Educational Corner

Holiday Hazards

  • 11/15/2019
  • 3:46:23

A structural fire is a disaster at any time of the year, but especially during the holidays.  Unfortunately, this time of year is prime time for house fires.  Between frying turkeys, dried out Christmas trees, and burning candles, there are numerous extra fire risks involved in the holiday season.  It’s important to understand the risk factors and how to prevent these fires, and, if the worst happens, to know what to do to recover.

Risks and Prevention
Three of the biggest holiday risks for structural fires are deep fried turkeys, burning candles, and Christmas trees.  Knowing all safety precautions to take to try may mitigate or eliminate the risk of fire at this time of year.

Fried Turkeys
Fried turkey fires cause an estimated $15 million in damages each year.  There are three major missteps usually made leading to these devastating fires.  Not thawing the bird properly, not turning the flame off before dipping the turkey, and overfilling with oil are the main risks.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, Thanksgiving is the peak day in the United States for home cooking fires in general.  It’s important to always monitor any cooking in the home, and, if deep frying a turkey, to ensure that the deep fryer is an appropriate distance from any structure. 

The top three days for fires caused by candles in the United States are Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.  Two-fifths of home decoration structure fires are started from candles, with over half of those occurring in December.  To mitigate the risk of candle fires, it’s cruicial to keep candles at least twelve inches away from anything flammable and to keep them in a stable holder where they won’t be knocked down.  To eliminate the risk entirely, electric, flameless candles have come a long way and look and smell more realistic more and more as the flameless candle industry grows. 

Christmas Trees
One-quarter of Christmas tree fires are caused by electrical problems and another quarter are caused by a heat source too close to the tree.  These types of fires are typically very, very serious.  It’s extremely vital to take all precautions necessary to prevent Christmas tree fires.  Any heat source should be a minimum of three feet from the tree, and further, if possible.  It’s necessary to read and follow all manufacturer’s instructions for lights on the tree as well as to inspect all lights that have been used in previous years to make sure they aren’t damaged.  If it’s a real tree, it must be watered every day and removed from the home as soon as it’s dry.    

What Next?
Even the best-laid plans sometimes fail, and no amount of prevention can save the day.  Once the flames are gone and the smoke has cleared, it’s time to clean up.  There are a lot of different things to consider in the wake of a structural fire.

Board Ups
Often it’s necessary to utilize emergency board up services after a fire.  Fires can cause holes in exterior walls in a variety of ways, including burnt walls and blown-out windows or doors. 

Once the fire is out and the home boarded up, it’s important to contact your insurance company if you haven’t already.  With fire damage, it’s a good idea to make sure the insurance and restoration company are on the same page and agree with the scope of work.  The last thing you want when trying to recover from a fire is for your insurance company to come back and let you know that the work isn’t covered. 

Dry Out
Most people don’t think of water damage after they’ve experienced a fire loss, but it’s often an issue for several reasons, including firefighting efforts, damage to plumbing, and rain or snow entering the home after the damage.  It’s necessary to get the home properly dried in these cases so that cleanup can continue. 

The contents of the home, which are basically all your belongings, need to be packed out, inventoried, and properly cleaned so that cleaning and repair of the structure can occur.  Even if the contents were not directly affected by the flames, soot and smoke causes damage that is sometimes beyond cleaning and repair.  It’s important to keep meticulous inventory records for this reason. 

Cleaning and Deodorizing
Again, soot and smoke can cause damage to the home beyond that caused by the actual fire.  Any material in the home affected but not removed needs to be thoroughly cleared of soot and other residues as well as deodorized.  There are a vast number of ways to handle this, depending on the type of fire and the company doing the cleaning. 

Once mitigation is complete, repairs can begin.  This step is another point in the process where it’s crucial to ensure the restoration contractor and insurance company are communicating and agree on the scope of work to avoid any delays.  This final step is what will return your home to pre-loss conditions in the event of a fire.

A house fire is devastating at any time, but experiencing one around the holidays only adds insult to injury.  It’s important to know the proper precautions to take to prevent fires at this time of year, as well as the steps to take if you do experience fire damage. 

Pets During Restoration

  • 10/15/2019
  • 11:29:44

You’ve experienced a fire or water damage in your home.  Your house is still standing, everyone is safe, and restoration is underway.  Don’t forget about your furry (or scaly or feathery) companions. Do you know what to do with your pets in the event of a loss in your home?

Is Your Pet Covered?

This is a case where things vary vastly from insurance company to insurance company, so you’ll need to discuss it with your agent.  It’s very important to let your agent know what types of pets are in the home and how many you have. You may need to have a separate endorsement on your policy to help with charges associated with pet care in the event of a loss.  Unfortunately, most policies will not cover veterinary bills or the death of a pet, but, if it is necessary to remove the pet from the home during mitigation, they may cover the cost of boarding the pet or the cost of a hotel that allows animals.  

General Rules for Pets

The first step in dealing with pets during a loss is to remove any and all pets from the affected area and keep them away until the completion of mitigation and repairs.  Not only do both fire and water damage create potentially unsafe and contaminated environments, it’s also difficult for technicians to work with pets in the area. Dogs, in particular, no matter the size or behavior, need to be kept contained in a room in an unaffected area of the home while technicians are working.  Cats are typically content to keep to themselves and don’t usually cause issues for workers in the home. They still need to be kept out of the affected area, though, as much as possible for their health and safety. Small mammals and reptiles also will need to be removed from the affected area, but don’t typically experience issues from the mitigation and restoration process.  If the loss was due to wa ter damage and there are dehumidifiers running in the home, it’s a good idea to make sure all pets have access to ample water because the dehumidifier is essentially drying the air and heating the area.  

Exotic Pets

There are some exotic animals that have specific needs when it comes to dealing with damage to a home.  Exotic birds need to be removed from the home completely. The noise level created by fans and other drying equipment can be dangerous and cause them to become unstable.   They are also very prone to dehydration and overheating. Saltwater fish are another exotic pet that should not be in the home during mitigation. As mentioned, dehumidifies act by pulling moisture from the air, which, in turn, pulls water from the fish tank.  As any owner of saltwater fish knows, the levels in a saltwater tank are in a very delicate balance. Saltwater tanks left in a home with dehumidifiers running can become inhospitable within mere hours. These fish should be removed from the home, or the levels must be checked every few hours if removal is not possible.  Freshwater fish and their tanks are a bit hardier and less susceptible to issues from the drying process. The safest course of action is still removal from the home, but freshwater fish are typically safe to be moved to an unaffected area of the home if levels in the tank are being checked regularly.  

The last thing you want to be worried about after a loss is whether or not your home is still safe for your pets.  Talk to your agent and understand your coverage as far as your animals go, and remember that, in general, the best first step to take is to remove all animals from the affected area of the home.  

Things Your Insurance Agent Didn't Tell You

  • 09/15/2019
  • 8:00:00

Most homeowners and renters know they need to have insurance coverage.  Unfortunately, most don’t know what their policy covers or doesn’t cover as is usually the case.  From drainage issues to mold to who is responsible for the extra utility bills during the loss, many insured people don’t know about several relatively major. 

Sump Pump and Drain Backups
When it comes to sump pumps and drain backups, coverage for these issues is nearly always a separate endorsement on the policy.  The endorsement is to cover any loss due to sump pump failure or backup from a drain of any kind. This type of coverage goes up to a cap, usually $5k, $10k, $15k, or $25k.  Occasionally you can find higher caps, but most insurance companies don’t offer more than $25k. This cap is the maximum amount available for both mitigation and repairs. Any amount over the cap becomes the homeowner’s responsibility.  It’s extremely important to discuss this endorsement with your agent to understand the give and take of extra premiums versus the safety of the extra coverage. It’s usually best to go with the highest coverage offered if it’s possible for your budget.    

Most people are not aware mold coverage is not standard on a homeowner’s insurance policy.  Many insurance companies don’t offer mold coverage even as a separate endorsement. Like sump pump coverage, mold is covered up to a cap when it is covered at all.  Because mold remediation can be extremely costly, it’s best to go with the highest coverage endorsement your insurance offers, if available.  

Collectibles and Hobbies
Coverage of collectibles and hobby items can be very company-specific and very dependent upon the value of the items. It’s important to ask your insurance agent about the company’s policies.  Most companies require a separate endorsement for collectibles, although the definition of collectible can vary greatly from company to company. These endorsements are especially important if your collectibles are worth far greater than face value. If the endorsement isn’t purchased, typically the company will only cover the face value of an item.  This limitation means that if you have a comic book with a market value of $150.00, but a face value of $0.10, you’ll only get $0.10 for the comic in the event of a loss if you don’t have a collectibles endorsement on your policy.  

Utilities During a Loss
When a loss occurs in a home, utility bills typically increase.  This increase could be anything from a higher water bill due to running water from a pipe break to higher electric bills from equipment usage during mitigation and restoration.  It’s important to know that the insurance company of the responsible party usually will pay for these increased bills. That means if a renter is responsible in a rental, the renter’s insurance should pay for the increase.  Likewise, if the property owner is responsible, whether in a renting or owner situation, their policy should cover it. The most common way for an insurance company to determine the amount to be paid is to take the last two-to-three months of bills before the loss and average them to determine the amount owed.  

Renter’s Insurance 
Many renters aren’t even aware they need coverage, let alone what the policy covers.  A rental policy largely only covers the contents of the home – your “stuff.” Other coverage could include food and housing if the loss is such that the home isn’t habitable. Utilities may also fall under the policy if those bills are the responsibility of the renter.  When it comes to food, though, it’s important to always keep the receipts for what you spent. The insurance policy usually will not cover food upfront but will handle it as a reimbursement instead. 

Insurance policies can be tricky and intricate. It can be difficult to know what’s covered both when purchasing the policy and in the event of a loss. Talk to your agent about all the situations that may arise in your home to cover all contingencies.  Know what the different limits and caps are for your policy, so you’re prepared in the event of a loss.