Home Safety and Security

It’s true that your home is an investment and an asset, but most importantly, it’s your livelihood, so taking measures to adequately protect it is well worth your time. An unfortunate reality of being a homeowner is that your home can be a target for mischievous and/or criminal acts.

Fortunately, there are tools and systems you can use to mitigate damage from these kinds of attacks and keep your home safe, in both everyday home life and during the selling process. Sometimes the best part of security systems is the peace of mind that comes with knowing your home is protected. Many of our personal items can be replaced thanks to homeowners insurance, but you cannot put a price on feeling safe at home.

Home Safety and Security

Technology

As time goes on, home technology continues to improve and become more closely integrated with the way we think about a home’s basic functions. There are countless products that can help to automate the systems in your home while better protecting it. When considering these tools, educate yourself about the risks the devices may pose if the proper safeguards aren’t in place. For example, some smart speakers and voice-activated assistants may make everyday home life easier but can leave the door open for potential breaches of personal information if the proper security measures aren’t taken.

Smart Home Devices

The concept of a “smart” home has shifted over the years, but what does this term really mean? And what makes a device “smart”? In essence, a smart device is one that uses technology to make home life easier, more efficient, and more convenient, saving you time in the process. Often using automation and/or remote control, these products allow you to customize the systems in your home to best fit your lifestyle and the needs of your household.

Home Security Apps

Home security apps help to manage your home’s security systems all in one, centralized location. This makes it easy to closely monitor your home even when you’re far away. These apps are typically capable of connecting to door and window sensors, cameras, thermostats, and control lights while allowing you to set alarms and various other home protectants. These apps can offer peace of mind that your home is safe, even when you’re not there.

Alarm Systems

If you are considering an alarm, you have an array of options that vary from self-install motion detection kits to full-service home security systems.  If you choose to set up your alarm system yourself, you’ll want to install motion detectors on your doors and windows, especially if they can be easily accessed on the ground floor. These kits will often offer a 24-hour support line whose services may come at an extra fee.

Full-service security systems can include everything from an alarm system and panic buttons to and integration with your smoke detectors and/or fire prevention system. These services can be expensive up front, but usually have a reasonable monthly rate. In some cases, having a home security system installed can reduce your insurance rates.

 

Image Source: Getty Images – Image Credit: BrianAJackson

 

Upgrade Your Locks

After you’ve moved into your home, it’s a good idea to change the locks. This will give you peace of mind that, once the new locks are installed, no one outside of your household will be able to access your home. Also consider getting a high-quality front-door deadbolt. A poorly installed or weak one can make it easier for an intruder to kick in your door. Front door locks come in many forms, from the traditional models with keys to digital options that require passcodes or fingerprints. It’s also a good idea to check all the locks on your windows. Some older models are easy to jimmy open with a little wiggling. For ground floor windows, you may want to consider double locks.

Security Cameras

Nowadays, security cameras are widely available for home installation. When shopping around, compare different products’ capabilities to find the one that best suits your own security needs. Installing security cameras in high-visibility locations with clear sight lines can help to deter intruders. At the very least, they ensure that you’ll have evidence of an intrusion, should one occur. With so many home security products available, you won’t have trouble finding a system that’s easy to set up. Professional systems, however, generally have more robust monitoring services and require professional expertise to install.

Exterior and Interior Home Lighting

Having exterior lights and/or flood lights on timers or motion sensors is a good way to deter nighttime intruders. Add sensor lights to key entry points on your home, including the front door, back door, and/or basement entries. If you have an unused side yard, consider lighting there too. Keeping your home well-lit makes unwanted visitors weary of being seen.

If you will be gone from your home for an extended period of time, consider using timed lighting options in your home to give the appearance that someone is home. You can select timers for bedrooms or living areas and program a radio or TV to provide some white noise while you’re away.

The Importance of Community for Home Safety

Programs like Neighborhood Watch and NextDoor are very successful in some communities, by creating an environment where everyone is looking out for each other. Building close-knit relationships with your neighbors can go a long way in making you feel safe at home. Whether this is through a formalized program, or a shared agreement with your community, developing relationships with your neighbors is a great way to keep your home safe.

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Tips For Emergency Preparedness

With homeownership comes the responsibility of having to plan ahead for life’s unknowns. Emergencies come in many forms, depending on your local climate. So whether its more likely that you and your household need to prepare for the potential of a wildfire, a flood, or a winter storm, it’s crucial to have resources on hand to limit the damage to your home and to protect your household.

Tips for Emergency Preparedness

A good place to start when putting together your emergency kit is to compile basic resources you and your household will need to support yourselves outside of your home. Keep all items together in an easily accessible location. The general rule is to have at least one gallon of water per person, per day. This is useful for drinking, food preparation, and general hygiene. The Red Cross suggests keeping a two week’s supply of water at your home and three days worth in the case of evacuation. The following information is based on the American Red Cross’s emergency preparedness website.

What to include in your home emergency kit

  • A two-week supply of non-perishable food that is easy to prepare
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 blanket (space blanket)
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of non-latex gloves
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • Scissors
  • 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer (non-mercury/non-glass)
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers
  • First aid instruction booklet

To-Go Bag

Keep a to-go bag on hand to ensure that you and your household have easy access to essential items such as medication, toiletries, chargers, cash, and more. 

  • If you or family members have medications, make sure you have at least a seven day supply
  • Multi-purpose tool (Swiss army knife)
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • Personal wipes       

Personal documents

  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Extra cell phone chargers
  • Emergency blanket(s)

Car Kit

In the case of an evacuation or car emergency you should have a supply kit that can last up to three days.

  • A three-day supply of water in the case of an evacuation (one gallon per person per day)
  • Three days’ worth of non-perishable food
  • First aid kit
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Extra phone charger
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map of your area

Pets

If you have pets, you will want to pack additional supplies to ensure their safety in the event of an emergency. It’s a good idea to have a week’s worth of food for each pet, a gallon of water per day, medication on hand, an additional leash, a crate, and any relevant sanitation materials (pet bags, litter, etc.).

Keeping Your Sanity

If you have small children, you may want to include activities for them to stay occupied without the help of electricity. Small games, coloring books and supplies, and other items can be stashed in the emergency kit to keep the family occupied.

For more information on preparing for potential emergencies and disasters, read our blog post about preparing for a fire at home. 

How to Prepare for a Fire at Home

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How to Prepare for a Fire at Home

A fire breaking out in your home is a serious potential hazard. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to identify the early signs of a fire and to prepare for an emergency. The following list will help you and your household put together your fire safety plan.

How to Prepare for a Fire at Home

Fire safety

Having properly functioning smoke and CO2 detectors is crucial to your safety. Test your smoke and CO2 detectors frequently and swap out the batteries when necessary. It is recommended to have a smoke detector outside each sleeping area and on each level of your home.

Always keep a fire extinguisher near the kitchen to combat flame outbursts from the stove or oven. It is best to have at least one fire extinguisher per floor for easy access. Keep in mind that fire extinguishers are used to control and extinguish small, contained fires. If a fire has spread throughout an entire room, or is beginning to engulf your home, know that fire extinguishers are no match for the blaze, and you should escape immediately.

Evacuation plan

A home fire can be very disorienting. During an emergency, it is critical that all members of your household know how to properly evacuate the home. Identify two ways to escape from each room in case one route is unsafe. Choose a meeting spot somewhere outside for everyone to meet a safe distance away from the fire. This can be across the street, down the block, at a neighbor’s house, or wherever makes most sense for you and your family. The most important thing is that you all have an agreed-upon rendezvous. Select an emergency contact whom you can reach out to if something goes wrong in the evacuation process or if a family member is missing.

Best practices

When escaping your home, crawl as low as possible to stay beneath the smoke. Test closed doors before using them to escape. If they are hot, that’s a sign that there are flames on the other side of the door and you should use an alternative escape strategy. Be careful that you don’t burn your hand when testing closed doors. Make sure everyone in your household knows the procedure for calling 9-1-1 and properly alerting the fire department. If you have pets at home, include them in your evacuation plans. If you are forced to decide between evacuating safely and trying to rescue a pet, know that firefighters are trained experts at saving animals from house fires. 

For more tips on how to plan for fire-related emergencies at home, read our blog for Wildfire Preparation and Evacuation Tips.

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How to Fall Proof Your Home

Each object in a home serves a purpose, but for those who experience dizziness and numbness, many of them can also be a potential hazard. Taking steps to reduce the risk of falling in your home is a worthy exercise for any homeowner, especially if you have elderly family members or young children living in your home or visiting often. Here are some ways you can fall proof the rooms in your home.

How to Fall Proof Your Home

Kitchen

The kitchen is synonymous with spills and messes. When these accidents happen, be sure to clean them up quickly and thoroughly to reduce the risk of a falling injury. Slippery floors have been the culprit of countless broken bones and bruises, so it’s best to wait until the cleaned spot is dry until you resume cooking.

Stay low to the ground as much as possible by keeping your most used items like spices, cooking utensils, and hand towels within reach to reduce the number of times you need to use a step stool.

Bathroom

In the bathroom surfaces are often slippery and slick, and the hard tile makes for an unforgiving landing spot. It’s common for homeowners to place a non-slip mat in the shower or tub to reduce the risk of slipping and falling. Grab bars are a more permanent option for making the bathroom safer. For those interested in installing a grab bar but have reservations about the aesthetics of installing a grab bar, look at pieces that align with your existing décor. Match the grab bar with your shower head, shower rod, and towel racks to make it fit with the space.

Bedroom

The key to preventing falls in the bedroom is visibility. Bedrooms are cozy, intimate spaces, which means that space can often be limited. Keep all pathways clear and make sure that your nightstands and bedside lamps are well within reach. Stow any cords next to your bed to avoid tripping over them in the night.

Staircases

We’ve all taken a tumble on the stairs at some point or another. To mitigate the risk of falling, keep your stairs organized at all times. It’s easy for clutter to build up at the top or bottom of the stairs or on platforms between floors, but these objects are tripping hazards. Consider installing a handrail if you don’t have one or add a second one if you currently only have a handrail on one side.

For more information on home safety, cleaning tips, and more, visit the living section of our blog.

Windermere Blog – Living

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The Importance of Homeowners Insurance

In addition to providing shelter and comfort, our home is often our single greatest asset, and it’s important that we protect that precious investment. Most homeowners realize the importance of homeowners insurance in safeguarding the value of a home. However, what they may not know is that about two-thirds of all homeowners are under-insured.

 

What a Standard Homeowners Policy Covers

A standard homeowners insurance policy typically covers your home, your belongings, injury or property damage to others, and living expenses if you are unable to live in your home temporarily because of an insured disaster.

The policy likely pays to repair or rebuild your home if it is damaged or destroyed by disasters, such as wildfires, a winter storm, or lightning. Your belongings, such as furniture and clothing, are also insured against these types of disasters, as well as theft.

Some risks, such as flooding or acts of war, are routinely excluded from homeowner policies. Special coverage is needed to protect against these incidents. Your insurance company can let you know if your area is flood or earthquake prone. The cost of coverage depends on your home’s location and corresponding risk.

Other coverage in a standard homeowners policy typically helps cover the legal costs for injury or property damage caused to other people. For example, if someone is injured on your property and decides to sue, the insurance would cover the cost of defending you in court and any damages you may have to pay. Policies also provide medical coverage in the event someone other than your family is injured in your home. If your home is seriously damaged and needs to be rebuilt, a standard policy will usually cover hotel bills, restaurant meals and other living expenses incurred while you are temporarily relocated.

Keep in mind that homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for the owner(s) living in the home. If you plan on renting out your home, you’ll need to purchase landlord insurance in addition to your homeowners policy.

 

How Much Insurance Do You Need?

Homeowners should review their policy each year to make sure they have sufficient coverage for their home. The three questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do I have enough insurance to protect my assets?
  • Do I have enough insurance to rebuild my home?
  • Do I have enough insurance to replace all my possessions?

Here’s some more information that will help you determine how much insurance is enough to meet your needs and ensure that your home is sufficiently protected.

 

Protect Your Assets

Make sure you have enough liability insurance to protect your assets in case of a lawsuit due to injury or property damage. Most homeowners insurance policies provide a minimum of $100,000 worth of liability coverage. With the increasingly higher costs of litigation and monetary compensation, many homeowners now purchase $300,000 or more in liability protection. If that sounds like a lot, consider that even a dog bite claim can easily be tens of thousands of dollars. Talk with your insurance agent about the best coverage for your situation.

 

Rebuild Your Home

You need enough insurance to finance the cost of rebuilding your home at current construction costs, which vary by area. Don’t confuse the amount of coverage you need with the market value of your home. You’re not insuring the land your home is built on, which makes up a significant portion of the overall value of your property.

The average policy is designed to cover the cost of rebuilding your home using today’s standard building materials and techniques. If you have an unusual, historical or custom-built home, you may want to contact a specialty insurer to ensure that you have sufficient coverage to replicate any special architectural elements. Those with older homes should consider additions to the policy that pay the cost of rebuilding their home to meet new building codes. Finally, if you’ve done any recent remodeling, make sure your insurance reflects the increased value of your home.

 

Replacing Your Valuables

If something happens to your home, chances are the items inside will be damaged or destroyed as well. Your coverage depends on the type of policy you have. A cost value policy pays the cost to replace your belongings minus depreciation. A replacement cost policy reimburses you for the cost to replace the items.

There are limits on the losses that can be claimed for expensive items, such as artwork, jewelry, and collectibles. You can get additional coverage for these types of items by purchasing supplemental premiums.

To determine if you have enough insurance, you need to have a good handle on the value of your personal items. Create a detailed home inventory file that keeps track of the items in your home and the cost to replace them.

 

Create a Home Inventory File

It takes time to inventory your possessions, but it’s time well spent. This extra preparation also helps to keep your mind at ease.  The best method for creating a home inventory list is to go through each room individually and record the items of significant value. You can also sweep through each room with a video or digital camera and document each of your belongings. Your home inventory file should include the following:

  • Item description and quantity
  • Manufacturer or brand name
  • Serial number or model number
  • Where the item was purchased
  • Receipt or other proof of purchase / photocopies of any appraisals—along with the name and address of the appraiser
  • Date of purchase (or age)
  • Current value
  • Replacement cost

Pay special attention to highly valuable items such as electronics, artwork, jewelry, and collectibles. Simple inventory lists are available online.

 

Storing Your Home Inventory List

Make sure your inventory list and images are safely stored in case your home is damaged or destroyed. Keep them in a safe deposit box, at the home of a friend or relative, or on an online storage site. Some insurance companies provide online storage for digital files. (Storing them on your home computer does you no good if your computer is stolen or damaged.) Once your inventory file is set up, be sure to update it as you make new purchases.

We invest a lot in our homes, so it’s important we take the necessary measures to safeguard against financial and emotional loss in the wake of a disaster. Homeowners insurance is that safeguard. Be sure you’re properly covered.

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How to Handle Water Damage In Your Home

Even if you’ve done all you can to prevent water damage in your home, there’s still a possibility it could occur. During a water damage emergency, it’s important to have a plan in place and be proactive to make sure things don’t go from bad to worse.

 

How to Handle Water Damage

If your home is in danger of flooding, evacuate the area until it is safe to return. In all other situations, as soon as you notice any water damage, it’s time to act quickly to prevent further damage. Water reaching an electrical source spells danger, so be sure to switch off your circuit breakers to cut the electricity. If your circuit breakers are in the same room as the source of the water damage, it’s best to stay away and call an electrician. Unplug devices from outlets as well to avoid getting shocked. In all situations, wear rubber boots, gloves, and protective gear.

After the electricity has been turned off, the next step is to find the source of the water damage. In the case of a burst pipe or a leaking hot water tank, cut the water supply by switching their shut-off valves. If the water damage has occurred in a small, contained area, you may be able to handle the repair independently. But if the water damage has spread to a large area, it will require a professional.

Moving furniture, household items, and possessions not only helps to protect them, but will also clear the area for when professionals arrive, allowing them to get right to work. If the water continues to flow while the technician is on their way, try to prevent further damage by slowing its spread using buckets, towels, and mops. These items don’t have the salvaging power of a professional’s tools, but anything you can do before they arrive could help to prevent further damage.

 

Water Damage – Insurance

Contacting your insurance company as soon as possible will help to navigate the situation. Find out what steps they may require you to take in the event of a flooding emergency. It’s helpful to get a claims adjuster to your home quickly to assess the situation and provide estimates on the potential cost of making repairs. Water damage can easily feel overwhelming and chaotic, but it’s important to photograph the incident. Take photos of the source of the damage, where it spread, and the damage it caused—both to the home and any personal items of value. Documenting the incident will inform your claim with your insurance company.

Whether the damage is covered by your insurance depends on the source of the problem and how your policy is arranged. If the damage was a result of an underlying condition that worsened over time, your claim may be denied. If this happens, ask for a detailed explanation to understand the gaps in your policy. This emphasizes the importance of regular home maintenance on the systems that control the water in your home. Even if you run into a costly repair, it’s better to be aware of deficiencies and fix them than to wait and be faced with a full-fledged emergency later on. Take time to review your policy as is and understand what you as the homeowner are ultimately responsible for in the event of an emergency.

For more information on how to get ahead of potential home emergencies, read our guides on preparing for wildfires and winter storms.

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