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Top 10 Tips to Avoid Balcony, Porch and Deck Collapses

Posted on Fri, Jun 07, 2013

Every summer, hundreds of people are injured when a porch or deck collapses and they are standing on or under it. Decks can even collapse when no one is standing on them which stresses the importance of making sure if you have a porch, deck or balcony on a commercial prroperty that you own or lease, there are certain precautions you can take to avoid a tragic accident. 

Because most decks are elevated it is almost impossible to avoid injury during a collapse. Injuries resulting from a porch or deck collapse can be fatal so care should be taken to regularly inspect and maintain your deck. Below are some tips and resources that will help you recognize the signs of a dangerous porch or deck.

Here’s our top 10 list for deck, porch and balcony collapse prevention:

  • Building, condo and apartment house owners should know and clearly post the maximum capacity for balconies and decks.  Overcrowding and exceeding capacity must be prohibited.
  • Many older porches, decks and balconies were built before codes required them to support a minimum load pounds per square foot, or to have ledger boards with direct structural connections.  In 2003, building codes began prohibiting nailed-on ledger boards.  Ledger boards that are not lag bolted, or through bolted (i.e., you only see nails), need immediate correction. 
  • Inspect for missing or rusted nails or fasteners and replace or repair as needed.
  • Check for splinters, buckled or loose boards, uneven stair treads, popped nails, and discolored areas. These are all symptoms of deterioration and inspection may reveal deeper safety problems.
  • Examine the railing and supports for broken or missing pieces. When supports are missing, the railing is unsafe, especially for children and pets.  Is the railing high enough? Local codes govern railing height, a key component in preventing falls. If your deck was built a while ago, or if the builder didn’t comply with code, it may be too low for safety.
  • Inspect posts and footings for cracks or rotted wood.  Make sure post and beam connections are secure.  Plus repair any washouts or soil subsidence around footings.
  • If there’s horizontal movement, the deck may need cross-bracing to prevent sway.
  • Remove or consider the weight of furniture, appliances, wading pools, air conditioning compressors or other heavy items. (NOTE: Other than 1 and 2-family homes, gas or charcoal grills may not be used or kindled on any balcony, under any overhanging portion or within 10 feet of any structure.)
  • Try to keep your deck clear of dirt, debris, and water. Dirt and water only speed up the decaying process of wood so you should take care to keep your deck dry and clean. Make sure run off water from your roof is not streaming down onto your deck or in between supports as it will cause damage after a period of time.
  • Even the best-constructed decks are built to last only 15 years. How old is yours?  If you have a deck older than 15 years, have it professionally evaluated, repaired or reinforced. 

A few must watch videos that highlight both what to look for in a faulty deck and solutions to prevent deck collapses include:

  • The North American Deck and Railing Association promotes Deck Safety Month® each May, where you can find a Check Your Deck® Video, a Consumer Checklist and a detailed Deck Evaluation Form right on their website.
  • Today Show Segment on Deck Safety (showing a simulated collapse and what warning signs to look for to help prevent deck collapse, in a Consumer Smarts Tips Segment).
  • Deck Dangers (KDKA TV reports 50% of decks are ready to fall, or are on their way and provides inspection information).
  • Simpson Strong Tie’s Deck Safety (showing The 5 Warning Signs to look for during an annual deck inspection).

Over time, even treated wood begins to weather and the result is cracking, splitting, and weakness in the supports and joints of your deck. To ensure your safety and the safety of others you should inspect deck, porches and balconies on your commercial property for damage regularly, at least once a year is recommended.  Failures and collapses are avoidable with proper construction and upkeep.

 

 

Homeowners Insurance: “Wear and Tear” or “Sudden and Accidental”?

Posted on Mon, Sep 08, 2014

When it comes to homeowners insurance claims, there are two important terms to understand – “wear and tear” and “sudden and accidental”.

“Wear and tear” is the gradual deterioration of property or possessions that naturally and inevitably occurs as a result of normal wear or aging. Consider your car tires as an example. It’s normal to see your car tires wear down after driving on them for several thousand miles. When it comes to your home, wear and tear can includes things such as a pipe that corrodes and leaks water over several months or years, or a roof that starts to drop shingles after 15 years. These items would not be covered under a homeowners insurance policy since policies do not cover wear and tear.

“Sudden and accidental” damage happens unexpectedly, unintentionally, and usually suddenly. Some examples of accidental damage include water damage to carpeting from a leaky toilet, a tree falling on your home, or stolen electronics. 

Sudden and accidental events are things that people cannot totally prevent which is why insurance exists and covers them. On the other hand, wear and tear damage can be prevented by making sure your property is well maintained and updated.

So next time you have damage to your property ask yourself is this “Wear and Tear” or “Sudden and Accidental”? If you have any questions at all or would like to review your insurance policy with one of our knowledgeable agents, please give us a call at (800) 922-8381. We can discuss how to take best care of your protection needs!

 

 

What is Covered by Your Condo Association's Insurance Policy?

Posted on Wed, Sep 01, 2010

From: Brett C. Meade, Ezine Articles

Aside from the obvious differences between homes and condominiums, there is one crucial difference to keep in mind: the type of insurance coverage you will need. While homeowners need to purchase insurance on all of their property, condo owners are generally responsible for covering only a part of their property. It is important to know what sort of insurance you're going to need, depending on what your condo association requires. You don't want to end up spending more than you need to by covering things that your association already covers, or not buy enough insurance to cover things that your association doesn't cover.

A condo association is very similar to a homeowner's association. Both monitor and maintain common areas, like the neighborhood, or the complex in a condominium's case. Both also collect monthly or annual fees in order to pay for the maintenance. The main difference between the two is that condo associations also use some of the money collected from owners to pay for insurance for the common areas, the condominium building itself and the association's liability insurance. The theory is that all condo owners are collectively responsible to insure the areas that are shared among them. Typically, condo owners are responsible for insuring their own unit, and the condo association will take care of everything (via dues) beyond that. You can find out exactly what is covered and what is not by looking at your condo association's master policy. Even though your condo association may cover a lot, savvy owners still have individual unit insurance as well. This will protect you if your condo is burglarized, if there's interior water damage, or if someone is injured inside your unit.

Some policies cover the entire unit, from the exterior walls in, including interior fixtures such as floors, countertops, sinks, etc. Other types of policies may cover less than that; it is not uncommon for a condo policy to cover the building itself (walls, floors, ceilings), but not interiors such as countertops, cabinetry, sinks, etc. Condo owners whose associations have less coverage for individual units are in greater need of individual insurance for their unit. While homeowners usually start by insuring their property and the exteriors, condo owners should do the exact opposite. The latter should assess interiors (furnishings, electronics, etc.), then calculate in what part of the structure they are responsible for individually.

After you decide exactly what needs to be covered within your condo, you have a couple of options as to what type of insurance to get. You have to decide between replacement cost or cash value coverage. In cash value coverage, depreciation is calculated in, while in replacement cost coverage, it is not. For example, say you had to replace a 5-year-old laptop. In cash value coverage, your insurance company would look at how much you originally paid for the laptop, calculate in 5 years of depreciation and send you a check for what that laptop was worth today. In replacement cost coverage, the insurance company would pay you for what it would cost to replace the laptop today. Just like in any other insurance situation, you must weigh the risks to decide just how much insurance you want to buy. Replacement cost insurance generally costs more than cash value coverage, but could end up saving you money should you need to replace something.

As far as association coverage goes, another important aspect to keep in mind is the deductible. In most cases, the association's insurance will not cover all of the damages, leaving a deductible for condo owners to pay. This deductible is split among the condo owners, so its good to know how much the association's insurance will cover; the left over is up to the owners. Another key element that should be covered in the master policy is what happens if other condo owners do not have adequate coverage? Say one owner cannot pay their portion of the deductible. Is their liability passed along to other owners? This should be outlined in the policy, and if it's not, ask!!

Though it may seem like a lot of work now to investigate and understand your condo association's insurance coverage, it is well worth it. The best way to protect yourself and your money is to make sure you know exactly what you'll have to pay for or are responsible for in specific situations. By understanding this, you'll be able to not spend more than necessary by covering things already insured by your association.

 

 

4 Benefits of Using GPS for Business

Posted on Thu, Mar 21, 2013

Many people use GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation devices to travel from place to place more easily. However, GPS technology can also be useful for business purposes.  With GPS technology, you can save money, improve customer service, streamline operations, and reduce your company's risk.

Cost Reduction

For most businesses, effective implementation of GPS devices can lead to significant cost reduction. If your business uses a fleet of trucks for deliveries, GPS can help drivers find the best route, so they are less likely to get lost. Employees who are traveling for business, both locally and further afield, can use GPS to find meeting locations. In both cases, GPS devices help reduce fuel costs, cut down on wasted time and create a more efficient operation. According to a study by the Aberdeen Group, companies that implement GPS systems saw a 22 percent drop in fuel costs. For companies that make frequent deliveries or send employees out for business travel, these small cost savings can add up over the course of a year.

Customer Service

Many modern consumers are accustomed to having information at their fingertips. With GPS, you can provide customers with immediate details about their orders: including accurate delivery times, information about delays and confirmation of drop-offs. Companies in a wide range of industries can use GPS to enhance their current suite of services or develop new and innovative ones to solve customers' needs. Web-based coupon-distribution companies can use GPS to provide customers with coupons for businesses in close proximity to their location at any time. The same principle can apply to identifying nearby events or specific product/service categories.

Reduce Administrative Load

Using GPS provides an unprecedented level of control over mobile units from a centralized location. Businesses that have a great number of employees on the road often face a significant amount of paperwork. Employees must report job-related mileage, which must then be checked against the vehicle odometer before it can be reimbursed. A GPS tracker eliminates the bulk of the administrative load.  When it is activated and connected to a tracking system, the device provides an instant readout of the route and mileage, directly from the vehicle. When the time comes for reporting and analysis, the information from the GPS is easy to organize and analyze, streamlining business operations.

Risk Management

If your business dispenses company vehicles or other expensive equipment to employees, GPS can help you manage usage. In many cases, awareness of GPS systems can deter employees from misusing company property. In the case that legal action becomes necessary, the GPS information can be a valuable asset in your defense. For deliveries, GPS units can help increase the safety of employees and valuable shipments.

 

 

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover My Landscaping?

Posted on Mon, Apr 04, 2011

Homeowners are typically in the dark when it comes to whether landscaping is covered under their homeowners insurance policies. 

Your home insurance policy might cover damage to your landscaping under certain circumstances. Under a standard homeowner policy, landscaping is protected from the following perils: fire, lightning, explosion, riot or civil disturbance, vandalism, criminal mischief, and theft.  How much it covers depends on various factors.

Keep in mind that coverage for landscaping doesn't apply in every situation. Insect or pest infestation, wind damage, and other weather damage are typically excluded from coverage.  For example, if a severe windstorm brings a large tree crashing down on your house, the insurance will cover removal of the tree and the repairs to the structure. But most policies won't cover the replacement cost of the tree itself.

Loretta L. Worters, Vice President of the Insurance Information Institute explains, “For claims involving damage to landscaping, a few companies will cover up to 5 percent of the house’s insured value.” Pay close attention to what your policy promises to cover.  Standard homeowner insurance policies often have a per-item limit as well as a per-incident limit. A basic policy may cover $250 per item with a maximum of $1,000 per incident. More generous policies may provide coverage of $500 or more per item, with a limit of up to 5 percent of the house's insured value.  Worters goes on to say, “Some insurers don’t cover trees and landscaping because of the inability to value landscaping. Its vulnerability makes it difficult to establish a premium.” 

If you have rare or expensive plants, or trees that have been standing for hundreds of years, you might consider additional coverage tacked onto your home insurance policy that specifically covers your unique landscaping. "An endorsement can be added to a standard policy, which increases the per item limit to $1,000 for each tree, shrub, or plant," Worters points out.

If you already have significant landscaping damage that is not covered by your home insurance policy, there are other options that might help you recoup some of the loss. When it's time to file taxes, you might be able to claim a loss on your federal income tax.

Before you start the major cleanup and replacement, contact an arborist for an estimate of damages. The estimate will not only help your tax preparer in the spring, but will also give you an idea of the amount of landscaping insurance you might need in the future.

 

 

Insurance Challenges for Vacant Commercial Property

Posted on Thu, Mar 08, 2012

With today’s challenging economic environment, more and more businesses are closing their doors and vacating their commercial space. For a commercial property owner, the loss of tenants not only impacts your bottom line but it can have a significant impact on your insurance coverage.   

Your Current Coverage Won’t Suffice

Many property owners wrongly assume their normal commercial property insurance will provide coverage.  Vacant buildings present special problems and concerns when it comes to obtaining fire and liability insurance.  Many insurers either severely limit or deny coverage altogether for vacant buildings due to the increased risk of vandalism, flooding or fire.  In the event that one of these disasters occurs, there will be nobody on-site to react promptly.  

What’s Considered Vacant?

Most insurance carriers consider the property “vacant” after 60 consecutive days where the property has 65%-70% or more of its square footage not rented or it is “unoccupied” and not being used to conduct typical operations that it is designed for.

In most policies when the property is considered “vacant” there is no coverage for the following causes of loss:

  • Water-related damage
  • People perils such as vandalism
  • Theft
  • Glass breakage

How to Protect Your Property

Just because standard carriers won’t offer insurance, or continue existing contracts, doesn’t mean insurance isn’t available on these risks. You can protect your building with a specially tailored policy designed for vacant properties.  These policies are intended to provide full coverage in the event of a loss and can be purchased on a short-term basis as needed. Most are available as for 3-month periods but often, coverage can be extended up to a year.

A basic vacant policy covers fire, vandalism and provides extended coverage for wind and hail. However, basic policies will not cover theft unless added by endorsement and additional premium. Vacant buildings can also be subject to frozen pipes which when thawed can result in substantial (and uninsured) water damage to the building. Extra coverage can be added to insure against this added exposure.

Not all vacant properties are the same. Having a local agent with the experience and knowledge to insure your property properly is critical in the overall underwriting process. Insureds must understand and expect reduced coverage and higher rates if the property is not occupied.

If your property is vacant, contact your agent and ask for a review of your existing insurance. Don’t wait until something happens to determine if the proper coverage is in place.

 

 

The “Trust” Factor for Homeowners Insurance

Posted on Wed, Feb 05, 2014

Personal trusts are rapidly growing as an estate planning technique to simplify probate and inheritance concerns for even average homeowners and not necessarily only the very wealthy.  Probate takes time, can cost up to 5% of the value of the estate, and means the records are open to the public. A trust provides assurance that probate will be avoided and a person can conserve the estate, avoid delays, and maintain privacy.

Placing the home into a trust may cause some issues when it comes to your home insurance policy. If you find yourself with a house in a trust, you’ll need to sort through the legalities to understand exactly how this should be reflected on your policy. It’s generally something that can be accommodated by most insurance companies, but it’s not going to happen automatically.

Since insurance policies are legal contracts, any legal change in ownership of the covered property means you must change those policies to reflect the new legal reality. First and foremost, you need to make sure that your insurance policy references the name of the trust as an insured. If your home is now owned by the “Jane Smith Trust,” it should also be named on the insurance policy. In the event of a loss, the home insurance policy will not pay anyone who is not named on the policy. For example, if your home is now in the name of the trust and you are not the trustee, your policy would only pay you for your personal property that you still own in your name. The value of the home cannot be paid to anyone who is not a named insured on the policy.

In most situations, you will need to consult with both your trust attorney as well as the insurance company. Since trusts are becoming more common for homeowners, insurance companies have started responding to the need to clarify how the home is insured. Sometimes it can be as simple as adding an endorsement to the policy that names the trust and/or trustee as insureds but in some cases you may need entirely new coverage. If your insurance company is unwilling to add an endorsement or the additional parties, you may need to find a new insurance company that is familiar with such arrangements.

If you now have or are discussing the use of a personal trust for your probate and inheritance needs, contact our office for guidance on the insurance implications.

 

 

Can My Insurance Company Cancel My Business Insurance?

Posted on Tue, Aug 20, 2013

As a paying customer, you may be under the false impression that your business insurance cannot be cancelled unless specifically requested by you. It is important for business owners to realize, however, that there are circumstances that could result in the termination of your policy. Although your insurance company is not able to cancel your insurance arbitrarily, you should be aware of the things that could put your coverage in jeopardy. Here are the four most common reasons that business insurance policies are cancelled by insurance carriers.

1. Failure to pay on time

The most obvious reason for the cancellation of your business insurance is a failure to pay your insurance premium, or paying late. Although insurance companies may have grace periods for tardy payments, it’s imperative that you respond to your insurance invoices in a timely manner. The cancellation of your business insurance policy could result in a host of negative consequences including disgruntled employees, being out of compliance with the law, and being unable to operate your business. Some insurance carriers may also require you to pay an additional fee to reinstate your policy.

The best advice is to pay your bills on time. This usually means your premium must be received by the due date. Dropping the payment in the mail on the due date may not be good enough. If you’re worried about being late on your payments, check with your insurance company about its grace period.

2. Filing too many claims

In general, most insurance companies have a set table that establishes what the expected norm is for filing claims. If your company files an exceptionally high number of workers compensation claims, auto incidents, property damage claims, etc., this will send a red flag up on your policy. Your insurer may begin to feel that your business is too much of a liability risk and drop your business insurance coverage. It could also raise suspicions that you are fudging the truth on your claims forms and attempting insurance fraud. This could result in an audit and, again, may bring about the cancellation of your business insurance policy.  

To avoid this, it’s smart to provide safety training and initiatives to ensure that your employees are protected and reduce the likelihood of work-related injuries and accidents in company vehicles.

3. Failing an inspection

If an insurance adjuster performed an inspection at your company and discovered safety violations, unsafe conditions, the storage of volatile or dangerous chemicals, etc., you could find yourself in trouble. Although most insurance companies will allow you the opportunity to correct the problems found during an inspection, if there is enough of a risk, you may find that your business insurance policy could be cancelled.  In addition to causing a slew of compliance issues, losing your business insurance due to safety violations could result in hefty fines and you may be required to pay a reinstatement fee once violations have been corrected as well.

It is best to provide safe work conditions in order to protect yourself, your employees, and your insurance policies.

4. Performing high-risk work

There are some insurance companies who alter their underwriting guidelines with regards to exactly what they will and will not cover. In instances of high-risk industries (ie: construction, operations which require the use of hazardous materials, etc.), you may find that certain aspects of your coverage get dropped.

It is wise to always review your documents annually and keep your eyes pealed for any changes so that you know exactly where you stand as far as coverage on your business insurance goes.  Your insurance agent can help you with this process.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

While there are certain circumstances that could result in the cancellation of your business insurance, a good insurance agent will work with you to not only be sure that you understand these trigger events, but also that you have an overarching risk management strategy in place for your business. Insurance isn't the only risk management tool available to you - there are a variety of ways that you can use human resources policies, company procedures, and other mechanisms to reduce your risk and lessen the opportunities for your policy to be cancelled.

 

 

What is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage?

Posted on Wed, Sep 01, 2010

In Massachusetts, you are required to carry uninsured motorist coverage however, underinsured motorist coverage is optional.  It’s important to understand the differences between the two and why you should consider increasing your limits.

What is uninsured motorist coverage?

Uninsured motorist coverage can pay medical expenses and lost wages in the event that you are injured in an auto accident in which the driver of the other car is at fault and has no insurance (including hit and run accidents). Although Massachusetts is a mandatory insurance state, there are many uninsured vehicles on our roads. The majority of these vehicle owners have no insurance due to non payment and they continue to drive because either they feel they have to or because they did not realize their coverage had been cancelled. Other uninsured vehicles are from states which do not require insurance and the car owners have opted not to purchase insurance.

Why do I need increased limits of uninsured coverage?

  • If you are injured in an accident in which the other driver is at fault (including hit and run accidents) and you cannot work for 6-12 months, it would be helpful to collect some money from your insurance carrier.
  • If you or a family member suffered injuries after being hit by an uninsured car while walking on the road or while riding a bicycle, it would be helpful to collect some money from your own insurance carrier.

Why might I not need increased limits of uninsured coverage?

The best argument for not purchasing additional coverage would be if you and your family members had a strong disability income policy in force. In effect, uninsured motorist coverage acts like disability insurance and as a result additional coverage may not be necessary.

What is underinsured coverage?

Underinsured motorist coverage will pay for medical bills and lost wages if you are injured in auto accident and the at-fault driver has little insurance. Your policy will pay you for any damages above the amount of bodily injury coverage carried by the at fault driver up as high as the limit of underinsured coverage you purchase.  For example: the at fault driver has a $20,000 per person limit of bodily injury, you carry $100,000 per person of underinsured coverage and your injuries and lost wages amount to $40,000. The other drivers insurance would pay you $20,000 and your own policy would pay you $20,000 for a total of $40,000.

Why do I need underinsured coverage?

  • Many people have bodily limits of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident. The $40,000 per accident limit may need to be shared by 3 or 4 people . Is $10,000 or even $20,000 enough for you to survive if you are out of work for 6 months to a year? How about two years? 
  • You have children that are driving in other people’s cars or perhaps teenagers or young adults who are driving in a friend’s cars. If your child is injured in a car accident in which the driver is at fault and does not have  high enough insurance limits to pay for the injuries and damages to all of  the injured people in the car. 
  • If you were running, walking or riding a bike on the street and were hit by a car whose owner had very little insurance, this coverage would cover you.

Why might I not need underinsured coverage?

Again, a strong disability income policy may be a good reason not to carry high limits of coverage as long as all of your household members are insured.

As a family with multiple vehicles, can we increase the uninsured/underinsured limits on just one of the vehicles?

The answer is yes if you or your family members are injured in accident and the other party is found to be at-fault but, only if you are driving the vehicle with the increased limits or are in someone else’s car or as a pedestrian. However, you cannot rely on the higher limit coverage if you were driving the car with the lower limits during the accident.

 

 

Can I extend my term life insurance policy?

Posted on Tue, Nov 23, 2010

This is a commonly asked question.  Term policies generally extend at the end of the term but the fixed premium is gone and becomes a variable premium.  The premium rate increases dramatically to the point where it does not make sense for anyone other than someone who is terminally ill to pay it.  Take a look at this example based on a male preferred non-smoker, age 34 for a 30 year term policy with a $1,000,000 death benefit.

  • Years 1-30      $117   Monthly Premium
  • Year    31     $3,236   Monthly Premium

As you can see, the premium jumps 2,666% in year 31 with annual increases to follow.

When considering term life insurance policies, we can show you the premiums for the various term lengths (10, 20 or 30 years).   Unless there is a budgetary concern or a specific need for a short term policy, we would typically advise clients to purchase the longest term possible.  Often times, it’s less expensive in the long run to go with a longer term policy.

 

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