Archive for category Home Maintenance

Insurance Tips for Homeowners

Finding a policy that will protect your property

By David Ng

One of the most crucial parts of the homeownership process that people tend to overlook or dismiss is attaining home owner insurance. You may not even get service from your mortgage company until you have proper insurance, so start investigating insurance policy options now. Consider these homeowner’s insurance tips to help you.

  • Finding the right insurance for homeowners begins with consulting a representative to determine general insurability and the best rate for your policy.
  • Investigate the best way to raise the deductible and lower annual payments.
  • Seek discounts by installing alarm systems.
  • Finally, compare differing policies to make sure that you are getting the best deal.

Figure out your needs

Your insurance agent determines the type of insurance for homeowners by going through a series of questions. Prepare yourself to disclose the home location, how old the house is, the year of installation for plumbing and electricity, what the roof is made of, the square footage of the house, and how many insurance claims have been made during the previous five years.

Replacement Coverage Cost indicates a percentage of additional coverage over the insured amount. This means that the insurance organization protects the homeowner from having to pay added costs to rebuild the house in case of a fire or other damage.

If you take out home owner insurance for 200 percent, you get double the coverage. Liability coverage protects you against claims from bodily injury or property damage to other people. While having up to one million dollars in liability coverage is possible, it is more common to have $300,000 in liability coverage.

Depending on location, to raise it to $500,000 can run you about $20 more per year. If you have property of higher value, an umbrella policy for house insurance can give you an additional $1,000,000 in liability coverage with a premium of between $300 and $500 per year, depending on location.

Raise the deductible

Save money by raising your deductible and lowering your annual premiums. The downside to this is having to incur smaller costs yourself, such as broken windows or damage from leaks. Most mortgage companies do not let you go higher than a $1000 deductible.

You can most likely attain a discount from your insurance company starting at a $500 deductible. The discount augments as the deductible increases.

Seek discounts

You may be able to attain a discount of 10% or more by applying for multiple insurance policies – that is, health insurance and car insurance – within the same company.

Homeowners can lower their annual premiums between 5 and 10 percent by installing smoke alarms and other alarm systems, such as a burglar alarm connected directly to a police station and fire alarm that reports to a fire station.

You will need to submit proof of these to your insurance company. Consult your insurance agent to find out how many credits for which you are eligible.

Compare policies

Compare other insurance policies to your own every year to make sure you continue to get the best rates. Notice any changes in your situation that could possibly lower the premiums of your current policy. You may have recently installed alarm systems that could lower your premium.

Notify the insurance company and submit receipts to raise the chance of getting a lower premium. Your insurance rate can benefit from changes in your environment. If an additional new fire hydrant has been erected on your block, this could lower your premium as well.

Use Internet resources

Continue educating yourself by seeking more homeowner’s insurance tips online and learn how to get the best rates. You can save time and money – what more could you ask for?

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April Home Maintenance Tips

By following these steps you’ll avoid expensive repairs later and keep your home safe & efficient.

  • Clean & Adjust Ceiling Fans – For maximum comfort, ceiling fans should blow down in the summer and up in the winter.  Cool air feels good blowing on you but hot air is more comfortable if directed up and then down the walls.  There’s a switch on the body of the fan or near the pull chain to reverse fan direction
  • Change Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Detector Batteries – Even if they test OK, play it safe by changing out the batteries before they die.
  • Inspect Chimney Cap & Masonry – The “cap” is the flat part at the very top of the chimney.  Moisture and weather wear this down and can cause deterioration of the chimney itself.  Once bricks start breaking loose it gets much more expensive to fix.  The cap should be beveled so that rain flows off to the side not into the chimney. If yours is flat, build a 2’ x 4’ frame around the cap, pour cement on top and bevel so water drains off the side, not down the chimney.  (see more detail at our web site).
  • Inspect Siding, Soffit & Fascia Boards – Soffit boards are the horizontal boards under the eaves and the fascia are the vertical boards the gutters are attached to.  Cracks or separations can allow water penetration which can cause additional damage.  Replace as needed and bevel to match nicely with the surrounding wood.
  • Inspect Gutters, Clean and Re-Attach as necessary – Look for roofing nails or pieces of shingles in the gutters, which indicate the roof may need inspecting.  Check for rusting on the bottom of the gutters and to make sure the gutter extensions discharge water at least 3’ away from the house.  Also, check to make sure that you are not dumping water uphill.  Water too close to the foundation can cause flooding and deterioration. Clean gutters and downspouts. Logged gutters cause water to back flow into your house.
  • Check Roof for Missing Shingles, Proper Installation, and for gaps around pipes and corners – Shingles should extend ¾” past the roof decking and allow water to drip into the gutter.  If yours have inadequate clearance, water will run down the fascia boards and cause rotting.  To fix, either add a row of shingles around the roof or add aluminum flashing (see our web site for details).

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Thawing Frozen Pipes

You may think your entire plumbing system is in perfect working order and there is little or no chance of a pipe bursting and flooding your house. There is one situation, however, you may not have considered. Water that freezes during the winter in an unprotected pipe expands, and that expansion can rupture an otherwise sound pipe.

A frozen pipe is always an inconvenience, but it can actually result in a much more serious situation than just a temporary loss of water. By taking the proper preventive steps, you may never need to worry about thawing frozen pipes, or worse, repairing a pipe that bursts when the water in it freezes solid.

Here’s what to do if you wake up some frigid winter morning to find a water pipe frozen solid:

Step 1: Open faucet so steam produced by your thawing activities will be able to escape.

Step 2: Start thawing pipe (see pipe-thawing options below) at faucet, and work back toward other end of frozen section. As you melt ice, water and steam will come out open faucet. If you started in the middle, steam produced by melting ice could get trapped and build up enough pressure to burst the pipe.

Pipe-thawing options: There are several things you can do to thaw your home’s pipes. Here’s a list:

  • Probably the most popular and safest pipe-thawing option is to use hot water. Wrap and secure heavy towel or burlap bag around pipe to concentrate and hold heat against it. Place bucket under pipe to catch runoff water, then pour hot or boiling water over towel.
  • A less messy but far more dangerous heat source for thawing frozen pipes is a propane torch equipped with a flame-spreader nozzle. With this heat source, you must be extremely careful to prevent torch flame from damaging or igniting wall behind pipe. A scrap of fireproof material between pipe and wall is a good precautionary measure, but the way you use the torch is the main element in safe pipe thawing. Keep flame moving back and forth. Never leave it in one spot very long. Be especially careful if you’re near any soldered pipe joints. Pass over them very quickly or else they may melt and cause leaks, and you’ll find that you have a much more serious plumbing problem on your hands than a frozen pipe. Caution: Never use torch or other direct high heat on plastic pipe.
  • If you want to avoid the messiness of thawing with hot water and the danger of melting soldered joints with propane torch, try heat lamp or hair dryer as heat source. These work less quickly but are much safer.

To thaw a frozen drainpipe, remove trap, and insert length of garden hose into pipe. When you can’t push hose any farther, it has probably reached the ice. Raise your end of the hose and feed hot water in through a funnel. This way, the hot water is sure to get to the problem area. You must be careful when using this technique.

Until the ice melts and drains down the pipe, the hot water you pour in will back up toward you. Have a bucket ready to catch the overflow, and be careful not to scald yourself.



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January Home Maintenance

The dead of winter is the time for the greatest vigilance in your home-maintenance routine. The most important job this month is to head off damage to your home from water and dampness from a number of sources:

• Groundwater and rain seeping into your home.

• Leaky pipes inside the walls.

• Pipes bursting from freezing and thawing.


Take a tour
After a winter storm, get outside as soon as you can. Walk around the house, checking for damage from wind and broken tree limbs. User binoculars if you can’t see your entire roof. Scan for loose or missing shingles.

Give special attention to vulnerable pipes — indoors and out — that are exposed to the cold, including hose bibs, pipes in outside walls, garden sprinkler lines, swimming pool pipes and pipes in unheated attics, basements and garages. A frozen pipe needs only a one-eighth-inch crack to leak as much as 250 gallons a day, according to this State Farm Insurance video, which demonstrates how to shut off your water and insulate pipes.

Take these steps to safeguard against damage from frozen and bursting pipes:

  • If practical, insulate any pipes exposed to the cold. Ask hardware-store personnel for the best materials for the job.
  • Seal any leaks that are letting cold air in, especially around dryer vents and pipes and where electrical wiring enters the house.
  • Search for un-insulated water supply lines in the attic, garage, basement and crawl spaces and in bathroom and kitchen cabinets adjacent to outside walls. During a cold spell, open cupboard doors in the kitchen and bathroom so the home’s heat can reach them. (Reminder: Put harmful household cleaners out of the reach of children.) Keep doors shut tight in the garage and outside closets and cupboards during freezing weather.
  • When temperatures drop below zero, open both hot and cold faucets a trickle to relieve pressure in the pipes.
  • Locate your home’s water shut-off valve; learn how to turn off the water quickly in case a pipe bursts.
  • If you’ll be gone in freezing weather, even overnight, ask a friend or neighbor to check on your house for broken or leaking pipes. Show him or her how to shut off the water.
  • Keep temperatures inside the house at 55 degrees Fahrenheit or above, night and day, even when you’re gone.
  • Promise yourself that when the weather improves you will add to the installation in the basement or crawl space and attic.

Leak prevention

Install small, battery-powered individual leak alarms, also called flood alarms, under the refrigerator, kitchen and bathroom drain pipes, dishwasher and laundry appliances and behind toilets. Cost: around $10-$15 each.

Check to make sure your sump pump is operating properly. If it has a battery backup, unplug the pump from the wall and test it.

Look for pests seeking shelter
Cold weather drives mice and insects into the walls of your home. Even unheated parts of the house invite these pests. Insects need only a crack to enter, and mice can get in through a dime-sized hole. Houseflies, particularly, pose a health risk because they can transmit disease.

  • Seal any cracks where pests enter.
  • Empty compost and garbage frequently.
  • Keep food covered and put away; keep counters clean.
  • Fix leaky pipes quickly.
  • Pour boiling water down bathroom and kitchen drains monthly, preventing the buildup of bacteria-laden sludge; scrub removable drain covers weekly.
  • Check basement, attic, crawl spaces and the back of cupboards and cabinets for mice droppings or holes. If you find evidence, install traps immediately or call a pest-control service.
  • Pick up and dispose of outdoor pet waste promptly; turn compost piles frequently.

Make an inventory
While you are putting away holiday gifts, seize the opportunity to make a quick home inventory.  An inventory is a record of your home’s features, conditions, furnishings and valuable possessions. If your home is damaged or destroyed by fire, flood, mudslide or other disaster, you can use the inventory to substantiate your insurance claim to get the maximum replacement value for what was lost.

Your inventory doesn’t have to be fancy. You can get started and add to it later. Supplement your record with photos or video. The Insurance Information Institute has free software for making a room-by-room home inventory. Download it here and watch an instructional video here.


Save receipts for valuable home purchases and for work you have done to upgrade the interior or exterior of your home.

Keep a copy of your inventory in a bank safe-deposit box or on a hosted server online, so you can get it even if your computer is destroyed.

Also …
Here are a few more winter tasks:

  • Check the labels on the switches in your electrical circuit-breaker panel and make new labels if necessary.
  • Check your furnace filter monthly in the winter to see if it needs replacing.
  • Use a vacuum-cleaner tool or a long-handled brush to clean under and behind the refrigerator, including the coils.
  • Clean lint from under laundry appliances, especially the dryer, carefully work the cleaning tool down into the lint filter; outdoors, clean the dryer vent outlet, reaching as far as possible into the pipe.
  • Gather product documents and warranties into a folder. Go through the contents and discard outdated materials.
  • Walk around inside the house with a screwdriver, pencil and paper. Tighten any loose knobs and attachments and list repairs to tackle later.
  • Examine the ducts of your forced-air furnace and seal any leaks with duct tape.

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