Categories
Blog

How To Avoid Burst Pipes This Winter

Winter can be one of the most fun times of the year in Greater Minnesota, with one exception. Frozen pipes in your house are extraordinarily not fun. They can lead to water damage, plumbing bills, and major inconveniences for the whole family. Learn how to avoid burst pipes this winter so that your home will stay warm and dry.

If disaster does strike, do you have sufficient coverage? Lake Region Insurance Agency is here for you. Contact us today for a free insurance review and quote. We’ll make sure your policies cover all of your treasures.

Why Do Pipes Freeze and Burst?

Do you remember experimenting with ice in grade school? Many school kids have proudly displayed a container misshapen by the water frozen within it. 

Water expands as it freezes, and if that occurs inside your home’s pipes, they could break.

Water in the pipe between the faucet and the ice is under increased pressure as the ice pushes forward. If this force is greater than the integrity of the pipe, the pipe will burst

Burst pipes can also happen without freezing. Tree roots, corrosion, and clogs all have the potential to cause a plumbing failure that leaves you with a gigantic mess. 

What You Can Do To Avoid Burst Pipes

Cover your outdoor faucets to avoid burst pipes.

To avoid burst pipes, make sure you are familiar with the plumbing in your home. Inspect your pipes annually, from where they enter your house to where they disappear behind interior walls. 

Seal any gaps or cracks around pipes coming into your home. Your pipes will stay warmer, and your heating bill will thank you. 

If your plumbing travels through an unheated basement, consider adding an auxiliary heater safe for indoor spaces. You don’t need to create a sauna, but you do need to keep some heat around the pipes. About sixty degrees should be warm enough to keep the water flowing. 

If adding heat isn’t a good option for you, you can use heating tape. This flexible silicone tape wraps around your pipes to keep them warm enough to avoid freezing. It’s important to plug it into a GFCI outlet. Don’t use an extension cord for this.

When it is frigid outside, you can help prevent frozen pipes by leaving a couple of faucets dripping. The constant flow of water, even just a slow drip, can help avoid burst pipes.

For plumbing in a cabinet, such as under the sink, leave the cabinet doors open slightly. The heat from the house will circulate better around the pipes to keep them warm. 

When winter is setting in, and you’re buttoning up outdoors, make sure to disconnect your outside hoses. For extra precaution, add an insulated spigot cover at each exterior faucet. 

How To Identify a Frozen Pipe

Poor water flow can be a sign of frozen pipes.

If you’ve noticed something off-kilter about your plumbing but aren‘t sure if you have a frozen pipe, start investigating. Here are the telltale signs of a problem:

  • You will have little to no water flow when you turn on the faucet. 
  • A frozen pipe is likely to have frost on the outside of it.
  • A strange smell coming from the drain can be an indicator of a problem. Ice can partially block the flow of wastewater out of the house. Gases will build up and create a nasty odor.
  • The pipe may be misshapen due to the increased pressure.

If you have a frozen pipe that hasn’t broken yet, you can take careful steps to thaw it:

  • Turn your hairdryer to the lowest setting and gently heat the pipe. Leave the faucet open, so any steam has a path to escape. 
  • Wrap an electric heating pad around the pipe to warm it. 
  • If the pipe is in a location without access to an outlet, try wrapping it in hot, damp towels or a heated rice pack.
  • If you have doubts, hire a professional.

Do not try to thaw the pipe with an open flame or extreme heat. Regardless of the method you choose, do not leave a heat source unattended. 

What To Do If You Have a Burst Pipe

Document all the damage if you have burst pipes.

A burst pipe will pour water like a wide-open faucet. The first thing to do in this situation is to turn off the home’s main water supply. Every person in the house should be familiar with the main water valve. PRO TIP: Be sure to inspect the valve once a year to make sure it isn’t stuck or damaged. 

Once the water is off, open all the faucets and flush the toilets to drain the remaining water.

If you’re handy, you may be able to replace the damaged pipe on your own. If not, contact your favorite plumber.

Make sure to document all the damage for an insurance claim. If possible and safe to do so, get photos or video of the following:

  • The broken pipe or pipes
  • Standing water
  • Damaged furniture and flooring
  • Water stains on walls or the ceiling – Use a tape measure to show the size of the affected areas.
  • Other belongings that sustained damage, such as electronics

How To Clean Up After Water Damage

Once you have your photos and handle the leak, it’s time to address all of the aftermath. And time is of the essence. Water damage can lead to mold and other issues that are harmful to your health.

In the short term, mop up standing water and dry surfaces with towels. Set up fans and open the windows, if possible, to help dry out personal items. You may also rent an industrial fan to work faster.

Your insurance agent will help you handle your claim.

For significant leaks that do tremendous damage, you probably will need to hire a professional team of experts. They will have the tools and know-how to restore your home to pre-flood condition. Your insurance agent can help you find a reputable business. 

Check with your insurance agent before you discard any destroyed items. They are likely to send a team member to take additional photos and gather information for your claim. 

Your agent will walk you through the process to make sure you pay as little as possible out of pocket. Keep them in the loop and reach out with any questions along the way.

Make Sure Your Insurance Has You Covered

Lake Region Insurance Agency can help you take care of your home and all the items in it. Contact us today for a comprehensive policy review to make sure your plans are sufficient. Our agents in Cokato, Willmar, and New London, MN, are ready to help. 

Categories
Blog

Your Guide to a Safe Home Office

The arrival of the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of people suddenly to join the work-from-home ranks. And it’s likely that many will continue to do so even after the danger passes. Setting up a safe home office is a top priority for home-based workers, whether they work for themselves or someone else. 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we know that safety comes partly from your insurance coverage. So we help our customers find the policies they need to protect them at home and elsewhere. Get in touch today for a free insurance review to see how we can assist you.

Safety Considerations in a Home Office

Most people are aware of the health and safety guidelines present in traditional workplace environments. If you work in an office or other business setting, you probably took part in some sort of safety training at one time.  

In your own home, however, it can be easy to take your eye off the ball. The familiar space can allow you to become more comfortable and relaxed, creating a perfect opportunity for an accident. Trips and falls that result in injury are far more common than people often think.

Trips and falls at home are surprisingly common.

Additionally, your employer can have legal repercussions if you are injured, even if the accident takes place in your home. According to OSHA, your employer has a responsibility to ensure your safety by helping you comply with accepted standards. They clarify that this responsibility applies to a workplace “in a designated area in an employee’s home.” 

Ensuring that you are working in a safe home office is not only a benefit for you. It can also be essential for your employer. And if you are self-employed, safety measures are still necessary.

How Can I Set Up a Safe Home Office?

When you prepare your office space, look at your area from the perspective of an employer rather than a homeowner. There are a few crucial areas to consider as you work to ensure a safe home office.

The Environment and Ergonomics

Your workspace needs to be appropriate for your role and the tasks you have to accomplish. If you need to handle any machinery, make sure you have enough room to do so safely. The space should have ample light, be well-ventilated, and provide enough room for you to move around safely.

If you spend hours working at a computer, then a safe home office should include an ergonomic chair and desk. If at all possible, invest in a desk that can raise and lower, as needed. Feet should be flat on the floor when you are sitting, and your arms should be at about a 90-degree angle when typing.

A safe home office includes having an ergonomic chair, desk, and keyboard.

There should also be adequate lighting at your desk so that you can see the screen without needing to squint or strain. Take plenty of breaks from your desk to stretch and move your body. Ideally, you will give yourself a few moments away from the computer about every 30 minutes.

Tripping Hazards

Slips, trips, and falls are surprisingly common causes of injuries suffered in the workplace. This fact holds true even in a home office situation. In fact, your home’s stairs may be one of the biggest hazards to your safety. 

Make sure the floor around your workspace is completely clear and accessible without cords or cables that could cause a fall. Invest in enough storage for products and paperwork so that you do not have things in your way as you walk through your space.

Fire Hazards

A house fire is a significant concern for any homeowner. Fire safety must be a factor when making your plan for a home office. Be sure to include all of these safety tips in your workspace:

  • Keep walkways in your office clear to ensure a quick evacuation.
  • Have a working fire extinguisher in your office. Additional extinguishers should be in the garage and near the kitchen. Learn how to use one.
  • Check that there is a working smoke detector in your office and test it regularly.
  • Know and practice an evacuation plan. This step is critical if your office is not on the ground floor. 
  • Do not smoke or light candles in your home office.

A safe home office should have a functioning fire extinguisher.

Security

Whether you own your own business or work from home for someone else, maintaining a safe home office also includes data security. You must follow best practices for data protection, confidentiality, and customer privacy. It is crucial to have a secure place to store any files and ensure this is only accessible by those with permission.

Your computer will also need protection to maintain the integrity of sensitive data or information. Multi-step authentication and anti-virus software are two vital pieces of home office data safety. 

If you are working for yourself, cyber liability insurance is another critical component to consider. And when working as a remote employee, you still need to adhere to your employer’s requirements and training. Be sure to talk with them about the measures you need to take when working from a home office.

Electrical Hazards

Overloaded electrical circuits can be a major fire risk and could cause an outage that damages your computer or files. Avoid the temptation to use multiple extension cords that could overload your system. If you need to install additional outlets, hire a licensed professional to do the work safely.

A surge protector is essential for protecting your computer equipment. Fuse breakers should have clear labels and be easily accessible. Ensure that you do not have any frayed wires in use and always address electrical concerns right away.

How Can We Help?

The Lake Region independent agents are the friendly experts for your Minnesota insurance needs. We are here to help you find everything you need to protect your home, autos, health, and business. 

With three offices throughout Greater Minnesota, Lake Region Insurance Agency is able to help no matter where you are. Get in touch with the team today for a free insurance review, and make sure that you have sufficient coverage.

Categories
Blog

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Insurance

As the year draws to a close, many people are already looking forward to the new year.  Whether you see resolutions as a dreaded chore or as an exciting fresh start, they can be helpful. This year, consider fully embracing the world of adulting by making new year’s resolutions for insurance.

Getting your insurance ducks in a row might not be the most glamorous project. But it’s crucial for your long-term financial stability.

Here at Lake Region Insurance Agency, we take insurance seriously and want to help our customers wherever we can. Don’t let anything take you by surprise in 2021. After the craziness of 2020, preparation and planning are more important than ever. 

Out of Sight, Out of Mind? Insurance Shouldn’t Be That Way

You probably don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about insurance plans and policies. You might prefer to avoid it all together. But the truth is, if you ignore your coverage, you could end up with significant problems.

Get ready for the upcoming year with our top new year’s resolutions for insurance. You’ll be able to rest assured that you have the coverage you need.

New year's resolutions for insurance help you start the year right.

1. Figure Out What You Already Have

For many people, one of the key priorities for next year is to declutter, streamline, and minimize. But you can’t do this until you go through everything you currently have.

Why not extend this idea to your insurance by examining your current policies? Dig out your statements and take an hour or so to clarify what coverage you have in place, making a note of premiums, limits, and deductibles. That way, if you need to shop for a new policy, you can make sure you are getting the very best deal.

Better yet, set a time to meet with your insurance agent to review everything. They will help you find redundancies and gaps so that you can adjust your policies as needed.

2. Inventory and Document

The notion of doing a full, whole-house inventory can be overwhelming. But it is a vital part of your new year’s resolutions for insurance. 

If you are a victim of a fire, flood, storm, or natural disaster, the aftermath will be stressful. The forms and paperwork that come with filing an insurance claim can feel overwhelming when you are reeling from a loss.

With an up-to-date home inventory, you can significantly reduce the stress that comes with this process. Set aside some time, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and power through this job.

Make an inventory of all your household items in case you need to file a claim.

Don’t skimp on your inventory. Include anything that you would want to cover in an insurance claim. Go room by room and create a digital document that lists all pertinent items.

Alternatively, making a video inventory is a great option. It can be a relatively quick project, and you can store a copy off-site or in the cloud. Ideally, you will have an inventory list and a video. 

Make sure you include as much detail as possible. For big-ticket items, note when you purchased them and for how much. The more work you do now, the easier it will be if you need to make a claim.

3. Change Your Habits

Most resolutions involve establishing new habits, and this can also apply to your new year’s resolutions for insurance. Many people have behaviors or practices that boost their chances of needing to make an insurance claim. 

For example, do you tend to leave the kitchen while something is on the stove? Maybe you decide to do a quick chore like moving laundry to the dryer and then get sidetracked folding clothes. Soon, something could be burning. 

According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking fires are the top reason for home fires and injuries. Something as simple as supervising the stove could keep you safe and reduce the risk of a fire. 

Avoid kitchen fires by staying close to the stove while cooking.

Some other habits that can lead to insurance claims include:

  • Leaving keys in a vehicle
  • Driving while distracted
  • Driving while impaired
  • Speeding

Working to change these dangerous habits will help you avoid an auto insurance claim or having your rates increase due to a ticket.

4. Increase Your Chances of A Deal

Your credit score can have a significant impact on your eligibility for good insurance deals and policies. With this in mind, improving your credit score should be one of your top new year’s resolutions for insurance. 

Many factors go into your credit score, and they are under your control. Some of the most critical considerations are bankruptcies, debt load, missed payments, and the length of your credit history. 

Make it a new year’s goal to get a copy of your credit report. You legally have the right to claim a report from each major reporting agency once every year. TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian each have a file that contributes to your credit score. 

Take time to examine your file so that you can dispute any errors and identify areas you need to improve. Improving your credit score may have a tremendous impact on your insurance rates.

5. Consider Umbrella Insurance

Once you have taken care of your major policies – life, auto, and home – it can be a good idea to invest in an umbrella policy. This plan is sort of a ‘catch-all’ policy designed to cover a wide range of circumstances. In a sense, it offers an extra layer of protection to your existing policies.

Umbrella policies can be useful for extreme situations that exceed the limits of your other policies. For example, if your dog gets out and bites someone, the medical and legal costs could surpass your homeowners’ policy limits. An umbrella policy can cover the difference, giving you significant protection.

How Can We Help?

The team at Lake Region Insurance Agency has the experience and expertise to help you make and keep your insurance resolutions. As independent agents, we can search for the perfect policy from a variety of providers.

We take time to get to know our clients well so that we can help them find all the coverage they need to protect themselves. If you are ready for this level of service, let’s connect. We have offices in New London, Willmar, and Cokato, MN. Give us a call or stop in to get started.

Categories
Blog

Valuable Items Insurance Protects Your Heirlooms

When you buy a house, securing a homeowners policy is one of the first requirements. This policy covers a lot of scenarios and belongings, but it does not cover everything. Homeowners are usually surprised to learn that they may need valuable items insurance for adequate protection.

Many high-end belongings do not fall under the coverage of a typical homeowners policy. If you are concerned that your insurance plan might not be adequate, reach out to the experts at Lake Region Insurance Agency

We work to help you protect your car, home, business, and more. Stop in and see us at one of our Greater Minnesota offices for a free insurance review and quote. We will go over your needs to find a plan that fits.

What Is Valuable Items Insurance?

Having a homeowners insurance policy is the first step toward protecting your belongings. But it does not guarantee that you would receive full replacement value for all the items in your home. 

Most plans will only insure individual objects for up to $1500 each. That certainly is not enough to replace expensive items. 

Some insurers may not even include those items in the policy for your home at all. So you would have protection for almost everything in your home except for the most valuable belongings. In this situation, your insurance would not work for you the way you hope it will.

Valuable items insurance, however, is precisely for this purpose. It provides a different level of protection for personal belongings that have a high financial value. Items that fit in this category can include: 

  • Jewelry
  • Musical Instruments 
  • Rare Books
  • Firearms 
  • Fine Art
  • Antique Furniture
  • China and Silverware
  • Furs
  • Coins and Stamps
  • Family Heirlooms

Policies that cover these possessions will protect you from the financial frustration and disappointment that can come with a significant loss. 

Valuable items insurance can protect musical instruments.

How Do I Determine Which Items Qualify as Valuable?

Figuring out which of your belongings require valuable items insurance can feel overwhelming at first. It can be particularly tricky because, unlike everyday things, their value is likely to go up over time, rather than down. 

For example, your great-grandparents’ wedding rings may have cost $100 when they were new. But they are most certainly worth much more than that now. You need to be sure your policy covers its current worth, not merely the purchase price.

Expert Appraisals

The most straightforward way to determine an item’s value and confirm its insurability is to have an expert appraisal. An appraisal sets a valuation of the personal property for insurance, legal, tax, and estate planning purposes.

It’s crucial that you choose an appraiser with expertise in your items. Depending on the variety and age of your belongings, you may need several different experts. For example, if you have fine art and old watches, you probably need two separate appraisers.

One important thing to note is that there are no federal or state licenses for appraisers. If someone tells you they are licensed, be wary. Be sure to choose someone who works in compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). In addition, several groups offer certifications for appraisers.

Valuable coin collections need special insurance coverage.

Proof of Purchase

An original receipt or invoice helps confirm ownership and value if a high-end item is lost, stolen, or destroyed. This evidence is particularly helpful for newer possessions that probably haven’t gone up in value yet. Insurance agencies will reference the proof of purchase when paying a claim.

For very old heirlooms, an original receipt and any subsequent bills of sale help the appraiser determine an accurate value. People are often surprised by how often their ancestors kept every single receipt. It was a common practice in previous generations, so you may find an original tucked away somewhere. 

How to Document Your Items

It’s essential to create an inventory of all personal belongings in your home, whether they qualify for valuable items insurance or not. The most efficient way to create this list is to go room by room, following these steps:

  1. Take video, photos, or both of all personal belongings in the room. Open closets and cupboards and get images of those items, too. For highly valuable pieces, get several photos from different angles. These may be necessary in cases of theft to prove an object’s authenticity.
  2. Make an itemized list of each room’s contents in a notebook or a computer document. For any appraised items, include a copy of the professional appraiser’s report.
  3. Keep a copy of the images, videos, and list in your home. But also put copies in a safe deposit box or other secure location outside of your home. 
  4. Provide a copy to your insurance agent, if requested.

Time-stamped photos and videos are vital in protecting all parties involved. The insurer prevents fraudulent claims, and the client can receive the proper payout. 

Even for standard homeowners coverage, this documentation is excellent any time you need to make a claim. Being able to access it will save you time and aggravation in the event of a theft or loss so that you can get replacements as quickly as possible.

We Have Your Back

There really is an insurance policy for every aspect of your life. Investing in valuable items insurance protects belongings that you cherish and that carry a high worth. It is just as important as any other insurance policy you choose to buy. 

Lake Region Insurance Agency has been serving our Minnesota neighbors since 1970, and it is an honor to provide the peace of mind you deserve. With policies to cover your home, car, business, health, and more, we make sure you have sufficient coverage for your needs.

Our agents work independently of any particular company. This autonomy means that we can search for the right policies for your situation without being forced to use a specific provider. 

We welcome you to bring us any questions you have about your insurance coverage. Stop into one of our locations in New London, Willmar, or Cokato, MN, to learn more.

Categories
Blog

Do I Need Home-Based Business Insurance?

Times have changed, and our world is shifting to a more digital approach to business. Many people are now teleworking from home or running their own business. For the latter situation, it’s essential to consider home-based business insurance.

Make sure you have the protection you and your business deserve. Check in with the experts at Lake Region Insurance Agency for a complimentary policy review and quote. We are here to serve our Greater Minnesota neighbors.

What Counts as a Home-Based Business?

What do Purex, Apple Computer, Hallmark, and Baskin-Robbins have in common? They all began in someone’s home, basement, or garage. So if you have a home-based business, you are in good company. 

And you aren’t alone, since roughly two-thirds of all companies begin in a house somewhere.

Running a home business has tax, liability, and insurance implications, so it’s critical to know if you fall into this category. Some examples of home-based businesses include:

  • Daycare
  • Pet Sitting
  • Dog Grooming
  • Hairdresser
  • Freelance Writer
  • Tutor
  • Professional Consultant
  • Web Designer
  • Online Clothing Boutique

As more and more owners shift to the virtual business model, the list of work-from-home companies continues to grow. If you fall into the category of a home-based business, you need to investigate your insurance requirements.

Daycare is a home-based business

Isn’t My Homeowners Policy Good Enough?

Many people who run a business from their house mistakenly assume that their homeowners insurance provides sufficient coverage. Unfortunately, this is rarely true.

For businesses with minimal equipment and no client foot traffic, a homeowners plan might be enough. But this is a rare situation and still warrants a chat with your agent to clarify your coverage.

If you regularly receive clients in your home or store inventory on-site, you likely need home-based business insurance. Your standard homeowners plan probably doesn’t adequately protect your business.

Be sure to talk with your independent agent to determine what supplemental or separate protection you need to protect your hard work. From property to liability insurance, you need to make sure you have sufficient coverage.

When you rent rather than own your home, you also need to verify your coverage. Just like a homeowners policy, a renters policy will not fully protect your home-based business.

Limitations of Homeowners Insurance Coverage

Most homeowners insurance policies have limits and exclusions that could leave you and your business unprotected. Typically, homeowners and renters insurance policies lack the following:

  • Protection for business documents and records
  • Sufficient coverage for loss of files and data
  • Liability coverage if an employee or client sustains an injury in your home
  • Adequate replacement protection for business equipment
  • Coverage for lost revenue if something prevents you from running your business from your house

There are many common scenarios when a business owner may run into one of these limitations. 

For example, let’s say that you are the victim of a home robbery, and they steal your business laptop, desktop, and monitor. Most homeowners policies will limit this business coverage to $2500. Anything beyond that will have no protection without a home-based business insurance policy.

Or imagine that a client is at your house for a meeting, and they trip and fall, breaking their arm. If this were a neighbor visiting for fun, your homeowners policy would kick in. But because this is a business relationship, you are out of luck.

Business liability insurance

You’ve worked too hard to leave your business unprotected. Make sure you get a sufficient policy in place.

You probably need a business insurance policy if:

  • You conduct business in your house, including receiving clients.
  • You have employees.
  • You store inventory in your house.
  • You have business-related equipment, such as computers or cell phones.
  • Your company owns one or more vehicles.
  • You store sensitive data.
  • You rely on your business income to pay your bills.

What Should a Home-Based Business Insurance Policy Cover?

When speaking with your independent insurance agent, you should discuss coverage for all of the following needs.

Business Property

As mentioned, most renters and homeowners plans have strict limits on what they will replace from a home-based business. Typically, business equipment far surpasses that amount. 

Additionally, a homeowners policy only covers equipment if it’s in the home. If your business laptop is lost, stolen, or damaged while you’re working in a coffee shop, you won’t have coverage. 

Company Vehicle

Do you use your vehicle for business activities? Your car insurance policy may not cover you if something happens while you’re conducting business. Business auto insurance is a crucial component of your coverage.

Liability

General liability coverage protects you if a client or employee gets hurt in your home office or on your property. It can also cover an employee who sustains an injury off-site while conducting company business.

Product liability is necessary if you sell physical products. This plan protects you if an item doesn’t work correctly or harms a person or their property.

Professional liability insurance offers protection for service-based businesses. This coverage can kick in if someone claims damages stemming from your services or advice.

Since legal and medical bills can escalate quickly, adequate liability coverage is crucial for your business.

Cyber Liability

Cyber liability coverage

Cyber liability insurance is critical for most businesses today. Unless you operate solely with paper and pencil, you should consider this type of policy. It protects you against losses stemming from hackers and data breaches.

Any business that relies on electronic storage or transmission of client and company information should have this coverage in place. 

Consider an Endorsement

In some situations, you may not require a stand-alone home-based business insurance policy. Talk with your agent to see if an endorsement makes more sense for your needs.

For example, for a small additional fee, you may be able to raise your homeowners policy limits for business coverage. Typically, an endorsement is only available to businesses that have few or no on-site visitors. 

Get the Perfect Policy 

Do you have any questions about your homeowners insurance policy and how you can protect your home-based business? The independent agents at Lake Region Insurance Agency are here to help.

With offices in Cokato, New London, and Willmar, MN, we can meet your personal and professional insurance needs. Reach out today to get started.

Categories
Blog

How to Avoid Chimney Fires and Protect Your Home

There’s nothing like a warm fire on a chilly winter night. But did you know that your fireplace ambiance comes with a maintenance requirement? The effort of maintaining your fireplace chimney is a small price to pay to avoid chimney fires.

You love your home and take good care of it. But sometimes problems happen anyway. Part of caring for your home is being ready to handle damages when they occur. Contact Lake Region Insurance Agency today for a free insurance review and policy quote.

How Can a Chimney Catch Fire? 

Your chimney removes smoke from your home while providing fresh air to feed the fire in the fireplace. Hot, smoky air rises through the center of the chimney, the flue, and out of your house. 

The hot air rising through the chimney flue creates a draft, which is like a vacuum that draws the smoke up the chimney. 

A strong draft will carry the airborne debris to the outside. A weaker one will deposit soot and creosote on your chimney’s walls. This happens when the fire isn’t hot enough, or your chimney is too short, 

Creosote is a thick, flaky residue that can coat the walls of the chimney. It’s highly combustible, so if the temperature inside your chimney gets high enough, the creosote will catch fire. 

Preventing Chimney Fires

chimney safety

A chimney fire occurs about 22,000 times a year in the United States, so homeowners need to monitor this. To avoid a disaster in your house, keep the following tips in mind.

Keep It Clean

Your chimney won’t catch fire if it’s clean. Creosote is fuel for chimney fires, and if it ignites, the heat may be much higher than your chimney can withstand.

Have your chimney serviced by a certified chimney sweep once a year. They’ll check the flue walls and identify and address any potential problems. 

Chimney maintenance is always less expensive than repair. It is much more straightforward to repair cracks in mortar joints or masonry than to replace a warped flue. So stay on top of your chimney’s servicing needs to keep your home safe and avoid costly repairs.

Put a Damper on It

The damper is a metal plate in the chimney that controls the air supply to your fireplace. It closes off the fireplace when you don’t have a fire going, and swings up to open the flue when needed.

Make sure to open the damper when you light a fire. You want the maximum draft to pull airborne particles up and out of your house. 

When you aren’t using the fireplace, keep the damper closed. This habit will help to insulate your home from outside temperatures. It can even deter the occasional bird or bat that might find a way into your chimney. 

Pay Attention to What You Burn

chimney safety

The wood you choose can affect the amount of creosote buildup on your chimney walls. Hardwoods like oak, ash, and elm are excellent firewood choices because they burn hotter and longer than softwoods.

Avoid softwoods like fir, pine, and cypress. These wood species are fine for a bonfire outdoors, but they burn up quickly and leave excess creosote on your chimney walls. 

Your wood needs to be dry throughout before you add it to your fire. Wet wood equals more smoke and less heat. The high water content also makes for a thicker, stickier smoke compound. This substance can coat the glass on your fireplace and stick to your chimney flue’s walls.

Freshly-cut trees or branches contain sap, and it takes 6-12 months for logs to dry out completely. Season your firewood by stacking it outside and letting it sit for at least six months. 

Split the wood to speed the drying process, and stack it off the ground in a single row to increase airflow. Keep your wood stack in a sheltered area or cover it in wet weather. 

If you’re just starting, look for wood that is already seasoned. Get enough seasoned wood to last through this winter. 

At the same time, get unseasoned wood for the following winter. By the time you need it next year, your wood will be ready. Keep stocking your lumber a year ahead to continue the cycle.

If you aren’t sure whether your wood is dry enough to use, measure it with a moisture meter. You can find this simple tool for around $20 at your hardware store or online. 

Don’t Go Overboard

It’s so tempting to poke, prod, and add more wood to your crackling fire. But adding too much wood at one time can create a blanket over the flames. This situation creates a cooler, dirtier fire. 

Overfilling your firebox, known as over-firing, can create a more massive fire than your structure can contain. The heat can transfer through the fireplace to the surrounding, non-fireproof parts of your home.

What Should I Do If I Have a Chimney Fire?

chimney fires

A fast-burning fire will be apparent.

  • You’ll hear a sound like a large bonfire coming from the chimney. Some people have described a sound like a plane taking off.
  • Thick, dense smoke may push down the chimney and into the house. 
  • You will see flames and burning pieces of creosote erupting from the top of the chimney. 

Slow-burning chimney fires are common. They occur when the creosote is hot enough to burn, but there isn’t enough to cause a big blaze. Sometimes these fires burn themselves out, but they still can damage the chimney. 

Consider keeping a chimney fire extinguishing product on hand. Chimfex and Fire-Ex are products that work by quickly reducing the available oxygen in the flue to starve the fire. 

If you think you had or have a chimney fire, even a small one, always call 911. A firefighter can make sure your home is safe. And then be sure to have a certified professional do a chimney inspection to check for damage.

Let’s Make Sure You’re Covered

Accidents happen even with chimney safety protocols in place. So it’s essential to be sure you have adequate coverage. Contact Lake Region Insurance Agency for a free review of your homeowners or other policies. 

As independent agents, we access plans from many providers so that you can choose from the best options out there. Visit us in Cokato, Willmar, or New London, MN, to get a quote today.

Categories
Blog

What Does a Personal Liability Umbrella Policy Cover?

A personal liability umbrella policy is an additional insurance plan you can purchase. It is supplemental and doesn’t stand alone as an insurance package. Instead, it protects you against expenses that your homeowners or auto insurance policies don’t cover. 

This includes damages beyond the maximum your other coverage will pay. It also covers some situations that don’t fall under a standard policy, such as the expense of a lawsuit. 

Don’t leave your financial security to chance. Find out about the options available to you and get a free quote from Lake Region Insurance Agency today.

Why Would I Need an Umbrella Policy? 

Umbrella insurance coverage starts where your other policies end. It can protect you if a car accident or other incident creates damage that outpaces what your plan covers. Expenses can stack up quickly and leave you buried in debt if you don’t have adequate insurance.

Here is a sample scenario:

You are on your way home from the airport. It starts to rain, and then it turns to freezing rain. You try to find a safe place to park, but your car slides and swipes three vehicles. Naturally, one of them is a Lamborghini.

Luckily, you have auto insurance, right? 

In most situations, your auto insurance is going to do a great job of covering you. Your run-of-the-mill fender benders typically don’t rack up astronomical damages. But every policy has limits. 

While it might seem impossible to do hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, it actually isn’t that hard. Depending on the value of items and vehicles damaged, or if there are injuries, one accident can put you over the limit.

If your auto insurance has a $300,000 limit, but you’re held responsible for $500,000 worth of damage, you are accountable for the other $200,000. That amount will sink most people, and you could end up losing your assets.

Now, let’s run that again with an umbrella policy in place: 

The weather is awful. You lose traction and slide into the parked vehicles, including the Lamborghini.

Your auto insurance kicks in to cover the damage, and you pay your deductible. The insurance company pays out $300,000, and your umbrella policy picks up the rest.

This scenario helps you protect your life savings because you don’t have a judgment hanging over you. You can move on with your life.

A personal liability umbrella policy also helps protect you in the case of a lawsuit. For example, if someone falls on your steps and sustains an injury, they might sue you. If your dog gets in a fight with the neighbor’s dog or bites the neighbor, they could bring charges. 

Umbrella insurance can pay the medical bills of the person who fell down your steps. It can compensate your neighbor for his dog’s lost show earnings. And it can help you protect your personal assets in the case of a judgment against you.

I’m Not a Millionaire. Do I Really Need More Insurance? 

Many people go their whole lives without filing a homeowner’s insurance claim, having a severe accident, or getting sued. Others figure that if they don’t have considerable assets, they don’t need to worry about lawsuits.

Yes, the chances of being named in a suit are relatively small. But the financial consequences can be devastating.

Here are a few things to consider:

  • No matter the size of your life’s savings, it could be wiped out if you lose a lawsuit.
  • Even if you win the legal battle, you may be responsible for fees to defend yourself. Legal defense costs can run into the tens of thousands of dollars or more.
  • If you have no assets currently, the court can still attach a judgment to your future earnings. 
  • Personal liability umbrella insurance can cover unusual circumstances that you would not typically carry coverage for, such as renting a jet ski.
  • Umbrella insurance covers libel and slander.

There are plenty of situations that may increase your risk of being named in a lawsuit. For example, you and your assets may be at higher risk if you:

  • Own a rental property
  • Coach a children’s sports team
  • Volunteer at a nonprofit
  • Hunt
  • Participate in contact sports
  • Own particular breeds of dog
  • Own a trampoline or swimming pool
  • Have significant assets
  • Have high potential earnings – Liability judgments can attach to future income.

What Doesn’t Umbrella Insurance Cover? 

Umbrella policies cover your liability. That means they pay the cost of other people’s losses if you are responsible for it. 

But they don’t cover your losses. For example, if a burst pipe floods your apartment, an umbrella policy won’t pay for damage to your things. But if the water ruins your downstairs neighbor’s items, an umbrella policy can kick in.

Your umbrella policy will not come into play until after your homeowners or auto insurance pays. It also won’t eliminate your deductible on those policies. 

This plan also won’t pay out for damage you cause intentionally. If you throw a brick through your neighbor’s window, the repercussions of that will be yours alone. Your homeowner’ insurance will also refuse to pay in this type of circumstance. 

A personal umbrella liability policy also excludes any liability you incur performing business or professional activities. You need a business liability policy to meet that need.

How Much Insurance Do I Need?

Just as with any insurance decision, there is no one-size-fits-all personal umbrella insurance plan. You will need to work with your independent broker to determine the best extra liability coverage for you. By looking at your budget and total assets, your agent can help you settle on an appropriate amount of coverage.

Talk to Lake Region About a Personal Liability Umbrella Policy

This type of insurance plan is an inexpensive way to give yourself a sense of security. You can feel confident and prepared for almost any liability circumstance. Contact Lake Region Insurance Agency today and find out how you can have this peace of mind.

Categories
Blog

How Does Flood Insurance Work, and Do I Need It?

When it comes to protecting your house, you probably have coverage for the home’s structure and contents. Many homeowners believe that this gives them full financial protection in the event of any disaster. But it’s also important to consider a few questions. Do I need flood insurance? And how does flood insurance work? 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we know the damage flooding can cause here in Greater Minnesota. If you feel unsure about your coverage, reach out to one of our agents today. With offices in New London, Willmar, and Cokato, MN, we are here to serve you.

How Does Flood Insurance Work?

As the name suggests, flood insurance is a specialized form of coverage that kicks in if a flood damages your home. This type of policy is for flooding due to natural causes. Some examples of events that might trigger a claim include:

  • Heavy Rain
  • Rapid Snowmelt
  • Levee Failure
  • Storm Surge

Flooding from burst pipes or a malfunctioning washing machine falls under a homeowners policy. That’s a whole different event.

Only a small minority of homeowners have flood insurance, even in high-risk areas. This lack of coverage can result in a significant eye-opener if disaster strikes.

But I Already Have Homeowners Insurance. Isn’t That Enough?

Too often, people believe they have coverage for flood damage under their homeowners insurance. But this is not the case. Flood insurance, like earthquake coverage, is a separate policy that you purchase. Unfortunately, many owners do not realize this until it is too late.

In some situations, buying flood insurance may be a requirement to secure a mortgage. This necessity is especially true if you are in a high-risk area.

For commercial properties, the same concerns apply. Your business insurance policy likely doesn’t protect you against flood damage and loss.

How Do I Decide If I Should Buy Flood Insurance?

You may assume that you do not need flood insurance, especially if you have never experienced a disaster. Many people think if they don’t live in a high-risk area, they don’t need to worry about it.

However, flood maps tend to change over time. These alterations happen according to shifts in local infrastructure, weather patterns, or nearby building work. 

For example, the construction of a new neighborhood on a local floodplain could mean there is no longer an escape for excess water. As a result, your property may have inadvertently slipped into the high-risk category without you realizing it. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) maintains the Flood Map Service Center to help determine risk. They update the data annually, and you can check it to see how your home fares. Mortgage companies use this information to decide whether or not to require flood insurance on a property. 

Even if the data place your home in a low-risk category, that doesn’t mean flooding can’t happen. And home could be at risk. 

National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP)

The NFIP is a program that FEMA manages, and it is available only in communities that choose to participate. There are two types of coverage: structural property and personal property.

A policy for the building itself is ‘replacement cost value’ coverage. That is, it pays for your home’s repair and replacement costs, up to the limits of the policy. To purchase coverage through NFIP, you must also have full homeowners coverage.

Replacement cost value protection typically covers:

  • The foundation of your home and the physical structure 
  • Built-in kitchen appliances such as stoves and refrigerators
  • Electrical and plumbing
  • Furnaces and air conditioners
  • Heaters
  • Flooring
  • Wallboard and paneling
  • Window blinds
  • Permanent bookcases and cabinets
  • Detached garages
  • Removal of debris

Personal property or contents coverage addresses the items in the home. This option generally covers:

  • Clothing
  • Furniture
  • Electronics
  • Curtains
  • Portable kitchen appliances
  • Washer and dryer
  • Freezers and any food in them
  • Up to $2500 in valuables, including artwork and jewelry

As with any insurance policy, some exceptions apply under NFIP coverage. These include:

  • Basements or any areas of your home below ground level
  • Any damage caused by mold, mildew, or moisture not caused by floodwater
  • Stock certificates, cash, or bearer bonds
  • Precious metals
  • Loss of income
  • Trees, plants, or shrubs outside the home
  • Swimming pools or hot tubs
  • Walkways
  • Decks and patios
  • Septic systems
  • Temporary housing
  • Cars

NFIP coverage is simple to obtain through an insurance agent. Typically it takes 30 days from the date of purchase before a policy goes into effect. Premiums vary significantly depending on where the property sits. 

Private Flood Insurance

There are a limited number of private insurers who can offer flood insurance, as well. These options are outside the federal government. This coverage can have several benefits for homeowners, including:

  • Higher Levels of Coverage – Private flood insurance tends to offer higher levels of coverage than NFIP does. This option may be important for those with high-end homes and belongings.
  • Lower Premiums – As data has become more sophisticated, private insurers have been able to offer competitive rates. For some homeowners, these premiums may be less than those offered by NFIP.
  • Shorter Wait Times – You typically have to wait 30 days for NFIP policies to go into effect. Private coverage can start in less than a week.
  • Extra Perks – Unlike with NFIP, you may be able to claim short-term housing costs. And your policy may cover items that NFIP excludes.

There are some negatives associated with private insurance. It may not be available in very high-risk areas. Also, banks may not accept a private policy when you take out a mortgage with them. 

Lake Region Is Here to Help

Insurance decisions can feel confusing and overwhelming. The lingo and terminology aren’t very user-friendly at times. 

That’s why the experts at Lake Region Insurance Agency are here to serve you. We definitely can answer the question, “How does flood insurance work?” 

We have years of experience working with a range of insurance policies. Our independent agents have access to coverage from many different companies, so we are sure to find just what you need.

Don’t spend another minute worrying about protecting your home, car, business, or health. Reach out to Lake Region today for a free insurance review.

Categories
Blog

5 Tips for Cleaning Gutters After the Winter

Now that we are fully into springtime and winter is behind us, you’re probably thinking about home maintenance projects. There is plenty to do after the harsh weather has taken its toll. One of the most important projects is to take care of your gutters. With some helpful tips for cleaning gutters, you can tackle this chore with ease.

No matter the season, your home deserves some TLC. One of the best ways to care for your house is to be sure you have adequate homeowners insurance. The friendly agents at Lake Region Insurance Agency can help. Stop by any of our Greater Minnesota offices for a free insurance review.

When is the Best Time to Clean Gutters?

Gutter maintenance is unlikely to be high on your list of favorite activities. But it is a critical component of caring for your home. Fortunately, cleaning the gutters is not something you have to do frequently.

Typically, you should tackle this project every six months. Most homeowners choose to do this as part of their spring cleaning after winter is over. Cleaning out your gutters this time of year helps to keep them working well when the rains come.

On that schedule, you’d do another cleaning after summer ends. Again, you will be able to clear the gutters of leaves and other debris before winter weather arrives.

As is often the case with home maintenance, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Don’t let clogged gutters create problems for you at an inconvenient time.

The Cost of Neglect

Your home’s gutters have one job. They collect precipitation from a home’s roof to direct it away from the house’s foundation. This process protects your house’s roof, siding, and foundation.

As with any kind of pipe, gutters need to be free of obstructions and blockages to fulfill their function. When something blocks your gutters, rainwater can accumulate and overflow. 

Where does the water go when it overflows? It goes to the very place you want it to avoid: your home’s foundation. When water ends up near the foundation, it can seep into your basement or crawlspace.

This issue creates a domino effect of problems since water in the basement can translate into mold growth. And mold can require expensive remediation to keep you and your family safe. Furthermore, foundation repair isn’t cheap. Homeowners can easily spend $10,000 or more to fix damage to this part of their house.

So routine maintenance on your gutters is vital to saving yourself time and trouble in the long run.

Tips for Cleaning Gutters on Your House

When it’s time to handle this chore, there are some simple steps to follow. These tricks and tips for cleaning gutters will help you finish quickly so that you can enjoy the spring weather.

1. Let a Scoop Do the Dirty Work

If you’ve avoided cleaning your gutters because the job is gross and tedious, you’re not alone. Fortunately, there are some ways to streamline the task and minimize the “yuck” factor.

The debris that accumulates in your gutter tends to be organic material that decomposes, such as leaves. When this stuff begins to break down, it can congeal into a pretty gloppy mess. 

If scooping slimy matter out of a pipe with your hands doesn’t appeal to you, there’s good news. A plastic scoop cleans gutters efficiently and keeps your hands cleaner in the process.

Once you’ve eliminated the significant blockages, make sure you flush your gutters with a hose. This way, you can be sure you’ve thoroughly dislodged all foreign substances, big and small.

2. Be Smart About Ladder Safety

Ladder-related accidents account for about 300 deaths each year in the United States. So safety is critical during a gutter cleanout. To help keep yourself safe, follow some basic common sense steps:

  • Don’t use the ladder when you are all alone. Let someone know that you will be up there. Ideally, have another person on the ground to help keep the ladder stable.
  • Consider purchasing a ladder stabilizer for added safety, especially if you choose to work alone.
  • Make sure the ladder is tall enough for the job so that you can safely reach the gutters. Overreaching is one of the top causes of falls from ladders.
  • Follow all safety guidelines for your ladder.

3. Dress for the Job 

Gutter cleaning is a dirty job, so be sure to wear old clothes. Long pants and long-sleeved shirts give you the most protection. 

Gloves, a mask, and protective eyewear are also good ideas during this project. Debris can fly up at you as you work to dislodge blockages in the gutters. For ladder safety, be sure to wear sturdy shoes that will stay tied.

4. Have a Plan for the Debris

You might be wondering what you’re supposed to do with the gunk you scoop from your gutter. You don’t want to drop it on your yard or patio, or you’ll be doing double the work to clean it all up again.

Place a tarp below where you can drop all the debris. This step will make it simpler to gather and dump in with the yard debris. For smaller jobs, you could keep a bucket with you and empty it as it fills.

5. Consider Calling in the Pros

Do you have a bigger home or one that’s two stories or higher? Then one of the best tips for cleaning gutters is to hire a professional.

Although it requires an outlay of money, hiring a pro gets the job done quickly and safely. It also doesn’t force you to give up your sunny weekend to clean out the gutters. It’s a win-win!

Protect Your Home with Lake Region Insurance Agency

Your house is probably your most significant investment. Make sure you protect it with sufficient homeowners coverage. The Lake Region independent agents are here to serve you. From auto to life to homeowners insurance, our team can find just what you need.

Lake Region Insurance Agency has been serving the communities of Cokato, Willmar, and New London, MN, since 1970. Let our experience guide you as you choose the best protection for your home and property. Reach out today to get started.

 

Categories
Blog

What Is the Lifespan of a Roof?

For home and business owners everywhere, your greatest security often comes from what’s over your head: your roof. You may have wondered, “What is the lifespan of a roof?” especially if you noticed any signs of damage the last time you looked.

Since many insurance claims occur because of roof issues, let’s break down how long your roof should last, and what to do when it’s time to repair or replace your roof. 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, our customers are also our neighbors. We know how critical it is to feel safe and secure in your home in Greater Minnesota. 

Stop by or call any of the local offices in Cokato, New London, or Willmar, MN, for a free insurance review and quote. We can help you make sure your roof and home have the protection they need. We’ll work with you to find the best coverage at the best value for your total peace of mind.

What Is the Lifespan of a Roof? Depends on the Materials

When installed correctly, roofs are built to last a long time. But they do have expiration dates. The longest-lasting roofs use the right materials for the regional climate. They also receive regular and proactive maintenance.

A well-built roof can last from 10-100 years, depending on the material. That’s a vast range. The more durable roofing materials available today include:

  • Slate – A classic choice for many homeowners, slate provides a long-lasting and beautiful roofing option. It also offers significant curb appeal. Slate tiles are one of the most costly roofing materials on the market today, but you get what you pay for. A slate roof can hold up for 100 years or longer.
  • Concrete tile – A less expensive tile option, concrete tile roofs work well in high-wind areas like the hurricane-prone southeastern United States.
  • Clay or Stone-Coated Steel Tiles – Also resilient to high winds, these tiles last between 40 and 100 years. They are popular and do well in arid climates like the southwestern states. Occasionally, we see them in the Northland.
  • Metal – Some metal roof options like copper or zinc can last up to 100 years or more. Talk about creating a legacy in your home or business. Metal roofing options may also be more environmentally friendly, due to their long life and potential for recycling or repurposing.

While these materials are more costly to purchase and install, their longevity may be well worth the extra investment.

Roofing materials with a shorter lifespan and lower price tag include:

  • Asphalt – Low-end shingles may only last ten years, while top-of-the-line varieties can endure for over 30 years. Be careful about organic asphalt shingles, also called felt mat shingles, in the Northern Minnesota climate. Some types of asphalt don’t fare well in freezing temperatures or high moisture and humidity. 
  • Wood – Though not as common in roofs today, these shingles still make an appearance on older and newer homes alike. You can enjoy wood roofs for up to 30 years with proper maintenance in the right climate. Be careful about insect pests in a wood roof. Cedar shingles have a natural bug resistance and may be a wise choice if you want a wood roof.

Most homeowners opt for the longest-lasting roof they can afford within the budget they have. A quality roof covers more than your head. It can protect all your valuable belongings, memories, and keepsakes for generations to come. And although it is a considerable expense at first, over the lifespan, it is an important investment.

Get a Roof Inspection

It’s difficult to tell precisely how old your roof is unless you oversaw its construction. Or perhaps you have accurate records from a previous owner. Regardless of age, an annual roof inspection is a smart idea. Particularly in areas with harsh climates, roofs can take a beating during the year. 

A qualified roofing contractor or inspector can pinpoint any damage or trouble spots that could shorten the life of your roof. They will look for:

  • Peeling or missing shingles
  • Debris on your roof from tree limbs, leaves, or other materials
  • Water damage or watermarks on ceilings, walls, or in the attic
  • Ice dams in the winter, where ice melts, freezes, and accumulates under the shingles.

So when you are asking, “How long should my roof last?” it will depend a lot on maintenance. Getting regular yearly inspections can help you identify small problems before they become expensive disasters. A roof is typically one of the most costly things to repair or replace on a home. So it pays to keep your roof in top shape with regular maintenance.

Report Damage Claims Accurately and Promptly

Of course, despite your best proactive efforts to prolong the life of your roof, disaster can strike at any time. A robust hail storm, a tornado, or a fire can damage or destroy any roof in a matter of moments.

It’s essential to document any damage with photos and a professional inspection. Do this as soon as the weather or smoke clears, and it’s safe to assess the situation. Many local roofing companies offer emergency services and can help you decide your next steps. 

You’ll need to do the following to restore your roof after a storm or other catastrophic event such as a fire:

  • Have a roofing professional inspect and document the damage to begin filing your homeowner’s insurance claim. Check with your agent to verify coverage. Not every disaster is covered on every policy.
  • Take temporary protective measures to cover holes and leaks or to “Band-Aid” structural issues while planning the next steps.
  • Decide with your roofing contractor or repair specialist whether to fix or replace the roof.
  • Continue following your insurance claims procedure, as detailed in your homeowners’ policy. Be sure to stay in contact with your agent as the process moves forward.

An Expert on Your Side

Lake Region Insurance Agency is here for you and your roof. We help submit a claim whenever Mother Nature or calamity may strike. We work with you from the beginning to be sure you have coverage that fits your needs. 

And as independent agents, we’re on your side for policy choice, speedy claim submission, and prompt payments. Call us or visit our website today for a free insurance review.