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.

Grill Safety 101

Summer’s in full swing and there’s no better time to throw some meat and vegetables on the grill for a barbecue. Cookouts are no doubt a summertime favorite, and with 80% of American households owning a grill (Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association), chances are you might be firing yours up in the backyard today.

Before you fuel the fires of your inner chef and light up the grill, check out these helpful tips on how to do so safely:

  • Replace last year’s drippings tray from underneath the grill and always make sure it’s clean before cooking – too much grease can start a fire in the tray.
  • Check the hoses to and from the fuel source. Make sure they are attached properly and don’t have any cracking, holes or leaks.Family having a barbecue party
  • Carefully review the manufacturer’s instructions on how to refill your grill, regardless of whether it runs on charcoal, wood, or gas.
  • Before placing food on the grill, let it heat up to burn away any lingering residue.
  • After use, be sure to use a wire brush to rid the grill grates of old cooking residue. If you are using a charcoal burner, be sure to wait until the coals are fully cooled before disposing of them into a metal container.
  • Keep the grill a safe distance – usually at least 10 feet – from other structures and always have a fire extinguisher handy.
  • Last, but not least – never leave a lighted grill unattended.

For more information and tips on grill safety, visit the National Fire Protection Association.

Happy cooking!

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.

 

 

Identity Theft 101

A 2013 report released by the Identity Theft Assistance Center states that in 2012, 12.6 million Americans were victim to identity fraud, amounting to nearly a single victim every three seconds.

Online banking, social media and a general increase in web-based transactions means that we’re more vulnerable to this type of theft than ever before.

Identity theft online

You may think of identity theft as a “this’ll never happen to me” crime, but the numbers indicate that it can – in fact – happen to anyone. Fraudsters only need to capture some of your personal information – like your Social Security or bank account number – to gain personal profit at your expense.

Despite the pervasiveness of identity theft, there are ways you can protect yourself. Each Bunker Hill policy includes access for you and your household family members to Identity Theft 911®’s identity management and fraud education services. 

If you suspect you may be or have been targeted by a thief, call Bunker Hill immediately at 888-472-5246 and we’ll connect you to a fraud specialist who will help you through the resolution process. You won’t have to file a claim to use this service.

Education is key when it comes to identity theft protection, so here are some helpful resources to read up on:

For your information, Identity Theft 911® is not an insurance product and is not an affiliate of Bunker Hill Insurance. This service will assist you in preventing theft, and in the worst-case scenario, recovering from it, but does not provide reimbursement for losses or out-of-pocket expenses associated with identity theft.

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.

Safely Weather Hurricane Season

Hurricanes can be nasty business and 2012’s “Superstorm Sandy” was a harsh reminder that even in New England we can be exposed to dangerous weather. Hurricane season officially ends November 1st, so that leaves a few more months for a potential storm. Here are a few tips you should have in mind to keep yourself and your family as safe as possible:

Hurricane warning

  • Have a Family Emergency Plan to make sure your family members know how to reconnect after a storm.
  • Keep emergency numbers by the phone. Since children may not be familiar with how to make an emergency call, run through the process with them so they’re comfortable with how it works.
  • Designate an out-of-state family member or friend as an additional point of contact. Each family member should have this person’s number in the event you are separated and need to reconnect.
  • In case you need to leave your home, have preplanned evacuation routes and be aware of local evacuation shelters.

Keep your car in your garage if possible, away from flood waters and fully fuelled-up before the storm arrives. While the purpose of a Family Emergency Plan is to ensure that your family members can get in touch with one another after the storm, it’s equally important to have an Emergency Supply Kit for when the storm hits. A standard supply kit should contain:

  • Enough basic food and water supplies to keep your family going for at least three days.
  • 30 days’ worth of medication, keeping in mind any particular medical requirements you might have (asthma, allergies, etc.).
  • FEMA has a list of additional emergency supplies that you may want to consider.

Following these simple, preemptive steps will help ensure your family is prepared in the event a Hurricane threatens New England.

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.

 

 

 

Why Renters Insurance Really Matters

If you’re a recent college graduate, homeownership and all that comes with it – a mortgage, property taxes, trips to the hardware store – is probably not on your immediate radar. Home buying is a financial commitment and requires a certain level of stability that some young professionals might not have the luxury of boasting just yet. So for those of us who can’t commit to a hefty down payment or aren’t ready to commit to a certain geographic area, renting is a viable housing option.

In fact, the renting route might not just be for recent grads. 

rental agreement form

Although the American Dream of owning a home is still alive and well (7 in 10 renters aspire to this goal), a 2013 study from the MacArthur Foundation found that 57% of renters believe homeownership has become less attractive and 54% view renting as increasingly appealing. Current renters aren’t the only ones who see the allure; as more than half of the homeowners interviewed admitted they would consider renting in the future.

The American housing landscape is undoubtedly changing. Since 2009, 70% of our country’s biggest cities have experienced a rise in the number of households that rent.

But while the number of renters increases, more than half continue to skip the important step of adding a renters insurance policy to protect them and their valuables. These numbers warrant a deeper look into the importance of renters insurance.

Landlords and insurance: are YOU covered? Renters assume their landlords’ insurance policies cover the costs of damaged personal belongings. However, your landlord’s policy likely only covers disaster damage, such as fire, to the physical property and may not apply to your personal items. As a result, an increasing number of landlords are requiring their tenants to purchase a renters insurance policy, according to the vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

Whether your landlord requires you to buy a policy or not, educating yourself on renters insurance can be worthwhile.

Where to begin?

Account for personal possessions. Standard renters policies typically offer minimum coverage of $25,000 for your possessions. Since your clothes, furniture, electronics and other possessions may cost more than that to replace, it’s a good idea to create a home inventory to determine the value of your stuff. A home inventory is simply a list of your personal possessions with their estimated values. Besides helping you determine the right amount of insurance to buy, keeping a detailed and accurate inventory is also important because it’ll make filing for a claim much easier. The Insurance Information Institute provides free software for creating a home inventory quickly and efficiently.

Note that renters insurance covers damages from disasters such as fire, lightning, vandalism, theft and certain types of water damage (i.e. your neighbor upstairs left his bathtub running). Since floods are not typically covered, consider enrolling in the government’s National Flood Insurance Program if you’re concerned about flooding in your apartment or the basement of your building.

If you possess expensive jewelry, rare collectibles or anything else of high value, consider adding a schedule as coverage for specific types of items may be capped in the standard policy. A schedule extends insurance coverage in the event these valuables are damaged, lost or stolen. Be sure to have each item appraised prior to adding a schedule as you will pay a premium based on the appraisal value. For more information on choosing the appropriate appraiser, check out this Consumer Reports article titled “How much is your stuff worth?”

Liability protection. In the unfortunate event you are sued by someone who was injured in your home, renters insurance can provide liability coverage. Your policy should cover some of the costs of court defense and court awards – generally limited too $100,000. You may purchase additional liability coverage as well.

Miscellaneous expenses. Renters insurance will likely cover additional living expenses (ALE) in the event your home is damaged and you have to temporarily move out. Such expenses include hotel rooms, car rentals, restaurants, and other similar costs incurred while living away from home. Some policies have a time limit for ALE coverage while others have a price cap- so be sure to read your policy carefully.

Discounts. For cost-conscious shoppers, consider inquiring about possible discounts with renters insurance. Companies usually grant discounts to renters who take preventative measures such as installing a security system, using smoke detectors, and having deadbolts on doors. Also, you could get a discount if you have a companion auto policy with a company.

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.

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.