Lightning Safety Awareness – Get the Facts


lightning strike at night, home in foreground

It’s National Lightning Safety Awareness Week. It’s good timing because July is the month with the most cloud-to-ground lightning strikes. According to the National Weather Service (NWS), four people have been killed by lightning so far this year. On average, 43 people died of lightning strikes each year over a 10-year period. Only about 10% of people who are struck by lightning are killed, leaving 90% with various degrees of disability. Your odds of being struck in a given year are about 1/1,222,000. Your odds of being struck in your lifetime if you live to be 80 are about 1/15,300.

From 2006 through 2019, 418 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States.

  • 2/3 of the deaths occurred to people engaged in outdoor leisure activities
  • Males accounted for 79% of all fatalities
  • Fishermen accounted for four times as many fatalities as golfers
  • Beach activities and camping each accounted for about twice as many deaths as golf
  • Of work-related activities, farming was most dangerous
  • Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Florida are the top four states with the highest recorded number of lightning strikes
  • Florida ranks first in lightning strike fatalities
  • 1/3 of all lightning related injuries occur indoors
  • Lightning can have a range of up to 10 miles from the thunderstorm. It’s important to go inside at first sign of an approaching storm and to say inside up to 30 minutes after a storm has passed

Did you know that there are five ways that lightning can strike you?

Check out lightning myths & facts

NWS offers these tips about what you need to know to stay safe outdoors:

  • NO PLACE outside is safe when thunderstorms are in the area!!
  • If you hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike you.
  • When you hear thunder, immediately move to safe shelter: a substantial building with electricity or plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with windows up.
  • Stay in safe shelter at least 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder.

Last Resort Outdoor Risk Reduction Tips – If you are caught outside with no safe shelter anywhere nearby the following actions may reduce your risk:

  • Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges or peaks
  • Never lie flat on the ground
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter
  • Immediately get out and away from ponds, lakes and other bodies of water
  • Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

For many years, the advice was to assume a crouch position if caught outside, but NWS stopped recommending the crouch in 2008 because it simply doesn’t provide significant protection

Indoor Lightning Safety

Some victims were struck inside homes or buildings while they were using electrical equipment or corded phones. Others were in contact with plumbing, outside doors, or window frames. Avoid contact with these electrical conductors when a thunderstorm.

  • Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
  • Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) says that power surges caused by lightning can damage the electronics in your home. They offer this advice:

  • Lightning protection systems intercept lightning strikes and provide grounding path for dangerous electricity to discharge safely, leaving occupants and homes safe from harm
  • Panel box surge protective devices (SPDs) serve as the first line of defense against harmful home electrical surges, limiting voltages by diverting currents at the electrical service entrance. Only qualified electricians should install SPDs
  • Point of use surge protectors protect electronics plugged into the device from surges, must be replaced over time or after a major surge event
  • Power strips do not provide surge protection
  • No surge device can handle a direct lightning strike. Unplug sensitive electronics well before a storm to prevent damage

Additional resources

Insurance lingo watch: Actual cash value vs replacement costs


man shrugging when facing insurance choices

Sometimes, insurance lingo is quite confusing. Even simple terms can be misunderstood when you review your policies. One question that our agents hear all the time is “What’s the difference between cash value vs. replacement costs in homeowners insurance?” Here’s the scoop.

Cash value insurance coverage is the cost of the item minus depreciation. So, if a fire destroyed your entire home or a thief broke in and stole your TV, you would be paid for the cost of your home or TV less depreciation. That means you might not realize enough payment to rebuild your home or replace your TV in today’s market without dipping into your own pocket to supplement the costs.

Replacement cost insurance coverage, on the other hand, does not factor in depreciation. It pays you the cost to rebuild/replace in today’s marketplace. Most homeowners insurance policies quoted are for “replacement cost” by default but always check to be sure. Even with replacement cost coverage as an option, you need to review your policy limits with your insurance agent regularly to be sure they are sufficient for your needs.

There’s a third, less-common option called guaranteed or extended replacement cost. The Insurance Information Institute explains:

This policy offers the highest level of protection. A guaranteed replacement cost policy pays whatever it costs to rebuild your home as it was before the fire or other disaster–even if it exceeds the policy limit. This gives you protection against sudden increases in construction costs due to a shortage of building materials after a widespread disaster or other unexpected situations. It generally won’t cover the cost of upgrading the house to comply with current building codes. You can, however, get an endorsement (or an addition to) your policy called Ordinance or Law to help pay for these additional costs. A guaranteed replacement cost policy may not be available if you own an older home.

As we noted, in most policies, replacement cost would be the default, but check. So why would anyone opt for actual cash value rather than guaranteed or extended replacement? Like most things in life, it comes down to cost. There may be some instances when an actual cash value coverage makes sense, such as on a vacation home.

Even when you have replacement cost coverage, there are some instances when that coverage might not be enough. One example is in the case of items that are irreplaceable or that increase in value over time, such as art, antiques, or special collections. Plus, most insurance companies set limits on how much a standard homeowners policy will cover for valuable items such as jewelry and furs. If you have valuables or special collections, talk about those with your independent insurance agent. You might need a policy add-on called a floater (more lingo!) to extend coverage for those items.

Of course, there are other coverage issues you need to consider in a homeowners policy, such as liability coverage. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer with guidelines on how to protect your home and your assets with adequate insurance coverage: How much homeowners insurance do I need?

There are no dumb questions, just dumb lingo

Insurance can be very confusing and that’s why having an agent as a guide can be great. Many TV ads make car and home insurance seem like simple choices, but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. It’s important to fully understand what an insurance policy does and doesn’t cover so that you don’t face any unpleasant surprises at the time of a loss. Make sure that you talk over any lingo or unfamiliar terminology in your policy with your agent.

Stuck at home? Tackle that spring maintenance list!


woman holding blue bucket of home maintenance cleaning suplplies

Still stuck in the coronavirus lockdown? Most of us are! Why not make the most of your time by knocking off your spring home maintenance checklist? Get a jump start into summer and protect your investment to boot. If you need maintenance tools but you don’t want to venture out or hardware stores are closed, order supplies online.

Consumer Reports offers a compilation of springtime chores to get done if you’re stuck at home. Their list includes tips for:

  • Cleaning household filters
  • De-griming countertop appliances
  • Washing windows
  • Prepping your lawn mower
  • Sprucing up your Lawn
  • Getting your gas grill ready
  • Pressure washing your deck (or porch)
  • Organizing your garage
  • Checking your tires

For a good year-round home maintenance checklist, the American Society of Home Inspectors has a comprehensive list of tasks and suggests as to whether they should be completed periodically, in the spring or in the fall.

We also like this cute springtime infographic from ReadyNest – see below or click on the image for the original.

inforgraohicspring home maintenance list Related posts

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Buying a new home? Add your insurance agent and an inspector to your advisory team


couple sitting on floor imagining their new home

Thinking about buying a new home this spring? Do your homework now because home buying is likely to be the single biggest purchase you’ll ever make.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you’ll probably work with a professional realtor and a mortgage lender. You should also add a private home inspector to your advisory team – we make the case with some rather alarming “what can go wrong” video clips below. And here’s another professional that you might not think to add to your team but that you should: your independent insurance agent.

The Hanover offers a great post on five ways your insurance agent can help in the home-buying process. Insurance agents are local experts who know the neighborhoods, school systems and community safety. As you narrow down choices, they can give you insurance cost estimates. Hanover notes that “the neighborhood, the size of the home, the presence of a pool or trampoline, and the distance from a fire hydrant and fire station are just a few of the things that can impact your home insurance premium.” We’d add checking to see if your home is in a flood zone.

Once you pick out the home you want, The Hanover says there is another important role your agent can play:

Insurance claims filed by previous owners can impact your home insurance premiums. Your independent insurance agent should be able to access this information using the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange (CLUE). If several claims have been made on the property, insurance carriers may be concerned that the house may have long-term problems, resulting in higher premiums. It is particularly important to pay attention to water damage claims that have been filed.

Whether you’re contemplating new home construction or buying an older home, hiring a private inspector can help you avoid winding up with a lemon. Make sure the inspector you hire is licensed and credentialed.

An inspection usually occurs after you’ve made an offer on a home but prior to the close. An inspector will provide a report that will allow you to identify any problems and make remedial requests of the seller. You can also share the report with your agent to highlight any red flags.

Hiring an inspector isn’t a step you should skip. Sometimes, buyers who are looking at newly constructed homes have the misconception that because the home is new, they don’t need to hire an inspector before buying. That can be a big mistake learned the hard way.

The clips below make this case. They were compiled by Reuben Saltzman, who has a blog called The Home Inspector in the (Minnesota) Star Tribune. Saltzman has an annual tradition of compiling his top 20 funny/scary inspection photos, along with video compilations. We’ve included clips for this year and last, but you can find more of his annual top 20 inspection pics at this company website and also on his Facebook page. His pics and videos are amusing – but they are also an insurance agent’s nightmare, graphically illustrating problems that run the gamut: roofs, cellars, decks, plumbing, attic leaks, deck issues, water management and more. Chances are your own home walk through would spot many of these blatant problems – it’s what you don’t see but that a trained inspector would that could trip you up!

 

 

 

 

 

Snowbirds: Tips for winterizing your home while away


illustration of older couple paccking a car in the snow to head for Florida

Will you be making a seasonal move south to weather out the harsh winter months in a more favorable climate? Whether you’ll be gone for a few days or a few months, if you are traveling over the winter, there are some home maintenance tasks you should tend to so that you don’t come home to unpleasant surprises.

No one knows better than an insurance company what the common winter home hazards and problems can be – after all, they deal with the claims damage every year. This excellent infographic is courtesy of Travelers, one of our Renaissance Alliance insurance partners. It offers a good checklist to help you secure your home for an extended winter absence. While some of the tasks are suitable to prep for a long-term absence, others are handy for shorter travel periods, too, such as a week over the holidays or a midwinter vacation.

Click for a larger version.

infographic with tips about how to winterize your home for extended travel

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