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Hurricane preparedness tips

As Hurricane Florence surges toward the East Coast, residents should take some time to prepare for the effects of the storm to protect life and property. While it’s  hard to know whether the Our Towns Habitat for Humanity service area will experience high wind, rain or both until the storm’s path is more clear, it’s best to be ready for the possibilities. Here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Secure any items on the exterior of your home, such as patio furniture, or bring them inside. During high winds, loose items can be picked up by the wind and become projectiles, causing potential injury and property damage. Trim back any tree branches that are at risk of breaking and causing damage.
  • Fill your gas tank early.
  • Make sure you have a supply of potable (drinkable) water. Water quality may be affected during a storm, making tap water unsafe to drink. You can buy bottled water, or fill clean containers with tap water ahead of time.
  • Also have water to flush toilets, if power outages affect the water system. For this, fill your bathtub and available buckets with water in advance.
  • Be sure to have flashlights and fresh batteries on hand. Avoid using candles, which can be a safety concern.
  • Be sure to have a supply of canned, non-perishable food on in hand in case of prolonged power outages. It may be a good idea to pre-cook any meat in your refrigerator. If power is lost, avoid opening the freezer and refrigerator to keep food cold as long as possible. Consider freezing gallons of water in advance, which also help keep food cold longer during a power outage.
  • If you lose power, a grill or propane stove are a good way to cook food, but make sure you use them outdoors (after the storm has passed) and a safe distance from your home. Not only are these items a fire risk inside the home, they can cause deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Generators should NEVER be operated inside a home and should be at least 20-25 feet away from the home. These can also create deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Make sure to test your fire and carbon monoxide alarms.

Avoid Sticker Shock on Your Heating Bill

‘Tis the season for cozying up with a cup of hot cocoa under a big, warm afghan. With the colder weather, though, comes higher heating bills. But, with a few savvy energy-saving tips, you can help avoid sticker shock when you open your next utility bill.

Keep the heat inside. As kids, we all got that warning when we stood in the open doorway during the middle of winter—“Close that door! I’m not paying to heat the outdoors!” As adults who understand having bills to pay, we get it now! Why pay to fuel your heating system, then let all that warm air escape? Make sure you consider all the ways heat may be making its getaway from your home. If you’re not using your fireplace, make sure the flue is closed. Don’t run the ventilation fans in your bathroom or kitchen when they aren’t needed—they’ll suck are that warm, toasty air right out of the room. And be sure you have proper insulation in your attic.

Keep the cold outside. Not only do you have to worry about warm air escaping, you need to be aware of cold air invading! Check your house for drafts by holding a lit candle near windows and doors and observing the flame—if it moves horizontally, outside air may be sneaking in. Seal up leaks with low-cost caulking or weather-stripping.

A few degrees can equal big savings. Turning your thermostat down just a few degrees can shave 5 to 10 percent off your heating bill. Counter the drop by dressing in warm layers. Make sure you keep some nice, warm throws on the sofa and chairs—activity keeps your body warmer, so when you stop moving and sit down, you may feel colder! Tip—feet play a big role in the body’s perception of heat, so warm socks go a long way!

Take advantage of the sun. Open drapes or blinds when the sun is on your windows to take advantage of the natural heat. But make sure to close all coverings when it’s dark to avoid losing heat.

Maintain your heating systems. Electric and oil heaters should have maintenance every year. Gas heaters need serviced every other year. Regular maintenance can keep your systems running more efficiently. And one maintenance item you can easily do on your own—change the filter! Dirty filters equal higher utility bills.

Keep Your Home Safe for the Holidays

There’s nothing like being home for the holidays. But all of our holiday activities can create increased safety risks. Fires are a particular risk this time of year, from kitchen fires to blazes sparked by Christmas light. Make sure you don’t neglect these important safety precautions to keep your loved ones safe and protect your home.

Safety in the Kitchen
  • If deep-frying a turkey, always do so outside, at least 10 feet from your home. Make sure your fryer is on level ground, and your turkey is thawed and dry.
  • Never leave food unattended when frying or grilling. User at timer to remind you to check dishes that are in the oven or simmering on the stove—with extra people and activity in your home, it’s easy to get distracted!
  • Keep pot holders, food packaging and other flammable materials at least three feet from the stove.
  • If you have a grease fire, DO NOT douse with water. Carefully suffocate it with a lid (if small enough) using potholders, douse with baking soda or use a fire extinguisher if it’s getting out of hand (make sure you have one nearby!).
  • Before the big cooking day, check all smoke alarms. Also clean your oven and cooktop—grease build up can lead to fires.
  • Unplug any unnecessary appliances to avoid overloading your circuits.
  • Keep children and pets out of the kitchen.
Christmas Decoration Safety
  • Before stringing your lights, carefully check all strands for cracked cords, frayed ends or loose connections.
  • Keep any real Christmas trees well-watered—dry leaves and hot lights are a bad combination.
  • Consider switching to LED lights, which are cool to the touch—and much more efficient! LEDs also have no glass and are more durable.
  • Make sure lights hung outside are rated for outdoor use.
  • Make sure all cords are taped down to avoid trip hazards.
  • If lighting candles, keep away from flammable materials, do not leave unattended and be sure to extinguish all candles before leaving or going to bed. Never use lighted candles on a tree or near evergreens.

Fall Maintenance Prepares Your Home for Colder Weather

The weather might not be “cool” yet, but compared to this summer’s brutal heat, it sure feels that way! Take advantage of these more moderate temps to check out some fall maintenance items and ensure your house is ready for the colder weather ahead.

Start outside, with your lawn and garden:

  • Drain fuel from gas-operated lawn equipment. Clean and stow all lawn equipment and summer gardening/landscaping tools.
  • Fertilize your lawn, reseed patchy areas and plant spring flowering bulbs.

Next, address your porch, deck and driveway:

  • Inspect porch and deck for any repair needs. Clean deck and apply sealer.
  • Cover and store patio furniture, grills, etc.
  • Empty dirt from flower pots.
  • Inspect driveway for cracks and repair with filler if needed. Apply commercial driveway sealer.

Also consider these items for your home’s exterior:

  • After leaves have fallen, clean gutters and downspouts. Clogged gutters are a primary cause of ice dams and related damage.
  • Inspect roof for missing or loose shingles. Inspect paint for peeling or blistering.
  • Drain hoses and shut off outdoor water sources to prevent freezing and damage over the winter.
  • Caulk windows and weather strip doors to help keep heating bills down.
  • Check foundation for cracks.

And don’t forget these items inside your home:

  • Have heating system inspected. Change air filters and vacuum air ducts.
  • Insulate any pipes in unheated basement/crawl space or garage.
  • If you have an outdoor A/C-only unit (not a heat pump), cover the unit for winter. Remove and store any window A/C units.
  • Inspect and clean any fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
  • Check windows for drafts or cracked panes.
  • Inspect attic and basement for signs of squirrels, mice, bats, etc. Seal any possible entrance holes. As the temperatures drop, these unwanted guests may try to come inside looking for a warm place to hang out.
  • Change smoke and carbon monoxide detector batteries.

Homeowners Insurance Protects Your Biggest Investment

Insurance is a product we all purchase hoping to never need it, but are grateful to have when an emergency hits. For homeowners, maintaining adequate property insurance is an important way to protect one of the biggest investments most of us will ever make, so it is critical to understand your coverage needs and options.

Homeowners insurance is classified as a multiple-line insurance policy, meaning that it protects a person’s home and belongings against damages, but also includes liability coverage, which covers your legal responsibility for injuries and property damage caused by you or members of your family (including pets) to others.

Remember, most mortgage lenders require proof of homeowners insurance, so you can’t buy a house without it! Before we dive in further, here are some general terms you need to know:

Deductible—The amount of money a policyholder pays before the insurance company will pay a claim.
Premium—The price you pay for your insurance, usually charged on an annual basis for this kind of insurance. For homeowners with a mortgage, this is generally paid through your escrow account.
Escrow account—An account your bank maintains to ensure payment of property tax and homeowners insurance while you are re-paying your mortgage. Your monthly mortgage payment includes a portion that goes into escrow to pay these annual bills.
Replacement cost—Refers to the full cost of replacing your personal property or your home, versus the actual value, which may not be sufficient to replace an older item or home.
Riders—Policy “add-ons” that can be included in your overall insurance policy to cover specific items in your home.
Named perils—Sources of damage that are specifically named as covered in an insurance plan.

Understanding these terms should help in searching for and selecting a good home insurance policy for you and your situation. These terms should also help when reading through your policy, which is vital, as with any legal contract. It will tell you exactly what is and isn’t covered.

So what do normal packages cover (and not cover)? Typical packages pay for damages in the event of storms, fire, theft or vandalism. These are your “named perils.” A policy also often covers your belongings even when outside of the home, such as if they are stolen from your car. If you are temporarily displaced from your home due to disaster, most policies will cover your hotel bill as a “shelter cost.”

As with most things, however, there are exceptions as to what is covered in a typical home insurance package. Standard policies exclude landslides, earthquakes, sinkholes, power failure, war, nuclear hazard, government action, faulty zoning, bad repair/defective maintenance, and flooding. Tornado and hurricane damage is usually covered, unless you are in a high-risk area.

According to Statesville State Farm Agent Andrew Whitaker, for specific items such as a collection, firearms or jewelry, additional protections may be added to increase the coverage on those items beyone the basic policy. Separate policies can also be purchased to cover mortgage payments in the event of death or disability of the homeowner, which is not typically covered, or to provide additional liability coverage

Whitaker recommends considering flood coverage, as very few areas have been proven to be completely immune to flooding. A flood quote is free and the price is the same wherever you go because the NFIP (National Flood Insurance Program), which determines pricing, is federally governed.
Customers should also remember, said Whitaker, that homeowner’s insurance is not a maintenance policy. It is meant to cover “sudden and unexpected losses,” not a worn out A/C unit or damage from long-term leakage.

Owning an older home may also cause specific exclusions to be included in a policy. The age of the house puts it at a higher risk for damage, and according to Whitaker, this may cause exclusions for damage you would expect to be covered, such as damage from pipes.
Pricing is very dependent on the kind of policy you need and where you look for it. Factors that influence the price of your policy include location and age of the home, coverage and the amount of insurance. Often you can find deals such as multiple policy discounts, which gives a discount for having several policies (home, auto, health) with the same company.

To lower the premium, customers could consider a higher deductible, says Whitaker. Be sure that if you opt for a higher deductible you have enough in savings to cover that deductible, should the need arise. The premium can also be reduced by doing things such as installing a burglar alarm to lower your risk.
While the lowest price policy may be appealing, you should compare more than just price when looking for homeowners insurance. Coverage and deductibles as well as the ratings, financial strength, claims handling capabilities and accessibility of the company should also be taken into consideration.

“When [customers] purchase homeowners insurance, they are buying a promise to be there when needed and to pay what is owed,” says Whitaker. He suggests AM best, JD Powers, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Better Business Bureau for ratings and more information about companies. He also recommends that customers get at least three quotes from different companies and then compare. Doing this kind of research and evaluation will help in making an informed decision on which company to use.

Preparing Your Home to Brave Summer Storms

We’ve already had our share of severe storms this summer, and Our Towns Habitat wants to help you make sure your home is ready for future storms. These tips will help you to prepare your home so storm damage can be avoided or minimized.

Make sure that you are always paying attention to your trees. Regular maintenance and pruning will keep trees healthy and will help eliminate the risk of damage by falling dead branches. Branches that are touching or close to the roof should be trimmed to avoid scratching and further roof damage due to blowing branches during a storm. The most severe damage from storms often results from trees falling, so if you have any trees that may be dying, you may want to hire an arborist to evaluate it and possibly remove it.

Keeping your gutters clean is also a critical maintenance task. Blocked gutters can cause rain water to build up and damage your roof, attic or siding. You will also want to make sure that downspouts are clear and that they are moving water away from the foundation of your house. While you are at it, inspect your roof in order to assure that there are no damaged shingles or tiles.

You may also want to have a battery backup for your sump pump, or a whole second battery powered sump pump. This is especially important if you have a finished basement and will help to avoid an overflowing sump basin.

If you are aware of a storm approaching, you should secure your lawn furniture and other outdoor items in advance. This will help to keep items from being damaged or from being picked up by strong winds and becoming projectiles.

Lastly, you should know what is covered by your home insurance policy in terms of storm damage. You may want to consider extra coverage. If your home does sustain damage from a storm, be sure to report the damages to your insurance agency as soon as possible.

We hope these tips will help keep your home secure and damage-free as these summer storms roll through!

Be Energy-Savvy and Make Cooling Your Home Less Expensive

As the temperature continues to rise this summer, your power bill doesn’t need to increase by extreme degrees too. Here are some strategies from Duke Energy to conserve energy and save money on your energy bills.

• Close the drapes on the sunny side of your home while you are there, or close all window coverings if you are leaving for the day.

• Turn off unnecessary lights and use energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, which use less energy and give off less heat.

• Seal air leaks with caulking and weather stripping, and minimize door traffic to keep the cool air inside.

• Use heat-producing appliances such as your dryer, dishwasher and range during the cooler nighttime hours.

• Turn air conditioners to the highest comfortable setting. Duke Energy recommends 76 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re home and 80 degrees while you are away. Adjusting your thermostat up a few degrees will have a significant impact on your cooling bill, saving approximately 30 percent on your summer cooling costs.

• Clean or replace your air conditioning filter monthly, or as needed.

• Keep coils on the exterior air conditioning unit free of dirt, grass clippings and leaves.

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