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halloween safety picAs a homeowner, you’ll want to take steps to avoid the risk of various liability issues during this Halloween season.  It’s a spooky night by design, but mischief can prevail and vandalism can result.  Likewise, there is always a greater potential for accidents such as slipping and falling that could cause injury as trick-or-treaters and other guests visit your property on Halloween.  Just as importantly, it might well be a challenge to restrain your pets as the doorbell rings repeatedly and strange voices carry through the house – not to mention all the scary and unfamiliar costumed visitors. 

Even so, it’s difficult not to be drawn into the fun.  So if you do intend to participate, the following tips might help you to enjoy a Halloween evening that is more a treat than a trick.

Friday, 27 October 2017 22:56

Holiday candles, fireplaces, and Christmas decorations present fire hazards that can lead to home insurance claims..Winter brings an increased risk for fires and other disasters. This is even more of a risk during the holidays when everyone is busy gathering with friends and family this time of year, it’s easy to overlook some simple safety measures that can reduce the risk of damage during the holidays.

  • If you hang stockings on the fireplace mantle, then be sure to move them away from the fireplace before lighting a fire, and keep other decorations away from open flames and power receptacles and plugs. Statistics show that 20% of home fires that occur in December are the result of decorations that are too close to heat sources.
  • Be sure your Christmas lights are used appropriately. Avoid using indoor lights in the outdoors, and vice versa; and see that the lights you use have been properly rated for their intended use. Take a moment to check each strand of lights for frayed or bare wires, damaged sockets and loose connections. If you expect to be stringing your lights together, limit to three strands to avoid overloading your extension cord.
  • Consider battery operated candles as opposed to real candles to avoid a fire hazard. When using real candles, do not leave them unattended or where they can be easily knocked over.
  • Avoid using lights on metallic trees which could become charged with electricity if the lights are not in good condition. Someone touching such a charged tree could be accidently electrocuted.
  • When leaving the premises or going to bed, make sure to turn off all decorative lights. Keep live trees well-watered so they remain hydrated while in use. A tree that dries out can become a fire hazard if exposed to decorative lights,

View this video from the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) for more useful tips....

Home Insurance Tips

Be mindful of the risk of homeowners liability claims. Keep the front door and walkways well-lit and free of obstacles that could be a tripping or falling hazard for your visitors. In particular, if you decorate your lawn with any blow-up decorations that must be anchored in the lawn, monitor them to be sure they do not shift and obstruct your visitors’ path.  The holidays can be busy for everyone and will be likely full of activities. A few practical precautions can help you and your loved ones to enjoy an accident-free season and can prevent you from having to file homeowners insurance claims when you would rather be celebrating.

Feel free to contact any of our very capable and experienced agents at the William M. Sparks Insurance Agency here in Lutherville/Timonium MD to discuss your home insurance.  We can help you review your current insurance policy and explore your options to be sure you have the best coverage and protection according to your circumstances.


Thursday, 10 November 2016 21:56

Be aware when using smart technology on your home network to avoid hacker invading.Are you doing all you can to keep hackers out of your house?

We all know that smart appliances like televisions, refrigerators, thermostats and the many other systems that are controlled from our smart phones offer many benefits to our busy lives. But they also present some very real risks if not managed. As the number of us using home networks for these applications rises, so does the risk of cyber attacks. Most of these devices carry easily-hacked default codes and password which, when used right out-of-the-box, can expose your IP address to the internet where hackers can find it.

What does a cyber invasion look like?

Once they have access, these thieves will breach your home network security. If this happens, they can use your personal and financial information. Moreover, they can hijack your devices and extort high-dollar ransoms from you for computer files held hostage. They can even control your appliances – perhaps setting the temperature all the way up via your smart thermostat on the hottest day of the year and not releasing it until you pay the ransom. Often however, these criminals will continue to use your network for their own purposes without you even knowing it.

Can you avoid these cyber attacks?

There are steps you can take and habits you can adopt to help keep your home network safe from hackers. Here are tips from the experts to secure your devices. Here are 10 tips to help homeowners keep their home systems safe:

Software Updates: don’t ignore the latest updates and security patches that become available for phones, appliances and other electronics. Often, they include “fixes” for security vulnerabilities that have been discovered since the device was sold.

Password Authentication: Whenever possible, take advantage of two-factor authentication offered by many financial institutions. A code (usually only valid for a matter of minutes) is sent via a separate text or e-mail to be used along with a password during log-in. If a hacker is monitoring your device, they will not have access to the separate code and thus cannot gain access to the account you are opening.

Network Security: Treat your home network as you would your business office network. Prevent unauthorized access by changing default settings, user names and passwords when devices are installed and periodically thereafter. When installing new devices, use a firewall rather than a link through another device. Take the time to see that your passwords are complex – not easily guessed.

Bluetooth Device: If your network has any vulnerability, hackers can exploit your Bluetooth function to listen in or gain access to other connected devices. Turn off your Bluetooth device when not in use.

Financial Data: consider isolating your financial transactions such as online banking on a single computer that is not used for any other online activities including social media and even e-mail.

Smartphone Security: Because most other devices and appliances on a smart home network are typically accessed through your smartphone, gaining access to your smartphone is the goal of a hacker. Be sure to password-protect your smartphone using a password of letters, symbols and numbers. Better still, if your phone offers fingerprint access, strongly consider it.

App Purchases: Not all apps are created to be safe. Your best chance to get safe apps is to purchase them through verified app stores such as Google where the apps are tested for flaws and malicious code. Downloading apps from an unverified third party or without knowing that the app’s privacy policy shows how your information will be handled could allow access for hackers.

Smart Device Purchase: When you purchase a new smart device for your home network, be sure that it is still in its original packaging to avoid tampering. Hackers have been known to purchase a device, infect it with malicious code, return it to the retailer and then wait for an unassuming shopper to purchase and install it.

Safely Disposing of Smart Devices: If you are getting rid of a smart device, be sure to remove any data and reset back to factory default settings to prevent someone else from gaining access to your network through the device later.

In short, be aware and be prepared. Know that, when you deploy smart technology, there are risks. Regard your smart devices the same as you would your phone or computer.

Homeowners Insurance Tip

Take the time to contact your insurance agent to check your homeowners and identity theft coverage before you find you need it. You could find that your coverage includes assistance in identity recovery and/or other forensic expert assistance in the event you do suffer a breach.

Feel free to contact any of our very capable and experienced agents at the William M. Sparks Insurance Agency here in Lutherville/Timonium MD to discuss your home insurance.  We can help you review your current insurance policy and explore your options to be sure you have the best coverage and protection according to your circumstances.


 

Wednesday, 12 October 2016 21:39

Every winter season, the pipes in your home are at risk of damage from freezing conditions. Low temperatures can cause your pipes to freeze, and in some cases burst. Encompass Insurance offers the following tips to safeguard your home before, during and after a pipe freezes.

Prevent Your Pipes From Freezing

  • Disconnect all gardening hoses and install covers on all outside faucets.  
  • Keep your house temperature at 68 degrees or higher, even if you're leaving the house for an extended period of time.     
  • Open cabinet doors below sinks to allow heat from the home to circulate.    
  • Identify the location of the main water valve and the valve on your water heater. (Learning the location of these valves may come in handy during an emergency.)     
  • Wrap pipes nearest exterior walls and in crawl spaces with pipe insulation or with heating tape. This can prevent freezing, especially for interior pipes that run along outside walls. 
  • Close all windows near water pipes; cover or close open-air vents. Freezing temperatures combined with wind drafts can cause pipes to freeze more frequently.
  • Heat your basement and consider weather sealing your windows.   
  • Insulate outside walls and unheated areas of your home.     
  • If you plan to be away from home for an extended period of time, shut off water supply valves to your washing machine.

Monitor Freezing Pipe Conditions

  • Allow a faucet to drip slightly (lukewarm water) in order to minimize freezing.    
  • The first sign of freezing is reduced water flow from a faucet.     
  • Check your faucets for water flow and pressure before you go to sleep and again when you wake up.   
  • Check pipes around your water meter, in unheated areas, near exterior walls and in crawl spaces.     
  • These tend to be vulnerable to freezing conditions.     
  • Identify cold air drafts coming in from a flue or chimney chase and caulk gaps that are near pipes.

If a Pipe Freezes

  • If a faucet or pipe inside your house freezes, you can thaw it using a good hair dryer. (For safety purposes, avoid operating a hair dryer around standing water.)     
  • To thaw a frozen pipe, heat water on the stove, soak towels in the hot water and wrap them around cold sections of the pipes.  
  • When thawing a pipe, start thawing it nearest to the faucet. Make sure the faucet is turned on so that melted water can drip out.

If a Pipe Bursts

  • Shut off water at the main valve.     
  • If the break is in a hot water pipe, the valve on top of the water heater should be closed.     
  • Call a plumber. Keep an emergency number nearby for quick access.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 20:56

Make Sure Your Home is Safe Against the Invisible Killer

Carbon monoxide kills hundreds and sickens thousands of Americans every year. The poisonous gas cannot be smelled, which is why many states require carbon monoxide detectors in homes and apartment buildings. A little planning combined with a small investment can protect you and your family from this odorless and invisible killer.

Carbon monoxide fumes can come from many sources, including stoves, faulty furnaces or car exhaust. That’s why you should have all fuel burning appliances installed by professionals - and never use a stove or oven to heat a home. Technically, carbon monoxide is produced when fuels do not burn completely. Whether you use natural gas, liquefied petroleum (LP gas), oil, kerosene or wood as fuel in your home, you are producing carbon monoxide. To detect this poisonous gas leaks consumers should equip their homes with carbon monoxide detectors.

“It is very important to have a carbon monoxide detector in your house. Put one on every floor of the house, especially bedrooms and upstairs,” says Allan Robinson, assistant vice president of claims for Encompass Insurance.  “If the detector’s alarm goes off, you should immediately go outside for some fresh air, then call 911 for emergency services.” 

Encompass Insurance also recommends that you test your carbon monoxide detectors twice a year to make sure the circuitry is working properly.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission offers more information on the dangers of carbon monoxide and the proper use of carbon monoxide detectors on its web site.

Encompass Insurance offers other tips for staying safe:

  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
  • Never use gas appliances such as ranges, ovens, or clothes dryers for heating your home.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors are made for boats and recreational vehicles as well, so keep this in mind as you prepare for summer.
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 21:04
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