Valuable Tips & Tool

Home Tips & Tools

Our Home Insurance Tips and Tools are designed to raise awareness, offer helpful suggestions for protecting your property and direct you to some helpful resources.

Alarm Systems

Deciding which alarm system is right for your home can be a confusing task, but the installation of an alarm system is one of the most prudent steps you can take to help protect your family and property. Here are some tips to consider:

This information is advisory in nature. No liability is assumed by reason of the information in this document.

Tips for Burglary Prevention

Careful planning is key in protecting your home and family from a burglary. Here are some ways to safeguard your property.

General Security Measures

  • Make sure locks on doors and windows are strong and secure. Then Use Them! For greater protection, we also recommend a professionally installed monitored burglar alarm system.
  • A well-illuminated home is less of a target. Use programmable timing devices to activate interior lights. Install motion sensing lights outside your home.
  • Obscured doors and windows are targets for forcible entry. Trim shrubs and trees so they do not obstruct these areas.
  • Store your more precious items in an Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved safe or vault. The safe or vault should be permanently fastened, rendering it immovable. For maximum protection, consider storing items in a bank vault.
  • Use an engraving pen to write your driver's license number on electronics and other property. Burglars don't want marked merchandise.
  • Display signs. If you have a dog or an alarm system, put up signs that say you do. They deter thieves.
  • Use caution with social media sites. Use security settings so posts and pictures from you or your family members only reach your intended audience.

While You Are Away

  • Lock all doors and windows.
  • Lock vehicles that remain at your home and if possible, keep a car in the driveway.
  • Lower telephone ringer.
  • Arrange for a trusted neighbor to pick up your mail, newspapers and parcels and check your house.

Finally, if you see or hear something or someone that doesn't seem right, call the police. If you discover your home has been burglarized, call the police right away and for your safety, leave the home until the police arrive.

Fire Prevention and Safety Tips

Careful planning can often help you avoid loss or injury to your family and property. Follow these fire prevention and safety tips.

Take Precautionary Measures

  • Install smoke detectors on each level of your home, inside bedrooms and outside every sleeping area. We recommend a hard wired system so the signal can be heard throughout the house. For an even better level of protection, consider a professionally installed monitored alarm system. If you opt for battery operated smoke alarms, be sure to check the batteries regularly and replace them semi-annually.
  • Keep multi-purpose fire extinguishers (type ABC) in areas accessible to the kitchen, utility rooms and garage.

Steps You Can Take Now

  • Keep candles away from drapes, upholstered furniture, and other flammable items.
  • Have your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned at the beginning of each heating season.
  • Use a fire screen to control flying embers and burn only seasoned hardwood to reduce the potential for creosote buildup. Place ashes in a metal container and remove from the house immediately. Never put ashes in or near the trash.
  • If you have a wood roof or live in a windy area, install a spark arrestor for your chimney
  • Rags, clothing and materials used during wood or deck staining or refinishing can spontaneously combust and are a major fire hazard. Immerse used rags and clothing in water in a metal container and seal with an air tight lid. After soaking, allow items to fully air dry by laying them flat on a non-combustible surface. Store cleaned rags in an open metal container. Keep in a well-ventilated area away from any heat source.
  • Grill safely. Gas and charcoal grills should be at least 8 feet from exterior walls, and never use an outside grill inside the home or garage.

Practice Family Safety

  • Establish and practice an escape plan with your entire family. Every family member should know two ways out of every room.
  • Predetermine a meeting place outside your home.
  • Teach everyone to: “Get Out, Stay Out” in the event of a fire. Call 911 immediately.

Holiday Fire Safety Tips


  • Properly dispose of fireplace ashes. Ashes should be placed in a metal container, wet down and moved outside, far away from your deck, garage, woodpile or anything that could catch fire. After about a week, check again for hot spots. If none are found, dispose of ashes in your outdoor trash bin and take the trash to the curb.
  • Get your chimney inspected and cleaned before the holidays.
  • Check your detectors - smoke and carbon monoxide - to make sure they work, and replace if needed.


  • Never leave candles unattended or place them in high-traffic areas where children or pets might knock them over.
  • Leave a two-foot circle of safety around candles. Do not light candles too close to holiday decorations or anything else that could catch fire.

Extension Cords and Holiday Lights

  • Don't overload extension cords or use indoor extension cords outdoors.
  • Check manufacturer labels to avoid a fire hazard. Do not connect more strings of lights together than recommended by the manufacturer.
  • Keep extension cords out of reach of children and pets.
  • Don't run cords under carpets. The wire can fray or be pinched by heavy furniture and start a fire.
  • Don't nail or staple through the cord or holiday light wiring.
  • Plug outdoor lights into circuits protected by ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) to prevent electric shock. Older homes may not have GFCIs, but itâ€s a fairly inexpensive fix.
  • Inspect all extension cords and holiday lights for frayed wire, cracked insulation or excessive kinking before using them.
  • Store cords and lights in a dry attic or closet out of season, and consider replacing inexpensive lights every few years.
  • Turn off indoor and outdoor lights when away from home and before going to sleep.

Space Heaters

  • Don't use extension cords. Plug these energy-demanding machines directly into a wall.
  • Check the circuit to make sure it can handle the added demand.
  • Don't leave space heaters unattended, and when not in use, turn off and unplug them.
  • Never remove the third-prong grounding feature, and plug the heaters into GFCIs for added safety.

Lightning Safety

Lightning and an ensuing fire account for more than a quarter billion dollars in property damage every year. If you live in an area prone to lightning, here are steps you can take to help reduce the likelihood of loss or damage to your property:

Property Protection

The best rule is to install proper lightning protection. A number of specialty firms in your area can help you to design a protective system to safeguard your home. Any system you choose should be in accordance with guidelines set forth by groups such as Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) and the National Fire Protection Association.

Components of the system can include:

  • Lightning rods on the roof of your home and large trees around your home to control and redirect the damaging effects of lightening. The lightning rod system should be installed by a UL-listed company.
  • Voltage surge suppressors to limit the exposure of electronic equipment, such as computers, stereo systems and televisions, to excessive voltage spikes.
  • Surge arresters to help divert power surges along the utility lines away from source equipment.

Life Safety

Lighting kills nearly 100 people each year in the U.S. and injures hundreds of others. Though your chances of getting struck by lightning during a thunderstorm are extremely small, lightning is always something of concern. These precautions can help reduce your risk:

  • Get off high ground and away from tall trees and don't stand in a crowd of people.
  • Keep away from golf carts, all metal fences, machinery and other metal objects.
  • Avoid bodies of water, and if you are swimming or in a boat, make for shore at once.
  • If you are driving, remain in your car. It is one of the safest places to stay. Never ride a horse or bicycle in a thunderstorm.
  • Lightning may enter a house through anything that conducts electricity. Unplug and do not handle electrical appliances during a storm, and stay away from all parts of the plumbing system.

Historic Home Care and Safety Tips

A thorough maintenance program can help you avoid costly repairs. Here are some steps you can take to help reduce the risk of loss in an older home:

  • Consult with licensed electrical, plumbing and heating specialists for an initial evaluation, and arrange schedules for routine maintenance. Maintaining and updating essential systems is a critical step in protecting your property.
  • Older homes often have less insulation. To help prevent pipes from freezing, you can insulate pipes directly, shut off exterior faucets, and maintain a comfortable heating temperature at all times. The installation of low temperature sensors and water leak detectors can also help alert you to a potential problem.
  • If you will be away from home for an extended period of time, shut off your main water supply.
  • Repairing or re-pointing of mortar walls and chimneys may become necessary when any of the following conditions are noted: cracked or missing mortar, loose bricks or stones, damp walls or damaged plaster work.
  • Regular chimney evaluation and cleaning by a professional is recommended.
  • Missing, worn or broken roofing materials may allow water to penetrate and deteriorate the roof structure. Inspect your roof and flashing around chimneys and skylights periodically, especially after severe storms. Contact a licensed roofer for further evaluation and repairs.
  • Clear gutters and downspouts of leaves and debris. Downspouts should be directed away from the house to improve drainage around the foundation.
  • Proper ventilation and updated insulation in the attic can not only reduce the potential for damage or deterioration due to excess moisture, but also reduce energy usage.
  • Inspect windows and exterior doors for proper caulking and weather stripping. Check exterior paint and siding for peeling and/or cracking.
  • Regularly inspect decks, terraces and balconies. A deteriorating condition can lead to water damage of the interior and an unsafe condition.
  • Periodically inspect foundation walls and floors for cracking that might allow water seepage. Avoid storing valuables in the basement. If your basement is prone to leaks or flooding, a sump pump is the best defense. A battery back-up is recommended to ensure proper operation during power outages.

Safeguarding Your Swimming Pool

A swimming pool can be a fun and entertaining addition to your home; however, pools pose a potential threat to the safety of your family, friends and neighbors. We offer the following precautionary measures to help you safeguard your pool:

General Safety Measures

  • Enclose your swimming pool or yard with a fence that includes self-locking and self-closing gates.
  • Keep all doors that lead to the pool locked at all times.
  • Consider equipping your pool with a flotation alarm that will signal if someone or something accidentally falls in the water.
  • When not in regular use, keep your swimming pool covered.
  • Clearly identify the shallow and deep ends of your swimming pool.
  • Keep toys away from the pool that may entice children and keep all lawn furniture away from the fence to prevent children from climbing over it.
  • Never leave a child unattended around water. Keep your eyes on your child at all times or designate an adult supervisor.
  • Do not rely only on flotation devices and/or swimming lessons to protect children. Proper supervision is always necessary.
  • If possible, always have a telephone near the pool and know your local emergency telephone numbers or 911. Encourage your family to take CPR lessons.
  • Be aware of your local weather conditions and never go swimming during thunderstorms.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor

  • Obtain Recommendations from Reputable Sources. Get recommendations from people who have used contractors that performed outstanding work. Visually inspect the work a contractor has done in another home.
  • Verify That the Contractor is Legitimate and Properly Insured. Check to be sure the contractor is licensed, bonded and properly insured. Ask for certificates of insurance for workers compensation and general liability policies.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Call the local BBB or visit to determine if complaints have been filed.
  • Avoid Contractors Who Solicit Your Business. A contractor who solicits business via door-to-door or cold calls may be questionable. Also, most contractors won't quote a price as a limited time offer. Refrain from hiring a contractor whose price will change if you don't sign a contract immediately.
  • Get a Free, Written Estimate. Ask the contractor for an estimate in writing that includes any oral agreements that have been made. The estimate should include a line-by-line breakdown of costs, including materials and labor. Most contractors do not charge to provide a written estimate.
  • Obtain Three Estimates. Get at least three written estimates, as well as names and phone numbers of two former customers of the contractor. Contact these customers, and ask about the work performed.
  • Do Not Choose a Contractor Based on Price Alone. Avoid automatically choosing the lowest estimate. This contractor's work may be lacking in quality, or he/she may use inferior materials.
  • Get a Copy of the Contract. The contract should include a "hold harmless" clause in your favor. This clause specifies that the contractor will indemnify you for your liability to people who are injured or whose property is damaged during the course of the contractor's work. The contract should explicitly state the work to be performed, start and end dates, payment agreements and warranty information.
  • Avoid Up-Front Payments. Be wary of a contractor who demands payment for the entire job before work begins. Standard practice is to pay only 33% of the job up front.
  • Consider Hiring an Attorney. If major work is to be done on your home, or the contract involves a considerable sum of money, ask an attorney to review the contract before you sign.

Protecting Your Home with Preventative Maintenance

Regular maintenance can help keep your home safe and minimize the possibility of costly future repairs. Here are measures you can take to keep your home in good condition:

Interior Maintenance

  • Test battery smoke and carbon monoxide detectors monthly. Replace batteries every 6 months, and replace detectors after 7 years.
  • Check fire extinguishers for proper operation.
  • Inspect water and waste lines on appliances for leaks or deterioration. Clean and/or replace filters.
  • Service furnace and air conditioner units every six months.
  • Shut off water to humidifier when not in use.
  • Test water heater by draining a bucket of water from the drain faucet until water runs clean to remove any sediment. Replace after 10 years.
  • Check around faucets, under sinks, around toilet and visible plumbing lines for leaks or corrosion. Inspect bathroom tile for cracks in tile and mortar. Clean and seal/repair grout lines.

Exterior Maintenance

  • Clean and inspect gutters and downspouts. Ensure that water is draining away from the house.
  • Inspect windows and doors for worn caulking and weather stripping. Check for proper operation and accessibility.
  • Cut back any trees or shrubs touching the house or power lines. Check for health of trees as well.
  • Check for any indication of pest infestation.
  • Check all porches, railings and walkways for hazards or deterioration.
  • Have your chimney professionally cleaned before each heating season and inspect the chimney top and its structure. Install a chimney cap to prevent water damage and keep animals out. Clean the firebox weekly when in high use. Dispose of ashes in a metal container and remove from the house. Do not put ashes in or near garbage.
  • Check the roof for missing or broken shingles.
  • Check exterior for missing siding and paint for peeling and cracking which may indicate potential water leaks or moisture problems.

Building or Renovating Tips

If you are planning to build a new home or renovate your current residence, follow these simple tips that can help you avoid any construction-related losses:

  • Keep a sufficient number of portable fire extinguishers distributed throughout the worksite. A home under construction is particularly vulnerable to fire. Having several fire extinguishers close at hand can help prevent a small fire from causing major damage. We recommend multi-purpose models (Type ABC) of at least 10 lbs. in weight. The extinguishers should be situated on each level of your home and well-marked for quick access.
  • If you are renovating your home, never disconnect your fire or burglar alarms. When floors are being sanded or plaster work is being performed, a great deal of dust can be produced, possibly triggering your alarm components. Rather than turning off your smoke detectors, have them covered with plastic bags or manufactured tops that can be removed at night, when fires often occur.
  • If you are constructing a new home, plan in advance for the installation of fire and burglar alarms. To provide protection, a temporary system can be installed as soon as the house is enclosed. Only a phone line and temporary power source are needed to give you centrally monitored protection. This will provide automatic notification to the proper authorities of a fire or break-in after workers have left.
  • Consider installing a residential sprinkler system. If installed during the early stages of construction, a sprinkler system is an affordable way to provide protection against a major fire, as it may pay for itself over time in the form of premium reduction credits.
  • Take steps to keep unwanted visitors away from the construction site. Vacant construction sites can attract unwanted attention and increase the chance of theft and vandalism. Motion-activated lighting, perimeter fencing, gates or chains across driveways and security guards are examples of ways you can protect your home while it is vacant.
  • Require proper storage and disposal of flammable materials. Many commonly used construction materials are highly combustible. Make sure scrap lumber, sawdust, cardboard containers and other debris are removed daily. Also, ask painters to remove all rags and solvents at the end of each day, as they are highly flammable and can start a fire if left unattended. Finally, insist on a no smoking policy.
  • Confirm your contractor is adequately insured. When selecting a contractor, ask for a copy of the "certificate of liability" to confirm adequate insurance limits. The liability limit for any one occurrence should equal the total insured value of the project.

Tips for Home Renting

If you are renting out your home to a tenant, it's common to have some concerns. Here are some tips to help protect your property and your peace of mind:

Before You Rent

  • Draw up a rental contract. The agreement defines the terms of the rental, including the number of occupants, restrictions and liabilities. Consider hiring an attorney for further protection.
  • Require references. You can gain valuable background information on potential tenants.
  • Ask for a security deposit, which will be refunded if no damage occurs during the rental period.
  • Advise your insurance agent you are renting your home, and discuss any implications this may have on your insurance program. Be aware that many insurance companies do not provide coverage for vehicles that are left at your home and accessible to your tenants.
  • Consider utilizing or consulting a property manager.

Protect Your Home and Belongings

  • Create a secure area where personal belongings, clothing and fragile items can be kept. Also, consider removing all valuable items, such as antiques or valuable art, to a storage facility or bank vault.
  • If you have central station burglar or fire alarms, change the alarm codes after the rental period.
  • Videotape or photograph your home to document its pre-rental condition. This could be an invaluable precaution should any damage occur during the rental period.
  • Tell your tenants and your neighbors how you may be reached in the event of an emergency. Also, leave emergency numbers close to the telephone. Remember that your tenants may not be familiar with emergency procedures in your area.
  • Provide a list of recommended contractors or service companies. This way, your tenants are prepared for potential maintenance problems, such as a water leak, A/C failure or appliance breakdown.
  • Have the property checked during your absence. You and your rental agent should arrange for someone to periodically check the home to assure it is in proper order.

Winter Preparations

Freezing temperatures, ice, snow and wind can cause severe damage to your home and property. If you live in an area that experiences harsh winters, here are some areas to evaluate to help protect your home:

Build Up of Ice and Snow on Your Roof

Ice dams occur when heat from a house escapes the attic and warms the roof. Snow on the roof melts and then refreezes, causing a ridge of ice to form and trap water on the roof. This water can leak into the home, causing major damage. Safeguard your roof by:

  • Thoroughly clean gutters in the spring and late fall. Clogged gutters may allow ice to form and back up under the roofline.
  • Make sure proper attic insulation is in place, keeping your house warm, but your attic cool - reducing snow melt on the roof.
  • Ensure continuous ventilation of attic air, which should be only 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the outside.
  • Heavy ice and snow build-up on your roof can cause seepage or even a collapse. If snow accumulation is significant, hire a professional to "shovel" the roof.

Plumbing Inside and Outside Your Home

Plumbing located within exterior walls or unheated crawl spaces is most vulnerable to freezing or bursting. Protect your pipes by:

  • All interior pipes should be insulated or have wall insulation around them, especially in vulnerable areas such as attics, crawl spaces and along outside walls.
  • Use weather -resistant insulation to protect exterior pipes.
  • Cabinet doors under sinks should be kept open during a heavy freeze to allow heat to circulate around pipes.
  • Hire a professional to winterize the outdoor sprinkler system and remove all residual water, which can freeze and cause pipes to burst.
  • Disconnect exterior hoses from their faucets and install frost-free hoses and hose bibs.
  • Properly insulate unfinished areas such as basements and garages, where pipes may be exposed.
  • Keep your thermostat set at a minimum of 55 degrees in the winter.
  • Install a low temperature alarm if you are away often. It will activate your alarm system if the home temperature falls below a pre-set level.
  • If you suspect a frozen pipe, shut off the water main source and call a plumber.

Fireplaces, Furnaces and Heating Systems

Improper use or poor maintenance of heating systems can cause fire, puff-backs and smoke damage. Wood burning fireplaces and stoves are among the worst culprits when it comes to winter house fires. Follow these fire preventive measures:

  • Clean chimneys and flues on fireplaces and stoves annually.
  • Use a fire screen to control flying embers and burn only seasoned hardwood to reduce the potential for creosote buildup. Place ashes in a metal container and remove from the house immediately. Never put ashes in or near the trash.
  • Service furnaces and boilers at least once a year.
  • Check for scorch marks from baseboard heaters on interior walls.
  • Keep portable space heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable objects, such as window treatments, furniture and bedding. Do not use extension cords to power the unit.
  • Keep backup generators outdoors - away from open windows, doors and vents. And never use an outside grill inside the house either.
  • Change smoke and carbon monoxide alarm batteries every six months. Replace detectors after 10 years.

Emergency Access

Severe weather could impact access to your home in the event of a fire, medical or other emergency. Take these measures before a winter storm to ensure fast and easy access:

  • Your house number should be clearly marked in a conspicuous area at the front of the home.
  • Contract a snow removal service that guarantees removing the snow from your driveway after every 6 inches of accumulation.
  • A large maker should be placed near a fire hydrant. Clear away surrounding snow.

Secondary, Seasonal Homes and Unoccupied Homes

Secondary/seasonal homes or homes that are unoccupied during much of the winter require special consideration:

  • Hire a property manager or caretaker to check on the home at least once a week for mechanical failures and signs of damage. An inspection should include running the water in every sink, flushing toilets, and opening cabinet doors under sinks to avoid freezing pipes.
  • If the home is not professionally winterized, set the thermostat at 55 degrees or higher. Unheated seasonal structures with plumbing should be winterized.

Vacation Homes

Careful planning can help you to protect your secondary or vacation home and property when you are not there for extended periods of time. Here are some steps you can take to help reduce the likelihood of loss or damage:

Preventing burglary

  • Make sure locks on doors and windows are strong and secure. For greater protection, we recommend a professionally installed, monitored burglar alarm system.
  • Arrange for a neighbor or the police to check your house periodically.
  • Set interior and exterior lighting with programmable timing devices to go on and off at different times of the evening to make it appear that someone is home.
  • Store valuables in a bank vault or safe deposit box.

Avoiding water damage

  • Turn off the water heater.
  • Turn off the washing machine connection.
  • Turn off water to the toilet, leaving water in the bowl.
  • Have the air-conditioning system checked prior to your departure to be sure that water lines or drains are clear and working properly.
  • If you have an alarm system, consider monitoring your home with low temperature sensors that signal if the home temperature falls below a pre-set level.

If you have a house sitter

  • Make sure water is run through all plumbing fixtures (sinks, showers, toilets and tubs) at least once a month.
  • Request periodic checks of the ceiling, walls and plumbing fixtures for water damage spots.
  • After severe rainstorms, have your home checked immediately for possible water intrusion.
  • Provide contact numbers for local emergency personnel and your plumber, electrician and heating contractor.

Basement Flooding

Basement flood damage can be mitigated by taking some precautionary measures. Here are some steps you can take to help protect the basement in your home:

Exterior of Your Home

  • Ensure the ground slopes away from your home on all sides, including patios and walkways.
  • If grade cannot easily be altered, consider installing swales, berms or drains on the upslope side of your home that will capture and divert surface and ground water away from your foundation.
  • If your driveway slopes towards your home, make sure there is a drain near its lower edge that captures and diverts water away from the foundation.
  • Annually clean and inspect gutters and downspouts and ensure downspouts extend at least 6 feet away from the foundation, preferably onto a splash pad.
  • For downspouts tied in to underground lines, ensure the drain lines are clear and free of debris.
  • Ensure basement window wells and doors have watertight seals and that window wells remain clear of debris and leaf litter that could block drains.
  • Consider installing covers over window wells to keep them clean and dry. Clear plastic covers are available at most home center stores.
  • Trim dense shrubs and plants in close proximity to your home so the soil is exposed to sunlight and able to dry.
  • Make sure garden borders, debris or mulch do not create dams that hold surface water next to the house.
  • Look for cracks in your foundation wall and have a contractor professionally seal or repair any that might allow moisture to penetrate in to the basement.
  • Look for voids, depressions or other evidence of soil settlement near your foundation that might allow water to pool, and fill these areas with solid compactable soil, like clay, so that there is a constant slope away from the foundation.
  • If you are in an area with a high water table consider flood-proofing your basement by sealing the exterior surface or installing footing drains.

Interior of Your Home

  • Install, maintain and service sump pumps annually & ensure all pump discharges are clear and downslope from the home. Having multiple pumps is preferable to relying on a single pump.
  • Consider a back-up power supply such as a battery back-up or generator, so your pump will continue to operate during power outages commonly associated with severe weather events.
  • Consider installing a high water alarm on your sump pump that will notify you and your alarm company if the pump fails to keep pace with rising water, before it reaches finished surfaces.
  • Consider purchasing a portable emergency pump with a minimum 20 gpm capacity and sufficient discharge hose to reach well downslope of your home.
  • Contact your local fire department to find out if they have a pump-out policy - many jurisdictions do.
  • At least twice per year and before the winter/wet season, test the sump pump to ensure it is operational.
  • Elevate all valuable contents in your basement above the floor level.
  • Consider installing a back-flow check valve on any basement sewer lines to prevent back-up of sewer if municipal sewer systems become overwhelmed.
  • Consider installing an automatic water shut-off device that will detect plumbing leaks and close the main water supply line valve.
  • Ensure all basement drains are clear and free of debris.