Spring cleaning’s an age-old global tradition: get tips from the pros

In the spring, there’s an almost universal urge to clean and maintain our homes. People, like bears, seem to emerge from their winter dens just as the days begin to grow longer. There may even be a biological explanation: in the winter, our lack of exposure to sunlight causes the pineal gland to produce melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that makes us sleepy, kicking in every night around 9 pm. However, during winter’s shorter, dreary days, our melatonin production can increase, followed by a decrease as the days get longer and sunnier. As a result, people tend to feel more energetic in the spring and cleaning up is a natural outlet for that energy.

There are also a wide variety of cultural traditions around spring cleaning, most notably from the Near and Middle East. In Iranian tradition, spring marks the ancient festival of Nowruz, which is preceded by Spring cleaning, or Khouneh Tekouni, which literally means ‘shaking the house’. Extensive spring-cleaning is a national tradition observed by almost every household in Iran. In the Jewish tradition, the Passover holiday occurs in the spring and is marked by removing all leavened (yeast risen) breads from the house. It’s important to make sure that not even a crumb of leavened bread remains, and so Passover is always preceded by two weeks of extensive spring cleaning. In keeping with America’s great heritage as a cultural melting pot, it’s believed that these two traditions may have contributed to the roots of our national interest in spring cleaning.

Whether it’s a biological imperative or a cultural tradition, spring is a great time to deep clean your home and catch up on maintenance tasks that may have been neglected over the winter months. Martha Stewart offers a helpful checklist to cover spring cleaning tasks (PDF) and Bob Vila has a list for home maintenance. However you do your spring cleaning and maintenance, be careful! Spring cleaning can be dangerous (PDF) – the linked list points out common hazards. If one of your employees or helpers suffers a spring cleaning related injury, remember that under your liability clause, the costs are covered by your homeowners policy. To make sure that your policy is up to date, call your independent insurance agency today.

Insurance Issues With New Car Sharing Companies

Car rental companies have been around about as long as cars have. The model is very simple: the rental company owns a fleet of cars and drivers rent them from the company. When you rent a car, a combination of your own insurance and the insurance carried by the rental company covers you for any accidents that may happen. Incidentally, many experts recommend against buying the supplemental insurance that rental car companies peddle at the counter. (Check out our prior post: Renatl car insurance – do you need it?)
However, while they’re still no big threat to traditional car rental companies, there’s a whole new car borrowing game in town. The first major player in the new car sharing world was Zipcar, which is now available in most urban US and European centers. Zipcar, like a traditional rental company, owns its own vehicles. The difference between Zipcar and Avis or Hertz is primarily in technology and convenience. With Zipcar, you sign up for the service online and then can pick up a car in your neighborhood more or less whenever you want. Zipcar is convenient but now there’s a new paradigm out there that promises to be even more groundbreaking.
Companies like RelayRides, Getaround, JustShareIt and Wheelz don’t own their own fleets of cars. Instead, they use yours. In a business model that’s like couch surfing for autos, a car owner can opt to rent out their car to previously vetted drivers. At first glance, it seems like genius. Owners are delighted by the idea that instead of their cars sitting idle all day, they’re out there working and making money. The renters get all the convenience of owning a car without the hassles and daily costs. And the environment heaves a sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, not all the kinks have been worked out yet – you might risk your auto insurance, or more. There are also many unanswered issues which the article raises, such as: What if a catastrophic accident results in a claim of more than $1 million, are you liable? What if you haven’t been taking good care of your car and that contributes to an accident?
Traditional car insurance is not set up for this kind of car sharing and major insurance companies are strongly recommending against participation. Most insurance agencies feel that renting out your car is a violation of the terms of your car insurance policy. The New York Times reports that the Insurance Institute of America, in an emailed statement, said “If the ‘renter’ were involved in an accident, most likely the insurer would non-renew or maybe even rescind the auto policy,” USAA, quoted in the same NYT article, says that “We would inform them (the car owners) that participating in such a program will generally result in non-renewal.”
Still, it may be too soon to write off these companies completely. Given the convenience and undeniable appeal of these nontraditional car sharing programs, insurance companies may figure out some way to keep everyone happy.

Bats in the Belfry: Home maintenance nightmare

During a new roof installation, some Florida roofers ran into a surprise when they were tearing up the old one. Make sure that checking your roof is a routine part of maintenance.

Bats have an undeservedly bad reputation in public lore (well, except for Batman) but they are important little critters that keep the insect population down, have a role in pollination and seed distribution, and play other important ecological functions. Because of this, they are a protected species under Massachusetts law, and most other state laws too.
The Massachusetts Wildlife Department offers a useful Homeowner’s Guide to Bats that offers information on what to do if a bat gets in your house, signs that a bat colony might be inhabiting your attic, advice for how to get rid of a bat colony that has adopted your home as their own, and other bat-related tips and pointers.
One other note about the video on a different topic from the bats: If you have roofers working on your house, make sure that they use safety harnesses or some type of fall protection! While a work injury would typically fall under workers’ comp, as a homeowner, you don’t want to take any chances.

Clickjacking: A New Digital Trap for the Unwary

The internet is a wonderful thing and a tool that many of us no longer know how we ever did without. Still, as wonderful as the internet can be, there are dangers online. Most of us are savvy enough these days never to click on a link in an email from a stranger but unfortunately, just as we have wised up, so have the scammers. There are new tricks out there that every citizen of this wired age should be aware of.
Clickjacking is one of the newer tricks in the internet scammers repertoire. First discussed in 2008, clickjacking has come into its own with the popularity of social media like Facebook. Clickjacking occurs when a scam artist or other internet-based bad guy places an invisible button or other user interface element over top of a seemingly innocent web page button. In a clickjack attack, an unwary Facebook user may click on a innocent looking web page, thinking that the link is fine. In reality, the invisible link they are actually clicking can activate a button that can do any number of things, including changing the privacy settings on their Facebook account, putting up a fake “like” on their Facebook feed, asking them to submit personal information or even, in a worst case scenario, activating something on their computer like a webcam or microphone. Not only is the immediate user affected, but a fake Facebook “like” can lead many of their friends to click as well. This is embarrassing as well as potentially dangerous. Clickjacking is so serious that both Facebook and the state of Washington have taken legal action against suspected clickjackers in recent weeks.
How can you make sure that you’re not taken in? Always be sure that you are using the latest version of your chosen internet browser. The latest version of Firefox can be found here at Mozilla; Internet Explorer here at Microsoft and Google Chrome here. You may also want to consider some browser add-ons, like NoScript, available for free download here. As always, however, your best protection against scammers is your own common sense. Review your Facebook privacy settings often and make sure you’re comfortable with how much you’re sharing. Always be aware of what you’re clicking on. Remember, anything that’s promising something for nothing is too good to be true.
If you are concerned about your vulnerabilities to identity theft, find a New England Renaissance Alliance insurance agent to discuss identity theft insurance. And if you are a business, you may want to inquire about Cyberliability Insurance.

Milder Winter Mostly a Positive Factor in New England

It’s not surprising that good weather is good for the economy, but it is kind of a shock to realize how far reaching and generally beneficial the effects of a milder winter can be across the board. The mild weather this winter has been a nationwide boon, boosting sales at home improvement superstores Home Depot and Lowes and helping local governments save big bucks on snow cleanup costs. Cash strapped consumers can breathe easier, too, since the average winter heating bill this year dropped by almost $200 as compared to the last two snowy, cold years.
Still, most of us don’t rely on ice and snow to keep our businesses afloat and less winter storms aren’t great news for everyone. Some New Hampshire businesses that rely on winter sports and tourism are reporting a slow 2012, and visitation at area ski resorts has dropped. There is snow up in the mountains, though: resorts across New England have been able to use snow making equipment to good effect. Despite the fact that this winter has boasted the third least amount of snow in the 46 years that NOAA has been keeping records, ski resorts are open.
Now in the insurance business, we are accustomed to helping businesses and families insure against weather perils – too much good weather isn’t usually something people insure against. But where there is a dollar to be made, the market will find it. In the article How Wall Street Profits form Weird Weather, the author talks about how so-called weather derivatives, saying:

“The contracts, many of which trade like stocks, are typically pegged to such things as rainfall and temperatures. But in the past few years, contracts specifically tied to snowfall have started to take off in popularity. The contacts essentially act like insurance, allowing, say, retailers or ski mountains to insure against too much snow or too little. Wall Street sells the contracts, matching buyers and sellers and pocketing a small commission. Typically, it’s a good business, but this year it could be a real moneymaker.”

Learn more about weather derivatives.
There’s one group who can always be relied on to welcome snow and winter storms: kids. This year, they’ve been sadly shortchanged and haven’t reaped the same record number of snow days as they’ve gotten used to. But that’s even going to work out okay: in at least one Massachusetts city, they’re going to get a week’s spring vacation instead.