Radon: The Silent Danger

In January 2008, my husband and I were “this close” to purchasing our first home. After a couple of months of looking, we found a home that we loved, in a charming neighborhood and in our price range. It was missing only one thing from the checklist of amenities we wanted in our home (oh two stall garage, I still miss the idea of you on cold, snowy mornings). The home looked solid and well-maintained, and because it was “move-in ready” or vacant, we thought we had an idea of the potential problems our home inspection would uncover. For the most part, we did. There were only a few real issues we would need to address—cracked sidewalk, broken light fixtures—and then we got the results of our radon test.

I knew very little about radon when we had our home tested for it. I knew it’s a carcinogen, a noble gas, and that was about it. When our test came back at four times the acceptable threshold, I did some research.

Here’s what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says about Radon:

  • It’s a cancer-causing gas. According to the Surgeon General, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States behind smoking.
  • Radon is ubiquitous. It’s found all over, no part of the U.S. is immune from it.
  • Radon comes from the natural—and radioactive—breakdown of uranium in the earth, and contaminates the air we breathe and the water we drink.
  • Radon can enter buildings through cracks, construction joints, gaps around pipes, wall cavities and the water supply.
  • Our homes pose our greatest risk for radon exposure because we spend the most time there. Every home in the U.S. should be tested, since it’s estimated that nearly one out of every 15 have elevated radon levels.
  • Any building that is tested to have a level in excess of 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) should have the radon mitigated. Even the highest levels of radon can be reduced to acceptable levels by a qualified mitigator.

It’s important to note that even though there’s a recommended radon level that your home should be under, the EPA believes that any radon exposure is risky. Our inspector was quick to note that sentiment as well. He followed up by saying the lower we could reduce our radon level, the more we would reduce our risk.

So began our adventures in radon mitigation. Long story short—we received estimates, hired a certified contractor, and then found out that our radon situation was more complicated than first projected. But as the EPA says, even the highest levels of radon can be reduced to acceptable levels. Ours was.

While January is National Radon Action month, there’s never a wrong time to have your home checked. If you don’t know the radon levels in your home, take a little time to find out. We want you to be safe in your home; help protect your family from radon.

Article by Brianne Tucker

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Play it safe during your hotel stay

Whether you travel for business or leisure, consider increasing your safety awareness when you stay in a hotel.

BEFORE YOUR TRIP
  • While most top properties are in safe areas, you may want to research before booking a room in an unfamiliar city or neighborhood to confirm. Call the community resource officer in the police jurisdiction responsible for the area where the hotel is located, or use free online research sites such as the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting tools or CrimeReports.com
  • Be careful about sharing your travel plans on social media. Make sure your settings are private; avoid making public posts to protect yourself while you are traveling and your home is unoccupied.
  • Choose a hotel that is adequately protected from fire. Check the U.S. Fire Administration’s Hotel-Motel National Master List to find hotels that have:
    • At least one single-station and hard-wired smoke alarm in each guest room
    • An automatic fire sprinkler system in each guest room if the building has four or more stories. More information about hotel fire safety is available in our blog, Planning a hotel or motel stay? Think about fire safety.
    • Pack a flashlight that you can keep on the hotel nightstand in case you need to escape in the dark.
  • Take only those valuables that you will absolutely need for the trip.
UPON CHECK-IN
  • Limit the number of times you say your name and room number during the check-in process. At any given time, a number of people could be within earshot of the front desk.
  • Do not keep your room key in the envelope provided at check-in. Securely discard the envelope, which may contain identifying information, such as room number and last name.
  • Keep a close eye on your luggage while in the lobby.
  • Upon entering your guest room, verify that all sliding glass doors, windows and connecting room doors are locked and secure.
  • Inspect mattresses for bedbugs. Check the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s article on How to Find Bed Bugs to learn how to inspect a mattress and accurately identify a bedbug infestation.
DURING YOUR STAY
  • When you are in your room, be sure to engage all locking mechanisms on your guest room door, including deadbolts, chain and safety bar.
  • Do not open the door to your hotel room to unknown persons. If you are not expecting a hotel staff person, call the front desk to verify his or her identity before opening the door.
  • If returning to the hotel late in the evening, use the main entrance.
  • Keep valuables locked in the room safe or inside your luggage.
  • Exercise discretion when providing your name and room number while in the hotel restaurant or bar.
CYBER SAFETY
  • Pay attention to cyber security if you use a computer or mobile device on hotel Wi-Fi systems. Don’t assume that the Wi-Fi connection is secure.
  • When available, use a hard-wired connection or a personal Wi-Fi hotspot rather than a public Wi‑Fi connection.
  • The Federal Trade Commission has posted a video with tips on how to keep your connections secure.

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What to Consider When Purchasing a Boat

The wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the open water in front of you. Sound appealing? Then you might want to join the ranks of boat owners all over the country. But before you cut through that clear blue, there are some things to keep in mind. Whether you’re buying a fishing boat, cabin cruiser, pontoon or speed boat, different components like cost, horsepower, weight capacity or onboard storage may prove to be more important to you than others.

Answer these questions before going boat shopping:

  • Use

    What are you hoping to use your boat for? All boat styles have a different design tailored to the use. Speed boats may be better for tubing and water skiing, but wouldn’t hold as many people or be as fish-accessible as a pontoon or fishing boat. Maybe you’re in the market for a sailboat, or leaning towards a houseboat. There are so many different varieties of boats, so make an informed decision on which one is right for you (information provided by Discover Boating).

  • Cost

    What’s your budget? This may help decide whether to purchase a pre-owned boat. According to Discover Boating, new boats depreciate anywhere between 25%-33% immediately after leaving the dealer’s lot. So if you buy a pre-owned boat, someone else has already paid that depreciation cost – more boat for fewer dollars! However, buying a new boat will offer a warranty, the newest technology, and that nice shiny look as you move across the water – the choice is up to you!

  • Capacity

    How many people are you hoping to go on your boating excursions with? The capacity on personal fishing boats is generally smaller than a pontoon boat, which are made to hold anywhere between 8-15 adults comfortably.

  • Equipment

    What type of equipment will you want onboard? Here’s some suggestions:

    • Trolling Motor
    • Lights
    • Depth finder
    • Live well
    • GPS
    • Canopy/bimini
    • Stereo
    • Tables
    • Emergency survival kit
    • Fire extinguisher
  • Towing

    Will your car be able to tow the new boat? According to Auto Bytel, the average 21-foot boat trailer weighs between 500 and 1,000 pounds, while most boats in this size range hover in the 4,000-5,000 pound range. This means that you’ll want an SUV or truck that is rated to tow between 4,500-6,000 pounds in total.

  • Storage Limitations

    Will your new boat fit in your garage during the off season? Alongside your garage? In a separate storage space?

And a few other components to consider…

  • Horsepower
  • Engine Type
  • Hull (Deep V, Modified V, Pontoon, etc.)
  • Storage Onboard

No matter what you decide, get out there, matey, and enjoy the open seas!

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It happens: Sewer backup

Sometimes sewer backups happen. We look for someone to blame, but often there just isn’t blame to be found. How do we prevent it from happening? And if it does, how do we protect ourselves from the financial storm that follows?

Suppose for a minute that you just spent $10,000 converting an unfinished basement into your awesome new recreation room. Somehow, the sewage backup that occurred three weeks later, ruining your new carpet, furniture and recently installed drywall didn’t factor into your vision of awesomeness. What a horrible, stench-filled mess. You’re disgusted, angry and someone’s going to have to pay for this affront. Wait until you find out that someone is you.

Let’s start with your local sewer utility: wouldn’t it be their fault? The answer is “maybe,” but more likely it is “probably not.” Because sewer utilities provide a public health service, and in many cases are governmental entities, even when they are responsible they may enjoy some form of immunity or cap on damages that limits their liability. State laws vary, so this scenario could differ based on your location.

Next, the backup might not have occurred in the sewer main at all; it could have been an issue with your lateral – the sewer line running from the building to the sewer main. In almost every case, the sewer utility is not responsible for the maintenance and working condition of the lateral; the property owner is. Repairing or replacing the lateral is expensive. Thankfully, many plumbing contractors can perform a camera inspection to determine its condition. Often clogs, including root balls from trees, can be removed at a reasonable cost.

So it’s nobody’s fault, but the homeowner’s insurance policy will cover this claim, right? Again, it depends. Many homeowner (and for that matter, business) policies exclude sewer backup. Unless your policy has been endorsed to specifically provide this coverage, there is likely no coverage. Fortunately most companies are willing to add coverage for a modest premium. Contact us to confirm that your policy includes this coverage, or add it if you don’t.

Could this loss have been prevented? There are multiple backflow prevention devices available that can be installed by a plumber. Check with your local plumber to see if this is a sensible option for you; particularly if your property has a history of sewer backup issues. Your local sewer utility can often be a helpful resource for prevention ideas as well. These devices aren’t 100 percent effective, so you’ll want to do your homework.

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When It’s Raining Cats and Dogs

Unfortunately, that old nursery rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away; Come again some other day” rarely works, which is why there are over 5,760,000 vehicle crashes each year in the U.S. on average. Not surprising that weather, including wet pavement and rain fall, contribute to over 1.2 million of them. Getting pelted with the elements will always be inevitable, but knowing how to safely maneuver the wet pavement is important to any driver. An alarming statistic from the U.S. Department of Transportation1 states that 73% of accidents occur on wet pavement, and 46% during rainfall. So, whether you safely maneuver the terrain or you begin to hydroplane, Foremost wants to prepare you for any situation with these important must-reads:

Getting Your Car Rain-Ready

Check your tire treads before tackling the roads. Low tire treads don’t grip the road as well as fully functional tires, so consider using the penny test to effectively diagnose your tire’s health. If you can see Lincoln’s head, drive on over to the auto shop! If not, you’re good to go.

Maneuvering Wet Pavement

  • Avoid cruise control, which increases your chance of losing control of the vehicle.
  • Reduce speed by at least 15%. If the speed limit is 45, drive at around 35-38 mph to diminish risk of hydroplaning [tires rising up onto a layer of water], if not lower.
  • Avoid hard breaking to give your vehicle a longer opportunity to slow down.
  • Increase following distance between cars so stopping and slowing down are less of a surprise and necessary reaction times stay reasonable.
  • Keep headlights on, but do not use high beams. Even during the daytime, keep headlights on so oncoming traffic can see you, but do not blind them with your high beams.
  • Don’t drive through a river! If you see a deep and flowing body of water growing on the pavement, avoid it and find a way to drive around it.

Ahh, I’m Hydroplaning!

Stay calm. Even experienced drivers can experience this kind of incident, so make sure not to panic. Continue to move in the direction in which your car is pulling and avoiding hitting the brakes as much as possible. De-accelerate slowly by lifting your foot from the gas petal, and shift into a lower gear if you can. If you still find your car skidding on the pavement, you may have to think about an exit plan. Try to steer into an area with low impact like an empty field, avoiding trees and telephone poles as much as you can.

When it’s raining cats and dogs, it is unlikely that driving will be enjoyable. However, you can make sure you can handle the rain while driving and stay safe.

1. http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/weather/q1_roadimpact.htm

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Double Trouble: Social Media and Driving Don’t Mix

Hold the phone. Actually, just put it away when you’re driving. This practice may seem like common sense, but if you hop onto Google, you’ll find dozens of articles pointing fingers at social media sites for deadly car crashes. Yes, distracted driving isn’t just about texting anymore.

“The percentage of drivers who text-message or visibly manipulate handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014. Since 2007, young drivers (age 16 to 24) have been observed manipulating electronic devices at higher rates than older drivers,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

You and your loved ones don’t have to be part of the dangerous statistics. We’ve already given one recommendation to ditch social media while driving, but here are three other cell phone safety tips to follow to help you stay focused.

  1. Keep your phone at arm’s length.

    It’s easier to answer a call if you don’t have to dig through your purse or backpack for your phone.

  2. Go hands-free.

    Hands-free means hands are on the wheel. If possible, consider using a headset, in-car calling that synchs to your vehicle’s infotainment system, or use a mounted device to answer on speaker phone.

  3. Plan your calls ahead.

    Avoid scrolling through your contact list in search for a number by pre-dialing the number on your phones keypad. When it’s time to actually hit dial, the number will already be there.

Keep up with safety tips and take the pledge to be a distracted-free driver at Distraction.gov. And don’t forget – if you’re a Advantage Insurance customer, you may have access to roadside assistance via your policy!

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Personal umbrella policy: Your liability safety net

When accidents happen, lawsuits may follow. You can protect your financial assets and future earnings by purchasing a personal umbrella liability policy.

A personal umbrella policy works with your existing insurance to add the extra layer of protection that you may need. After all, you don’t have to be a millionaire to be sued for $1 million.

Auto

Liability coverage on your auto policy protects you when there is damage or an injury caused by you, a family member or even someone else using your car with your permission. Your auto policy coverage limits could be exhausted in a serious accident; that’s where the umbrella policy steps in.

Homeowner

As a homeowner, your potential for a liability loss is always there: a visitor is injured slipping on your basement steps; your dog bites the neighbor’s two-year-old daughter; or your child’s friend is injured jumping into your swimming pool. You could be presented with some pretty catastrophic medical bills in any of these situations. An umbrella policy would give you that additional layer of protection.

Watercraft

Do you own a boat? Lawsuits have resulted from accidents when skiers are being towed from the insured’s boat and even from another boat. Injuries from these accidents could well exceed the coverage from your watercraft policy.

There are several other features of the umbrella that make it a vital policy to own. An umbrella policy can extend your protection to situations in which you would otherwise not be covered by your underlying policy. The umbrella affords you worldwide coverage.

Most umbrella policies would also protect you if you were sued for libel, slander, defamation or invasion of privacy. You might scoff that any of these scenarios are merely evidence of a lawsuit-happy society. Keep in mind that even if a court ultimately rules that a suit is without merit, you’ll still have defense costs. That in itself can be expensive. Both primary and umbrella policies have the obligation to defend you, even if the suit is determined to be frivolous. The umbrella is an additional layer of coverage for you.

When you shop for an umbrella policy, begin with the companies that have your home and auto coverage. And remember that buying all your policies from a single company may earn you a package discount on premiums. Advantage Insurance Agency can help you find the coverage you need.

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Housekeeping tips to prevent dryer fires

Could you live without your clothes dryer? For many people, the clothes dryer is indispensable, but an improperly installed appliance could easily catch on fire.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, fire departments respond to roughly 2,900 clothes dryer fires each year, with an estimated $35 million in property damage. The leading cause of these fires was the failure to properly clean the dryers (34 percent), followed by dust, fiber and lint (28 percent) and clothing (27 percent.)

Try these easy tips to keep your dryer in good shape:

  • Have your clothes dryer professionally installed
  • Clean the lint filter before and after each load of laundry
  • Clean lint out of the vent pipe every six months
  • Replace coiled-wire foil or plastic venting with rigid, non-ribbed metal duct
  • Inspect the venting system behind your dryer for restrictions, and make sure the outdoor vent flap opens when the dryer is operating
  • Keep the area around the dryer free of items that can burn
  • Don’t overload the dryer
  • Don’t dry items made of foam, rubber or plastic
  • Have a professional inspect gas dryers annually to assure that supply lines and connections are intact and free of leaks

A clothes dryer that is not working properly has an increased risk of catching fire. Signs your dryer might need service:

  • Clothes are taking longer than one cycle to dry
  • Clothes come out hotter than usual
  • There is no visible lint on the lint trap
  • Dryer repeatedly stops during a cycle
  • The top of the dryer is hot to the touch while running

More information is available from:

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Caring for your collection: Preventing loss

Collecting can be an enjoyable hobby, an educational pursuit or even a financial investment. So how do you look after a collection now that you’ve assembled one? While every collection is unique and has its own specific needs, you can take some simple loss prevention steps to help protect yours from loss or damage.

A good place to begin is creating and maintaining a current inventory of your collection. For each item in your collection, your inventory list should include: artist/maker, title, date, type of object, materials used, any inscriptions or markings on the object and its value. Be sure to include photographs to document the condition of each item and store a copy in a secure, secondary location such as a safe deposit box.

Theft and fire are two of the most common causes of loss involving collections. Consider installing centrally monitored burglar and fire alarm systems. Not only will this help keep you and your family safe while deterring loss or damage to your collection, it can sometimes result in savings on your insurance policy.

When choosing how to display or store your collection, consider the following suggestions:

  • Hire a professional art handler to ensure objects are properly installed.
  • Avoid hanging objects behind doors, in narrow hallways or in close proximity to furniture or shelving.
  • Do not hang objects above a working fireplace or in close proximity to other heat sources such as radiators.
  • Keep objects out of direct sunlight, as UV light can cause severe damage, specifically works on paper, photographs or textiles.
  • Do not store objects in basements or attics, as these areas are vulnerable to flooding, leaks and dramatic temperature changes).
  • Fragile objects should be displayed behind glass or secured with specialty wax, putty or gel.
  • Have a mulch bed or other type of barrier around outdoor sculptures to prevent damage from lawn equipment.

Realize, too, that all art objects are sensitive to the influences of temperature and humidity, which could lead to damage such as warping, cracking and mold growth. Maintaining a controlled home temperature and humidity level will help prevent damage to your collection.

Sometimes accidents simply can’t be anticipated or stopped, but by implementing some of these preventive loss measures, you have a better chance of increasing the longevity of your collection.

Contact Advantage Insurance Agency for advice on coverages to protect your collection.

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How to protect yourself from fraud

They say lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but disaster can if you fall victim to unscrupulous contractors.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that insurance fraud accounts for about 10 percent of all property casualty claims. While the majority of contractors are trustworthy, some take advantage of vulnerable policyholders, and the added expense can result in higher insurance costs for all consumers.

Protect yourself from scams by considering these tips on what to do when someone offers services:

      • Get more than one estimate. Do not feel obligated to sign a contract right away.
      • Get everything in writing, including cost, work to be done, time schedule, guarantees, payment schedule and other expectations.
      • Request references and check them out.
      • Ask to see the contractor’s driver’s license, and write down the license number. Also take down the vehicle plate number.
      • Never sign a contract containing blank spots. Unacceptable terms could be entered later.
      • Pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate ONLY after work is satisfactorily completed.

While your instincts may be to rush through the process of finding the help to restore your property, taking the time to find the right contractor can save time, money and additional frustration in the long run.

To report suspicious activity, contact your insurance agent or carrier or the National Insurance Crime Bureau:

      • Text FRAUD and your tip to TIP411 (847411)
      • Call 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422)
      • Submit a form on www.nicb.org

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