Home maintenance: What’s the life expectancy of various parts of your home?

tools in a blue jean back pocketOngoing home maintenance is important in preventing any losses that may trigger insurance claims. It can be helpful to have a guideline to gauge the expected lifespan of certain home infrastructure systems and components. When it comes to experts about home longevity, who could be better than the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)? On their site, they offer general guidelines on how many years of service a home owner can reasonably expect from the various components of a home. They caution that “…numerous factors — including use, maintenance, climate, advances in technology and simple consumer preferences — can have a dramatic effect on the longevity of a product.”

Here’s a sampling of a few items that they list:

  • Roofing. Slate, copper and clay/concrete roofs have a 50-year life expectancy; asphalt-shingle roofs, 20 years; fiber cement shingles, 25 years; and wood shakes, 30 years. However, the life of a roof depends on local weather conditions, proper building and design, material quality and adequate maintenance.
  • Countertops. Natural stone, which is less expensive than a few years ago and gaining in popularity, can last a lifetime. Cultured marble, by contrast, is relatively short-lived, with an age expectancy of 20 years.
  • Garages. Garage doors last 10 to 15 years, and light inserts for 20.

Another useful guide is InterNACHI’s Standard Estimated Life Expectancy Chart for Homes from the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors. These charts offer predicted life expectancy of home appliances, products, materials, systems and components.

For a guide to the life expectancy of major home appliances, Mr.Appliance offers a low, high and average expectancy for ranges, refrigerators, dishwashers, microwaves and more.

“Bad Breaks”: RJ Mitte talks to millennials about insurance

RJ Mitte — star of the hit television series “Breaking Bad” — talks about insurance in a new series of video shorts called “Bad Breaks” which are designed to raise awareness in millennials about the importance of insurance. The series is part of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ (NAIC) Insure U. If you aren’t familiar with Insure U, check it out it’s an informative, objective user-friendly resource for reliable information about insurance. It’s designed to help educate insurance consumers about various insurance products and how to avoid being scammed. It also offers tools and resources from state insurance regulators.

RJ’s Bad Breaks: Auto Accidents Aplenty is the first release – two more are planned.

College survival guide: Safety tips, what to pack, dorm hacks

Students walking on campus On University Campus

Recently, we posted about college students and insurance. Today, we have some additional college prep resources — sort of an all-purpose college survival guide. First and foremost we have links to several safety & security checklists because all the insurance in the world won’t help if you don’t make safety a priority. We also have links to what to pack guides, tips for first year students and advice for how to eat healthy while in college.

Safety Checklist for a College Student’s First Apartment

Campus Security Checklist

Security Safety Checklist

Campus and dorm fires

Campus and dorm fire safety tips

What to Bring for Campus Living and How to Pack in 3 Easy Steps

List of Items Not to Bring to College: Dorm Room Contraband

Off-to-College Checklist

10 Tips To Survive Your First Year Of College

Your First Year of College: 25 Strategies and Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive Your Freshman Year and Beyond

42 College Tips I Learned Freshman Year

27 Ways To Eat Like An Adult In College

10 Easy Ways to Eat Healthy in College (It’s Possible, We Promise!)

Healthy Foods That Stay Fresh in a College Dorm

36 Life Hacks Every College Student Should Know

Take advantage of tax free shopping this weekend


Save some money this weekend! In Massachusetts, the 6.25% sales tax is being waived as a tax holiday over Aug. 15-16, an annual tradition that goes back more than a decade. Buy almost any purchase of goods tax-free if they have a price tag of $2,500 or less – excluding motor vehicles, motor boats, tobacco, gas or meals. Connecticut also kicks off a tax-free week from Aug 16 through Aug. 22, but it’s limited to clothing items of $100 or less. (Note – in prior years, it was good for clothing items of $300 or less.)

In both states, you can purchase multiple items, as long as no individual item exceeds the limit. You can also get the tax breaks at online retailers.

We encourage you to do some research and shop local. Retailers typically sweeten the pot by adding their own discounts and sales to coordinate with these tax-free holidays — some deals are very generous! But remember, whether you shop in your community or online, be a smart and cautious shopper: identity thieves don’t take holidays.

2015 Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday Weekend – Aug. 15-16

You can learn the ins and outs of the 2015 Massachusetts Sales Tax Holiday Weekend at the Department of Revenue site. Here’s a quick summary:

“The Act provides that the sales tax holiday will occur on August 15 and 16, 2015 and on those days, non-business sales at retail of single items of tangible personal property costing $2,500 or less are exempt from sales and use taxes, subject to certain exclusions. The following do not qualify for the sales tax holiday exemption and remain subject to tax: all motor vehicles, motorboats, meals, telecommunications services, gas, steam, electricity, tobacco products and any single item whose price is in excess of $2,500. “

The posting provides quite a bit of detail about the rules – check it out if you have questions about the particulars. Here are some other resources:

Massachusetts sales tax holiday weekend 2015: Your guide to skipping the state’s sales tax

Retailers to extend tax-free weekend

2015 Connecticut Tax-Free Week – Aug. 16 through 22

The Hartford Courant offers a good explainer of how the holiday works, along with some Q&A: What’s Tax-Free, What’s Not During CT’s Tax-Free Week.

“The new state budget, which took effect July 1, waives the 6.35 percent sales tax on most clothing items, shoes and boots priced under $100 during this period. Since 2000, the tax exemption has applied to items priced under $300.”

The Courant notes that sales tax is exempted for Connecticut residents who shop online or by phone if purchased during tax-free week, regardless of when purchases are delivered. Items placed on layaway during the week are also tax-free. But out-of-state residents need to shop in Connecticut stores to get the break.

Here’s another resource to learn more:
Connecticut tax free week 2015: Your guide to state’s annual clothing sales tax break

If you are traveling and will miss the Massachusetts and Connecticut sales, residents can shop online. Plus, several states offer tax-free weekends – check them out to see if they coincide with your travels.

Kids heading off to college? Double check insurance coverage first


If you have a child headed off to college, it’s time to check your current insurance policies and have a talk with your insurance agent to ensure your student has adequate protection.

Homeowners / renters insurance
If your student will be living in a dorm, their possessions may be covered by your homeowners policy for perils like fire, theft, vandalism and natural disasters such as a hurricane. But your coverage may have limits – the Insurance Information Institute (III) explains:

“Other policies may limit the amount of coverage for a college student’s belongings to 10 percent of the total amount of a policy’s overall coverage for personal possessions. So if parents have $100,000 worth of personal possessions insurance for the family’s primary residence, for example, only $10,000 would be applicable to possessions in their youngster’s dorm room.”

If your student has expensive electronic equipment, as many students do, you should check limits to ensure you have adequate coverage. Laptops, smartphones, tablets and TVs can add up! Plus, talk over cost/benefit scenarios related to deductibles with your agent. You want them high enough to keep insurance rates reasonable but not so high that it will create a hardship to replace a stolen laptop.

Not in a dorm? If students will be living in an apartment, your homeowners probably will not cover them. Renters insurance is inexpensive and may be the best bet. See our recent post that covers myths and misconceptions about renters insurance.

Auto insurance
If your student is under the age of 25 and college is within 100 miles of your home, he or she may be covered by your policy. If further than 100 miles away, the student still may be covered on your policy if they only drive while visiting your home. If your student will only be driving while on college breaks, talk to your agent to see if this could help to lower rates – you may be able to get a discount.

If your student will be 100+ miles away with a car, a separate policy may be required. Talk to your agent to determine the best option for your situation. III also suggests checking to see if your student is eligible for any “good student” discounts or whether safe driver training programs could reduce rates.

Tuition Insurance
Check to see what the college refund policy is. If tuition is very high, you may want to talk to your agent about a specialty tuition reimbursement insurance coverage that would kick in if the student had to leave school due to an unforeseen illness or physical disability – or in the event of the student’s death. Typically, these plans do not provide reimbursement for students who are expelled or who decide to leave the college for other reasons.

Identity theft insurance
Students are at high risk for identity theft. You may want to educate them about safety concerns and it might be worth investing in an ID theft protection product.

Stand-alone coverage for electronics

III suggests this option: “Parents may want to look into acquiring stand-alone policies for desktop computers, laptops, tablets and iPads, and other electronics as they may provide coverage against accidental damage, liquid spills and other events not included under a standard homeowners or renters policy. Keep in mind that if you are using a credit card to buy such items, some insurance protection may also be available through the card itself.”

Consumer Guide to Windows 10: From best features to controlling your privacy


Initial reviews for Windows 10 are in and they’re pretty positive overall. Reviewers generally say there’s a lot to like about the new operating system, which maintains many of the best mobile features of 8 while fixing some of the biggest headaches for desktop users. It introduces a slimmed down new browser, dumping the oft-criticized Internet Explorer, and it also introduces Cortana, a personal assistant similar to Apple’s Siri. Plus, you can upgrade for free – here’s how. But critics are raising alarms about privacy issues.

Here are reviews of some of the best new Windows 10 features

Windows 10 Privacy Matters

Despite largely positive reviews, many techies and security experts are raising privacy alarms. Some of the issues you should be aware of: Windows 10 has a system of automatic updates – updates are no longer optional. If you like to customize things, know that many of your application preferences will now default to Windows products unless you change settings. On sign-up, you will be opting in to ad tracking/customized ads unless you opt out. Many are also citing privacy issues raised by use of the personal assistant Cortana but, in fairness, these are probably no greater than those raised when using Siri or Google Now. (See: Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri: Battle of the personal assistants and another comparison here.

While you can change default settings, everything is a trade off. Shutting some features down in the interests of privacy may also detract functionality. Here are steps that you can take to maintain maximum control – and what, if anything, you give up in the process:

“Plenty of sites have published lists of all the features you should turn off in Windows 10 to protect your privacy, but many don’t explain in detail what each of these settings do, which makes it hard to separate FUD from fact. So let’s go through those settings and explain what we know about them, where the real problems are, and how to turn everything off.”

If you haven’t installed yet and maximum privacy/customization is important to you, Tech Republic suggests that you do a custom install rather than the default “Express” installation. They walk through ways you can do that, or if you already installed Express, how to change settings. Here’s another article from How to Geek on Custom vs. Express installation and from Lifehacker on How to Tweak Windows 10 and Fix Its Minor Annoyances.

Anchor-it! Preventing toddler tip-over deaths

Most parents would do anything in the world to protect their young children – nothing is more important or higher on the agenda. But there can be a less-than-obvious household danger lurking in a seemingly safe room. That’s the tragic lesson Jackie Collas learned when she found her darling 2-year old son Curren’s lifeless body under a tipped-over bureau. Last week, the Washington Post covered her story: Ikea, a tipped-over dresser and a toddler’s tragic death

“What happened to Curren is known as a “tip over” — the term for when an everyday appliance or piece of furniture is knocked over and suddenly transformed into a deadly threat. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPDC), a child dies roughly every two weeks due to tip-over incidents. The vast majority of victims are under the age of five.”

We previously posted about protecting kids from TV tip-overs, but the incident in this news story involves furniture. The terrifying video simulation below shows the danger and the solution. Anti-tip anchoring devices are readily available and easy to install, as demonstrated in the video. Here’s an anchoring how-to tip-sheet (PDF) from CSPC. Learn more at anchorit.gov.


Drowning doesn’t look like what we see in the movies


When we head to the beach or the pool on the weekends, most of us do so with a dangerous knowledge gap. We have wrong ideas about drowning and our ignorance means we don’t always recognize the signs of a person in distress when we see them. We are conditioned by movies and pop culture to think that a drowning person would yell and wave for help and splash violently to get attention. In reality, drowning is a quiet, desperate event – so quiet that every year, children die in pools and water just feet away from parents or friends who do not recognize the signs of distress.

Drowning behavior is so similar victim to victim that experts describe it as The Instinctive Drowning Response. Mario Vittone is an expert on water safety and he has been on a mission to raise awareness of what drowning behavior actually looks like – his blog post Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning is a really eye opener and something worth sharing.

He describes the behavior as:

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning

Here’s a video showing instinctive drowning response.

Drowning can happen in seconds. A more widespread understanding of what signs of swimming distress and drowning behavior actually look like would help to save lives. Help to raise awareness – why not share this post with friends and relatives – particularly parent of young kids?

See related posts on pool safety:
Swimming pool and spa safety issues and insurance coverage

Pool & spa owners: Minimize your risk with simple steps for safety

When wild animals decide to take a swim in your pool

New DUI law in Connecticut mandates an ignition interlock device

ignition-interlockSince July 1, if you are found to be driving under the influence (DUI) in Connecticut, you will be required to install an ignition interlock device (IID), An IID is a type of breathalyzer that requires a breath sample before the car will start. (See the short video from LifeSafer in this post to learn how and IID works.) The car will be immobilized if the sample is over .025. Previously, installation of these devices was only required of repeat offenders, but now the law extends to first time offenders too. According to MADD CT, states with IID laws have seen a 40% decrease in alcohol related fatalities.

“The duration of time in which the IID must be installed is dependent on whether the offender is 21 at the time of the incident, whether they are a repeat offender, and the result or refusal of the blood alcohol test taken.

This law will affect up to 6,500 first-time offenders charged with operating under the influence. The previous law did not require those who entered a diversion program to use the IID, but the new law now requires all offenders to.”

This is in addition to any fines and suspensions that may be imposed. It’s up to the offender to pay for the device and its installation.” A device costs about $75 to install and $75 per month to maintain. They also require about $275 in DMV fees.”

All states have some form of ignition interlock device laws – and almost half of all states have mandatory provisions for all offenses. See the Insurance Information Institute for more on state drunk driving laws. MADD also has an update on state laws related to ignition interlock devices.

DUI conviction also have a severe impact on insurance rates
In addition to any state fines and penalties associated with a DUI offense, remember that a DUI conviction will be very costly to your insurance rates, too. Just how costly will vary, depending on the circumstances of the offense, your age, your driving history, your state law and your insurer. You may be designated as a high-risk driver, limiting your insurance options – some insurers may refuse to insure you at all. The amount of a surcharge can vary by insurer and the duration of such a surcharge will vary by state law. Usually, it will negatively affect your rates for at least three years and as many as 10 years, in some states.

Note: DUI is also sometimes referred to as OUI (operating under the influence) and DWI (driving while intoxicated).

Image source: Video screen grab from LifeSafer

Life Insurance Survey: Most people have too little

Do you have life insurance? If so, you are among the 57% of Americans who do, according to a recent survey on life insurance by Bankrate Money Pulse. But even if you have it, do you have enough coverage to meet your financial goals? The survey found that of those who do have coverage, most people have under $100,000 – which would not be sufficient to sustain a young family or a surviving spouse.

“Especially vulnerable are families with children under 18. More than 1 in 3 of those parents (37%) have no life insurance at all, while a third of those who do have no more than $100,000 in coverage (32%).”

“The $25,000 to $100,000 policies that you usually see in employer group plans may cover your funeral expenses, but they’re not going to pay off a mortgage or put a kid through college,” Bridgeland says. “It’s worrisome to me to see that half of those insured have those levels of coverage.”

See the graph below for a more detailed breakdown of coverage amounts held by survey respondents.

life-insuranceInsurance Information Institute just released a good overview of the basics of life insurance in a short video – check it out!