Farmers Cares, by Paul Quinn

What do winter weather alerts mean?

blizzard

With another winter storm hitting the northeastern United States, it is a good reminder that we need to pay close attention to weather alerts.

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues winter weather watches, warnings, and advisories depending on the severity of an oncoming storm. But what exactly do these mean?

Winter Storm Watch

A winter storm watch is when severe winter weather conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, could affect your area, but when and where the storm will strike remains uncertain. A watch is typically issued 12 to 48 hours before the storm strikes, providing enough time for residents to begin making final adjustments.

Winter Storm Warning

A warning is an upgrade from a watch and is issued when heavy snow and/or freezing rain is imminent. A winter storm warning is issued 12 to 24 hours before the storm is expected to strike.

Winter Weather Advisories

A winter weather advisory is issued when an area is expected to be significantly impacted by winter weather. NWS notes that advisory situations should not become life-threatening if residents are cautious.

Blizzard Warning

If a blizzard warning is issued in your area, preparation is critical. This type of warning means that significant amounts of snow and strong winds will likely combine to produce blinding snow, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.

To help you determine just how severe weather could be the next time a winter storm approaches, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) urges everyone to read the information provided by NWS below. Afterwards, prepare your property for severe winter weather by using resources available at IBHS’ website.

Detecting and Preventing Water Damage to Your Home

With severe weather hitting parts of the U.S. this past month, here are some hints on how to prevent or minimize water damage losses in your home. Most people don’t realize that interior water damage is one of the top three reported causes of house damage. And, it only takes a little time and effort to help protect your home.

The Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) reaffirms that interior water damage is a significant source of loss for property owners. The Institute’s website DisasterSafety.org provides information and tips to help prevent water damage.

The site stresses the importance of an annual plumbing inspection as well as the following tips to detect and prevent water damage:

  • Look in kitchen and bathroom cabinets under sinks. Check all the drainage pipes to make sure that they are still solid and are not showing any signs of leaks at the joints or from the bottom of the P trap.
  • Look for any signs that water has been dripping from the supply pipe connections.
  • Typical signs of leaks include corrosion on the supply line fittings and valves and stains on the bottom of the cabinet.
  • Make sure that the supply line valves can be turned off and back on and that they don’t leak when they are activated.
  • Look at the supply lines to toilets. Make sure that there are no leaks and that the valves can be turned off and back on and that they don’t leak when they are activated.
  • Check the valves for the supply lines to your washing machine. Make sure that they can be turned off and back on again and that they don’t leak when they are activated.
  • Locate the areas in rooms that are directly below any bathrooms on upper floors. Look for stains on walls or ceilings or a musty smell.
  • Look around all of your appliances that use water, including dishwashers, refrigerators with ice makers, sinks, bathtubs, showers and toilets, for signs of cracked or warping flooring
  • Listen for any sounds of dripping water or periodic running of the toilet supply water. Note if any of your sink faucets are dripping or if your tub(s) or shower(s) are dripping.
  • Check outdoor hose bibs to make sure that they are not dripping.
  • Look for persistent signs of rust in the water.
  • If you have a basement, inspect any drain pipes that are exposed.
  • Older houses may have cast iron drain pipes where the joints are filled with fiber and a lead seal. Check joints to make sure there are no signs of leaks.
  • If you have a basement drain and a sump pump make sure both work properly.
  • If you have a crawl space, check to make sure that there are no indications of water leaks from first floor plumbing and no open drains where a pipe may have broken loose.
  • Check your water bills against your sense of your water use. A significant increase could indicate a leak if you have not been watering a lot more or washing more clothes than usual.

No one wants to find water damage in their home, but paying close attention to minor drips and subtle changes in your plumbing and appliances may prevent an even bigger repair bill in the end.

How do I keep snow and ice from straining my roof?

Winter storm Jonas has plagued parts of the U.S. this week. Significant snowfall can put a strain on a roof that can cause significant damage and even potential collapse. Unless your roof structure is damaged or decayed, most residential roofs, regardless of the location of the house, should be able to support 20 pounds (lbs.) of snow per square foot of roof space before they become stressed. To determine how much the snow/ice on your roof weighs, you can use the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) information below. It is important to be aware of how much ice and snow is accumulating on your roof and to be sure to have it safely removed to prevent roof and home damage.

    • Fresh snow:
      10-12 in. of new snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so you could have up to 4 feet of new snow before the roof will become stressed.
    • Packed snow:
      3-5 in. of old snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so anything more than 2 feet of old snow could be too much for your roof to handle.
    • Total accumulated weight:
      2 ft. of old snow and 2 feet of new snow could weigh as much as 60 lbs. per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity for most roofs.
    • Ice:
      1 inch of ice equals 1 foot of fresh snow.

How Do I Maintain My Home In Freezing Weather?

freezingweather

As cold weather is finally hitting parts of the U.S. this month, the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) has issued a quick reminder infographic on preparing your property for such extreme temperatures. I have written past posts that touch on all these points and I will be updating them in the coming weeks. In the meantime, follow these infographic guidelines and stay safe and warm.

Why do I need an annual review of my insurance?

Insurance

As the New Year is upon us and we are making resolutions, promise yourself to review your insurance policies so you know where you stand. Too often, we only look at our insurance policies when we first get them in the mail. For example, we forget to update our coverages when we remodel our homes, or when our children begin to drive. Not having a regular insurance checkup can lead to complications later on. So, while we are making other resolutions, let’s resolve to sit down with our agents and get an insurance check up.

At Farmers we call it a Farmers Friendly Review. A Farmers Friendly Review is our way of helping you design an insurance program to meet your ever-changing insurance needs. There may be events in your life, such as a change in marital status, the birth of a child or the purchase of a home that could affect your insurance coverage. So when you have your meeting, be sure to review:

  • The members of your family included on your auto insurance and make sure ages match.
  • The amount of your deductible/coverage in case of an accident (see previous post What Is a Deductible?)
  • Do you have rental car insurance, and for how much?
  • What perils are covered in your homeowners insurance?  Do you want to add flood or earthquake coverage, both of which are not covered under standard homeowners policies.
  • The amount of your deductible for your homeowners insurance.
  • Whether or not you need additional insurance for jewelry, guns or collections.

Also, be sure to talk to your professional insurance agent to understand the replacement cost of your home as this number often gets confused with the market value of your home. See this posting I wrote a year or so ago on the subject. Your insurance agent can help you determine your needs and assist you in making the best choices. One of my first posts was about the value of a personal agent.

So make an appointment today with your Farmers agent to talk about which options you feel are best for you.

How Can I Prevent Holiday Crime?

The following are some valuable tips provided by the Los Angeles Police Department to help prevent theft during the holiday season.

While Shopping:

  • Shop during daylight hours whenever possible. If you must shop at night, go with a friend or family member.
  • Dress casually and comfortably.
  • Avoid wearing expensive jewelry.
  • Do not carry a purse or wallet, if possible.
  • Always carry your California Driver License or Identification Card along with necessary cash, checks and/or a credit card you expect to use.
  • Even though you are rushed and thinking about a thousand things, stay alert to your surroundings.
  • Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
  • Pay for purchases with a check or credit card when possible.
  • Keep cash in your front pocket.
  • Notify the credit card issuer immediately if your credit card is lost, stolen or misused.
  • Keep a record of all of your credit card numbers in a safe place at home.
  • Be extra careful if you do carry a wallet or purse. They are the prime targets of criminals in crowded shopping areas, transportation terminals, bus stops, on buses and other rapid transit.
  • Avoid overloading yourself with packages. It is important to have clear visibility and freedom of motion to avoid mishaps.
  • Beware of strangers approaching you for any reason. At this time of year, “con-artists” may try various methods of distracting you with the intention of taking your money or belongings.

While Driving and Parking:

  • Keep all car doors locked and windows closed while in or out of your car. Set your alarm or use an anti-theft device.
  • If you must shop at night, park in a well-lighted area.
  • Avoid parking next to vans, trucks with camper shells, or cars with tinted windows.
  • Park as close as you can to your destination and take notice of where you parked.
  • Never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside.
  • Do not leave packages or valuables on the seat of your car. This creates a temptation for thieves. If you must leave something in the car, lock it in the trunk or put it out of sight.
  • Be sure to locate your keys prior to going to your car.
  • Keep a secure hold on your purse, handbag and parcels. Do not put them down or on top of the car in order to open the door.
  • When approaching or leaving your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
  • Do not approach your car alone if there are suspicious people in the area.
  • Ask mall or store security for an escort before leaving your shopping location.

While at the ATM:

  • If you must use an ATM, choose one that is located inside a police station, mall, or well-lighted location. Withdraw only the amount of cash you need.
  • Protect your PIN by shielding the ATM keypad from anyone who is standing near you.
  • Do not throw your ATM receipt away at the ATM location.

While at Home:

  • Be extra cautious about locking doors and windows when you leave the house, even for a few minutes.
  • When leaving home for an extended time, have a neighbor or family member watch your house and pick up your newspapers and mail.
  • Indoor and outdoor lights should be on an automatic timer.
  • Leave a radio or television on so the house looks and sounds occupied.
  • Large displays of holiday gifts should not be visible through the windows and doors of your home.
  • Be aware that criminals sometimes pose as couriers delivering gifts.
  • It is not uncommon for criminals to take advantage of the generosity of people during the holiday season by soliciting donations door-to-door for charitable causes although no charity is involved.
  • Ask for their identification, and find out how the donated funds will be used. If you are not satisfied, do not donate.
  • Donate to a recognized charitable organization.

So please keep all of the above tips in mind and have a safe and mindful holiday season.

Photo credit: New York Times

How do I keep my Christmas Tree from catching fire?

christmastreesafety

This morning the Today Show had a segment on Christmas Tree safety and showed how a tree can go up in flames within a matter of seconds. During the holidays, some of us get Christmas trees early, so as time passes they may become dryer and more of a safety hazard.

FEMA has a an informative web page which gives the following Christmas tree safety tips:

  • Christmas trees account for hundreds of fires annually and while watered trees are not a problem, a dry and neglected tree can be.
  • Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches, and the needles should not break if the tree has been freshly cut.
  • The trunk should be sticky to the touch. Old trees can be identified by bouncing the tree trunk on the ground. If many needles fall off, the tree has been cut too long and has probably dried out and is a fire hazard.
  • Do not place your tree close to a heat source, including a fireplace or heat vent. The heat will dry out the tree causing it to be more easily ignited by heat, flame or sparks.
  • Be careful not to drop or flick cigarette ashes near a tree.
  • Do not put your live tree up too early or leave it up for longer than two weeks. Keep the tree stand filled with water at all times.
  • Never put tree branches or needles in a fireplace or wood-burning stove. When the tree becomes dry, discard it promptly. The best way to dispose of your tree is by taking it to a recycling center or having it hauled away by a community pick-up service.

Safer-America.comCAL FIRE and Heartland Fire & Rescue have also produced a public service announcement Christmas tree safety video as well.

So as you visit with your family this holiday season, don’t forget about the importance of maintaining and properly disposing your Christmas tree.

What should I do if I get in a car accident?

icyroads

As severe weather hits the Northern Plain states, the unfortunate result has been many car accidents due to hazardous road conditions. News such as this leaves many insurance customers asking “What should I do if I get in a car accident?”

  • First, let’s start with the fact that you should always have an emergency pack in your glove compartment for situations such as this. In addition to your insurance information, you should also have a camera, phone, pen and paper (to take down information) and a basic first aid kit for minor injuries. Other than the first aid kit, the rest may be already covered by the latest generation of mobile technology.
  • Right after the accident, assess your situation. If you and your car are vulnerable to further harm, if you are able to safely do so, move carefully to a safe location nearby.
  • Turn on your hazard flashers.
  • Do you or your passengers have any injuries? You may want to call 911 depending on your answer. You may also call the appropriate police agency. Their response may depend on the severity of the accident.
  • Exchange relevant information with the other driver: drivers license, insurance information, vehicle information, updated address and phone numbers. This will all be a big help later.
  • If you are safely able to, take pictures of the damage to the vehicles and do a simple diagram, if you can, to show the positions of the cars prior to, and after, the accident.
  • If you are safely able to, obtain witnesses information.
  • Let your insurance company know you have been in an accident. The sooner you do, the sooner they can begin to assist you.
  • Depending on where you live, you may need to file a State Financial Responsibility form. Your agent or Claims Professional can give you some advice on what your state requires.

Should you submit the claim to your own insurance company even if you are not at fault? I go into more detail about this in another post, but in a nutshell, yes you should.

So there are three major points to remember if you are involved in an accident. First, be prepared. Have a kit in your car to help you remember the facts. Second, keep safety in mind and don’t leave yourself open for further injury by acting rashly after the accident. Finally, get as much information as you can about the facts, location and identity of the other driver and then notify your insurance company with this information. They will thank you for all of it.

If you would like further information on what to do after an accident, go to

http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/what-to-do-after-a-car-accident.html

http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Insurance/InsureYourCar/WhatToDoAfterAcarAccident.aspx

Photo Credit: Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman via AP

How To Deep Fry A Turkey Safely

The following post on how to safely deep fry a turkey always gets a resounding response. As this cooking method for cooking a turkey becomes increasingly popular, it is of utmost importance that safety is priority. So, please share with family and friends to ensure that everyone can have the safest holiday season possible…

I will never be a naysayer when it comes to the holidays. I love everything about them; the food, getting together and sharing memories, and the food. Okay, I mentioned food twice, but the food is important because it represents our family traditions. Over the years, many have taken on the tradition of deep frying their turkeys. If you have never tasted a deep fried turkey then you are missing out. But, know that there is a right way and a wrong way to deep fry a turkey and the wrong way could result in fire, serious injury or both. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), deep fryer fires cause an average of 5 deaths, 60 injuries, and more than $15 million in property damage each year.

Working with homeowners insurance for many years, I have seen many reports of damaged homes or burnt garages because customers did not deep fry a turkey properly. So, I decided to do some research and found information from resources, such as the Keizer, Oregon Fire Department and others, to compile the safety tips below. Note that these are general safety tips only and it is very important that you also follow the cooking instructions and safety tips that are included with your commercially built fryer.

1) Make sure you use a commercially built fryer, do not try to make your own. Follow the instructions.

2) Your fryer should be outside and far away from combustible materials or surfaces. Make sure you use the fryer on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.

3) The turkey should be no more than 12 lbs and all innards, pop timers, wrapping etc. should be removed. Also cut off the wingtips and remove the tail.

4) Do not overfill the fryer with oil. To get the right amount, experts recommend that you put your turkey in its basket and then place it into the fryer. Add water so that it is covered until it reaches about a half inch over the turkey. Remove your turkey, then mark the fill spot and then drain the fryer. Dry the fryer and the turkey thoroughly to prevent splattering.

5) Fill the fryer up to your mark with oil that has a high smoking point such as peanut (watch out for peanut allergies), canola or safflower and heat to the appropriate temperature.

6) Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. Use your best judgment when attempting to fight a fire. If the fire is manageable, use the all-purpose fire extinguisher and call for help.

7) When placing the turkey in the fryer, wear appropriate attire and place the turkey carefully in the oil to avoid spilling.

8) Do not leave the fryer unattended at any time and make sure there are no pets or children in the area.

9) Once cooked, carefully remove the turkey to avoid spilling.

10) Let the oil cool and dispose of it properly. Do not put your grease down the drain because it could clog your sewage pipes. Filter the oil of any food bits and put it in an air tight container. During the holidays, many commercial facilities like biofuel companies or restaurants expand their drop-off points. Taking your oil to these types of facilities will ensure proper recycling or disposal.

Be careful, be safe and enjoy Thanksgiving. Remember that anywhere indoors, including the garage, is not a good environment for deep frying a turkey. And, if you are worried about rain, snow or getting cold, have another Thanksgiving when it is warmer and try deep frying then. You can never give thanks too often and precipitation hitting the oil may cause hot steam that may cause burns. Plus, “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” never gets old. It will be worth the wait.

I am hungry already. Let me know how it goes. Contact me at farmers-cares@farmersinsurance.com.

The following links provide more detailed information about deep frying a turkey.

http://phoenix.gov/FIRE/deepfry.html

http://cesanjoaquin.ucdavis.edu/files/12485.pdf

http://www.wkrg.com/alabama/article/deep_fried_turkey_safety_tips/21128/Nov-20-2008_1-36-pm/

Photo credit: FireFightingNews.com

How Do I Stay Safe While Driving In A Snowstorm

blizzard

As parts of the country are experiencing their first snow of the season, it is important to stay safe. The following are tips for a winter survival kit for your car and what to do if your car gets stranded. These tips are provided by Foremost Insurance Company, a member of the Farmers Insurance Group.

All drivers should carry a survival kit in their car that contains:

  • Cell phone
  • Blankets/sleeping bags
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Knife
  • High calorie, non-perishable food
  • A can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water
  • Sand or non-clumping cat litter
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper
  • Tool kit
  • Tow rope
  • Jumper cables
  • Water container
  • Compass
  • Road maps
  • Extra winter clothes and boots

Also, try to keep the vehicle’s gas tank full in case the car gets stranded and to keep the fuel line from freezing. If the road is too snowy to see while driving:

  • Pull off the road and turn on the hazard lights.
  • Stay inside the vehicle. It is easy to become disoriented in the wind and snow. Do not set out on foot unless there is a building in sight where people can take shelter.
  • Run the motor about ten minutes each hour for heat.
  • Open the window a crack to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.
  • Exercise frequently to keep blood circulating and to keep warm, but don’t overexert.
  • Huddle with other passengers and use coats or blankets to stay warm.
  • In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering — anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.
  • Be visible to rescuers by turning on the dome light at night (being careful to not wear down the battery), tying a distress flag (preferably red) to your antenna or window, and raising the hood to indicate trouble after snow stops falling.
  • If it is necessary to leave the vehicle and proceed on foot once the storm is over, follow the road if possible.
  • If it is necessary to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain a sense of direction.

With a little planning and know-how, it is possible to make this winter a safe and warm one for everyone.