Terrifying Carbon Monoxide Incidents Should Be a Reminder

Image credit: CDC OSHA Fact Sheet

Image credit: CDC OSHA Fact Sheet

Over the weekend, a NY restaurant manager quickly succumbed to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and another 28 people were rushed from the restaurant and treated for symptoms. The CO leak was serious enough that first responders felt light-headed on entering the building.

A few days later, a tragedy-in-the-making was narrowly averted at a time-share resort in Ogunquit Maine, where 21 people were poisoned by CO. You can read the scary story of a Connecticut couple who were poisoned and nearly succumbed. They experienced flu-like symptoms and lethargy. After the man passed out and broke his nose, they left their room to go to a drug store. On the way, they told the the front desk manager about their symptoms. His wise call to 9-1-1 probably saved 21 lives.

And now we hear that an Idaho family of four likely died of CO poisoning.

These experiences highlight the importance of having working CO detectors in both residences and public buildings. Every year, an estimated 400+ people die from carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands more are treated at hospitals. Often called “the silent killer,” CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can leak when fuel-burning appliances like space heaters, water heaters, and generators malfunction. It can also build up quickly when cars, grills, lawn-mowers and other fuel-burning machines are used in confined spaces.

If you don’t have one, here’s a consumer guide for How to Buy a Carbon Monoxide Detector. Here are state laws about Carbon Monoxide detectors.

Here is some advice from the New York Department of Health:

  • If you suspect that you or someone else has CO poisoning, seek fresh air immediately and call 911.
  • Schedule annual maintenance on home heating systems, including furnaces, fireplaces, chimneys and other heat sources such as non-electric hot water heaters, to ensure that they are properly-vented and maintained.
  • Install battery-powered CO alarms in your home. Check them twice a year to make sure the batteries are working properly. Checking the CO alarms when clocks are adjusted for daylight saving time is a useful way to remember.
  • Operate portable generators outdoors and downwind of buildings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a distance of at least 25 feet from the house.
  • Never operate fuel-powered equipment or tools in a garage, basement, or any other enclosed space.
  • Never use a gas range or oven for warmth.
  • Never use a gas or charcoal barbecue grill in your home or other enclosed space.
  • Make sure that non-electric space heaters are appropriately installed and vented, and that they are routinely inspected and maintained.
  • Never run a car or truck inside any garage or structure, even with the door open.
  • Know where boat engine and generator exhaust outlets are located. Keep away from these areas if the boat is idling.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Because CO is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to the human senses, people may not know that they are being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning results in progressively more severe symptoms, including:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death
  • State statutes


Carbon Monoxide Safety Association

CDC information & fact sheets and FAQs

Burglar Secrets: Expert advice on how to protect your home


In response to a spate of home burglaries in Kansas City last year Mitch Weber, a reporter with NBC-affiliate 41 Action News, talked to police and sent questionnaires to prisoners who were serving time for burglary. He revealed burglar secrets as well as how homeowners can protect themselves from getting robbed.

Here are a few surprises. Most burglars said dogs in the home were rarely a deterrent. Some burglars simply fed or befriended the dogs. If you do have a dog, they are better in the yard and barking than in the home, where many are friendly or timid. Security systems and signs for security systems rarely stopped burglars either – systems were often not turned on or easy to disable. Plus, some burglars noted that police response time is rarely under 15 minutes, and most burglars could be in and out in that time.

What did stop burglars? Here are some surprisingly low tech, low cost things they suggested:

  • A human presence in or around the home
  • A light on; a light at entry ways; timed lights
  • Motion activated lights, high enough that they could not be disabled
  • A neighborhood watch
  • TVs or radios left on
  • A car in driveway
  • Covered windows
  • Siren alarms that would notify the neighborhood

The power of a human presence was cited by almost everyone interviewed. Some burglars would case a house to wait for occupants to leave. One burglar suggested that when someone is about to lock up the house to go off to work, “turn around and act like they are talking to someone in the house before the lock up.”

What mistakes did people make?

  • Bragging about valuables, new purchases
  • Leaving doors and windows unlocked or garage doors open
  • Failing to enable security systems
  • Leaving valuables visible through windows
  • Leaving valuable things like bikes and riding mowers laying about in the yard
  • Having uncovered windows that allow views into the home

Most burglars said they started in the master bedroom and also cased living rooms and kitchen counters. See our prior post about creative ways people try to hide valuables.

Some of these tips are no or low cost. It’s also important to have the right homeowners insurance to cover any potential losses. if you have any prized or valuable collections, make sure you tell your agent and talk over a rider to your homeowners policy to ensure they are covered should your security measures fail.

Where do you get insurance for rabbit attacks?

We thought this would be just the perfect blog post for a Friday afternoon.

If you are curious about why all these rabbits, you can learn more at Animal Planets’s story about Okunoshima, a small Japanese island also known as “Rabbit Island.”  There are more than 200 wild rabbits in a predator-free environment — but they are acclimated to humans. There are more pictures of the rabbits and a back story about how they got to the island.

If you are planning to visit Okunoshima Island, you might check your travel insurance to see if it has a “rabbit rider” to cover you in case of rabbit attacks.

Tax Scams: The 2013 Dirty Dozen

Tax thief You may be dreading tax season but there are some folks who couldn’t be happier: criminal cartels. They are hoping to intercept your tax rebate, to con you into paying fake fines or to steal your identity. They have an increasingly sophisticated arsenal of tricks: phony emails, texts, websites and phone scripts. It’s a big business because, sadly, there is no shortage of victims. Read the The 2013 Dirty Dozen Tax Scams, an IRS-issued list of the most common tax scams last year.

What are common fraud warning signs?

  • Threats and promises. Any messages via email, text or phone that include scary threats, that demand immediate action or that promise refunds, rebates or winnings should be immediate red flags.
  • Requests for personal information. The IRS does not send any communication requesting your PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts. Do not give this information to phone callers either.
  •  Email with links and attachments. Scammers are good at creating email that looks “official.” Do not open links or attachments from people you don’t know. Get in the habit of hovering over email links to reveal the real address before clicking because the apparent link may not lead where it says.See How to Tell if a Link Is Safe Without Clicking on It.

Be skeptical about emails. Look for misspellings and bad grammar. One trick you can use is to copy a paragraph of a suspicious email into the Google search box – it will often reveal that many people got the same email and point to a number of alerts that the mail is a fraud. You can also check the IRS Consumer alerts.

Here’s more about how to recognize phish emails, and here’s how to report any phishing problems to the IRS.

Ice Dams 101: How to handle winter roof hazards

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Photo credit: Wikimedia

We notice that a lot of searches for “ice dams” on our blog this year. While ice dams are a winter peril that we New Englanders have become all-too familiar with, some of our southern neighbors may be meeting them for the first time. We’ve updated information from a prior post to offer some key facts.

How do you know if you have ice dams?

Essentially, if you have large icicles hanging from your roof, you probably have an ice dam problem -see the photo above. The icicles are the symptom, not the underlying problem, which is generally one of insulation. The University of Minnesota Extension offers a solid explanation of what ice dams are and why they occur, as well as information about prevention. Don’t miss the excellent diagram that shows why they form.

If you have ice dams on your house, you need to address them with a two-fold strategy:

First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
Your best bet is to hire an experienced professional to do this – it can be a risky task. Some folks want to go out and chop away at icicles, but it’s not a good idea to be climbing on snow- and ice-covered roofs or using ladders on slippery ground. Plus, using the wrong tools to remove snow or chunks of ice from your roof may cause further damage to your shingles or your gutters. Not to mention damage to you: flying ice chunks can be very heavy and sharp. Many people also use salts or other chemical concoctions to deal with ice dams, a less-than-ideal “fix” because chemicals can damage or discolor your roof and can leach into the ground, damaging plants and greenery. If you have a low roof, one of the most common ways that people deal with ice dams is by purchasing a specially-designed roof rake and removing snow from directly above the ice dam. Again, this can pose risks to both you and your roof.

Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.
While ice dams can sometimes occur as a result of freezing rain, more often than not they are a symptom of an insulation problem which should be addressed because there are other problems besides ice dams that can occur, such as a build-up of moisture that could lead to rot, mildew or mold. Not to mention that with poor insulation, heating costs are almost literally going through the roof. While there are a number of products that can treat the symptoms and prevent ice dams, the best way to protect the value of your house would be to enlist the expertise of a weatherization, insulation, or energy conservation contractor to diagnose the and remedy the root problem. Builder and consultant Paul Frisette offers his thoughts on why ice dams form and how to prevent ice dams by treating the root cause, not just the symptoms.

Ice dams and homeowners and rental insurance
The Insurance Information Institute discusses what’s covered and what’s not in terms of water damage: “Standard homeowners and renters insurance provides coverage for burst pipes, wind driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof.” III also offers this helpful rule of thumb: “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.”

In a separate article on recent severe storms, III discusses winter water damage:

“Melting snow that seeps into a home from the ground up is considered flooding and would be covered by flood insurance, which is provided by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program and a few private insurers. Federal flood insurance is available to both homeowners and renters. Flood damage is not covered by standard homeowners or renters insurance policies.”

“Freezing conditions such as burst pipes or ice dams—a condition where water is unable to drain properly through the gutters and seeps into a house causing damage to ceilings and walls—is covered. There is generally a requirement, however, that the homeowner has taken steps to prevent these losses by keeping the house warm and maintaining pipes, drains and gutters.”

When in doubt about your coverage, call your agent – that’s what we’re here for!

Here’s more information from Wikipedia and from a few of our insurance partners:

Travelers: Tips to help remove an ice dam from your roof

Liberty Mutual: Ice Dams