Want a Safer Home? Consider These Inexpensive Fixes.

Home improvement: It’s a never-ending process for many people, and for those of us who aren’t necessarily handy, it can be a hassle, too.

But there are plenty of simple maintenance tasks and other improvements you can handle to make your home safer – whether you’re handy or not. And you won’t have to break out the power tools (or any tools at all in some instances) or worry about getting in over your head.

Water Works
You need running water in your home – but not water running in your home, if you know what we mean. Even minor leaks can cause major problems, from higher water bills to damage requiring costly repairs (maybe even the kind you can’t tackle yourself). Here are some easy ways to make sure your water stays where it should:

  • Check your appliances. They’re the most common source of water leaks in homes, so it’s worth taking a look at least once a year to check for problems. And the hoses that come with your washer and dishwasher can mean big trouble – they break down over time. Look for kinks and cracks, and replace if needed. Consider using reinforced hoses, too; those with steel braiding or mesh won’t hold up forever, but they’re stronger than rubber or plastic.
  • Watch the pressure. Water pressure that is set too high can cause pipes, hoses and water lines to leak or burst. Inexpensive gauges are available at home-improvement stores to test your pressure.
  • Consider installing water sensors. These can alert you to a leak or other problem soon after it occurs – some can even send messages to your smartphone.

Keep Your Family (and Your Guests) On Their Feet
Millions of Americans – many of them older adults – are injured in falls each year. About 2.5 million were hurt in 2013 alone, according to the National Safety Council and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Look around your home. Should you make some of these fixes?

  • Reduce clutter. Everything from small pieces of furniture to area rugs can pose a hazard, so make sure they’re in appropriate places and out of the way if possible.
  • Add stability to stairs. Make sure stairways have sturdy rails, and maybe even non-slip strips, particularly outdoors.
  • Let there be light. It’s hard to walk safely when you can’t see obstacles or potential trouble spots. Make sure your home is well-lit, and don’t forget night lights, too.

Give Everyone Some Air
Pollution isn’t just an outside thing – the air in your home can be unhealthy, too. But helping people breathe a little easier isn’t hard when you follow these steps:

  • Test the air (and your detectors). Make sure you have working carbon-monoxide and smoke detectors and test them regularly. Also, consider testing your home for radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can be dangerous over time.
  • Check your filters and ducts. Keeping your furnace filter and air ducts clean will keep your air cleaner as well. And consider adding some of nature’s air filters: plants.
  • Keep your home clean. Dust doesn’t just build up on the furniture – it ends up in the air as well. Regular cleaning means cleaner air (just be sure to use safe products).

Home improvement doesn’t have to mean a kitchen remodel or finishing the basement. Making your home safer, in fact, just might be the best improvement of all.

Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.

Top image by Flickr user CORGI HomePlan used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.

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Heavy Rain? Be on the Lookout for Heavy Damage

Your home protects you from the elements, but heavy rains can weaken that protection. With a little maintenance and a lot of vigilance, it’s not hard to stay safe and dry.

Spring rainstorms are a fact of life in many areas of the country, and they help keep things green, even if they keep you inside. But when they get heavy, it’s time to start thinking about the potential impact all that water has on your home. The first step is finding and fixing any immediate problems as soon as it’s safe to do so. Then, you’ll want to take measures to prevent those problems from happening during the next downpour!

Where is all that rain going?
Your roof and gutters form a key line of defense for your home – and in a storm, they’re vulnerable, because so many things can damage them. Trees, hail, and other objects can create weaknesses that might lead to leaks in your roof, so check for missing shingles and other issues. And keep your gutters clear so all that water drains properly.

Are you checking everywhere?
Water dripping from the ceiling is hard to miss. Water in your crawl space, however, can easily go undetected because hardly anyone ever checks there. Don’t forget to look down there after a storm (or have a professional do it) to make sure everything is nice and dry. If you do see moisture, you’ll want to get it out with a sump pump as soon as possible.

And don’t just look up – another place to check is your home’s exterior, whether it’s siding, brick, or another material. Weak spots can be hard to see, so look at various times of the day in different lighting conditions.

Of course, you’ll want to make sure your doors and windows are properly sealed to keep the elements out, too.

What about around your property?
Storm water has to go somewhere, and if your property doesn’t drain well, or if runoff goes toward your foundation, you could have problems. So watch for patterns, and grade property so it drains away from your home if possible. Always be wary of hillsides and tilting trees after heavy storms, because the land might not be stable.

And don’t forget to keep storm drains clear of leaves and other debris. This can prevent flooding both on the streets and your own property.

What should you do during the storm?
During powerful storms, stay inside. This is not the time to check your roof, your exterior, or your property unless there’s an emergency and you know it’s safe to go out. Monitor your interior, making sure no water is getting in. If it is, do what you can to alleviate the situation in the moment, even if it means just placing something under a leak to collect the water. For more serious problems, though, remember that safety is the most important thing. If your basement is flooding, for example, don’t go down there – you could be trapped and even drown.

Thankfully, powerful storms only hit once in a while. Preparing for them, however, should be on your mind a lot more frequently, because the next one could be tomorrow.

Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.

Top image by Flickr user Victor U used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.

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Think Renter’s Insurance is Only for Your Stuff? Think Again!

Clients often think they don’t need renters insurance — “Nothing I have is worth that much,” they’ll say, or “I don’t have a lot of stuff.”

That’s how most people think of renter’s coverage: protection for stuff, and nothing more. After all, it’s inexpensive and it doesn’t even cover the structure itself. So how important can it be, especially if you don’t think you have anything valuable to protect?

Plenty important, because you have more to protect than you realize. You just have to stop thinking only about “stuff.” Here are three key financial protections a renters policy provides:

Loss of use coverage. What would you do if a fire or other issue forced you out of your home? You’d have to find a temporary place to stay, maybe even for months — which might cost you more than your normal rent. Loss of use helps cover that and other additional expenses.

Personal liability protection. If someone trips and injures themselves in your unit, they could sue you. If your dog bites one of your guests, they might file suit, too. Yes, lawsuits happen — even among friends. Renters insurance can help cover legal expenses and even judgments against you. (Some dog breeds may disqualify you from coverage, so be sure to inform your agent of all dogs in the household.)

Personal property coverage. Wait, doesn’t this mean your stuff? Well, yes. But really, this coverage protects your finances. Even if you don’t think you have anything valuable, take a minute and mentally add up everything you own (note that if you do have any high-value items, such as jewelry or heirlooms, you may need additional coverage). Now imagine how much it would cost to replace it all. It’s probably a higher number than you thought — and that’s why renters insurance is so important.

Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.

Top image by Flickr user Emily May used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.

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Will the Cars of the Future Leave Drivers in the Past?

If you’re like most people, you start up the car every morning and get ready to fight traffic on your way to work. But wouldn’t it be nice to read a book on your commute instead? Or check your email? Even send a few texts?

Today, that’s not possible for drivers. (Actually, it is possible, but it’s dangerous. And way too many people do those things and worse behind the wheel.)

Tomorrow, however, self-driving cars might give us all the ability to do those things safely. And two amazing concept cars at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas provided a glimpse of an exciting future.

Each January, thousands of people from across the world attend CES to see the latest innovations in technology. Sam Affolter, senior director of research and innovation at Safeco, was there this year — and he’s intrigued by where the auto industry is headed.

“One of the coolest displays at CES was Toyota’s Concept-i car,” Affolter said. “It has a digital assistant called ‘Yui,’ an artificial-intelligence personality that customizes itself based on the different people in the car.”

With inward-facing cameras, Yui (pronounced “U-E”) identifies who’s in the car and where they’re sitting, and will recommend switching to autonomous mode when its facial-recognition technology senses the driver is distracted or sleepy.

It also learns your habits and preferences, Affolter said. “I prefer to be moving rather than stuck in traffic — and Yui will pick up on that and recommend routes that may be longer but with less congestion.”

Honda also made a big splash at CES with its NeuV, which stands for “New Electric Urban Vehicle.” Private vehicles are not in use 95% of the time, and Honda says the NeuV (pronounced “New-V”) could make good use of that extra capacity. It can function as an automated ride-sharing vehicle, picking up and dropping off customers at local destinations when the owner is not using the car. And when it’s idle, the NeuV even can sell energy back to the electric grid.

“It’s important to note that neither of these cars is rolling off the assembly line,” Affolter said. “They’re just examples of the possibilities.”
That may be a good thing, because it’s going to take time for people to get used to the idea of giving up control.

Both Yui and NeuV help break this barrier by acclimating drivers to the AI system in ways that can build trust, according to Affolter. Providing accurate, helpful information and recommendations over time increases the chances you’ll say “OK” when Yui or NeuV offer to take the wheel when you look tired or appear distracted.

“These innovations are paving the way to a more driverless future,” Affolter said. “It’s going to be really interesting to see where it leads us.”
Reposted with permission from the original author, Safeco Insurance®.

Top image by Flickr user Marco Verch used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.

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