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How to Avoid Roofing Scams

Imagine someone from a roofing company comes to the door and tells you they noticed a hole in your roof. Understandably, many people would suddenly worry about their roof and agree to let them “check it out.” Unfortunately, this can be a costly response. Learning to avoid roofing scams is an important step for homeowners.

Education is a large piece of the Lake Region Insurance Agency ethos. The more you learn about your home and your insurance, the better you can protect your hard work. 

Our team helps you insure everything from your car to your business, and we do it with integrity and clarity. Call or stop by one of our Greater Minnesota offices to get a free insurance quote and review.

Stay on Your Toes to Avoid Roofing Scams 

Unfortunately, not every service provider has the best intentions. Many shady practices exist that prey on a homeowner’s fears. The following are five tactics that some contractors use and how to avoid these scams.

1. “I See Damage”

Some companies train their employees to approach other homeowners in a neighborhood where they are working. These employees may knock on your door and tell you that while working on another roof, they spotted damage on yours.

They will oh-so-kindly offer to do you a favor by going up to take a look. Once this Good Samaritan contractor comes down, they will tell you that there is, in fact, damage. 

Shady roofing companies will tell you they spotted damage on your roof while working on one nearby.

There are two significant problems with this. First, you have no way of knowing if there is damage unless you go up to look, which isn’t safe. Second, they may very well have caused damage themselves while they were up there. 

Their next step is to pressure you into getting your roof fixed ASAP, by their team, of course. The pressure will increase if you decline the contractor or tell them that you need to think about it. 

To protect yourself from this tactic, do not allow anyone onto your roof who shows up unsolicited. Ever. 

Instead, hire a reputable company to do a roof inspection each year or after a storm. With this habit, you will know what shape your roof is in and if there are any potential problems. You also will develop a relationship with a roofer you can trust.

2. “Unforeseen Circumstances”

Another popular scam in the roofing world relies on the dreaded “unforeseen circumstances.” A contractor will begin a job at an agreed-on price, usually a strangely low price, and then the following will happen:

  • They inform you that the damage is worse than they initially thought.
  • They tell you that the amount and cost of materials are going to be significantly more. 

They will present this scenario as urgent and ask you for money, or else their crew will have to stop work on your roof. This scene can strike terror in the hearts of homeowners, and they end up forking over the cash.

Do not agree to new or changed invoices without seeing receipts for materials.

To make sure you don’t end up in this situation, get at least three bids from highly-rated roofers before choosing a contractor. Read through the contract carefully to ensure that it is very detailed and thorough, without vague language.

If a contractor says there is an increased materials cost, ask to see their receipts before paying a new invoice. If they can’t produce receipts, or they don’t match the invoice, don’t pay.

3. “No Deductible”

Watch out for a roofing company that tells you they will pay your deductible or that your roof will be free because insurance covers it. This is a scam. Close the door. Walk away. Do not agree to anything with this company.

Disreputable roofers will lure homeowners with a “no deductible” scheme. They tell the owners that the company will pay the deductible and handle everything with their insurance company. 

Then they give you a lower bill to pay while submitting a second, much higher bill to the insurance company. This situation is fraud, plain and simple. And even though you aren’t trying to be fraudulent, you can get in trouble if this comes to light.

To avoid roofing scams like this one, always talk with your insurance agent for clarity about your policy. 

4. “That Was Quite a Storm!”

Storm chasers are not just thrill-seekers who want to see a tornado up close. Some roofing companies fall under this label, too, and not for good reasons.

A common roofing scam is to canvas a neighborhood after a storm, telling homeowners that their roofs sustained major damage. In a panic, many people agree to have these companies do repairs or replacements. Sadly, many times there is no significant harm, and the homeowner ends up paying for nothing. 

Avoid roofing scams by getting multiple quotes from reputable companies.

Of course, storms often do a lot of damage to homes and roofs. Hail damage alone can account for up to $14 million each year. The trick is knowing how to discern what you really need.

After a storm, or any time you suspect damage to your roof, call your insurance agent first. Then reach out to well-reviewed roofers who are fully licensed and bonded to get at least three estimates.

The truth is that after a significant weather event, reputable roofing companies are hard at work for their clients. They don’t have time to wander through neighborhoods looking for jobs. Again, unsolicited inspections or quotes are a huge red flag.

Protect Your Interests

Here are the best ways to protect your home and wallet from roofing scammers:

  • Never allow any unsolicited contractor into your home or onto your roof.
  • Read reviews and ask for referrals from people you trust.
  • Invest in an annual roof inspection and keep up on necessary maintenance.
  • Call your insurance agent with any questions or if anything doesn’t sound right to you.

Always trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, or you have internal alarms sounding, you are probably correct in your instincts. There are plenty of excellent companies who work with integrity, so you should never feel pressured to work with a scam artist.

Lake Region Is on Your Side

Our Lake Region team works hard to find a homeowners policy that meets your needs. We are independent agents who do not have to sell only one company’s insurance plans. We search through all possible options to find the right fit for your home.

With offices located in Willmar, New London, and Cokato, Minnesota, we work in the communities that we serve. Stop by one of our offices today or visit the website to request a free quote

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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. 

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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.

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4 Reasons You Need an Annual Insurance Review

When you think about insurance, it’s unlikely you consider an annual insurance review. Most people choose a policy, set the payments on auto-withdrawal, and then don’t think of it again. But a yearly checkup is quite important for your financial security. 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, our independent insurance agents are here to serve you. From choosing a plan to fine-tuning your needs each year, our team has you covered. Call today to schedule a free annual review of your policies. 

If you’ve never thought about a yearly check-in with your insurance agent, here are four reasons to schedule it now.

1. Peace of Mind

Worrying and wondering about your coverage isn’t how you want to spend your time. And yet, if you have children, a home, a business, or any valuable assets, you probably worry from time to time. With an annual insurance review, you can go to sleep at night, knowing that you have sufficient protection in place. 

Not only that, but you also will have planned for unexpected trouble in advance. A yearly review can ensure that you have someone ready to work on your behalf if a problem strikes. Trying to put pieces into place once an issue arises or a disaster hits doesn’t serve you. Make sure you have the coverage you require now.

2. Life Changes 

Having a child is a good reason to check your insurance coverage.

So much can happen in a year. You may have had a child or bought a house. Maybe you paid off your vehicles or purchased a business. All of these are reasons to sit down and comb through your insurance policies. 

For example, let’s say you get a better-paying job and move into a bigger home with a higher value and mortgage. And imagine that a new neighbor comes to visit and breaks an ankle when they misstep off your front porch. 

You could face a personal liability claim. You need to look at your insurance policies to make sure they will help you cover and maintain your lifestyle.

Some common reasons you might want to add or change your policies include:

  • Marriage or Divorce
  • Buying or Selling Your House
  • Buying or Selling a Rental Property
  • Buying, Starting, or Selling a Business
  • Having or Adopting a Child
  • Buying, Selling, or Paying off Your Car
  • Making a Large Purchase:
    • Boat
    • Snowmobile
    • Valuable Jewelry
    • Fine Art
    • Second Home

3. Save Money 

Policy prices change depending on the coverage they provide. If you skip an annual insurance review, you could be leaving money on the table. 

For example, if you no longer have a car loan, you may want to adjust the coverage to save money. If you need to add new policies for your situation, you might be eligible for multi-policy discounts. These options can offer excellent premium reductions.

Save money with an annual insurance review.

Saving money on premiums isn’t the only benefit to your yearly review. An annual check-in also looks at your deductibles and coverage limits in each policy. 

You may discover that you have a liability limit that won’t come close to replacing your personal property after a disaster. Or you could find that you have policies with really high deductibles that would be hard to meet. Your agent will examine these different pieces to find the plan that makes the most financial sense for your situation.

4. Fill the Coverage Gaps

Just as an annual physical helps you ward off many medical problems, a yearly policy review helps avoid insurance problems.

Many people mistakenly think that their homeowners policy covers much more than it does. They assume that any trouble that comes up with their house will fall under this plan. Unfortunately, they can be in for a terrible surprise if something happens outside of this coverage.

For example, assets and liabilities related to a home-based business may not fall under the protection of a homeowners plan. But many entrepreneurs don’t realize that.

Creating the habit of reviewing your insurance helps your agent suggest the best policies for you. With regular check-ins, they can advise you when it is a good time to add, combine, or remove coverage.

Preparing for an Annual Insurance Review

Insurance review each year

Even if you have nothing prepared, it’s still worth scheduling time for a yearly insurance checkup. Your agent will walk you through your needs and current coverage to help determine if any gaps exist.

But if you are someone who doesn’t mind a little homework, here are some tips to consider as you get ready for your review:

  • Gather information on your assets. Bring a list of your vehicles’ makes, models, and years. Put together an inventory of the high-value items you own, such as jewelry or a boat. Have a general idea of your home’s worth and remaining mortgage. 
  • Be comfortable asking questions. The insurance industry has a lot of specialized jargon that can be confusing. Never hesitate to ask what something means or how it will serve you. And you’re free to ask a question as many times as needed to feel confident in the answer.
  • Determine a general idea of your monthly budget for premiums. This information can help your agent find policies that align with what you are comfortable spending.
  • Be ready to discuss any significant life changes that have happened or that you anticipate happening in the next year.

Schedule a Review Today

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we have been serving our Greater Minnesota neighbors for 50 years. With offices in Willmar, New London, and Cokato, MN, we offer convenient locations for you to stop by for a review. 

Our independent agents do not have ties to any particular insurance company or product. We search through all available options to find the one that meets your unique needs. Working with your situation and budget in mind, we help you find sufficient coverage.

We offer free reviews and quotes, so don’t hesitate to reach out and get connected. We can’t wait to help you have the peace of mind that your insurance will give you.

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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.

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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.

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Your Guide to HVAC Air Purification Systems

Many homeowners wonder how to keep their household air as clean and germ-free as possible in our current times. Installing HVAC air purification systems is one way some families drastically improve the air quality in their homes. 

Some people experience seasonal allergies, asthma, or a compromised immune system. Others are in a high-risk demographic for COVID-19, a whole-house purification system may help you enjoy cleaner air in your home.

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we love sharing tips and tools to increase your home’s value and function. We also take great pride in providing dedicated and reliable service when it comes to your insurance policies.

Reviewing your choices each year can help you ensure proper coverage for upgrades like whole-house air purification systems. Give us a call today for a free insurance review. Our independent agents are on your side in Cokato, New London, and Wilmar, MN.

Why Consider HVAC Air Purification Systems?

The Environmental Protection Agency states that indoor air quality is typically more polluted than the air outside. And most people spend as much as 90% of their time inside. Let that sink in for a minute.

In businesses, schools, and homes, people may be breathing in irritants such as:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Germs
  • Pet Dander
  • Mold
  • Tobacco Smoke
  • Chemicals

And going off the EPA’s statistics, many people are doing this for over 21 hours per day.

Of course, keeping your house clean and well ventilated goes a long way toward ensuring healthier air inside your home. But cleaning may not be enough if you have bad allergies or symptoms triggered by air pollution. In these cases, you might want to install an HVAC air purification system.

From Basic to State-of-the-Art

With any forced-air HVAC unit, you’ll have a built-in rudimentary filter. This piece is the flat screen that you should change each month. You can pick them up at a neighborhood hardware store, and they slide right into a panel on your furnace. Just be sure to check the size required for your system.

You have a wide variety of options when it comes to media filters.

Essentially, the more material in the filter, the better the air quality it delivers. A flat filter costs less to purchase, but an accordion-type screen provides superior air filtration. It’s best to choose the highest quality filter you can to improve your indoor air quality.

Replacing these filters on your furnace should be a well-traveled habit each month. And there’s nothing wrong with changing them more often to ensure minimum dust and dirt buildup on the filter. 

Choosing HEPA filters can provide an improved air quality rating as well. These filters can block 99.97 percent of all particles that measure a minimum of .3 microns.

Go the extra mile in creating a healthy home and select an electrostatically charged variety of furnace filters. These panels trap different particles like pet dander and pollen. The standard filters only block dust. 

You can leave the electrostatic filters in place for two or three months, but don’t forget about them! Write a note on a calendar or set a reminder on your phone to be sure you don’t ignore this crucial part of home maintenance.

Step Up Your Purification Game

If you want to upgrade your home’s filtration structure to ensure ever-cleaner air, there are two heavy-duty options available. 

  1. Extended Media Filters – These filtration tools appear like a stack of media filters in a drawer. Remember, more filtration material equals cleaner air. It costs about $400-$600 to integrate these into your ductwork. Replacement is straightforward but more expensive than it is for a single filter. You’ll need to buy a new one each year for about $50.
  2. Electronic Filters – If filtering smoke is a concern in your home, an electronic filter could be the best choice. These high-powered systems pass air through your ductwork and apply an electrical charge. At the end of your channel, a metal plate collects the charged particles. Though there are no paper filters to replace in this system, the metal “catch” plates need a washing with soapy water every couple of months. Prepare to spend up to $1000 on the equipment and installation. But your air will be spic and span as long as you regularly clean the aluminum filter plates.

Go Nearly Germ-Free with an Ultra-Violet Filter

This heavy hitter of a filter knocks out pathogens at a high rate. These whole-house air purification systems integrate with your HVAC equipment for an add-on price of $400-$800.

The ultraviolet light practically vaporizes pathogens that hit the filter. 

An ultraviolet system works well for overall germ reduction in your home. In fact, hospitals use this type of filtration in wards housing highly contagious patients. However, you still need to wash your hands and cover your cough to help keep those around you from getting sick.

When HVAC Isn’t an Option, Go Portable

You can still create cleaner air in your home even if your furnace doesn’t support an HVAC air purification system. Portable filters can also be effective at “spot cleaning” areas of your home’s airflow.

Many portable filter systems use HEPA filters as their primary mode of function. Though these units effectively scrub the air in a room, they can be noisy and require frequent replacement of the HEPA filter.

For less noise, try an ion portable filter system. These units use electrostatic filtration methods and hum quietly wherever you place them.

Lake Region Cares About Your Home and Health

We’re your neighbors here at Lake Region Insurance Agency. We care deeply about our communities in Greater Minnesota and want the best for you and your family. 

Our independent agents can shop the insurance market for the best policies to fit your coverage needs and your budget. We work for you. We offer excellent rates and quick claim processing and payout. Our agents have your best interests at heart. 

Call us today for a free quote on your home, auto, life, or health insurance policies. Take advantage of our hometown know-how.  We’ve proudly served the Wilmar, New London, and Cokato, MN, communities for over 50 years. We’re committed to your satisfaction and peace of mind.

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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.

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7 Lawn Mower Safety Tips for Your Summer Yard Care

Getting your garden into tip-top shape is one of the perks of warmer weather. Lawn maintenance is a significant part of keeping your yard in good order, but this can be a risky business. To stay safe, you need to know some lawn mower safety tips.

Owning a home brings both challenges and rewards. But at all times, you need protection as a homeowner. 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, our job is to offer that protection. Our independent agents are available in Greater Minnesota to help you find the perfect policies for your needs. Give us a call today to get started.

The Best Lawn Mower Safety Tips

This time of year, there are plenty of yard chores to keep you busy. From planting colorful flowers to creating a relaxing area for entertaining, outdoor projects beckon. And mowing your lawn is probably the job you need to do most often.

With that in mind, here are seven tips to consider before firing up the lawn mower.

1. Protect Your Feet

Your footwear may not seem like a priority, but it can have a significant impact on your safety. When the temperature rises, it can be tempting to kick off your shoes or switch to sandals. This habit may be comfortable, but it also can be dangerous during yard work.

Wearing inadequate footwear increases your risk of slips, trips, and falls, which can up the chances of injuries. You may also hurt your foot by stepping on something sharp. Additional hazards include stubbed toes, stings or bites, and burns from bumping against a hot lawn mower. 

 

And let’s not forget the moving blades under the carriage and all the damage they can do. Their sole purpose is to cut, and your toe or foot will not get special consideration. To stay safe, wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes while you are operating the lawn mower.

2. Only Move Forward

If you realize you have missed a spot, it can be tempting to pull the mower backward for easy access. This move is hazardous, however. It is far too simple to slip or lose your footing. In that case, the mower could end up on top of your body. 

Fortunately, this is an accident that you can avoid. If you missed a spot while mowing, maneuver the machine to where you want it only by pushing it forward. It may take longer than backing up, but it helps to keep you safe.

3. Never Touch A Moving Part

Never touch any moving blades or parts of the mower. Yes, this may seem obvious. But there are more than 6000 injuries each year due to lawn mowers. So this tip must not be as obvious as it seems. More than 20% of those injuries result in amputations.

When you are in a hurry, it is tempting to reach down and remove an obstruction. The danger here is that one small slip could have catastrophic consequences.

Be overly cautious at all times when operating the lawn mower. If you notice that something is clogged in the blades, don’t touch anything until you shut off the machine. All moving elements must come to a complete stop before you put your fingers anywhere near them.

4. Don’t Forget Your Ears

Another unexpected body part that needs protection during lawn mowing is your ears. Experts recommend ear protection when noise levels exceed 85 decibels, and mowers fall into this category.

Most lawn mowers emit a volume of around 100 decibels. Over time, this can cause discomfort and hearing damage. The risk may seem small, compared to broken bones or amputations. But it is better to be safe in this case. Invest in some quality protection to ensure your long-term hearing health.

5. Prepare Your Lawn

Lawn mower safety does not come solely from the operation of the machine. You also need to check that the grass is free of debris. These items could fly up and hit you or someone else.

Before you get started, take a few minutes to clear away any rocks, pebbles, or clumps of dirt. These could catch in the mower and turn into projectiles. 

6. Read The Manual

It may not be the most exciting read of your life, but your lawn mower manual is essential. It will help you operate safely, and there may be features and buttons which take you by surprise. Understanding your equipment means you can make the most sensible choices.

Chances are, you have used a lawn mower before, so you may try to skip this step. Remember, however, that each machine is different. Take the time to do your research. If the manual is long gone, a quick online search for the model number should give you the info you need.

7. Keep Children Away From Mowers

To young children, anything can seem like a toy, and a lawn mower is no exception. Make sure to store the machine away when not in use. A child could easily pull the lawn mower over onto themselves, tip it over to cause an injury, or cause other damage. 

When operating the lawn mower, make sure that children are well out of the way. Children tend to move impulsively and are at high risk of significant injuries from lawn mowers. Burns, cuts, and amputations are surprisingly common each year.

Riding lawn mowers create a different level of concern. Around 800 children are run over by these machines every year, and the vast majority of these accidents result in amputation.

Safety First With Lake Region

Keeping your yard in beautiful shape is a joy for many American homeowners. These lawn mower safety tips help ensure that your yard looks fantastic while everyone stays safe.

One of the best ways to protect your family and loved ones is to be sure that you have excellent insurance coverage. At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we offer a great variety of policies. 

As independent agents, we can access a wide selection of options. This range allows us to tailor the coverage you purchase to your exact requirements. Get in touch today with one of our agents. We offer a free consultation in our offices in Cokato, Willmar, and New London, MN. 

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A Guide to Preparing Your House for Severe Weather Storms

Severe weather storms in the Northland are no joke. In Minnesota, every season brings both extreme beauty and the potential for life-changing catastrophe from Mother Nature. With storms comes the likelihood of property loss or damage from weather events.

Taking a few proactive steps during calmer times is the key to maintaining your home and family’s safety. It’s smart to “batten down the hatches” on your home and property before the next thunderhead rolls in. 

At Lake Region Insurance Agency, we help you protect your belongings before you ever need to file a claim. And, if the worst happens, we’re with you every step of the way through the claims process. Give us a call or stop by for a free insurance review. You will see how we stand up for our neighbors in Cokato, New London, and Wilmar, MN. 

Prepping for Severe Weather Storms

Depending on the season, Greater Minnesota can experience significant storms that include:

  • Blizzards
  • Gale-Force Winds
  • Ice
  • Hail
  • Lightning
  • Tornadoes
  • Flooding

Now with hot weather approaching, be sure to get ready with these summer weather safety tips.

Inspect Your Roof

Your roof is the primary structural concern during any storm. Heavy rain, hail, and wind can break off shingles and cause leaks and damage to the roof. Lightning strikes and falling trees create even more risk.

Get ahead of the game by regularly checking your roof from the curbside. Check for loose or peeling shingles, debris piling up, and overhanging tree branches that could fall and cause trouble.

Invest in a professional roof inspection each year to locate any areas of significant wear-and-tear, leaks, or water damage. The expert will likely check for signs of leakage in your attic, on walls, and ceilings. They also may check the stability of your beams and joists.

 

Your inspector can help you determine whether to repair or replace your roof based on its age and integrity. Making small repairs now can help you avoid more costly damage when the next storm hits.

If you own a business that needs a new roof, consider shingles rather than metal. With shingles, wind damage may only affect a portion of your roof instead of lifting off entire sections.

Trim Your Trees and Shrubs

Severe weather affects not only your buildings and vehicles, but it also can damage trees and shrubs. And those same trees that provide shade to your home on hot days can cause destruction during a storm.

Be sure to do regular maintenance on the trees and shrubs around your home. Keep them trimmed and pruned as needed. Remove dead limbs or trees since they can be safety hazards. Stay safe by hiring a professional tree trimmer to do big jobs or any that require climbing.

Choose Your Landscaping Carefully

Rocks and gravel can become projectiles that inflict even more damage to your home or vehicles during a storm. Softer landscaping materials in your yard make a safer choice during a storm. 

Shelter In the Safest Place

For optimal storm preparedness, take the time to identify the safest place in your home to ride out severe weather storms. This spot may be your basement, an under-the-stairs closet, a bathroom, or a central room away from windows. 

Check to be sure that everyone in the house knows where the “safe place” is. You should also stock your safe meeting room with emergency essentials like:

  • A first aid kit
  • A radio with extra batteries to keep up with weather reports and storm warnings
  • Non-perishable snacks and foods
  • Diapers and formula, if applicable
  • Diversions such as playing cards or board games
  • A few day’s supply of bottled drinking water
  • Any medications you may need
  • Pet food, medication, and a litter box

Remember to stay away from windows and doors when the storm arrives. Watching the power of an oncoming storm from your porch can be tempting. But it’s best to find shelter as soon as the weather warnings occur.

Take time to map out a couple of possible “escape” routes for when the storm is over. Thinking this through ahead of time gives you choices. In a severe storm, your normal road could wash out or have fallen trees blocking it.

Secure Heavy Furniture

It’s essential to secure top-heavy items to a wall. Pay attention to:

  • Dressers 
  • Wardrobes 
  • Curio Cabinets 
  • China Cabinets 
  • Free-Standing Pantry Units 
  • Storage Cupboards 

You can find the appropriate metal brackets and screws at any local hardware store. Be sure to secure the furniture to a wall stud, not just the sheetrock. A stud is the sturdiest attachment point. As always, call a professional if you are unsure how to do this safely.

Communication Is Key

Having a family emergency action plan can help ensure all your loved ones stay safe during a storm. It’s much harder to be strategic when the winds, rain, and flooding begin. Make it a priority to put a clear plan in place and make sure the whole family knows the protocol.

Practicing emergency drills with small children in your home is a great idea during times of calm. And this habit can save lives later. As early as possible, walk your children through how to unlock your phone and dial 911. You can role-play with them how to speak to first-responders.

You can even download an app on your phone to help your children practice dialing 911!

Lake Region Has Your Back. And Your Siding. And Your Roof.

In Greater Minnesota, damaging storms can hit any time of the year with little warning. Taking proactive steps to protect your home and property can save you money, energy, and stress when extreme weather comes.

Protect your home and vehicles with coverage through Lake Region Insurance Agency. You will gain peace of mind with our expert team on your side. 

As independent agents, we shop the market for the best coverage to fit your budget and your needs. Call our offices in Wilmar, Cokato, and New London, MN, for a free quote. Get a jump on safety and protection in any Minnesota season.