Do you need smartphone insurance?


cracked smartphone screen

Smartphones are more and more essential to daily life, but as the features and technology improve, the costs continue rising. While there are some decent bargain phones for under $300 on the market, so-called flagship models range from $800 to $1000 – and even more with some add-ons and options. When you buy a pricey new phone or replace an old one, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is if you want a coverage plan. It pays to research these things in advance and to understand the pros and cons so you don’t wind up making a quick decision on the spot. You want to weigh the cost of your phone and potential repairs against the cost of coverage. That entails checking with your insurance agent to see what coverage you have on existing policies and what the limits are. Once you know that, research coverage available from the phone manufacturer and your phone provider.

Does your homeowners insurance cover a smart phone?

One question that many people have is “doesn’t my homeowners policy already cover me if my phone is stolen or damaged?” That depends. If your phone is stolen or if it destroyed by a fire or some other covered peril, your homeowners or renters policy would generally cover that – check with your insurance agent to be sure. If it isn’t covered on your existing policy, you could probably have the phone and any other electronics added to your coverage for a small fee. Of course, any claim would be subject to a deductible.

Learn what the coverage limits are. Most homeowners or renters policies will not cover mishaps like screen breaks, technology failures or lost phones. If you feel you need coverage for those types of problems, there are plans available from phone manufacturers and providers so check in advance to see what coverage plans they offer, what they cover and what the cost is.

Here’s a handy article that offers some guidance to help you think things through: Consumer Reports: is insurance for your smartphone a smart idea?

A Consumer Reports survey found that over the last two years, half those who were surveyed reported a major incident with a phone in their household. The incidence rose to 81% if there were kids in the house. Cracked screens are the most common problem reported. The article notes that repairs for a cracked screen can range from $145 on an Apple iPhone 8 to $277 on a Samsung Galaxy S8+. AppleCare+ currently costs $129 for a 2-year plan; Samsung Premium Care is $11.99 a month. Other phone models can have different pricing.  Many describe the manufacturers’ plans as more extended warranties than insurance. Major phone service providers also offer plans that offer various coverage options. Some plans include repairs, loss and theft. With any plan, find out about what the plans do and don’t cover, what the deductibles are for any claims and what the coverage limits are.

So should you get a smartphone insurance plan?

First, check with your agent to learn what insurance coverage, if any, you already have. Learn the limits to your coverage, such as repairs or screen breaks. Then, weigh the cost of your phone and the cost or repairs/replacement with any available plans. You might want to factor in your past experience with phones. Have you had expensive repairs or frequent screen breaks with prior phones? Consumer Reports offers this rule of thumb: if you feel like within a two year period you’re likely to have two or more incidents occur to your phone, you may want to get a coverage plan.

Fire extinguishers: What you need to know from A to K


portable fire extinguisher

What’s a piece of kitchen equipment that  every cook should have handy and know how to use, but hopes to never need?

A fire extinguisher.

There are a few different types of fire extinguishers. Some are meant for specialized situations, others for more general use. All are classified by two criteria: their mechanism of action, and the types of fires they are meant to extinguish. So first we’ll look at how fires themselves are classified.

According to the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, there are five types of fires, broken down by fuel source:

  • Class A fires are your regular old fires, started by heat hitting a combustible solid material such as wood, cloth, paper, trash, or plastic.
  • Class B fires spark from flammable liquids or gases, like gasoline,paint, butane,and propane.
  • Class C fires involve powered electrical equipment such as appliances, motors, and transformers. When the electrical power is shut off, these fires become one of the other types of fires.
  • Class D fires are a special group of conflagrations caused by combustible metals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and aluminum.
  • Class K fires (why K? Because K is for Kitchen!) are fueled by cooking oils and grease from animal or vegetable fats.

Some fire extinguishers are useful in putting out more than one type of fire. Others are more specialized and will have warning labels advising of their proper use.

A fire needs four elements: heat, oxygen, a fuel source, and a chemical reaction. Remove any one of those four and you’ve snuffed that fire. That’s what different fire extinguishers do. Some remove heat. Others take away oxygen. Still others are best at interrupting the chemical reaction causing the blaze.

These are the basic types of fire extinguishers:

  • Water and Foam: these fire extinguishers work by removing heat. Foam-based extinguishers also inhibit the fire’s access to oxygen. Water extinguishers are for Class A fires only. They are NOT for use on Class B or Class C fires – spraying a water extinguisher on a fire caused by a flammable liquid could cause the fire to spread, or in the case of a Class C fire, create the risk of electrical shock.
  • Carbon Dioxide: these extinguishers put out fires by taking away the blaze’s source of oxygen. Their very cold discharge also removes heat.
  • Dry Chemical: these multi-purpose extinguishers are effective on Class A, Class B, and Class C fires. They work by interrupting the chemical reaction creating the fire. They’re the most common type of fire extinguisher found in the home. Some ordinary dry chemical fire extinguishers are designed to put out Class B and Class C fires only; always read the warning label and recommendations before deciding on the right fire extinguisher for your needs.
  • Wet Chemical: by removing heat and creating a barrier between the oxygen and fuel sources feeding the fire, wet chemical fire extinguishers are highly effective against Class K fires, specifically the fires caused by modern,high-efficiency deep-fat fryers found in commercial systems. This is the type of fire-suppression system installed beneath the hoods in many restaurants and commercial kitchens. While also effective in fighting Class A fires, wet chemical fire-extinguishing are generally only used in commercial and industrial applications.
  • Halogenated or Clean Agent: these extinguishers interrupt the chemical processes causing the fire. They’re effective versus Class B and Class C fires.
  • Dry Powder: a specialized type of fire extinguisher used only for putting out Class D fires. Similar to dry chemical extinguishers, but  designed only for putting out combustible metal fires. Not for home use.
  • Water Mist: these relatively new fire extinguishers are designed to replace halogenated extinguishers in situations where contamination is a pressing concern. They remove heat and are most effective against Class A fires.
  • Cartridge-Operated Dry Chemical: like their dry chemical cousins,these fire extinguishers work by interrupting the chemical reaction causing the fire. They can be effective against Class A, Class B, and Class C fires, though ordinary cartridge-operated dry chemical fire extinguishers are most effective in staunching Class B and Class C blazes. Again, always reads the warming labels and buy the fire extinguisher best-suited for your situation.

To learn more about fire extinguishers, check out the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association.

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, May 5, 2018


wildfire preparation day graphic

In many parts of the US, wildfires are a constant threat. Wildfires destroy homes and property, injure and kill people and animals, and disrupt lives. We New Englanders tend to think of wildfires as only happening in the west, but that is not true. While less frequent and less damaging, there are indeed wildfires in New England. There are still some old-timers who remember a devastating Maine fire 70 years ago that destroyed towns and burned about a quarter of a million acres. People literally ran into the ocean to escape the flames.  New England’s severe drought a few year’s ago was a prime condition for wildfires.

May 5, the first Saturday in May, is Wildfire Community Preparation Day. Wherever you live, it’s a great opportunity to pitch in and help your community prepare for wildfires and a good reminder to look over your family’s own fire-preparedness plan.

So get the word out May 5: being properly prepared for wildfires is your best defense.

Preparation against wildfires is a matter of taking a few simple steps:

  • Get the most out of your smartphone. Get community weather alerts. Install the FEMA app or sign up for the Emergency Alert System.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Radio also provides emergency alerts.
  • Know your evacuation route, and have a plan B. And even a plan C. You don’t always know which exit will be passable. Make plans for your pets and livestock, too.Have your bug-out bag packed. Keep a number of N95 respirator masks handy. These sub-$20 face masks will alleviate the threat from inhaled ash, grit, and other particulates.
  • Store your important documents in a fire-proof safe, and have password-protected back-ups of your data.
  • Make sure the hose will reach. You want to be able to soak every inch of your property with it.
  • Build with fire-resistant materials. Know the properties of the materials you’re using to build, renovate, and repair your home and outbuildings.
  • Make a firebreak. Keep flammable material such as leaves, firewood, and debris at least thirty feet away from your home.
  • Keep your insurance coverage up to date. If you’ve made renovations or additions to your property, let your insurance agent know. Go over all your insurance coverages with your agent once a year to make sure they’re up-to-date and suites to your current needs.

Fire safety works best when everyone collaborates. Get together with your friends and family on May 5 and make your community safer from wildfires.

Tips for hiring a home contractor


home contractor replacing floor tiles

Hiring a home contractor to repair or renovate your property can be frustrating, time-consuming, and confusing. It’s easy to make costly mistakes. While it’s easy to call the contractor with the most eye-catching advertisement, it’s hard to know if you’re getting your money’s worth. The best way to make sure you’re getting quality work done is to treat the hiring process as seriously as the job itself. Take your time, be methodical, and work your plan. Here are some tips.

  • Ask around. Do you have friends or neighbors who’ve recently hired home contractors? Seek their input.
  • Get quotes. Obtain at least three written estimates for any job. It takes time, but it pays off. Remember that the lowest bid isn’t always the best bid. Paying a little more for careful work work with quality materials pays off in the long run.
  • Check references. Make sure you’re hiring a reputable home contractor. Ask to see licenses, proof of insurance, and proof of bond. Cross-reference with the Better Business Bureau to make sure the home contractor you hire is on the level.
  • Ask questions. How long has the contractor been in business? Can they show you pictures of completed projects similar to yours? What permits are required to do your project? What types of insurance does the contractor carry? Will they need to hire subcontractors, and if so, what’s that process look like?
  • Get a written contract. This is so important. It may require an attorney’s assistance on large or particularly detailed projects. A written contract sets expectations and gets everyone on the same page, working toward well-defined goals.
  • Bring your insurance agent into the loop. She can help you figure out how the repair or renovation will impact your existing coverage, and make recommendations to limit your liability going forward. Take a look at these great suggestions to use as a guideline for planning your insurance needs when home remodeling.

As you can see, there’s a lot of homework that goes into finding the right home contractor for your next big project. But putting in your due diligence and taking the time and effort to be methodical and aware of detail will help your job go smoothly and get you a quality outcome at a price you can afford.

For more detailed information about hiring a contractor, check out the FTC’s advice on hiring a contractor.

Sound the Alarm Campaign needs volunteers!


Here’s a great way you can help your community: Partner with the Red Cross to help stamp out house fires. From April 28 through May 12, the Red Cross is organizing a push to install smoke alarms in high-risk neighborhoods as part of their annual Sound the Alarm Campaign.

The Sound the Alarm Campaign works in conjunction with community organizations and local fire departments to install free smoke detectors in homes and apartments at no cost to residents.

The vast majority of crises to which the Red Cross responds are not natural disasters like earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, or floods – they’re home fires. Every day, home fires in the US take lives, destroy property, and displace families. That’s why the Red Cross has set a goal to reduce home fires by 25%, and they need your help. They are looking for 35,000 volunteers across the nation to help install alarms.

You can get involved by signing up at to volunteer at the Home Fire Campaign.

  • Donate your time to help install alarms or batteries, or to canvas at-risk neighborhoods.
  • Donate a few dollars to help reduce the threat of home fires in high-risk communities.
  • Attend a fire safety event to learn how to mitigate your risks.
  • If you’re an educator, devote some classroom time to fire safety techniques.
  • See events by date & by state. (PDF)

While you’re at it, take a moment to test your own smoke alarms. Maybe they need fresh batteries! It takes just a minute to keep your family, your pets, and your property protected from the threat of a house fire. Here are more home fire prevention tips.