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Daniel T. Murray Blog: home

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Continuing from last week's post, read more to see how you can be prepared for any scenario.

Tools and Materials for Emergency Repairs: You don't need to be ready for a full scale remodeling project but you do need some basics. What if a tree branch falls and breaks a window? In the middle of summer it's an annoyance, in the middle of a winter outage it's a giant icy hole to the outside world that will drop the temperature of your home below freezing in a matter of hours. Some heavy duty plastic sheeting and duct tape might not have the insulation value of a triple-pane window but it will keep hot air from drafting right out into your yard.

Communicating from the Winter Wonderland: Phone lines can be damaged by winds and ice, but it is very rare for a winter storm to wipe out the cellular network in an area. Keep your cellphone charged and make sure you have a car charger for it—if the power outage is extended you'll need to top it off at some point. If cellphone service is spotty, you may want to consider sending an SMS message to communicate with friends and family. Often times SMS messages go through just fine when trying to place an actual voice call is sketchy due to weak signal. If you live in the countryside you might consider investing in a couple GMRS/FRS hand-held radios with some neighbors. You can pick up a modest but functional walkie-talkie set for around $30.

Stay Well Stocked: If you live in an area where weather can keep you holed up, you need to get into the practice of shopping ahead. When you're buying your regular groceries, purchase a few extra non-perishable things to stock in the pantry. Don't wait to do your grocery shopping until it is critical that you get out that day to do so. The same principle applies to non-food items like batteries, salt and sand for your walk and driveway, and keeping your gas tank full in your car.

Scaling Preparation for Your Situation and Budget: Finally, as we mentioned above, you'll need to scale your level of preparation to your budget and needs. If you can afford it and live in an area with frequent power outages, although a bit pricey, a home generator is a great investment. An apartment dweller that experiences extremely infrequent and brief outages could simply stockpile some batteries under the bed.

The important part in preparing for inclement weather and power outages is to run through potential and reasonable scenarios and what you need to do in various situations that may arise. What if an ice-laden tree falls onto your house? What if the power is out for more than a day? How will I heat food with no electricity? Does the heating system of your home require electricity? Have I told my roommate, spouse, or child what the plan is in the event of an emergency? Asking and answering questions like these well before you're under the stress of the actual situation helps you plan properly and keep stress to a minimum when that Douglas Fir actually does come through the picture window or the guy on the emergency weather radio says power won't be restored until next Tuesday. A small amount of planning now yields a lot of comfort later.

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You likely have all sorts of things in your home right now that would serve you well in an emergency, with a few additions and some organization, you'll have a functional kit and contingency plan.

Creating a home emergency kit can be a simple to enormous undertaking depending on the level of energy and preparation you want to invest into it. Most people are on the "Stay warm and fed until the power comes back on" camp, not the "Prepared for zombie apocalypse" camp, and though it never hurts to prepare for the worst we'll be focusing more on the former than the latter.

Once you read over the following tips you can adopt them to fit your needs based on your locale and weather, size of your home, and how much storage space you have available.

Know The Lay of the Land: Before all else you want to know how to control your home in the event of an emergency. Do you know where the water shutoff valve is? The emergency shut off valve for the gas? Which circuit breakers go to which part of your home? Many home emergencies can be quickly neutralized by knowing how to shut down the infrastructure of the home. Make sure the rest of the people in the house know how to do things like kill the water or electricity. It may not seem critical now, but if a pine tree comes crashing through your kitchen and water is spraying everywhere, knowing how to stop the geyser of water becomes quite important.

Rotate Your Semi-Perishable Food: Canned goods and bottles of water keep well enough, but not forever. Arranging your pantry so that cans don't linger at the back ensures that when you're snowed in you'll be eating fresh canned fruits and vegetables instead of the dusty cans from three Thanksgivings ago. You can go all out and build a rotating shelf to keep your canned goods fresh, but for smaller scale storage a simple wire-frame can dispenser will fit on most pantry shelves.

Keep Batteries and Flashlights on Hand: You'll always want batteries on hand. When it comes to keeping the lights on when the power is out, flashlights are king. Candles are a tragedy waiting to happen. Hundreds of house fires are started every year during power outages as people light up candles en masse to brighten their dark homes. It's 2009, you can buy ultra-efficient LED flashlights for less than the cost of a DVD. Even with the power out there's no excuse for lighting your home with fire.

Have Alternative Heat: If you're preparing for a winter storm you most likely live somewhere with icy winter conditions and deep snow fall. When keeping warm during a winter storm there are two levels of warmth: safe and comfortable. If you're wearing layered clothing and have lots of blankets, 40-50F in your house is safe but not particularly comfortable. Nobody will get frost bite and pipes won't freeze. Comfortable is a personal thing—I'm comfy at 55F, most people prefer at least in the upper 60s—and you'll need to plan accordingly for it. Fireplaces, kerosene space heaters, and other combustion-based sources of heat are less than ideal compared to the efficiency and safety of a central furnace but when operated properly can help keep you warm until power and order are restored.

You absolutely need to make sure that whatever alternative source of heat you plan on using during an outage is clean, operational, and that everyone who will be using it understands how to use it safely. Clean out the chimney before you need it and give that kerosene heater a trial run when you're not under pressure. Unfortunately, unlike swapping candles for LED flashlights, there isn't an ultra modern replacement for ditching combustion-based heat for something fancy. Safety first!

Come back next week to finish reading about tips to prepare you for any situation that may arise.

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Posted 12:58 PM  View Comments


Soon, ghouls, goblins and The Little Mermaid will be at your front door. Are you prepared?

We aren’t talking candy-bought, decorations-up prepared. We mean, what happens if Glenda the Good Witch breaks her arm or your house is egged? Are you covered for that? Or will a night of tricks and treats become an expensive horror?

[insert Hitchcock-approved music here]

Note: Not all insurance policies are created equal! The following guidelines are standard, but there are exceptions. It’s important to get to know your insurance policy before you have to file a claim.

Here are three possible Halloween problems, and the skinny on what is and isn't covered by a typical policy.

Trick-or-Treater Slips and Falls

Trick-or-treating can be really exciting! So exciting that little kids run and trip. And fall. Fortunately, most homeowner policies provide liability coverage if someone is injured on your property. The standard amount per occurrence is  $100,000, but you may be able to increase this amount depending on your policy. Tip: To prevent this from happening, it’s important to prepare your house for Halloween! Plenty of lights and a clear walkway will decrease the likelihood of an accident. 

Note: If you’re sued because of the accident, your policy may also pay to defend you in court. But keep in mind that you’re typically only covered for negligence. You aren’t covered for intentional injuries – meaning if little Glenda the Good Witch hurts little Kevin the cowboy, you won’t be covered!

Jack-o-Lantern Catches Fire

Do you light your jack-o-lantern with a candle? If so, you’re not alone. Over the last three years, an average of 15,500 fires per year were caused by an open-flamed jack-o-lantern, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover fire from a lit candle or a string of decorative electrical lights. If the fire displaces your family, insurance will typically cover the cost of additional living expenses.

Note: Coverage may be limited due to “negligence” depending on the origin of the fire – for example, if you had a bonfire in your living room, that’s negligence. If you're planning an ambitious flame display this year, check with your insurance company to determine how they define “negligence.”

“Tricks” Dent Your Siding 

For the most part, “trick-or-treat” is heavy on the treat part. But, not always. Sometimes, tricks happen, too. And next thing you know, your house is egged (or worse), and there’s damage to your siding!

If this happens to you, it’s considered vandalism under most standard insurance policies, which means you will be protected. If the repair cost exceeds your deductible for vandalism, the insurance company will cover the repairs. If you’re concerned about any mischief on Halloween, double-check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure vandalism is covered.

Note: Many policies don’t cover vandalism if a property has been vacant for 30 days or more. If you’re planning an extended trip or have a second home, speak with an agent about the vandalism portion of your policy.

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Posted 12:12 PM  View Comments


Having insurance is a lot like carrying an umbrella with you at all times: Most of the time it feels burdensome, but boy, are you glad to have it when the rain comes.

The right insurance policies are key to a healthy financial life. Below, we've explained briefly which those are, plus when you should purchase them.

Keep in mind that insurance policies are largely personal. Everyone's situation and needs are different, and as your life changes (say, you get a new job or have a baby) so should your coverage.

One of the best things you can do to get the best coverage for your needs is to educate yourself: Get multiple quotes, read your policy closely before signing on, and don't hesitate to ask questions when you don't understand.

Also note that while the policies below are arranged by age, of course they aren't all set in stone. If you become a homeowner in your 40s instead of your 30s, for example, that's when the need for homeowner's insurance will kick in.

Here's a brief overview of the policies you need and when you need them:

In Your 20s

Health insurance. While the Affordable Care Act has brought health insurance to the headlines, the simple fact remains that for most of us, healthcare in the U.S. is impossible to afford without insurance. (Not to mention that under the ACA, you usually have to pay a fine if you go without coverage.) Under the law, children can stay on their parents' policies until age 26. If that's you, you'll need coverage immediately after that period. If you have a job, you can usually obtain it through your employer.

You'll stop needing it: Never.

Auto insurance (when you get a car). There were over 5.6 million accidents in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety administration. If you have a car, you need auto insurance. Insurance rates vary according to everything from who is driving the car (like your teenager) to your driving history.

You'll stop needing it: When you no longer own a car.

Disability insurance (when you get a job). Disability insurance is meant to provide income should you be disabled and unable to work. It's estimated by the Social Security Administration that over 25% of today's 20-year-olds will be disabled before retirement.

If you're relying on your income to live, you should have disability insurance. Most people who are traditionally employed should be able to secure a policy through their employer, while people who are self-employed will have to take out an individual policy. Some people may prefer the increased coverage provided by buying private policies to supplement those from their employers. This is even more important if you have dependents relying on your income.

You'll stop needing it: Once you exit the working world around age 65, which is often the end of the longest policy you can buy.

Renter's insurance (when you rent your own place). Renter's insurance, while not a baseline requirement like health or auto insurance, is something any renter will be glad to have in the case of a fire, leak, or storm. While policies differ, they're generally low cost (think $30 a month) and cover costs including the replacement of your personal property as well as a temporary living situation should you be unable to occupy your rented home. Note that, if needed, you can usually add coverage to this policy for an engagement ring.

You'll stop needing it: When you stop renting.

In Your 30s

Life insurance (when you get married and/or have children). Life insurance, like disability insurance, is meant to replace your income for those relying on it should something go terribly wrong. There's one situation in which pretty much everyone agrees some type of life insurance is a good idea: When you have dependents, such as minor children or a spouse who doesn't work.

You can calculate your coverage needs at lifehappens.org. Again, many people will be able to get coverage through their employers, but not always as much as they need. Some experts recommend replacing up to 10 times your annual income.

You'll stop needing it: When your dependents are no longer relying on you for financial support. For that reason, term life insurance (a policy that only covers you for a set amount of years) tends to be a better fit for many parents, whose kids will grow up and become financially independent.

Homeowner's insurance (when you buy your own place). This is one of those non-negotiables: If you own a home, you need homeowner's insurance, which should cover everything from the structure itself to your belongings to liability should someone be injured on your property. Note that if you live in an area of the country that's subject to flooding, earthquakes, or other natural disasters, you may need to purchase additional coverage that isn't included in your primary policy.

You'll stop needing it: If you sell your home and go back to renting, or make other living arrangements.

Pet insurance (if you have a pet). Pet insurance isn't necessarily a must-have, but if you're the type to shell out $8,000 for your dog's surgery, it might be worth considering. Some plans even cover routine vet visits and vaccinations, and most will reimburse 80-90% of your vet bills for a premium that ranges from about $100-$300 per year.

You'll stop needing it: When you no longer own a pet.

In Your 40s

Long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance is exactly what it sounds like: It covers care for people who are aging or disabled and need help with daily living, whether that means a nursing home or an attendant. This is the sort of thing people don't think about until they get older and realize this might be a reality for them, but of course, as you get older you get more expensive to insure. That's why it's a good idea to start looking at long-term care insurance well before you need it. Bankrate.com has a great explanation of how shopping sooner rather than later can save you money.

You'll stop needing it: Never.

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Your dog isn't just a good dog -- he's your best friend who wouldn't hurt a flea.

But you might have to prove it to get your home insurance company to cover him, especially if he belongs to a breed with a reputation as aggressive.

Home insurers are increasingly cautious about providing liability coverage for dogs because pooches are taking a bigger bite out of their bottom lines.

More than one-third of the dollars home insurance companies pay out for liability claims is for injuries caused by dogs. Last year, dog liability insurance claims cost home insurers more than $483 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III) and State Farm, the largest U.S. home insurance provider.

The average cost of a dog liability claim nationwide, which was $27,862 in 2013, has grown more than 45 percent in the last decade, thanks to rising medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, says Loretta Worters, III vice president.

Traditionally, renters and homeowners insurance has covered dog bite liability legal expenses up to the policy's liability limits. But some insurers now require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, and some exclude certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls, Doberman Pinschers and German Shepherds, from liability coverage, or they charge more to cover certain breeds. Some home insurers won't cover dogs, period.

Showing your dog is a good citizen

How can you prove your dog is not a risk?

In some cases, especially if your dog has already bitten someone, you might have to resort to purchasing a separate dog liability insurance policy to cover him.

But in other cases, you might be able to persuade your home insurer to cover your dog if you can document that you are a responsible owner.

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Posted 3:42 PM  View Comments


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