered peril, such as a burst pipe. Mold caused by water from humidity, leaks, condensation, or flooding is excluded from coverage.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that mold claims cost insurers more than $1 billion in 2001, approximately five times the cost in 2000, according to the Insurance Information Institute. As a result, home insurers are raising their premiums and most are excluding mold altogether.

A handful of insurers now offer riders that allow you to purchase some degree of mold coverage. For information about mold coverage in your home insurance policy, ask your personal insurance agent.