SHARP HOME

Monday, 31 October 2011

Tips for Parents on Halloween

This morning, we talked about what to teach your kids to keep them safe on Halloween. We outlined an easily memorisable acronym,"STAY SAFE," that will help to ensure that your kids understand the risks associated with trick-or-treating. On Saturday, we outlined tips that will help you keep your property safe from hooligans and pranksters.

Now we're going to discuss what extra measures parents can take to keep their kids safe on Halloween.
  • Send them out on a full stomach. One of the most important things to impart to your children is that they need to have you check their loot before they start eating. Any unwrapped or otherwise unsafe-looking food should be discarded. To help deter your kids from being tempted to sample their catch, feed them a fulfilling meal before they leave -- not enough to make them overly full, but enough to make candy a less appealing option. 
  • Take special care with young children. Young children may not able to eat gum, peanuts and hard candy. It's important that when you're vetting your childrens' candy that you remove these items so that there's less risk of him or her choking. 
  • Have them bundle up. Your kids may not understand just how cold it can get on Halloween! October 31st can be quite mild or extremely cold. It's important when sending your kids out that they are prepared for the weather. Baggy costumes work particularly well because you can put a layer underneath without covering up the costume. 
  • Choose brightly coloured costumes, or apply reflective strips. One of the biggest threats on Halloween is traffic. Dressing your children in brightly coloured costumes will help to make them visible to drivers. If their costumes are not very colourful and could be difficult to see at night, place a reflective strip on the front and back of the costume.
  • Clear the front yard and walk. Be sure there is nothing on the front walk or front lawn that could cause a child to trip or fall. If it snows on Halloween, be sure there is no ice on the walk. 
Halloween is a great time for kids, and it's important not to over-stress the safety aspect. Let them know that there are dangers and that certain rules should be followed, but don't make them fear everyone in the neighbourhood! 

How To Keep Your Kids Safe On Halloween

Kids dressed up on Halloween
Photo by D'Arcy Norman
If you're a parent, or even just a concerned citizen, you may find the prospect of children walking around at night in the neighbourhood troubling. Not only are there threats from vehicles and rowdy kids, but the remote threat of abduction is often on your mind. To help keep your kids safe tonight, we've created an easily memorisable acronym that you can teach your kids to help them stay as safe as possible!
  • S - Stay in groups with your friends. If you're old enough to go trick or treating alone, you should always stay close to your friends. Go in groups wherever you go, and keep a buddy system to make sure nobody gets left behind somewhere! 
  • T - Trust only friends and family. Do not go alone with a stranger at any point. When visiting a house to collect candy, if they ask you to go into their house, politely reply that you'd prefer to stay outside. Most people will understand that this is just a safety precaution and is not intended to hurt their feelings! 
  • A - Avoid running from house to house! It's really tough to slow down when there's lots of candy to be had, but with many kids doing the same thing you may become part of a kid-collision! Think of it like driving on a street. Would you go really fast when it was very busy? 
  • Y - Yell if a stranger tries to take you somewhere. It's important to remember that Halloween is, 99% of the time, a safe experience. You shouldn't be too afraid or else you're not going to have a good time. However, you should always be cautious of what's going on around you. If someone you don't know is pressuring you to go somewhere, yell at the top of your lungs "Help, this person is trying to take me!" 

    • S - Stay away from candles and try to wear flame-resistant costumes! If you aren't wearing a flame-resistant outfit, just be sure to keep an eye out for candles. A cape or dress can easily catch on fire if you aren't paying attention! 
    • A - Approach homes that are well-lit. If a home's walk and driveway are poorly lit, it's best just to avoid the house. When people want trick-or-treaters to come by, they usually make sure their house is well lit and that they look welcoming. 
    • F - Focus on the traffic. In the excitement of free candy, it's easy to forget that people will still be driving their cars. Make sure you look both ways when crossing a street, and use crosswalks when they're available. 
    • E - Eat your candy after your mom and dad have looked at it. It's easy to have a few nibbles of your well-earned loot before you head home, but some candy can make you sick. It's important to have your parents look at it first before you eat!

      With these safety tips in mind and memorised by your kids, you can feel more secure that your children will be safe when they go out on Halloween!  

      Saturday, 29 October 2011

      How To Keep Your House Safe on Halloween

      Nothing spoils a great Halloween like a rowdy bunch of pranksters. Armed with an arsenal of eggs, toilet paper, or worse, they can cause a homeowner a serious headache! While most young hooligans are not interested in causing any serious damage, there are sometimes groups of older kids who want to break a window or key a vehicle. 

      There are a few important steps you can take to reduce the chances of your home or car being damaged. While you may have insurance, making a claim is just one more thing to think about when you're already busy enough. Save yourself the trouble by implementing these quick and simple measures. 

      1. Be home on Halloween
      If you can manage it, stay home on Halloween and make it very obvious that you're home. If you're handing out candy to kids, sit near a front window or near the front of the house to keep an eye on your property. Would-be-eggers will often look for the target with the least risk. If they see someone in the front window they may move on to the next house. 

      2. Get a community watch group going
      By taking into account some of these tips you may reduce the chances that your home will be targeted, but what about your neighbours? Join together to have a community watch group walk around the neighbourhood. This is not only important for keeping your kids safe, but also to ensure that vacant homes or those of elderly people are given extra protection. 

      3. Keep the lights on
      Ensure that everyone in the community has their lights on throughout the night. Even when you go to sleep, keep all of the lights except your bedroom light on. This way hooligans will pass your neighbourhood and hopefully decide to eat candy rather than cause trouble! 

      Keeping your yard well-lit is also important. Keep the drive-way lights on and anything that will illuminate your garden and yard. Turn on the backyard lights as well, to be sure no pranksters unload a dozen eggs on your back porch or throw toilet paper in your trees. 

      On Halloween you have enough to worry about, making sure you have enough candy and keeping tabs on your children. Save yourself the trouble of having to clean up a gooey egg mess in the morning by taking to heart these simple steps! 

      Wednesday, 26 October 2011

      Distracted Driving and You

      Distracted driving has become a hot topic in Canada. Thanks to the tireless work of advocates and journalists, it has become public knowledge that distracted driving ranks as one of the most pressing public safety issues in the country along with impaired driving.

      According to the United States Department of Transportation, in 2009 some 20% of injury crashes involved distracted driving. That amounts to more than 5,000 people killed and 450,000 injured in crashes that were the result of distracted driving.

      To help combat distracted driving, the Alberta government has passed legislation that institutes fines for those who do not focus on the road. Those who are caught doing their hair or talking on their cell phones while driving could be fined upwards of $172. To help you avoid these fines, we've put together a list of the major distracted driving offenses to help you know what you should avoid while driving.
      • Talking and texting. One of the most dangerous things you can do on the road is to talk or text and drive. Your attention is diverted away from the road and your reaction time slows. If something happens on the road ahead of you, you may not be able to react in time. Putting your cell phone in the trunk is one trick that may stop you from talking or texting while driving. 
      • Grooming. Believe it or not, there are some people who do serious makeup and hair work while driving. Checking your hair to make sure it looks okay is one thing, but to apply makeup is an incredibly dangerous action. Budget your time more effectively and do your grooming before leaving the house! (Or, at the very least, do your hair while parked in your driveway.) 
      • Fiddling with knobs. While it is important to have the right music going when you drive, it's not a good idea to be fiddling with your stereo while you drive. Set a playlist before heading out the door and leave it going while you drive. Putting your head down for one moment to change songs may not seem like much, but if the driver ahead of you were to stop abruptly you may be in trouble. 
      • Eating and drinking. In the morning it is often difficult to budget time effectively. With so many things to do, you sometimes find yourself grabbing a few things from the kitchen and eating in the car while you drive to work. You should try to avoid this. Unless the food and drink are easy to consume, you may find yourself in a collision because you weren't paying attention! 
      While the list certainly goes on, these are a few of the major bad habits that could land you an expensive distracted driving ticket. Remember that you are not alone on the road; you share the space with other people and it is incumbent upon you to treat that fact with respect. When you and your family are on the road, you would hope and expect that other drivers would be driving as safely as possible. Be an example to others -- not least your children -- and focus on the road while driving. 

      Tuesday, 25 October 2011

      How To Prevent Car Theft

      For many of us, our cars are not only our transportation, they're an expression of our personality. Some of us even name them! This author, for one, often grows quite attached to cars that he owns. For this reason, and to avoid obvious insurance claim headaches, it's probably a good idea to take precautions so that your car isn't stolen!

      At the Insurance Experts, we've compiled a list of some of some habits and measures to help ensure your beloved car doesn't become scrap metal in a thieve's junkyard!
      • Don't leave your keys in the car. This tip falls under the category of "obvious", but you would be surprised how many people leave their keys in the car when making quick trips to the store. If they're just picking up a loaf of bread or eggs, they may just park near the door, leave the car running, and run inside. While this may be doable 90% of the time, there's always the off chance that an opportunist will jump in and speed off. 
      • Pick good parking spots. For many professional car thieves, almost any alarm system can be broken if given enough time. By picking illuminated, busy parking areas, you can avoid this problem by making your car the least attractive. Most car thieves will go for the easiest prey and if your car is in too public or well-lit a place, they may just decide to seek another vehicle. 
      • Install a tracking system. A tracking system will allow the police to track your vehicle with excellent accuracy. If well-hidden, a thief will have no idea he's about to be busted!
      • Invest in a kill switch. A kill switch engaged when leaving your vehicle turns off power to the ignition, making a car hard to start even when hotwired. The switch is usually hidden completely, so it's nearly impossible for a car thief to locate it. 
      • Record your VIN. If your vehicle is stolen, you will need your VIN number to report it stolen to the police. It's usually located on the dashboard near the front windshield. 
      • Invest in an alarm system. As mentioned earlier, alarm systems are often simply deterrents. Many alarm systems can be cracked by professional car thieves, but if they know it will take longer to get into your car they may try to rob someone else! 
      Taking into consideration these tips will give you peace of mind knowing that your car is less likely to be stolen. There's always the chance that your car could be at the wrong place at the wrong time, but the more active you are in protecting it the less likely it will happen! 

      Sunday, 23 October 2011

      How To Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in Your Home

      It's odourless, tasteless, and deadly. Carbon monoxide kills 200 Canadians a year and hospitalizes another 1500. Often referred to as the "silent killer," carbon monoxide is created in the incomplete combustion of natural gas, wood, propane and charcoal. Be sure you understand how to protect your family from this silent threat.
      • Invest in a detector. Have carbon monoxide detectors installed near sleeping areas as per the manufacturer instructions. This is essential for every home. 
      • Have regular inspections. Be sure to have your furnace and fireplace checked regularly and serviced by a professional. Poor ventilation can cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home. 
      • Keep the BBQ outdoors. If it's cold or raining outside, it may seem like a good idea to set up the BBQ in the garage. Unfortunately, in an enclosed space the fumes can begin to cause serious physical damage. Even worse, fumes can seep into your home, threatening your family's health. 
      • Don't start the car indoors. In the winter, you may be tempted to start the car in the garage before leaving. You must avoid doing so, as carbon monoxide fumes can seep into your home. 
      At low concentrations, those exposed to carbon monoxide will feel short of breath and begin to have a headache. In higher concentrations, victims' headaches will become worse, and their vision and hearing will become impaired. With too much exposure, victims will become unconscious and eventually die. If someone in your family begins to exert these symptoms, be sure to move them to fresh air and call for emergency assistance. 

      If your carbon monoxide detector goes off, open up the windows and call the fire department. Turn off the fireplace, it it's on, and move your family outdoors.

      With these safety tips in mind, you can rest assured that your family will be safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. 

      Saturday, 22 October 2011

      How can I prevent basement flooding?

      While most of Canada's "rainy season" has passed, it's always a good time to take measures to prevent flooding in your home. In fact, without the threat of future floods as we move into winter, now is a better time than ever to prepare for spring.

      There are two main sources of basement flooding. We will address both and provide some solutions to each.



      1. Source: Basement walls and windows
      • Clean out your gutters. If there are cracks in your basement walls, you will want to divert as much water as possible away from the house. Clogged gutters can result in overflow along the side of your house, and in intense downpours can cause basement flooding. 
      • Divert downspouts. Make sure your downspouts are dumping water at least 1.8 metres away from your home. If they are positioned any closer, you may see more water leak into your home. 
      2. Source: Pressure from water-logged soil below, and sewage backup
      • Invest in a backflow valve. A backflow valve stops an overflowing sewage system from backing up into your home. It works by allowing sewage to flow out of your home but stopping sewage from the main line from coming back in. 
      • Invest in a sump pump. If all else fails, a sump pump can pump water from your basement back into the sewer system. It may be a costly initial investment, but you can expect to save some money on your insurance premiums and you can be assured your home won't be inundated with sewage. 
      For more information on preparing your home for floods, talk to your insurance broker. They can give you advice on the best option for your situation. Furthermore, they can inform you of whether you can expect a reduction in your premiums for investing in flood-protection equipment. 

      Prevent Injuries at Your Business

      As a business owner, you want your customers to have a positive experience when they visit you. If someone were to injure themself on your premises, you would not only feel dreadful about it, but you may in fact be found legally responsible for their injuries! With liability insurance you will be covered for such an event, but taking proper steps to secure your business will help prevent an accident in the first place.
      • Clear the walk. Have a schedule in place to remove snow before customers arrive at your business. Make sure that if it snows throughout the business day you have someone cleaning the snow before it piles up. This will prevent a customer slipping and falling. 
      • Clearly mark slippery areas. Be sure that your employees clearly mark areas that have recently been mopped and may be slippery. Purchase a few "Caution -- Wet Floor" signs and have them at the ready. If you operate in a bilingual area, have them in both French and English to ensure that all your customers know the risk. 
      • Keep your parking lot in good condition. Fix pot holes in your parking lot -- you may be responsible for damage to someone's vehicle! 
      • Tuck away extension cords. If you're using an extension cord, be sure that it's tucked away and away from customer traffic. 
      • Handrail-up. Install handrails on staircases to prevent serious falls. 
      • Trim trees. If you have any overhanging trees, trim them regularly to prevent them from falling on a customer. 
      • Stabilize your merch. Be sure your products are secure on their shelves, and consider putting heavier items on lower shelves. 
      • Lock up dangerous areas. Keep areas of your business that may be dangerous to customers locked up. Children are curious and may wander away from their parents. 
      Taking into consideration these safety measures will make your business a safe place for customers to visit. Having liability insurance is certainly a must, since unpreventable accidents can occur, but by practicing good safety habits you can avoid making a claim in most cases. 

      Wednesday, 19 October 2011

      The Importance of Knowing Your Home's Value

      As a homeowner, it is essential that you know the proper value of your home. In the unlikely event that your home is destroyed in a flood or a fire, your insurance company will indemnify you for the replacement cost of your home and its contents. As you make additions to your property or purchase expensive items, your home's value will fluctuate. If you do not inform your insurance company of additions to your home, you may not be indemnified fully! To help you understand your responsibilities as a homeowner, we've compiled a list of helpful tips to assist you in valuing your home.
      • Keep an inventory. As a homeowner, you should keep a detailed inventory of your possessions, especially expensive ones. Electronics, jewelry, and furniture can cost you thousands of dollars -- if you do not record these items in an inventory, your insurance company may not be able to cover the loss. It's important to supplement your inventory with video or photographic evidence. Grab a video camera, or even a good quality cell phone camera, and go through your home room-by-room. Focus on expensive items and their serial numbers, should there be any. In this way, your insurance company can cross-reference the items with receipts you provide. 
      • Be knowledgable about your home. When you buy a home, get all the important details about it such as when it was built, the kind of foundation it has, the heating system, and what renovations/improvements have been made. These all add to the value of the home, and are important for an insurance company to know. 
      • Report renovations. Let your insurance company know of any major renovations that will improve the value of your home. For instance, if you finish the basement or renovate the kitchen, you've added serious value to your home. If you don't report these improvements to your insurance company, you may not be able to claim the added value. 
      • Consider getting a pro. You may want to consider having a professional appraiser look at your home and possessions. Precious heirlooms may be worth a lot, but without verification by a professional appraiser, you will likely not be indemnified the true amount. 
      By taking into consideration these principles, you will save yourself considerable time and energy in the unlikely event that disaster strikes. 

      School Bus Safety

      Have you ever driven up behind a school bus and been a little confused about how to safety proceed? With 265,000 Alberta students riding school buses each day, it's essential that people understand the safest way to approach a school bus.
      • When approaching a school bus for the first time, do so with caution. Kids who are late for the bus could run in front of your vehicle. Alternately, kids who just got off the bus could be in a hurry to get home and may not be looking at traffic. 
      • Flashing lights: If a school bus has activated its flashing lights you must stop, regardless of whether you are approaching an oncoming bus or following one. The only exception is if you are approaching or following a school bus that is on a two-way divided highway with a median. You are able to proceed only when the bus' red lights stop flashing. Be sure to drive cautiously, as children who have just left the bus may try to cross the street without warning. 
      • No flashing lights: If the bus is not flashing its lights, proceed slowly and cautiously as children can quickly dart into traffic without warning. 
      Keeping these rules in mind will help to ensure that Alberta's schoolchildren are safe. You will also avoid the understandably expensive ticket you will receive for ignoring the school bus' flashing lights: a fine of $402 and six demerit points. A ticket of this kind will also likely affect your insurance, so remember these rules and put them into practice! 

      Tuesday, 18 October 2011

      When should I contact my insurance company?

      Many people believe that the only time you contact your insurance company is when you sign a policy and when you make a claim. The truth is that there are a number of instances when it is essential to talk to you insurance agent. Certain changes to your home, vehicle or business could mean changes to your level of risk, and so it is incumbent upon you to act in good faith and notify your insurance company.

      When you move
      Moving means obvious changes for your home insurance, but it could also affect your car insurance premiums as well. Different regions of the country, or even neighbourhoods in a city, come with different risks. Moving from a plush suburban neighbourhood to one in the downtown core could mean that your vehicle is at a greater risk of theft. Typically speaking, you will pay more for insurance the closer you are to the downtown core of a city.

      When you change your driving habits
      Your insurance rates are calculated based on the amount of driving you do. If you commute frequently over long distances, you will face a greater risk of collision than if you use the car to pick up groceries twice a week from a nearby market. Statistically, the more you drive, the more likely it is that you will be in a collision. Therefore, since a change in your driving habits will have a bearing on the amount of risk you expose yourself to, it is essential that you tell your insurance company.

      When you change the level of security for your home, business or vehicle
      If you have had any modifications done to your home, business, or vehicle that reduce or increase the level of security from theft, it is important that you talk to your insurance company. Since these modifications have an affect on how exposed you are to a certain risk, they will also affect your insurance premiums. In keeping with the policy of Utmost Good Faith, you are required to inform your insurance company of such changes.

      While this is not an extensive list of the situations in which you should talk to your insurance company, but they outline some of the more prominent ones. Generally, you can use your common sense: will a certain change affect the amount of risk that I am experiencing? If the answer is yes, it's best to talk to your agent or broker. 

      Do you know how to check your driving record?

      Your driving record is one of the most important factors insurance companies take into consideration when determining your insurance premiums. Knowing how to access and understand your driving record is therefore of incredible importance, especially if there are any mistakes! You could be paying more than your fair share in premiums if there has been an administrative error.

      How to access your driving record
      In Alberta, there are three ways you can obtain your driving record, also know as a driver's abstract.
      • You can access your abstract by visiting a Service Alberta location in person with photo identification and a properly filled out request form. 
      • If you're out of province, you can request a driver's abstract by filling out this form, collecting the appropriate identification documents and having it signed by a Notary Public. 
      • Finally, you can have someone pick up your driver's abstract on your behalf. Fill out this form and send it to the registry office or the individual who will pick up the abstract for you. 
      For further details on the process of obtaining your driver's abstract in Alberta, go to the Ministry of Transportation website. If you do not reside in Alberta, check the website of the Ministry of Transportation in your province. 

      What if you find a mistake? 
      If you find a mistake in your driving record, immediately contact the Ministry of Transportation in your province. They can guide you through the process of correcting your abstract.

      Sunday, 16 October 2011

      How to Prevent Theft at Your Business

      Even if you have commercial insurance to cover loss from theft, the process of making a claim can often be time consuming and tedious. You may also see an increase in your premiums if you frequently make claims. A few relatively simple measures can help to prevent theft at your place of business, making your life easier and keeping your insurance premiums low.

      Lighting
      Burglars prefer the cover of darkness to commit crimes. The more visible their actions will be, the less likely they are to commit them. If your business is in a quiet part of town and most of your premises are obscured in darkness, you are much more likely to be robbed. Invest in outdoor lighting and keep your indoor lights on. To avoid added electricity costs, install motion sensors so that the lights will turn on only when necessary.

      Outdoor barriers
      While fences and other barriers can be climbed by experienced burglars, the more obstacles you put in the way of your place of business the less likely burglars will be interested. Unless the gains to be made outweigh the extra effort, robbers will take the path of least resistance. If there are two businesses next to each other, with the same expected gains, they will rob the one that is easiest to access. Having a fence could make the difference.

      Doors and windows
      All exterior doors should have a deadbolt that extends at least 2.5cm into the jam. Exterior doors should be made of wood, in a solid-core or rail-and-stile construction, or metal. Windows should have a locking mechanism that is not easily pried open from the outside. Consult a security expert to determine exactly what your business needs.

      Alarm system
      If you have insurance, it is in your financial interest to invest in an advanced alarm system. You will see a reduction in your premiums that will pay off the system in a number of years and save you money in the long-run. Talk to a security expert about the types of systems available within your budget. Also, consult your insurance company to see what kinds of alarm systems will save you money on your premiums.

      Checks and balances
      The greatest threat to your business could come from inside. Employee theft is often a much greater problem than burglars. Make sure that you have checks and balances in place to reduce the opportunities for theft. Keep track of which employees have access to cash and regularly have managers provide oversight.

      Insurance
      Last, but certainly not least, a robust commercial insurance policy is essential when it comes to protecting your business. You may not feel that your business is threatened, but in an unpredictable world it's heartening to know that you're covered.

      While these basic tips will certainly help to prevent loss from theft, you may wish to consult a professional security expert. They can give you detailed advice on specific measures you can take to prevent theft at your business. 

      Saturday, 15 October 2011

      What To Do In a Power Outage

      In an age where most of what we do requires electricity, power outages can be a serious hassle. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by knowing how to prepare for a power outage and how to react when the power goes. In Canada, power outages often occur during times of peak power usage. These often coincide with the coldest times of the year, so it is especially important to be on your guard.

      Before a Power Outage
      • Prepare a power outage kit ahead of time, and store it in an easy to reach place; you may need to find it in the dark. In your kit, include: 
        • Plenty of bottled water (enough for each person in your house for a few days)
        • Packaged easy-to-eat food 
        • Cash 
        • Flashlights with batteries, or crank-powered flashlight
        • Radio with batteries, or a crank-powered radio
      • Keep a package of ice stored in the freezer. You can use it to keep perishable foods cold. 
      • Keep a thermometer in the fridge -- when the power returns, if the temperature is below 4.4 degrees Celsius, your food is safe.  
      During a Power Outage
      • Avoid using candles to illuminate your surroundings. Health Canada considers them particular dangerous and estimates that 800 serious fires are started each year in Canada by candles. 
      • Turn off or disconnect any appliances that were on before the power went out. This could include computers, air conditioner units, refrigerators, and ovens. When the power returns, it may come back in "surges" that can destroy valuable equipment. 
      • Turn off all the lights in the house except one, so that you know when the power returns. 
      • Try not to open your fridge and freezer during an outage, as it can speed up the process of spoiling food inside. 
      • Listen to the radio for updates. 

      Friday, 14 October 2011

      What's in your winter weather car kit?

      Being stuck during a snowstorm can be a nightmare.
      Photo by: Walter Baxter
      Nobody expects to have car problems in a severe snowstorm, yet in Canada it's possible to find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to fend for yourself until help arrives. A winter weather car kit with necessary supplies can mean the difference between getting hypothermia or frostbite and being rescued within minutes. We've compiled a list of the essentials to include in your kit.

      • Cell phone with charged battery. Pick up an inexpensive prepaid cell phone and keep it in your glove compartment in the event that you don't have a phone, or the phone you are carrying runs out of batteries. Have emergency numbers programmed into the phone. 
      • Warm extra clothes and boots. Have enough extra clothing for you and your family. Take old clothes that you would normally throw out or donate, and put them in your kit. You will also benefit from an emergency blanket, which packs light and can keep you warm in sub-zero temperatures. 
      • GPS and/or maps. A GPS system is the idea way to locate yourself and find an exit route, if your vehicle works. It will also help you direct emergency vehicles to your location. Given that technology is prone to failing, a simple road map is a good contingency. 
      • Shovel and sand/salt. If your vehicle is stuck on ice, some digging and a bit of sand/salt may be just what you need to get out. 
      • Traction mats. Traction mats are key in any winter weather car kit. Slip them in front of your tires and you may find yourself magically unstuck. 
      • First-aid kit. In the event that you or someone else is hurt, a first-aid kit is essential. 
      • Munchies. To increase your body temperature and give you energy to last the hours it may take to be rescued, be sure to include a large supply of non-perishable food in the car. A jumbo package of trail-mix can go a long way, as will granola bars, juice packs and bottled water. 
      • Self-starting booster kit. A set of booster cables will be helpful in winter, but what happens if you can't find another vehicle to help you out. A number of companies sell self-starter kits, which you pre-charge before putting in your car, and then are able to charge your car's battery to the point where it can start up again. 
      • Flares. Having a set of flares in your vehicle may seem like a bit much, but you never know where your car will seize up. If you find yourself in a remote area, it could be days before someone crosses your path. Avoid taking a chance by having a set of road flares in your winter weather car kit. 
      • Flashlights with batteries. If you find yourself stuck at night and have to dig yourself out of a patch of snow, you will want a flashlight in the car. Be sure you have a set of charged batteries to ensure you don't lose light when you need it. 
      • Ice scraper. Even if you manage to dig yourself out after being stuck, you will still need to drive your car! Without a scraper to keep your windows clean, you won't get far. 
      Taking into consideration these tips and investing in a winter weather kit, you can rest assured that you won't be caught unprepared. 

      Thursday, 13 October 2011

      The Benefits of Using an Insurance Broker

      When buying insurance, you can choose to purchase a policy through an insurance agent representing an insurance company, or you can use an insurance broker. An insurance agent is able to sell you policies through the company he or she represents, while an insurance broker can sell you a policy from any company, but will make a commission from the sale. The question inevitably arises: through whom should you buy insurance? In today's Insurance Experts post, I will show how an insurance broker is the best way to get the coverage you need for the best possible price. 

      Brokers are experienced and knowledgable.

      On the surface, it may seem like a wise decision to go directly to an insurance agent and cut out the middle man. Why pay someone a commission if you can get the same policy directly through the insurance provider? The answer is that an insurance broker is able to go through all the policies on the market and select an affordable policy with the amount of coverage you require. For an an average individual, without the resources and knowledge of an insurance broker, you could spend weeks or months tracking down the best policy! 

      Brokers work for you. 

      Quite possibly the most important difference between an insurance agent and an insurance broker, is that a broker is working for you, not the insurance company. Their responsibility is to find the policy that best suits your needs. They have no preference between companies and choose based on your needs, not because they have an allegiance to one particular company. An insurance agent is interested in selling you the company's product. Naturally, they are also concerned with providing you with the coverage you need, but they are much less inclined to steer you away from one of their policies because a cheaper one exists elsewhere. 

      Brokers must disclose. 

      Brokers are required to disclose how much commission they charge. This means that you are able to see just how much your premiums are being increased by the commission rates. If you don't believe they are fair, you can always find another broker. 

      Insurance brokers are experience and looking out for you. Without an insurance broker, you would not have the resources or time to sift through the thousands of plans out there! An insurance broker can take into consideration your particular set of needs and find the policy that works right for you. This kind of service simply cannot be provided by one company. Not only that, your broker will tell you how much your policy costs and what his or her fees were. 

      Wednesday, 12 October 2011

      How to Prepare Your Home For Winter: A Checklist

      Photo by: Mdf 
      As we get deeper into fall, and closer to winter, it's important to talk about how to prepare your home for winter. Some measures are not only important, but essential to ensuring your home stays in top shape till spring.

      Check your furnace
      • The first thing you should do is have your furnace inspected by an HVAC professional. They can make sure your furnace is in top condition and clean out the ducts as well. You don't want to hit minus-40 degree temperatures only to find out that your furnace isn't able to keep up! 
      • Purchase a supply of furnace filters as well, and be sure to change them monthly. 
      Clean out the hoses
      • Drain your garden hoses of water and put the hose into the garage to prevent cracking. 
      • If you have outside air conditioning pipes, be sure to drain them as well. 
      Install and maintain detectors
      • If you don't already have smoke detectors on every level of your home, install them! To be extra safe, install multiple smoke detectors on each level and near sleeping areas. 
      • Install a carbon monoxide detector near the furnace if there is not one there already. In addition, have carbon monoxide detectors on all levels of the house. Install them at least 5 feet above the floor and near bedrooms. 
      • Replace old batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. 
      Keep your hearth happy
      • A dirty chimney can cause carbon monoxide to seep into your home. Avoid this by hiring a chimney sweep to remove excess soot and other gunk that could inhibit airflow. 
      • Make sure you have a screen or cap at the top of your chimney as well, to keep out animals. 
      Inspect the roof
      • Look out for damaged shingles and flashing that can cause leakages into your attic. Replace as needed. 
      • Use a hose to clear your gutters and downspouts of leaves and other debris. 
      • Be sure that your downspouts direct water at least 2 metres away from your home. This will limit the potential for flooding in the spring. 
      Protect your plants
      • If you have any sensitive plants, be sure to move them indoors or the garage. 
      • Trim tree branches that hang precariously close to the house. 

      Saturday, 8 October 2011

      Fall Road Safety Tips Part 2


      Frost on the road can cause serious collisions if not taken
      seriously. Photo by: Oliver Dixon
      In Part 1 of the Fall Road Safety Tips series, we looked at how to prepare your vehicle for fall driving. In Part 2, the final segment, we will be looking at special precautions you should take while behind the wheel during the fall season.

      Watch out for leaves
      One of the most beautiful aspects of fall is the brightly coloured leaves that appear on deciduous trees for a short time, and then fall to the ground. While mostly harmless, they can cause problems when clumped together on the road. Dead leaves can hold a great deal of water, and can cause the same problems as large puddles. Be sure to drive slowly over large patches of leaves and brake slowly.

      Back to school
      The fall season tends to correspond with the beginning of school for elementary, high school, and university students. After a long summer, you may have forgotten the proper precautions to take when a bus stops ahead of you. Remember, if the stop sign on the side of the bus is out, you must stop for the bus when approaching from either direction on a non-divided road. If you're on a divided road, you do not have to wait, although it's probably a good idea to be cautious anyway.

      Frosty bridges
      As the temperature drops, so too does the risk that bridges will become icy. Have you have ever wondered why there is a sign on the road before a bridge that says "Bridge Ices"? It's because bridges have wind taking away heat from both above and below, whereas regular sections of road only lose heat from wind above the surface. 

      Glare on the road
      As winter approaches, days become shorter and you're often faced with driving direction into the son on your commute to work. Be sure to keep a pair of sunglasses in the car and, if you're using the car's visor, always angle it away from your face. A visor pointed directly at your face can cause some serious damage in a motor collision. 

      Friday, 7 October 2011

      Fall Road Safety Tips Part 1

      Although most people don't think about it, fall presents its
      own unique set of safety issues. 
      As we enter fall, it's important to remember that the season presents its own safety issues. Most drivers, this writer included, tend to forget that winter is not the only season that requires extra vigilance on the road. This season of colourful trees and beautiful sunsets has unique risks that must be kept in mind.

      Check your tires
      As the temperature drops, remember to check your tires on a regular basis. If you recall from high school science class, temperature and pressure are directly related. Simply put, the lower the outdoor temperature, the lower your tire pressure. Because temperatures begin to seriously drop in fall, it's important to check your tire pressure whenever you have a chance. Not only will this make you safer on the road, it will make your vehicle more fuel efficient, saving you money at the pump.

      The rule of thumb for tire pressure is that for every 5 degree Celsius change in weather, there is a 1 psi (pounds per square inch) drop in tire pressure. A drop of 6 psi below the recommended pressure could lead to tire failure, so it's important to check your tires when there is a dramatic drop in temperature.

      Be sure to have the right anti-freeze
      As the weather gets chillier, low-temperature anti-freeze becomes essential to safe driving. There's nothing worse than having your windshield solution freeze up on you while you're driving. Make sure you have anti-freeze rated for winter, in case the weather drops dramatically.

      Inspect your windshield wipers
      Not only is it important to have the right anti-freeze, the right wipers are also essential. Cold weather in the fall can make windshield wipers brittle and ineffective, and so it's important to have wipers that are rated for winter weather.

      Avoid all-season tires
      All-season tires are effective for most of the fall season, when the weather is mild. However, once the temperature drops below 7 degrees Celsius, it's important to exchange your all-season tires for winter tires. Winter tires are better able to cope with colder weather, and handle snow and slush much better due to their unique tread pattern. 

      Thursday, 6 October 2011

      How can I save money on my car insurance?

      Most people believe that car insurance has to be expensive. There's a pervasive notion that no matter what you do, you will be paying an arm and a leg for vehicle coverage. This cannot be stressed enough: there are simple ways to drastically reduce your insurance premiums. Here at the Insurance Experts blog, we've compiled a list of the best ways to cut down on your car insurance costs. 

      Drive Safely
      Your insurance rates are determined primarily by your driving record. A clean driving record, with absolutely no accidents or traffic violations, translates into the cheapest possible premium. Every ticket and accident you accumulate contributes to an increase in your car insurance premiums. For this reason, it is essential that you stay vigilant and remain as safe as you possibly can on the road. 

      Choose Your Wheels Wisely
      The type of car you drive has a profound influence on your insurance premiums. The more expensive it is for a particular vehicle to be replaced or fixed, the higher your premiums will be. Additionally, the more likely it is that your vehicle will be stolen, the higher your Comprehensive rates (those rates that deal with theft and other perils) will be. In short, buy wisely. Before you start looking for a vehicle on Craigslist, be sure you call your insurance company to find out how much that particular vehicle costs to insure. 

      Get Trained
      By far the simplest way of saving money on your car insurance is to take an accredited driving course. These courses teach you the basics, and a good deal of advanced driving as well. By taking the course, you're learning essential driving skills and habits, and often more importantly, getting rid of any nasty habits you were taught by well-meaning family and friends. 

      Taking these simple tips into mind, you can save considerable amounts of money on your insurance. Maintaing a safe driving record, choosing a vehicle wisely, and getting formal training will all contribute to a significant savings on your premiums. 

      Monday, 3 October 2011

      How can I save money on my home insurance?

      For most people, a home is the most substantial investment they'll make in their lives. Insuring a home can be costly, but there are quick and easy ways to save money on your premiums while still ensuring you have the coverage you deserve.

      Combine and save
      Most companies offer a discount for customers who buy more than one insurance policy. Choosing one insurance provider for your vehicle and home insurance could save you money on your premiums. If your insurance policies are spread out over a number of companies, be sure to call each to determine how much you could save by having all your insurance needs covered by one company.

      Shop around
      It's always a good idea to shop around. Home insurance premiums fluctuate drastically between companies and it's essential that you get quotes and policy descriptions from as many companies as possible. It's important to note that a cheap insurance plan does not necessarily mean a good insurance plan. If you get a great quote, make sure to ask a lot of questions about the kind of coverage you would receive.

      Trim the fat
      Most people don't take the time to read and understand their insurance policies. A lot of people pay too much simply because they are paying for services they don't require. For instance, your policy may include flood insurance; if you live in a region of the country that never experiences floods, it may not be worth the money. Of course, you should always be sure of this, because some regions rarely experience floods, but when they do they can be disastrous. You don't want to be left without coverage if disaster hits.

      Increase your deductible
      The simplest way to reduce your home insurance premium is to increase your deductible. Your deductible is the amount of money you pay to have your loss indemnified. The higher your deductible, the lower your insurance rates will be. The lower your deductible, the higher your monthly rates will be. Keep in mind, however, that if you are at a high risk for a particular loss, you may want to avoid increasing your deductible, since you will have to pay it if you want a loss covered.

      Protect your family
      A security system can considerably affect your premiums. If an insurance company sees that you've taken steps to significantly reduce the risk of home invasion and theft, you will almost certainly see a reduction in your home insurance premiums. In fact, over a number of years the reduction in premiums will actually pay for the system! Not only that, but you can rest easy knowing your loved ones are safe and your valuables are protected.