You may be the kind of person who fires up the grill all year long at tailgating parties, or maybe you wait for a warm summer day and a backyard full of friends before you put on your apron. Either way, grilling can be one of life’s simple pleasures.
Unfortunately, where there is fun there is also the potential for safety issues. For example, did you know that leaving the grill unattended, not cleaning grease or fat build up properly, or placing the grill too close to combustible siding can cause injuries, fires and property damage?
Charcoal or Gas?
Nearly 9,000 home fires a year involve grills, according to a National Fire Protection Association report. Of all the home fires involving grills, gas-fueled grills accounted for four out of five fires, while 16% involved charcoal or other solid-fueled grills.¹ Gas and charcoal grills each have ardent advocates, who praise the convenience of gas or the flavor of charcoal. Whichever your preferred grilling method, follow these important safety considerations.
Gas Grill Safety
A leak or break was the leading factor contributing to gas grill-related fires, according to the NFPA report.
Charcoal Grill Safety
The leading cause of structure fires from use of charcoal grills was leaving or placing an object that could burn too close to the grill, according to the NFPA study.
Here are some other important tips to help you keep danger away when you are enjoying food and fun.
Choose a safe location for your grill. Keep grills on a level surface more than ten feet away from the house, garage or other structures. Keep children and pets away, as well as overhanging branches. Grills should not be used on a balcony or under an overhang. Avoid placing grills too close to combustible deck rails.
Grill outside only. Never use a grill in a garage, vehicle, tent or other enclosed space, even if ventilated, due to risk of harmful carbon monoxide buildup.
Keep the grill going on a cold day. During cool weather days, avoid wearing a scarf or other loose clothing that may catch on fire. Consumer Reports recommends shielding the grill from wind, placing it about ten feet from combustible surfaces and materials, and keeping the lid closed to retain as much heat as possible. Allow extra time for pre-heating the grill in colder weather and check temperatures of meat and fish with a meat thermometer to ensure that food is safe to eat.
Teach kids to stay safe. Make a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the grill and areas where hot food is prepared or carried. Children under five are especially vulnerable to burns from contact with a hot grill surface. Grill contact accounted for 37% of burns seen at emergency rooms in 2014 involving children under five.
Remember post-grilling safety. Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and in trays below the grill. If you grill with charcoal and need to dispose of the coals, soak them in water to extinguish them before disposing in a metal container. Otherwise, cover the grill tightly and close the vents, this should extinguish the coals and whatever is left will be ready for next time.
High-tech cars are here to stay. Car safety technology is evolving quickly, bringing scores of often unpronounceable abbreviations for new systems that promise to keep us safer. Can a car read a street sign? Can the family wagon's safety systems react to a sudden traffic change faster than a seasoned driver? Automakers say yes.
We're all familiar with established safety systems like Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS) and Traction Control. ABS dates back to the late 1920's when it was first developed for aircraft, although it wasn't until 50 years later that this now nearly ubiquitous technology reached the highway. Technology is advancing faster now than ever before, bringing inventive new safety systems to your dashboard and automobile chassis. Let's take a look under the hood of today's high tech cars to see what some of the most intriguing new technologies offer and how they can make your commute safer and less stressful.
Increased safety is the goal many of the advanced systems in cars now – and of those planned for the future. But the enhanced vehicle safety can pay dividends in other ways by helping to reduce accidents, sparing costly deductibles, while also keeping your driving record pristine. The safety features of today's high-tech cars are as exciting as they are practical, and automakers are continually innovating to meet consumer demand. When it's time to shop for a new car, ask about its ADAS features, for safety's sake
If your teenager has just gotten a driver's license, it may be hard to imagine handing over the keys to your brand new car, but that may be the smartest vehicle to choose.
However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) say there is something worried parents can do to protect their teens — choose a safe vehicle.
Moving to a new place is certainly exciting, but it can also be stressful — and expensive. Once you factor in things like movers, packing materials, truck rentals, gas and more, the costs can creep into the hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, for just a single move.
Are you planning a move soon? Don't want to break the bank in the process? Fortunately, a little forethought and creativity can help in that department.
Here are five ways to help reduce your costs and keep a tight rein on your moving budget:
1. Shop Around for a Moving Company
Moving companies typically charge hundreds of dollars for their services, plus extra for things like gas, mileage and larger items like pianos and furniture. If you're going to hire a professional mover, shop around first. Get quotes from at least three different moving companies, and double-check the line-item charges. Does the quote include the truck, all protective materials, gas, mileage and larger furniture items? Does it provide insurance coverage in case of damage to any items you’ll be moving? If not, learn what adding these will cost you if they become necessary.
You can also consider local “mom and pop” moving teams or using an online service that matches freelance labor with local demand to help with everyday tasks. These come at a cost, of course, but are typically more affordable than a large moving company that has less flexible pricing.
Another great way to reduce your cost is to schedule your move for the winter or fall, if that is an option for you, as that’s when demand for professional movers is typically low. Weekdays are also a good choice, as most people move on the weekends. A moving company may be willing to give you a better deal if you move during these low-demand times, as they may be less busy and looking to fill their schedule. It may be worth exploring these options.
Pro tip: Consider doing a little research by checking out organizations online that provide consumer reviews of businesses. Before booking your movers, look at their reviews to get a sense of a company’s track record with other customers and try to verify that the company is legitimate. Note that none of these websites is a guarantee of a perfect experience, but they may help you with your decision.
2. Consider a DIY Move
Depending on how much you have to move and how heavy or cumbersome the items are, you may want to consider forgoing professional movers altogether if it looks as if your belongings can be managed without hiring help. If you have dependable family and friends that are willing and able to help with the packing, loading and transport, you might consider offering pizza or a free meal as a token of your appreciation in exchange for their help.
If you have larger items, consider renting a small rental truck for a few hours. Get the smallest size possible and be sure to fill up the fuel tank before you return the vehicle. (It may cost you more if you leave the rental truck in need of gas that the moving company must take care of itself.
Pro tip: Plan so that you're not moving during rush hour. Heavy stop-and-go traffic can drive up your fuel costs as well as delay your move.
3. Only Move What You Need
It's important to pare down your belongings before a move. That means donating, selling or throwing away any items you no longer use, need or plan to use in the future.
For one, this reduces your load and, subsequently, your costs to move it. Additionally, if you’re motivated to sell some of your unwanted items, you can put those extra funds toward your moving costs — or use it toward the cost of furniture or decor for your new place.
Here are some options for downsizing your household before you move:
Offloading some belongings will also make unpacking easier (not to mention faster).
Pro tip: Measure your furniture and make sure it will fit in your new home, as well as through necessary access points. If it won't fit, sell it and consider using the funds for replacement furniture once you're in your new place.
4. Get Creative with Your Packing
Buying boxes, bubble wrap, tape and packing peanuts can get expensive. Instead of purchasing these items, take a more creative approach and use things you already have. Sheets, towels, blankets and cloth napkins all work great as packing materials, and they all need to be packed up anyway, so why not use them? You can also use your own duffel bags, luggage, purses and backpacks rather than cardboard boxes.
Once you run out of these items, try one of these resources for free or low-cost boxes:
Pro tip: Start saving the plastic and paper bags from your shopping trips. These make good packing materials and can even be used to help protect fragile items.
5. Track and Deduct Your Expenses
If you're a member of the military (or someone in your household is) you may be able to deduct your moving expenses1 on your annual tax returns. To qualify, you'll need to be moving due to a permanent change of station.
If you're eligible, you'll be able to deduct the costs of moving, storage, travel, lodging and other expenses you incur due to the move.
Pro tip: Keep a detailed record of your moving costs if you qualify for this deduction. Save all your receipts and invoices and keep them somewhere safe until tax season rolls around.
Are you moving to a new place? Don't forget to update your homeowners insurance policy. Use your move as an opportunity to ensure all your belongings, valuables and new property are protected. Contact your insurance agent to learn more about home insurance coverage and how it can safeguard your new home and family.
Did you ever leave for work without turning down the heat on a blustery winter day? Or head out for a day trip in the middle of summer without dialing down the air conditioning for your dog? A smart thermostat can help you heat and cool your home more efficiently, monitor your energy consumption and let you control your home’s heating and AC systems from your smartphone, wherever you may be. These devices can help protect your home from damage caused by frozen pipes by alerting you if your home is getting dangerously cold. But there are also some important safety considerations.
How Smart Thermostats Work
Unlike traditional and programmable thermostats, many smart thermostats learn and adapt based on temperature, humidity and your family’s behavior, including when you and your family are likely to be home, awake and asleep. Your smartphone acts as a remote control for your heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, allowing you to change the temperature from wherever you have a signal. Another benefit includes automated notifications if the temperature in your home rises or falls above or below a set threshold. For homeowners who travel frequently or who own a second home, these devices offer the ability to remotely monitor their property.
Key Considerations for Using Your Smart Thermostat
During cold temperatures, with a more traditional thermostat, you turn down the temperature when you leave your home and dial it back up when you return. With a smart thermostat app controlled by your phone, you are able, and might be more motivated, to turn down your system to a low temperature to conserve energy from wherever you may be. But be wary as turning the thermostat down too low could result in frozen pipes, Travelers Risk Control professionals warn. Be sure to keep the temperature at 55°F or higher to help keep the interior of the floor and wall cavities, where water piping can be located, above freezing temperatures.
As part of the Internet of Things, smart thermostats are also subject to hacking and privacy concerns. You may think there is less of a safety concern than with smart locks or other security-related smart devices, as there is less incentive for hackers to target these devices. However, smart thermostats can provide details about your daily comings and goings, which a thief could find insightful.
A prudent step would be for homeowners to make sure their devices are hard-wired to the Internet, rather than relying on a Wi-Fi connection. Choose a strong password and evaluate any specific safety concerns before you decide to buy a smart thermostat. As with any smart device, make sure it is compatible with your other devices or hub because not all devices communicate well with each other. The packaging for these smart devices may not offer detailed installation instructions, so you may want to consult a professional to help install them properly.
Your car is made up of a number of different parts, and like any well-oiled machine, every part needs to be in tip-top shape to run smoothly. If one part starts to fail, it could affect how the whole car runs. There are a number of things you should do to help keep your car maintained, but do you know why performing certain regular maintenance checks on your car is important? From monitoring fluid levels to testing brakes, understanding your car’s needs can help you identify potential issues.
Monitor Car Fluid Levels
Cars rely on a number of fluids to help keep them running properly. While you may turn to your mechanic during routine maintenance visits, it’s a good idea to perform your own checks in between car inspections. Here’s a roundup of some car fluids to keep an eye on in case they run low, or else they could result in your vehicle not functioning properly.
Check Your Tire Pressure and Alignment
If you ever expect to make it from Point A to Point B, you can’t over- or underestimate the amount of air your tires need. Tire pressure that is too high or too low could affect your car’s cornering, braking and stability. When you have high tire pressure, less of the tire touches the ground, affecting your car’s traction and stopping distance. Low tire pressure means more of the tire touches the road; the tires could wear out more quickly and the risk of your tires overheating could increase due to friction against the ground. Check your owner’s manual to determine the recommended tire pressure for your car.
It is also important to check your tire alignment to ensure your vehicle’s suspension is performing properly. Bad tire alignment can cause your car to veer toward one direction or even result in vibrations while driving. If you notice your car has uneven tread wear, your vehicle pulls to one side over another, your straightened steering wheel appears off center or you experience vibration through your steering wheel, you should take your car to a service technician.
Perform Routine Brake Checks
Depending on where your morning commute takes you, driving in areas that feature more stop lights and stop signs could mean you are stepping on the brakes more often than if you normally take the highway. Your brakes are a hydraulic system made up of a set of pads that squeeze together when prompted, and run on brake fluid. If the pads wear too thin, it makes it harder to slow or stop. Your car likely has a service light that would turn on when it’s time to check your brakes, but don’t just rely on that technology; if you see any leaking fluids, notice how thick or thin your pads have become or hear a grinding sound, it may be time to replace your brakes.
As a car owner, it is your responsibility to regularly maintain your car like you would any other type of property you own. If you ignore your car, it could put your safety at risk.
We take it for granted, the automatic way we take the wheel and set out to drive from Point A to Point B expecting to have a smooth, uneventful ride. Since the introduction of the automobile, driving has been a convenience that has transformed our lives. But driving comes with no guarantees of avoiding mishaps, and unseen, unpredictable safety challenges can occur.
Fortunately, in the many decades in which driving has become a given, a number of innovative technologies have been introduced to help make driving a safer experience every time.
It may not exactly be artificial intelligence, but some technologies are able to react to specific situations. Other technologies are like an extra set of eyes to help alert you to potential dangers, and help you to react in time to avoid harm to yourself, your vehicle or those around you as you drive. Here’s a roundup of some of the technologies available to bolster your driving experience.
Reactive and Responsive Features
Adaptive cruise control is the next-generation version of this technology that allows drivers to select and maintain a constant speed without using the accelerator. Adaptive cruise control systems can sense vehicles ahead and adjust your speed to keep a safe following distance. Some (but not all!) systems also incorporate emergency braking to help slow your vehicle to avoid a collision.
Another responsive technology that’s come along are adaptive headlights. Designed to help illuminate the road ahead during turns, adaptive headlights can help improve nighttime visibility on curved roads. As you turn, the lights adjust to illuminate the roadway ahead.
The Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) has been around for years, to the point that many drivers may not realize this feature is a built-in safety requirement to keep their brakes from locking up when they stop. Even though ABS may not always help you stop more quickly, it can help you maintain control of your vehicle when you stop by preventing your wheels from skidding.
The Ease of Automation
There are some things that technology simply does better than our human limitations allow us to do ourselves. Take, for example, automatic lights. You’re driving into a tunnel. Before you have to flip a switch, the automatic light system in your car turns on your headlights to guide you through the temporary darkness. Once you emerge from the tunnel, the system turns off the lights, eliminating your need for reactive or proactive thinking and helping to keep your focus on your driving.
Likewise, the skillfulness required to park your car can be left to the car itself, thanks to automatic parking systems. Once you have placed your vehicle in a position where the automatic parking system can take over, multiple sensors detect obstacles and calculate steering angles while guiding your vehicle into a parking spot.
When You Don’t Have That 360-Degree View
Obstacle avoidance can be challenging from the driver’s seat, and innovators have taken that challenge seriously with technologies that help. Is there an object behind you? Backup alarms can alert you to it, and backup cameras can help you to see behind your vehicle in spots that otherwise might not be seen. Likewise, blind spot monitoring technology can give you a heads up when another car is in your blind spot. Sensors around your vehicle give you a warning when another car is detected. Depending on the vehicle, warnings can be visual, audible or tactile.
Maintaining control of your vehicle and being prepared for a possible crash have generated other technological advances – both new and tried-and-true. Among the ones to consider:
With spring on the way, it’s time to think about protecting and maintaining your most valuable investment: your home.
It’s a good idea to give your house a thorough cleaning and inspection inside and out, both to refresh your space and to spot any potential problems.
Ready to get started? Be sure to add these five basic maintenance tasks to your spring checklist.
Examine Your Roof
Winter weather can take its toll on your roof. First, check for loose or damaged shingles, animal nests, loose metal strips, cracked caulking, signs of fungus or algae, and damage to the chimney exterior. Address smaller issues now before they turn into big problems later, and be sure to hire a professional if you’re not comfortable with ladders and heights.
Clear Out the Gutters
Again, this could be a DIY project depending on your skill level, or you could hire a professional cleaning service. Remove all debris from your gutters, then check for leaks. Finish by power-washing to clear out any remaining dirt.
Check for Cracks in the Foundation
Unfortunately, routine caulking isn’t always enough to prevent masonry cracks in your foundation. Hire a specialist for epoxy injection that will chemically bond the cracks.
Reseal Windows as Needed
A leaky window is bad for your energy bills. If the weatherstripping has been compromised or the caulk is cracked, make any needed repairs.
Get an HVAC Inspection
Along with changing the filters regularly, have a professional come out for a tuneup every year.
Spring is also a good time to check your homeowners insurance to make sure you have enough coverage. Reach out today if you have questions about your policy.
You’ve decided it's time to replace your outdoor deck and you’re ready to take it on as a DIY project, or you’ve decided to work with a licensed and bonded contractor for the heavy lifting. Before you start on such a critical project, it’s important to know that decking options have grown over the last several years, bringing new choices in composite plastic and wood products from which to construct your deck.
While they often cost more than wood, composite materials offer the promise of greater durability and less maintenance. Wood is still the most common choice for deck material, but it doesn't last forever. Composites may be more durable, but they might lack the natural look and color you are looking for.
In June 2016, CBS News reported that while wood products still have a command on the market, composites are growing in popularity. Synthetic wood commands about 16 percent of the $7 billion-per-year deck market and appear to be gaining some traction.
From cost to maintenance and durability to look, there are many things to think about as you decide between composite or wood for your next deck. Here are some pros and cons to consider before you decide which product to buy.
Calfee Insurance wants to help you protect the things that matter to you. We offer a wide breadth of products so you can be covered at home and on the road.
Pros of Composite Decking
Conventional wisdom has long held that kitchens and baths sell homes. Those are also two of the more expensive areas to tackle for home improvement, but if you make sound design decisions and choose the right materials, you could end up making your home more appealing to potential buyers – and a more enjoyable place for you to live. And, if you’re handy, some of these ideas may even be great DIY (do-it-yourself) home projects.
A study from the National Association of Realtors1 confirms that kitchens and baths still top the list of interior home improvement projects that appeal most to potential buyers. The survey ranked the projects by the percentage of the remodel cost that would likely be recovered based on the home’s resale value after the remodel. These five home improvements can potentially provide the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to ROI.
1. Complete Kitchen Renovation
National Association of the Remodeling Industry’s (NARI®) cost estimate for the project: $68,000
REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $40,000
Percent of value recovered from the project: 59%
The look and feel of a kitchen can serve as shorthand for how up to date the owners have kept a house. Potential buyers have been known to rule out homes based on kitchens alone. Stainless steel appliances and granite countertops continue to be on many buyers’ checklists, especially those who want to move right in and start entertaining.
The top reason for renovating a kitchen, cited by 24% of homeowners, was to upgrade worn-out surfaces, finishes and materials. According to the Remodeling Impact Report, 10% of realtors said a completely renovated kitchen most recently helped them clinch a deal, resulting in a closed sale.
2. Kitchen Upgrade
NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $38,300
REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $20,000
Percent of value recovered from the project: 52%
A less expensive alternative to completely gutting a kitchen is an upgrade to the current design. Replacing dated appliances, refinishing cabinets and changing out tile backsplashes are some cost-effective updates that can still modernize a kitchen and make it more appealing to buyers.
While 12% of realtors suggest that sellers completely remodel their kitchens, 57% have suggested a kitchen upgrade. Twenty percent of realtors have said a kitchen upgrade most recently helped complete a deal. In addition to the resale value, kitchen improvements can also help you enjoy your time in your home, with better functionality and livability cited by 29% of respondents as the most important result of their remodel.
Travelers wants to help you protect the things that matter to you. We offer a wide breadth of products so you can be covered at home and on the road.
3. Bathroom Renovation
NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $35,000
REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $20,000
Percent of value recovered from the project: 57%
Bathrooms are another place where a home can show its age, and potential buyers may hesitate at the cost and work involved in remodeling an outdated bathroom after buying a home. Still, while 33% of realtors have suggested sellers complete a bathroom renovation before completing a sale, only 4% said the project most recently helped them complete a deal.
4. New Bathroom
NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $60,000
REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $30,000
Percent of value recovered from the project: 50%
A remodeling decision often driven by function rather than a desire to modernize, adding a new bathroom is nearly as expensive as completely remodeling a kitchen, but with less of a “wow factor” for potential buyers. With only 5% of realtors suggesting that sellers add a bathroom and only 1% saying the project most recently helped clinch a deal for them, this may be one project that makes more sense for homeowners planning to be in their homes for several years.
5. New Master Suite/Owners’ Suite
NARI’s cost estimate for the project: $150,000
REALTORS® estimated cost recovered: $75,000
Percent of value recovered from the project: 50%
The costliest project on the list, a new master suite or owner’s suite, is another project that may have greater value to you while living in the home rather than in making it attractive to future buyers. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they have a greater desire to be home since completing the project. Only 3% of realtors have suggested that sellers complete an owner’s suite before attempting to sell, and less than 1% said the project most recently helped clinch a deal for them.
Still deciding where to focus your budget for home improvement? Make a list of the reasons you’re considering each project, and be sure to consider the impact on your home insurance, too. Want to attract future buyers and increase the value of your home? Kitchens and bathrooms remain a good place to start.
If you plan to remain in your home for a number of years, you may want to update a bedroom, add a bathroom, convert a basement to a living area or tackle any other project that will add to your own appreciation of where you live.