April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month

You are 23x more likely to get into an accident while using your phone. But it’s not just texting that can be a distraction while driving. Reading, eating, and reaching for things that have fallen can be hazardous as well. Read on for 10 tips on reducing distracted driving.

1.Stow your phone. Turning off the phone and putting it in “do not disturb” mode can help remove the temptation to browse online at a red light or respond right away to a text message.

2. Vow not to multi-task. Anything that occupies your mind or vision can be a distraction behind the wheel. Make time at home to eat meals or put on makeup, so you can focus on the road.

3. Don’t be a distraction. Avoid calling or texting family members and friends when you know they are driving to avoid distracting them.

4. Talk to your employer. Responding to texts or taking calls for work while driving can be dangerous. Encourage your employer to have a distracted driving policy that includes waiting to talk with employees until they are safely parked.

5.Keep kids and pets safe. Make sure kids are in proper car seats and that pets stay secured in the back of your vehicle. It can also help reduce distractions if pets are not roaming about the car.

6. Set a good example. Parents can model good behavior for their children by demonstrating attentive driving. Avoid texting, eating, grooming or calling someone while behind the wheel.

7. Plan your route before you go. Programming your navigation system while you drive can take your eyes off the road. It’s better to ask a passenger to do it or to enter your destination before you leave home.

8. Speak up. If you see someone texting or otherwise driving while distracted, say something and let them know that you are not comfortable with that behavior. Encourage your children to do the same when they are passengers in a friend’s car. It could save a life.

9. Set rules of the road. Consider restricting the number of passengers until your teen or new driver gains experience behind the wheel.

10. Avoiding reaching. Resist the urge to reach for items if they fall while driving.

In short, anything that takes your attention from the road is distraction. Think of it this way: would you drive with your eyes closed?

Insurance Tips for Going to College

College is expensive enough without finding out too late that an accident or theft isn’t covered under your current policies.  So, as you get your children ready to head off to school in the fall, there’s one vital “to-do” to add to your list (other than writing that tuition check): a review of your insurance coverage.

It’s important to keep in mind that policy language varies from state to state, and there are never “one-size-fits-all” situations, but below is a general guide. If you have questions, or want to go over your insurance needs, don’t hesitate to contact us!

AUTO

  • Coverage without a car at school: If your student will continue to drive while at home on school breaks, they should continue to be listed on your auto policy.  If they are attending school more than 100 miles from home, and are not taking a vehicle with them, the policy may qualify for a distant-student discount.
  • Coverage with a car at school: In most instances, a car registered to parents and listed on their policy will be covered if used by a listed student away at school.  But you should make sure that your insurance carrier writes coverage in the college’s state and location.  And note that a change to the principal location of the vehicle could result in a change in premium.
  • Driving a friend’s car at school: Students generally would be covered while driving a friend’s car if the students are listed on their parents’ policy and do not have regular use of the vehicle.  The coverage would likely be secondary in this case, as the carrier for the friend’s vehicle likely would be the primary coverage.
  • Coverage discounts: In addition to the possible distant-student discount mentioned above, students may qualify for a good-student discount. To qualify, most insurance carriers require that a student must be enrolled in at least four courses per term as a full-time student at an accredited college or university and meet certain academic qualifications.  Also, drivers under the age of 21 who complete a driver education course may be eligible for a policy discount.

HOMEOWNERS

  • Coverage of personal property: Most homeowners policies provide 10 percent of Coverage C (Personal Property) for property owned by an insured that is at a residence other than the insured’s.  For example, if the contents of a policyholder’s home are insured for $100,000, a student’s property up to $10,000 would be covered if living in a dormitory – provided the damage is caused by a covered peril and the student meets the definition of an insured.
  • For apartments or houses off-campus, the same coverage generally applies.  Certain items, such as jewelry or expensive electronics, may require special coverage, or a “rider.”  Renters insurance is strongly recommended if a particular policy does not cover a student’s personal property.
  • Liability coverage: There usually is an exclusion for damage to property rented to an insured, so generally damage to a dorm room or apartment would not be covered.
  • Ensuring adequate coverage: Contact us to get specific answers and information about your coverages.  Also, it’s a great idea to create an inventory of the items your student is taking to school, as is keeping photos of and receipts for the items.
  • Renters insurance: If your student’s needs can’t be met under your current policy, don’t forget renters insurance.  Landlords’ policies generally only cover the structure, not the possessions of renters.

Going away to school is an exciting time for both students and their parents. Making sure you’ve got the right insurance coverage can help you protect your assets as you invest in your child’s future.  We’re happy to discuss your coverage and options — just give us a call or stop by!

Summer Energy Savings

Beat the Heat — and Your Air Conditioning Bill — This Summer

Did you know that, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Americans spend about $11 billion each year on air conditioning? That might not be such a surprise if you’re the one who writes the check for your household energy bill every month.

Believe it or not, you can spend less on cooling costs while still keeping cool. Here are five things to do before you reach to adjust the thermostat:

  1. Make sure your house isn’t part of the problem.  If your home isn’t insulated and sealed well, warm air could be leaking in, sabotaging your efforts to cool things down.  Make sure all cracks and openings are sealed, along with your ducts.  The DOE says air loss through ducts can account for 30 percent of the energy a cooling system uses.
  2. Keep that breeze flowing.  Natural ventilation is a great way to decrease the temperature in your home without using any energy.  Open windows in the mornings or evenings when the air is cool and get a cross-breeze going throughout the house.
  3. Check that the heat isn’t on.  You might be heating your house in the summer without realizing it.  How?  By using the oven, stove or other appliances that generate heat.  Cook outside whenever you can, and use the dishwasher and clothes dryer at cooler times of the day if possible.
  4. Create your own personal cool zone.  Cooling the whole house might not be necessary if you’re only using a few rooms.  Set up fans (ceiling fans will allow you to set your thermostat a few degrees higher), drink plenty of cool liquids and eat cold foods, which can help lower your body temperature.  You might even consider wearing a damp shirt to stay comfortable or putting an ice pack on your forehead, the back of your neck or your wrists.
  5. Don’t forget the basics.  When it’s sunny outside, keep your curtains closed.  Minimize your use of lights, as they generate heat.  And, when the outside air is warmer than the air in your house, close the windows to keep the cool air in.

We can’t promise these tips will keep you just as cool as when you kick back and turn on the AC full-blast.  But saving money every month?  That’s pretty cool, too.

 

Spring Home Maintenance

The milder days of spring are a perfect time to do a thorough spring cleaning and perform home maintenance.  After a long winter, it is a good idea to spend time on preventive measures to help maintain your home and property throughout the year.  Tasks such as cleaning out your gutters, checking for dead trees and branches,  and cleaning and inspecting home mechanical systems, such as heating and air conditioning equipment, can make spring a season of safety.

Cleaning and maintenance of your home should be done inside and out.  Although the tasks are different, ensuring all the elements of your home are in good working order can help keep your family safe and your maintenance expenses lower over the long run.

Inside Your Home

Here are a few things inside your home that should be inspected to ensure they are in good condition:

  • Electrical Outlets and Cords: Check electrical outlets and cords throughout your home for any potential fire hazards such as frayed wires or loose-fitting plugs.  Outlets, fuse boxes and extension cords also should be checked to make sure they are not overloaded.
  • Fire Extinguishers: Check your fire extinguisher at least once yearly, including the hose, nozzle and other parts, to make sure they are in good condition and that the pressure gauge is in the “green” range.  If necessary, move your fire extinguisher to an accessible place.
  • Air Conditioning: Before turning it on for the season, have your air-conditioning system inspected and tuned up by a professional.
  • Water Heater: Check for leaks and corrosion.
  • Furnace: Clean or replace your furnace filter.
  • Dryers: Dryer lint can build up inside the vent pipe and collect around the duct.  Clean both the clothes dryer exhaust duct and the space under the dryer.  Use a specialized brush to clean out the vent pipe.  Lint can also build up inside the dryer enclosure and should be cleaned and serviced by a professional.
  • Smoke Detectors: Daylight savings time is the perfect time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors.  Inspect each smoke detector to ensure all are in working order, and make sure to test them monthly.  Ideally, there should be at least one smoke detector on each floor of your home, including the hallway or area outside of each set of bedrooms, and one within each bedroom itself.  If necessary, install additional smoke detectors as needed.
  • Light Bulbs: Check each light bulb in every fixture for the correct recommended wattage and replace any burned out bulbs.  Also, consider replacing all high-intensity bulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs to reduce energy and the amount of heat produced.

Outside Your Home

The cold winter months can do damage to your house as well.  Here are a few things outside your home that should be inspected to ensure they are in good condition:

  • Roof: Check for any damage from snow or ice, including damage from ice dams, and make any necessary repairs to reduce the possibility of leaks.
  • Gutters: Clean leaves and other debris from gutters and downspouts to keep water flowing and reduce the possibility of water damage.
  • Trees: Visually inspect trees for damage or rot, and remove (either yourself or through a contractor) any dead trees that might blow over in heavy winds or during a storm.  Keep healthy trees and bushes trimmed and away from utility wires.
  • Lawn Equipment: Make sure lawn mowers, tractors and other equipment are tuned up before using.  Store oil and gas for lawn equipment and tools in a vented, locked area.
  • Walkways and Driveways: Repair any cracks and broken or uneven surfaces to provide a safe, level walking area.

A little home maintenance in the spring can go a long way to keeping your home safe and secure throughout the rest of the year.

Things to Know About Renters Insurance

Many renters don’t realize how much they could benefit from having an insurance policy that can help protect their valuables in a life-changing event like a fire or theft.  If you assume that damage to your property in your rental home will be covered by your landlord’s insurance policy, you’re making a mistake.  The owners of rental properties typically purchase only enough insurance to repair or replace their structures, and are not responsible for helping you replace your property.  Insuring your personal property is up to you.

1. Renters Insurance Provides Off-Premises Coverage

Renters insurance not only covers the cost of lost or damaged possessions in your home, but covers your belongings outside of your home as well.   There is coverage if your bicycle is stolen from a bike rack at the park, or if your laptop is taken from your car while you’re at the supermarket.

2. You Can Be Compensated if You’re Forced to Relocate

If your rental home should become uninhabitable, your renters policy typically will help address some of the costs for you to temporarily live elsewhere, up to your policy limits. This benefit usually includes the cost of meals, over and above your normal expenses.

This coverage typically is limited to 30 to 50 percent of your insured personal property. For example, if your belongings were insured for $100,000, the limit on additional living expenses would be $30,000 to $50,000, as outlined in your policy.

3. Actual Cash Value vs. Full Replacement

There are two types of renters coverage, one that pays based on your property’s actual cash value and one that pays based on your property’s replacement cost.

With actual cash value coverage, insurers depreciate lost or damaged items based on their age.  For example, if you owned a 10-year-old couch that was stolen, the actual cash value would be the cost of buying a used couch of comparable age and condition.

If your policy covered your couch at full-replacement value, your insurer would pay based on the cost of a new couch of the same quality without applying depreciation.

4. Your Renters Policy Will Likely Cost Less Than You Think

In 2014, the average annual premium in the U.S. was $190.1 The cost is low because renters don’t need to buy insurance to protect their homes, only the contents.  Compared to the potential cost of replacing your furniture, clothing, and electronics, purchasing a renters insurance policy is a no-brainer.

Sources:
1
http://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/renters-insurance

 

How to Identify and Remove an Ice Dam

Sometimes, even your best efforts to prevent an ice dam may not be enough.  Knowing what an ice dam is, how to identify one and how to help remove it is important to protecting your roof and home from potential damage during the snowy, winter months.

What Is an Ice Dam?

Ice dams may form when water from melting snow freezes into ice at the edge of your roofline.  Without proper roof snow removal, the ice that develops may grow large enough to prevent water from melting snow from properly draining off the roof.  When the water is unable to drain from the roof, it may then back up underneath roof shingles and make its way into your home.

Do You Have an Ice Dam?

Most ice dams develop on the edge of your roof, but they may also form in other locations, depending on the slope, orientation and style of your roof.  Be sure to monitor the weather and your roof for signs of ice dam formations.

  • Look closely at the icicles around the exterior of your house.  If the icicles are confined to the gutters and there is no water trapped behind them, then an ice dam has likely not formed.  Nonetheless, icicles can be a precursor to ice dams.  Depending on their location and size, icicles may also pose a danger if they fall off.  Whenever possible, and if safe to do so, remove icicles from the exterior of your home, making sure not to stand directly beneath them.  If you cannot safely reach the icicles from the ground, consider hiring a contractor to assist in their removal.
  • Check for water stains or moisture in your attic or along the ceiling of exterior walls of your house.  Water stains or moisture may be an indication that an ice dam has formed and water has penetrated the roof membrane.

How to Remove an Ice Dam

Removing an ice dam from your roof immediately after spotting the signs can be critical to helping prevent damage to your home.  One way to remove an ice dam is to melt it using calcium chloride ice melt.

Step 1. Using a roof rake, remove snow 3-4 feet from the edge of your roof, being careful not to damage the roof covering or to allow snow to build up around walking paths or to block emergency exits.

Step 2. Use a calcium chloride ice melt product, which you can generally purchase from your local hardware store.  Be sure not to use rock salt or sodium chloride, which can damage your roof.

Step 3. Fill a nylon stocking with the calcium chloride ice melt.

Step 4. Safely place and position the calcium chloride-filled nylon stocking vertically across the ice dam so that it can melt a channel through the ice.

Step 5. Cover and protect any shrubbery and plants with lightweight tarps near the gutters or downspouts for the duration that the calcium chloride stockings remain in place. This is important because the calcium chloride-saturated water dripping from the roof may damage the shrubbery and plants.

REMEMBER: Using a ladder in snowy and icy conditions may be dangerous. If you cannot safely reach the roof, consider hiring a contractor.

Snowmobiling Safety

Tips to stay safe during snowmobile season

As the snow continues falling, many people are getting excited, because it’s time to break out the snowmobiles and head to the nearest winter recreation spot.  It’s a popular activity, and for good reason: Snowmobiling allows you to explore natural areas that may be hard to access by foot (or snowshoe), and provides a different kind of excitement than skiing or hiking.

Of course, snowmobiling presents some dangers as well.  Here at Shults Insurance Agency, we want you to make it home safely after your day in the snow.  Read on for safety tips from the American Council of Snowmobile Associations — and keep in mind that following these will not only help you stay safe, but also influence equitable treatment of snowmobile access by government, agencies, and landowners.

SPEED: Speed is a major factor in many snowmobile crashes. Always keep your speed slow enough to ensure that you’re in control.

ALCOHOL: Use of alcohol or any other drug that causes impairment is a leading cause of snowmobile-related fatalities.  It’s best to refrain from any use at all before and during outings because of potential effects on vision, reaction time, balance and coordination.  When combined with excess speed in particular, the results can be deadly.

RIDING AT NIGHT: Nighttime snowmobiling is fun, but extra caution should be used. Ride at slower speeds so as not to override your headlights (which generally illuminate your path for about 200 feet).  Faster speeds could mean that you have little or no time to react to an obstacle in your path.

ROADWAYS: Always keep an eye out for vehicles, as many trails are located alongside roadways and can cross over them.  Be sure to stop fully at all stop signs and unmarked road crossings.

CLOSED AREAS: Areas may be closed to snowmobiles due to hazardous conditions, wintering wildlife, non-motorized recreation or by landowner request.  It’s important to honor these closures for safety purposes and to help protect access to other riding areas.

While it’s extremely important to follow these tips for your personal safety, it’s also vital to encourage others to snowmobile safely as well. Helping to educate others will not only promote safety for all snowmobilers, but also protect the sport’s image as well.

Whether you’re a new rider or have been on the trails for years, ask yourself if you could be riding more safely. There are many more winters to come, and we want you to be able to enjoy as many of them as possible!