Category Archives: Home Maintenance

Prepare for freezing temps this weekend

The coldest temperatures of the winter are coming to New England this weekend. With the mercury dipping well below freezing, residents should take note of the increased risk for ice dams and frozen pipes.cold weather ahead

ICE DAMS 

This weekend’s drastic changes in temperature, along with the accumulation of snow on roofs, are the perfect environment for ice dams to form. Watch for these early warning signs:

  • Icicles hanging from your roof or gutters
  • Ice sitting on top of gutters, at the edge of your roof, or along your home’s siding
  • Ice or water inside or around your windows

If you suspect an ice dam is beginning to form or already has, call a professional to remove it immediately.

FROZEN PIPES   

While there are long term measures you can take to prevent frozen pipes in your home, like having proper insulation and sealing any cracks or gaps in your siding or foundation, there are a few small, but helpful, things you should do during extreme cold spells:

  • Bump your thermostat up to 68 degrees or higher at night to keep the temperature in the exterior walls above freezing
  • Open cabinets to allow warm airflow to plumbing located next to exterior walls (or interior walls adjacent to unheated spaces, like a garage)
  • Let cold water drip from the faucet to reduce pressure on the pipes even if the water freezes

If you suspect a frozen pipe in your home, shut off the main water supply and call a licensed plumber right away. We recommend you avoid thawing a frozen pipe yourself – improper technique could cause the pipe to burst, leading to costly damages to your home.

Need to report a claim?

If your home sustains damage, it’s important you report it to Bunker Hill immediately online or by calling us at 888-472-5246.

Stay safe and warm this weekend!

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

New Englanders may face ice dam woes after historic snowfall

Mother Nature’s been relentless this winter – testing both our will and patience in New England. Although this week we were spared a large snowstorm, the almost seven feet of snow we already have in the Boston area means roofing woes remain for most. So while we are continuing to dig out, it’s important to be cognizant of the snow sitting on your roof.icicles

If you notice icicles hanging from your roof, water dripping from the roof overhang, or interior leaks or new stains on your ceilings, it’s likely an ice dam has formed. Ice dams are caused by snow on your roof that melts and then refreezes in the overhang, creating a blockage in the gutter and preventing proper drainage. Ice dams’ damage can be costly, so if you suspect one on your roof, it’s important to address it right away.

Of course, the best way to treat ice dams is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. However, prevention methods are more long term solutions and should be completed before winter’s onset to be most effective. Check out this blog post to learn more about prevention techniques.

So in the meantime, consider the following when dealing with ice dams:

  • After a snowstorm, hire a professional. This is the safest way to remove snow from your roof because professionals will have ample experience and proper equipment
  • However, if you wish to remove the snow yourself, remember to:
    • Use a roof rake safely – other tools could damage your shingles
    • Avoid standing underneath icicles or roofs with large amounts of snow
    • Be very careful when climbing ladders because rungs can be slippery with snow and ice on them
    • Don’t use a roof rake near electrical wires
    • Have someone nearby to check on you in case you need help or are injured
    • Create a channel in the ice dam by filling a large sock with calcium chloride and laying it across the dam, perpendicular to the gutter. The sock will gradually release the calcium chloride – a melting agent – and create a channel in the ice for water to flow through. You might need several socks for an ice dam that runs the length of your roof

If it reaches the point that an ice dam has formed and water begins leaking inside your home, collect the dripping water in buckets and pans. Mop up any standing water and remember to move any furniture, clothes and other valuables out of harm’s way. It’s also imperative that you promptly call a professional who can properly remove the ice dam and treat the damage.

Ice dams can be costly to both your home and wallet, so while we trudge through this never-ending winter, be on the lookout for warning signs that one may be forming (or has formed) and address it as soon as possible.

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

Is your home ready for winter?

Now that we’ve retired our Halloween costumes, rakes and pumpkins, tis the season for cozy nights by the fireplace and hot chocolate. Winter can be a delightful time, but like any season in New England, we take the good with the bad. So, before you bust out the big sweaters and slippers, make sure your home is prepared for the cold months ahead by considering some simple winterization steps:

Be wary of ice dams. Ice dams are a buildup of ice in gutters and roof overhangs that form when the snow melts from the rooftop and refreezes in gutters. Given the amount of snowfall we receive in New England, ice dams can be a common problem for regional homeowners. Ice dam removal and prevention tips:

  • For a quick fix, immediately following a snowstorm, use a roof rake to clear off the first three to four feet of snow to prevent it from refreezing in your gutters. Be sure to clear any debris out of the downspouts so the gutters can properly drain.
  • Keeping your attic cold is another way to help prevent snow from melting and refreezing in your gutters. To do this, you’ll need a well-insulated space free of air leaks.

For more information on ice dam prevention and removal, check out this blog post.

Watch out for frozen pipes. Frozen pipes are another classic headache for homeowners – especially in areas subject to harsh winters. Frozen pipes aren’t exactly easy to deal with – and can be quite costly – so in order to prevent them from happening, consider the following steps:

  • Wrap your pipes with insulation
  • Seal cracks and holes in your home’s walls and foundation
  • Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to increase warm airflow to hard-to-reach plumbing
  • Let your faucet drip to alleviate pressure in the pipes
  • Be sure your home’s temperature doesn’t dip lower than 55°F

Read our blog post on frozen pipes to learn more about prevention and treatments.

Replace the furnace filter. Throughout the winter, if your heating system has a filter, it’s important to change or clean it about once a month. A fresh filter every 30 days or so will keep the airflow clear, thus decreasing energy demand and saving you money on heating bills. If you have other types of heating systems, such as oil or gas, it’s also a good idea to schedule an annual service by the oil or gas company.

Check the chimney. If your home has a fireplace or a wood burning stove that you plan to use, be sure to get the chimney or flue inspected by a professional. While you’re thinking about that cozy fire, don’t forget to replace the batteries in the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, especially those closest to the heat source.cold weather ahead

Catch the drafts. Perhaps one of the simplest yet most effective steps you can take in winterizing your home is to seal air drafts. Inspect windows and doors leading outside and feel for cool drafts. If you find one, seal it with a door sweep or a draft snake for a quick fix. If your budget permits, consider installing storm doors and windows that are better equipped for blocking cold air.

Regulate your thermostat. Investing in a programmable thermostat that regulates your home’s temperature during the day and at night could save you money on heating bills. According to energy.gov, homeowners can “easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68°F while [they’re] awake and setting it lower while [they’re] asleep or away.”

Rotate your ceiling fan. This concept might seem counterintuitive since fans are traditionally associated with creating a cool relief in the summertime. But, if you rotate your ceiling fan clockwise at a slow speed, it’ll pull cool air up and push hot air down.

Preparing your house for winter might seem daunting, but if you need motivation, just think about last year’s brutal winter and you’ll be running to the hardware store for sealant and smoke detector batteries in no time. And if you’re feeling ambitious, check out this helpful blog post from our affiliate, Plymouth Rock Assurance, on how to winterize your car!

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

Ice Dam-age

As Old Man Winter continues his iron-fisted reign over New England, you should be wary of potential, costly damage to your home. So let’s talk about ice: the good, the bad… and the pretty.

Okay, so besides being pretty to look at, there’s not a whole lot of “good” when it comes to icicles. Beyond their attractive shine, icicles are a sign that something bad could be happening to your roof.ice dam

Icicles are the byproduct of an ice dam: a buildup of ice in gutters and roof overhangs. Ice dams form when it’s warm enough for the snow on the top of a roof to melt, but still cold enough for water to refreeze once it runs onto the eaves of the roof. Once refrozen, the ice blockage causes water to be pushed back up under the shingles, often resulting in damaged shingles, sagging gutters, stained ceilings and peeling paint.

Dam Removal

If icicles are hanging from your roof, there’s a high chance an ice dam is clogging the gutter. To remove the ice dam, there are a few recommended techniques:

  1. Use a roof rake from the ground to carefully chip away at the ice. Be careful not to damage your roof.
  2. Fill a nylon sock with calcium chloride – a melting agent – and lay it across the ice dam. The agent will create a channel by melting the ice and allowing water to drain through the dam. Calcium chloride can be found at your local hardware store. Do not use rock salt because it can be harmful to the roof.

Since working on or below a roof during the winter can be dangerous, the safest option is to call a professional to take care of any ice dams.

Prevention

The most effective way to deal with ice dams is to prevent them from happening in the first place.

Immediately following a snowstorm, a short term solution is to use a roof rake to clear off the first three to four feet of snow to prevent it from refreezing in the gutters – be sure to also clear debris out of downspouts so the gutters can properly drain.

A long term solution for ice dams is to keep the attic cold. By keeping the air in the attic cold, the snow on the roof is less likely to melt and run down to the gutter.

In order to keep the attic cold, it must be sufficiently insulated. An inadequately insulated attic will have cracks where the roof meets the exterior wall. This is where warm air leaks through, keeping the roof heated. So, inspect this area and if you find cracks, seal them with spray foam or sheets of rigid foam insulation.  There is more information online to help you prepare:

Although foam insulation can get pricy depending on the size of your attic, the benefit of preventing ice dams – and potentially water damage to your home – is worth the cost.

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home, condo and renters insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in property and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

Piping Up

As with each New Year, 2014 brought hopes for good fortune, opportunity for new experiences…and a polar vortex.

In New England we are accustomed to freezing temperatures,Frozen drainpipe but the crippling, Arctic-like air that swept through the region last week reminded us of the perils of home ownership that may arise in such conditions.  Of these perils, pipe bursts are among the most common and recently have become widespread throughout Massachusetts. Last week 35 people in Lawrence were evacuated from their homes when a pipe burst inside their building. The same issue affected Brigham and Women’s Hospital, causing patients to be moved to other hospitals.

How can you prevent frozen pipes from ruining your New Year? Here’s some useful knowledge and a few helpful tips.

How does cold air cause a pipe to burst?

Before addressing prevention and treatment of burst pipes, it is important to understand why pipes are prone to bursting in cold temperatures. Contrary to popular belief, the ice that forms and expands within the pipe is not the culprit; the burst actually results from the built up pressure between the ice blockage and the closed faucet.

Preventative measures

Now that winter is upon us, here are some suggestions on how to prevent the bursting of pipes in your home:

  1. Wrap your pipes with insulation. Be generous with the wrapping. The more insulated the pipe, the less likely it is to freeze.
  2. Any cracks or holes in the walls or foundation of your house should be sealed in order to minimize pipes’ exposure to cold air.
  3. For plumbing that is hard to reach, open kitchen and bathroom cabinets in order to increase warm air flow to the pipes.
  4. Let the water drip from the faucet in order to alleviate built up pressure in the pipe.
  5. If you are going to be away during a cold
  6. spell, make sure your heat is turned no lower than 55°F.

If you suspect a pipe is frozen, pipe up!
If you turn on a faucet and little or no water comes out, call a plumber. Turn off the main water supply but remember to keep the faucet open. If you are keen on thawing the pipe yourself, apply a small heat source (hairdryer, towels soaked in hot water, etc.) starting at the faucet end. Remember to keep the faucet open. Under no circumstances should you attempt thawing the pipe with an open flame. Exposure to fire is harmful to the pipe.

For additional information on frozen pipe treatment:

 

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

 

Bunker Hill’s Tips to Winterize Your Home

As the weather continues to cool and homeowners begin to crank the heat, make stovetop chili, and sit by the fireplace, we at Bunker Hill Insurance want to make sure that our customers have the information they need to prevent house fires and keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

For this reason, we’ve created a video highlighting common safety hazards in the home that can easily go unnoticed—from smoke detectors with dead batteries, to dirty dryer exhausts, to outdated wiring.

Check out our video to help you avoid these hazards, and stay safe!

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

Safe at home: 5 home fire safety tips and how to protect your family from home heating fires

Long, cold fall and winter nights are the perfect time to relax at home in front of a cozy fire. Unfortunately, this time of the year is also when the frequency of home heating fires increases, especially in December, January, and February.

Here are some quick tips from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) on what you can do to stay safe and protect your family:

Smoke detector1. Test your smoke alarms at least once a month. You should place smoke alarms inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home.

2. Install carbon monoxide detectors outside sleeping areas and on every level of your home, and test them regularly.

3. Have a qualified professional clean and inspect your heating equipment—fireplaces, wood stoves, furnaces, and chimneys at least once a year.

4. Turn off portable heaters when you leave a room or before you go to sleep. Use space heaters with an automatic shut off.

5. If you use a portable fireplace, take care to place it on a firm surface away from table edges or other furniture. Store ethanol fuel in a closed container, away from the fireplace and out of your children’s reach. Use a utility lighter or long wooden match to light the fire, and never pour fuel on an already-lit fire or into a fireplace that’s not completely cool to the touch.

Want more info? Visit http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers for more consumer fire safety tips.

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

Ready, set, rake: helpful fall gardening and lawn tips

Fall leaves with rakeRaking it in. Over the next month or so, the typical suburban lawn will be covered with a thick blanket of leaves. It’s best to wait until all the leaves have fallen before attacking your property for one big massive cleanup. It’s also easy to get overwhelmed looking at all those leafy wonders scattered around, so try to tackle your lawn with the divide-and-conquer approach:

Have a plan of attack. Rake your lawn in segments, one day at a time. Or be a job creator and hire your kids or some neighborhood kids to help you out. Just make time for some pile-jumping. Enjoy your leaf-exterminating experience!

Yard fashion. Wear long sleeves, long pants and sturdy work shoes. Gardening gloves are a great idea for those of us with delicate office-worker hands. Check your bod for ticks when you go inside.

Use a wide, plastic, light-weight leaf rake, and gather as many leaves as you can at a time onto a standard-sized tarp, usually 6’x8’. Look for rot-friendly spots away from your home or trees where you can dump leaves, garden trimmings, and kitchen waste (eggshells, coffee grinds, shredded paper are cool; animal or dairy products, diseased plants, toxic weeds or mature weed seeds, or peanut butter are not) to compost out of sight. If you’re a city person with a small, more manageable lot, bag your leaves up in paper leaf/mulch bags and put them out on curb to be collected and recycled on city-wide garden waste days.

Compost = gardener’s gold. It takes a little over a year for those piles of leaves and other leafy materials you dumped in the woods to flatten out into a foot-high mass of rich leaf compost or leaf mold. If you don’t have too many pine needles or acidic-rich oak leaves in the pile, you can use this nutrient-rich stuff for garden mulch around trees and shrubs. It’s cheaper and better for your landscaping than that smelly dyed pine bark mulch.

Hate raking? Hire landscapers to blow your leaves into the woods (or have them take them away if you’re on a smaller lot). Or consider mowing them into tiny bits and leaving them to compost on your lawn. Another idea: splurge on a mulching mower, which works better than a regular grass-cutting mower on leaves. Save branches for kindling in those roaring winter fires.

The grass is always greener… Drier, sunnier fall months are the perfect time to fertilize and seed your lawn. You can rent or borrow an aerator to seed with a mix that’s at least half fine fescues and bluegrasses, the ideal blend for Southern New England yawns. Better yet, consider downsizing the size of your lawn and switching things up with more native plants and vegetables that don’t require as much water, chemicals or back-breaking labor. Click here to read our post about 21th century lawns.

Cut it out. Prune tomatoes, deadhead flowering plants, and remove dead and dying plants from your garden beds and throw them on your compost heap.

Rake out your beds and clear out the clutter before snow falls.

Clean it up. Cover your grill (if you don’t use it year round); cover or store your garden furniture; roll up and store garden hoses off the ground; and drain and turn off outside water spigots. If you have an automatic irrigation system, turn it off now before you forget. It’s also time to replace the screens on your storm doors (and windows if applicable) with glass to buffer freezing winter winds.

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

Cold weather: Fireplace and chimney safety tips

FireplaceLast week’s recent heat wavelet aside, we’re getting ready for the colder weather, which means long, cozy nights in front of the fire.

Before you light up that wood stove or fireplace for your first fire of the season, make sure that it’s safe and ready to go. You should clean both the stovepipe and hearth opening to the chimney before you strike that first match (a wire brush would be a good tool for this). While you’re in there, check for clogs, cracks, or leaks. Check that stovepipe joints are tightly sealed. If you’re not sure how to clean and check your fireplace, call a professional chimney sweep to do the job.

Does your wood stove have a brick surround? Check the bricks for damage or cracks. Seal cracked bricks with repair cement, found at your neighborhood hardware store. Woodstoves should have a minimum 36” clearance on all sides to avoid danger of high temperatures causing nearby surfaces to catch fire.

Once your chimney, stove or fireplace have been checked and are in good working order, stock up on some well-seasoned hardwoods: ash, beech, hickory, maple or oak are all good choices. The wood should be dried for at least a year prior to burning; if it’s still green, store it on your property that’s not too close your home (to prevent rot and insects) or under a tarp to protect it from the weather. This will also help dry it out faster. You’ll know it’s ready when there are cracks in the end grain.

Enjoy the fall!

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.

5 Tips for Hiring a Contractor for Your Next Home or Remodeling Project

Finding the perfect contractor for your next home improvement project or remodel can feel like the quest to find your ideal soul mate:

  • Are they good listeners?
  • Will they show up when they say they will?
  • Are they committed to you?
  • Do your friends and family members like them?

The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection are great resources for home improvement tips.  For more information, check out their websites.

Some meaningful things pulled from these sources that you should consider are:

Male Contractor in Hard Hat Discussing Plans with Woman in Room.Licensed to drill. Is your contractor licensed with the state and do they have the skills to do the job? Are they bonded and insured? Always ask for your contractor’s license number before you sign any contracts. Massachusetts law requires contractors to list their license number on any advertising, so if you don’t see a number, don’t bother contacting them.

But, just because a contractor is registered with the state doesn’t mean that they’ll do a good job. Which leads us to…

Get those references. It may be time-consuming, but it’s worth doing some legwork before you start any project on your home—after all, it’s one of your biggest (non-living) investments. Use your neighborhood email listserv, if you have one, or just ask  neighbors about their experience if you see them getting work done.  You can also use the web to research contractors through sites such as Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau.

Get it in writing. According to consumer advocate Mitch Lipka, any job over $1,000 should be in writing and detail the job duration, start and anticipated end dates, overall job specs, and payment schedule. It’s typical to pay about one-third to one-half of the total price up front, unless you negotiate (and sign!) a different payment agreement with the contractor.

Once you do hire someone, make sure they understand your expectations about working in your home, such as your preferred (and practical) start and finish times and whether you’re okay with them using your bathroom.

Trust your instincts. Finding your contractor-soul mate involves careful research, but it also requires you to look within for those subjective impressions that should guide your decision-making process.. If, after looking at a list of closely qualified contractor candidates, you’re still not sure whether or not to hire someone, ask yourself: How does this person make me feel? Am I comfortable with them — and the idea of them working in my home? Do I trust them?

Headquartered in Boston, Bunker Hill Insurance provides home insurance to customers in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Bunker Hill is a member of The Plymouth Rock Group of Companies, which together write and manage over $1 billion in homeowners and auto insurance throughout the northeast.