Apartment dwellers: Don’t miss out on the protection that renters insurance offers


happy woman with boxes at a new aparment

Great, you have a great new apartment. You’ve thought of everything – the mover, the new furnishings, the utilities. You’ve got everything covered. Or do you?

Too few people are taking advantage of one of the most affordable and practical forms of property insurance available: Renters insurance, or sometimes also called tenant’s insurance. According to a 2016 poll by the Insurance Information Institute, while some 95% of homes are covered by homeowners insurance, just over 40% of tenants carry renters insurance.

Homeowners insurance, is, of course, required for a mortgage. Banks want to protect their assets! It’s much less common for landlords to require a renter to have an insurance policy – it’s usually optional. In either case, having an insurance policy that covers the loss of your possessions just makes sense. Most renters insurance policies also offer liability protection and coverage of additional living expenses.

Who need renters insurance?

If you rent, you do! Your landlord’s insurance does not cover your possessions. Their insurance covers the building and grounds, not the contents of each unit. Tenant’s insurance covers your belongings in the event of fire or smoke damage, vandalism or theft, lightning, and some specific types of water damage (such as a burst pipe or a forgetful upstairs neighbor leaving the tub running).

A great way to help determine what coverage you need is to make a home inventory. This will help you get an accurate picture of the value of your belongings, and that, in turn, will inform your renters insurance policy choices. Having your possessions accurately and thoroughly documented will also be a huge help if you need to file a claim. For help with making a home inventory, check out how to create a home inventory.

What else does renters insurance cover?

Many policies also offer off-premise coverage. This means that belongings outside your home (such as items in your car or hotel room) are protected just like they were sitting in your living room.

Renters insurance also offers liability protection. This covers you from lawsuits should someone be injured on your property. Your policy will cover the cost of a court defense, up to the limits of the policy.

Some tenant’s insurance policy also cover the costs associated with the aftermath of a home-destroying disaster: hotel rooms, rental cars, meals, and other expenses incurred while you home is rebuilt or you are able to relocate.

Determine your policy needs in consultation with your independent insurance agent. She can recommend additional policy provisions such as extra coverage for valuables like jewelry, art, or firearm collections; a policy deductible that suits your circumstances; and umbrella liability protection beyond the scope of your renter’s policy.

What isn’t covered?

While renters insurance offers significant protection from many common disasters, there are a couple of big exceptions. Most tenant’s insurance policies do NOT cover flood damage. Insurance for flood damage is available from the National Flood Insurance Program. Most rental insurance won’t cover earthquake damage. Policies specifically covering earthquake can be purchased separately or added as an endorsement to your renters insurance policy. You should also talk to your agent if you have any valuable collections that may need additional coverage.

How much does renters insurance cost?

The short answer is: not much, compared to the cost of replacing all your stuff. Your independent insurance agent can help you find a policy with the coverage that suits your needs. She’ll help you decide whether you need “actual cash value” or “replacement cost” coverage. Actual cash value pays out what your possessions are actually worth, including depreciation. It’s more affordable, but pays out less than a replacement cost policy, which would pay what it would take to replace the items if you bought them today.

Your independent insurance agent will also steer you toward any available discounts, too. Policies bundled with car or business policies are often discounted. Discounts are also sometimes available for having a security system, proper smoke detectors, and deadbolt locks. Your age, credit history, and length of time with the same insurer can also trigger significant policy savings.

Ask your independent insurance agent

If you have renters insurance already, it’s still a good idea to go over the policy once a year in consultation with your independent insurance agent. Your circumstances may have changed. Your insurance should reflect those changes. If you don’t have rental insurance, ask your insurance advisor for more information, make a detailed home inventory, and get some quotes. You may be surprised at how affordable tenant’s insurance policies are. And if the worst happens and you are a victim of theft, vandalism, or natural disaster, you’ll rest easy knowing that you were properly prepared.

Handling pet fears in thunder & lightning storms


illustration of frightened cat thinking omg

When the thunder roars and the lightning crackles, there’s a primal satisfaction in being snug and dry beneath a stout roof surrounded by sturdy walls. And that’s just as true for your pets as it is for you and the rest of your family.

To keep your pets safe, keep them inside during bad weather. If you keep animals in a shed, barn or doghouse, make sure your outbuildings are structurally sound and properly grounded. A doghouse isn’t safe in a lightning strike – it’s best to move Rover inside. Cats left outside will often shelter in parked cars or beneath trees, both dangerous options during a lightning storm.

Some dogs and even some cats suffer from thunderstorm phobias. They’re extremely fearful of the stimuli caused by thunderstorms: lightning, thunder, strong winds, and even changes in barometric pressure. If your pet regularly freaks out when it’s bad out (by pacing, drooling, peeing or pooping inappropriately, hiding, or excessive vocalizing or destructive behavior), consult your veterinarian. There are different ways to treat thunderstorm phobia, from behavior modification to medication. It’s important not to reinforce bad behavior: during storms, don’t attempt to punish your pet’s behavior, nor should you try to comfort your pet (this is a hard one to resist).

Keeping your pets calm and dry when the weather is wet and wild isn’t just common sense. It’s as good for you as it is for them – the more stress you can address, the happier you and your fuzzy buddy will be.

For more information:

 

 

What to watch for in extreme heat waves


man sitting in front of fan with hair blowing

Here at the end of July, we’re having a little break from extreme heat, but there’s still quite a bit of summer to go so when it comes to the hot factor, we point to baseball great Yogi Berra’s saying that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.” There’s still plenty of beach time, camping time and general fun-in-the-sun time yet to go. If you’re not prepared for the summer heat, it can be more than just uncomfortable – it can be dangerous.

Heat danger comes in many forms and ranges across a whole spectrum from inconvenient and itchy to downright deadly. Thinking ahead and being properly prepared and equipped will help you maximize your fun in the sun.

It can’t hurt to be reminded of the basics: stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and know when to retreat to the shade. Beer, sadly enough, is not hydrating. Drink plain old water. (Sports drinks aren’t significantly better than water for hydration, either.) Sunscreen is a must for everyone who plans to spend any length of time out in the direct sun. Even the darkest skin is prematurely aged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, and while dark skin does offer some protection against skin cancer, the risk is still present. If you’re heading out to the beach, check to see if beach umbrellas are available or take your own. You can’t count on the clouds to cover the sun when you need to sit in the shade and cool off.

Once you’re out in the sun, you’ll want to know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of different heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion, which can be effectively addressed with cooling and careful rehydration, can look a lot like heat stroke, a serious and possibly deadly condition requiring urgent medical attention.

It’s nothing to fool around with. Every year, there are stories of people who die from preventable heat-related illnesses – the CDC says that, on average, 658 people a year die from heat-related illnesses. See: ‘This Was Preventable’: Football Heat Deaths and the Rising Temperature

Knowing how heat affects you can help keep you safe when the sun is blasting down. Here’s some stories from some people who were going about their daily business, and suffered illness or collapse due to excessive heat. Learn from them – plan to keep cool when things heat up. Keep an eye out for those you care about who may be susceptible: kids who may not be aware of the danger, the elderly, outdoor workers — even your pets.

Get tips about how to deal with extreme heat from the National Weather Service and here’s a helpful chart from the CDC breaking down the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

 

 

“It takes seconds.” Protect your children from drowning


Summer fun often happens in or around bodies of water: lakes, ponds, pools, and beaches are abuzz with activity during the warm-weather vacation months. But fun can turn to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Drowning is the number one killer of children aged 1-4, and it much of the time it happens even while an adult is close at hand.

That’s because drowning in real life doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see. In the movies, drowning people shout and wave their arms. In real life, drowning happens quietly and quickly, as the victim succumbs to the body’s instinctual drowning response. This can look a lot like a child attempting to dog-paddle.

“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,” said Mario Vittone, a water safety expert. “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.”

The recent tragic death by drowning of Emeline Grier Miller, the 19-month-old daughter of professional beach volleyball player and model Morgan Beck Miller and her husband, US Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, serves as a stark example of how fast tragedy can strike.

“It takes SECONDS,” she wrote on Instagram, urging all parents of young children to be aware of the dangers of drowning.

To see what the Instinctive Drowning Response looks like as it happens, watch this scary video (warning: child endangerment):

Stay close to your kids when you’re in the water and know what to look for. Attention and knowledge are the best tools we have to keep our children safe from this all-too-frequent threat.

Bicycling safety: new bike helmet rating system from IIHS


man and woman riding bikes, wearing bike helmets

Remember learning to ride a bike? That sense of freedom, of speed, of the world suddenly opening up for you to explore with your pedaling feet? It’s a childhood milestone that most of us remember fondly, and with good reason: bicycles are just about the most efficient means of transportation we humans have yet devised. Two slim wheels attached to a tubular frame and driven by a clever set of gears that turn our churning legs into a brisk means of locomotion, bicycles are fun to ride, good exercise, great for the environment, and easy on the budget. Choosing to commute by bicycle instead of by car can save you money while burning calories. Brightly colored body-hugging Spandex bike shorts are, of course, optional. (Thank goodness.)

If you are new to commuting by bike, you’ll want to do your homework first. Will you be biking before sunup or after sundown? You’ll need lights and reflective clothing. Is your area hilly or flat? This could determine how your bike should be geared. What are the road conditions you’ll encounter? Are there dedicated bike lanes? Will you need to traverse uneven, unpaved terrain? That will affect which tires you choose for your bike. Will you be using your bike for shopping? Maybe panniers and a basket makes sense for you.

Bikes are simple machines, but they can and do break down. Do you know how to perform basic bicycle maintenance, like adjusting the seat, oiling the chain, inflating the tires, and setting the right height of the handlebars? Most of these questions are best answered by the expert at your local bike shop. He or she can walk you through all these decisions and get you on the bike that’s right for you and your commuting and recreational needs.

New bike helmet rating system

One of the first big decisions you’ll have to make regards safety equipment; specifically, choosing a bike helmet. Recent advances in materials technology and safety studies have led to a profusion of bicycle helmet styles and choices. New bicycle helmets are made of lightweight woven polymers designed with padding to absorb impact from all angles. They vary significantly in price, and cost isn’t necessarily the best predictor of performance.

To that end, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in conjunction with the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and Virginia Tech have created a ranking system to allow bicyclists to see for themselves which helmet is best for them. According to David Zuby, the chief research officer at IIHS:

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries.”

While there are federal standards that all bicycle helmets sold in the US must meet, the new standards advance the field by offering a closer analysis of more realistic accident data, gathered by researchers with experience testing other forms of protective headgear, such as hockey, football, and soccer equipment.

Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Labs says:

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury. We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements.”

Their research found important differences in the levels of protection offered by “urban” and “road” -style helmets. They also found that helmets incorporating a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) (which works by reducing friction inside the helmet, alleviating the rotational forces that cause concussion in many common bike accidents) were safer than models lacking the MIPS system.

The team tested 30 popular bicycle helmets to start with and plans to add many more to their rankings, including helmets intended for off-road (BMX) biking. Check out their methodology and see their list of bike helmet ratings.

So strap on your shiny new helmet and get to pedaling! Just, please, not on the sidewalk. Some of us are still walking.