Sunday, 27 May 2012

Party On! A Host’s Guide to Celebrating Safely during the Summer Months (Part 2 of 2)

Last day, we paid tribute to the summer season as both a time for fun and relaxation and a reminder of the importance of remaining ever-vigilant no matter how fun or relaxing the occasion. Wonderful though it can often be, the summertime comes saddled with its own host of risks and dangers. Thus, while it is important not to let a constant fear of these risks ruin even the safest of good times, it is nevertheless wise to be as mindful of safety as possible when soaking up the warm weather with friends and family during the coming months. As we move into Part 2 of this update on safe and claim-free (remember – insurance doesn’t go on holiday during the summer any more than accidents do!) fun during the summer season, we’ll explore a few more of the safety essentials that will best equip you to have fun at minimal risk to you, your family and your houseguests when you throw that first great party of the summer. Enjoy!

1. Candles and electric lights should be monitored closely. Planning to light up a patio or garden path with string lights, candles or some other light source? Elegant though candles or their alternatives can be, they can also quickly become a fire hazard – particularly when not monitored carefully. Beyond checking them regularly, any candles or electric lights on display should be placed out of reach of children, flammable curtains or upholstery, and loose-fitting clothing that might be worn by houseguests. Candles should also be placed in holders which catch their wax before it drips onto floors or walkways, where it could then become a slipping hazard.

2. Know when your guests have had enough. Alcoholic drinks are often regarded as being a staple of patio season, but it should nevertheless be understood that overconsumption can cause as many problems in this setting as it can in any other. Having a few too many puts both you and your guests at a greater risk of suffering accidents and injuries, which, in a setting such as a backyard patio party, could easily put non-drinking or more responsible guests in harm’s way as well. While it likely wouldn’t be effective to micromanage partygoers’ drinking habits at events like these, it’s still important not to be shy about pointing out when you think somebody has had enough; doing so might well steer the party clear of harm’s way, saving you a colossal headache in the process.

3. Drinking and driving simply do not mix. As history has repeatedly taught us, driving and consumption of alcohol are a deadly combination indeed. As though this were not problematic enough, as the host of a party at which people drink and drive you yourself might be held responsible were the unthinkable to happen. In light of these concerns, it is often best to implement a strict designated driver (“DD”) policy at get-togethers to make sure that only those who are completely sober do any driving at the end of the night. It might also be wise to have the number for a local cab service on hand to assist with any last-minute ride arrangements; providing space for people to spend the night if they absolutely need to should also be considered as an option, though this likely won’t be necessary if cabs and DDs are close at hand.  

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Party On! A Host’s Guide to Celebrating Safely during the Summer Months (Part 1 of 2)

As we shift gradually from the crisp chill of spring into the balmier summer months, many of us are sure to ring in the new season by doing what we do best: getting together with our closest acquaintances to eat, drink, relax and, perhaps most importantly of all, have fun. While the favourable conditions of summer may be perfect for enjoying the company of friends and family, however, they should also serve as a reminder of how important it is to be vigilant when attending to the safety of guests or other party attendees. Pleasant though the summer may be, it can also pose significant risks given the tendency of most people to swim in pools, lakes or at beaches, participate in more strenuous physical activities and, of course, consume alcohol. Thus, it goes without saying that safety should be made a priority for anyone seeking a truly enjoyable – not to mention claim-free – summer season. By following these quick and simple tips, you, too, can usher in the summer with safety and style.

1. Swim responsibly. There seem to be few places people would rather be during the summer than at the beach or in the pool, and during the hottest weeks of the season this sentiment becomes a very relatable one indeed. As enjoyable as swimming to escape the summer heat can be, however, it is essential that any parties hosted at homes with swimming pools be monitored closely to make sure that no one engages in risky behaviour around the pool or goes swimming unattended. Guests who have been drinking should also be advised to stay away from the pool, as many summer accidents which take place in or around water have historically been known to involve alcohol in at least some capacity.

2. Remove tripping and slipping hazards from the party area as much as possible. As most experienced parents would agree, accidents and injuries can happen in an instant, and summer get-togethers pose no exception to this rule. In an effort to make your home, deck or yard as hazard-free as possible, try to remove or relocate any extension cords, hoses or knee-high obstacles which might not catch the eye of a distracted houseguest. If pools, sprinklers or drink stations are present at the event as well, try to ensure that no puddles of water or other liquids are left unattended, as someone could easily slip if not paying proper attention.

3. Leave the cooking to the experts. Barbeques, fire pits, stovetops and other potential fire hazards should be noted ahead of time and attended to only by those who know how to use them and will do so responsibly. Children in attendance should be kept a safe distance from any cooking appliances that could prove unsafe, as should any flammable materials that might easily catch fire. In the interest of being “better safe than sorry,” a fire extinguisher should also be kept nearby in the unlikely event that something does catch fire.


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Keeping your Car Insurance Premiums Low, the Old-Fashioned Way

As most people know, car insurance rates are calculated according to a whole host of factors which tend to vary from person to person depending on their circumstances. Everything from age to gender to the type and condition of the car that a given person wishes to insure requires close scrutiny, all in the interest of doing what insurance companies naturally do best: assess clients, determine risk and structure rates accordingly. As one might expect, however, factors which could be associated with “risk” are rarely limited to those mentioned above; on the contrary, a good deal of an insurance provider’s decision when determining a client’s premiums must invariably draw from the client’s driving record and perceived skill. Thus, drivers with few or no accidents on their records tend to pay lower premiums, while perceived “high-risk” clients see this risk reflected in their payments.

Given these realities of life in an insured world, how might we minimize the perception of risk in our driving records? The answers, though numerous, might be simpler than you think.

1. Distracted driving is risky driving. While many people have no doubt started to tire of hearing about the risks associated with driving while texting, talking on the phone or doing something else which takes focus off of the road, the concern of lawmakers and public safety groups in recent years is well-founded. By taking your attention off the road, even for a moment, you substantially increase your likelihood of having an accident – a misstep which could lead to marked increases in your insurance premiums in years to come. Of course, even this perspective fails to take into account the real potential cost of distracted driving; by taking attention away from the road, you run a serious risk of putting yourself and others in grave danger. When it comes to weighing the pros against the cons, it’s hard to disagree: distracted driving should be avoided at all costs.

2. Make sure that your car is taken for regular tune-ups. Distractions and negligence aren’t the only causes of accidents on the roads; vehicular disrepair and malfunction can also lead to mishaps, but having your car checked over regularly should eliminate this as a cause of concern.

3. Take your time and plan ahead. While we’ve all done it and will likely do it again, there really is no excuse for driving recklessly due to lateness or stress. By planning your schedule and driving routes ahead of time, you should be able to develop a logical and stress-free driving strategy which gets you to your destination on time without compromising safety or any essential aspects of your day-to-day schedule. At the same time, you’ll run a much lower risk of getting into an accident, being pulled over or creating other problems which could later come back to haunt your premiums by painting you as a higher-risk driver than you actually are.  

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Buying a New Car? Here are some Tips to Help You Save on Insurance! (Part 2 of 2)

As we noted last day, buying a new car in time for the warm summer months, though exciting in theory, can often bring with it steep insurance premiums as a result of your shiny new wheels. As we were quick to acknowledge, however, insuring a new car can be less financially strenuous than you might think. By following these simple pointers in addition to the ones laid out in last day’s post, you’ll likely find that a stylish summer ride is more within your means than you might once have thought.  

1. For most automotive insurance providers, a safer car means lower insurance rates. Beyond simply looking at statistical probabilities as to how much damage a given car is likely to dole out or receive in the event of an accident, they will also take into account factors like internal and external safety features. For this reason, it is important to make sure that all on-board safety features are accounted for when buying your car – from functional airbags, adjustable shoulder belts, power locks and anti-lock brakes to head restraints, traction control and all-wheel drive. Likewise, external factors can affect the safety rating that your car receives; parking it in a well-lit area or securely locked garage, for instance, might help to further reduce your premiums. Just remember – anything that serves to increase the safety of your car is likely to be of at least some help.

2. Practice discount awareness. Like the various safety features mentioned above, certain conditions offered by your insurance provider will often allow for further discounts and even lower premiums. In some cases, for instance, providers will include discounts on your automotive insurance if you’ve taken out other policies, such as a life insurance policy, with them as well. If nothing else, this serves as a reminder of the importance of shopping around for insurance before you buy into anything, making certain that you are aware of what each provider has to offer. You should also make sure to ask each individual provider for a list of their available discounts; having this handy will, in some cases, allow you to see exactly what you’re eligible for under various circumstances.

3. “Self-insure” where possible. In addition to high deductibles which will almost certainly entail lower premiums, you can often opt to remove certain elements of your insurance policy if you feel them to be unnecessary. Towing coverage, for instance, could be removed if you felt that your chances of frequently needing a tow were low enough to merit this decision, and a similar argument can be made for car rental coverage. At the end of the day, however, the message implied by these decisions is a simple but important one: be smart about your insurance and your driving, and you’re likely to reap the rewards in the long term.   

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Buying a New Car? Here are some Tips to Help You Save on Insurance! (Part 1 of 2)

Springtime is a popular season for new car purchases, and no wonder; after all, who wouldn’t want to spend time breaking in a shiny new set of wheels in the balmy weather and sunshine? As many of us take the opportunity this season to make good on the old saying “out with the old and in with the new”, however, it is important to remember that purchasing a brand new car can often come at a hefty price where insurance is concerned. As insurance premiums are dictated in large part by the estimated value of whatever is being insured, an expensive new car inevitably entails expensive insurance rates.

Given the financial burden that these rates can impose, one has to wonder: are there any effective ways to minimize insurance premiums while still getting the new dream car you’ve always wanted? The answer, as many people will likely be relieved to discover, is yes. By following the pointers and suggestions below, you will find that insuring your new car doesn’t always need to be as expensive as you might think. 
      1. Shop around. Get quotes from as many insurance providers as possible to see who can offer the best rates for a given make and model. As these rates can vary significantly between providers, your patience will often be rewarded as long as you take the time to see what’s out there. It’s usually best not to rush into anything too impulsively, and this is no exception!

      2. Do your research. Think you know which cars will yield the highest premiums? While many of the more obvious examples seem to paint a clear and unwavering picture of which vehicles are likely to entail the highest or lowest premiums, these decisions are not always as clear-cut as we might think. Among the factors that must be taken into consideration when establishing insurance rates for new cars are things like the likelihood of the vehicle to do significant damage to another car in the event of an accident, the damage that the vehicle itself is likely to incur, the frequency with which a particular model is stolen or broken into, and so on. Given that all of these factors in combination can affect premiums in somewhat unpredictable ways, it will always be to your benefit to research individual makes and models of cars that interest you to see which, on average, yield the most reasonable premiums when all is said and done. 

3. Remember: anything added to a baseline model is likely to increase insurance rates for that vehicle. Tempting though it may be to outfit your new dream car with after-market extras and toys, insurance companies will take these additions into account when determining your rates, which are based on their assessment of the car’s value. Add a great deal of expensive new hardware to your car and its perceived value might increase dramatically, adding just as dramatically to your insurance rates in the long term.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Burglars Beware: The Benefits of Home Burglary Protection

As with many aspects of life in North America, home invasion and burglary, though gravely serious and often traumatizing for those who experience them, are bound to affect an unfortunate few. Though most of us never suspect that we might one day become victims ourselves, in many cases it is simply a matter of luck and timing as to who will be affected and when. Thus, while burglary will never have the opportunity to pose real problems for the vast majority of us, others, inevitably, will not be so lucky.
                Though the risk of home invasion and burglary can never be eliminated entirely, various measures can nevertheless be taken to ensure that this risk is made to be as minimal as possible. Beyond simply protecting your home, family and personal possessions against the threat of burglary, however, making use of these strategies will also ensure that your home insurance premiums are kept as low as possible, and that any changes to these premiums will be minimized in the event that any break-ins do occur.

1.       Invest in a good home alarm system. This is perhaps the most important first step to take in protecting your home against break-ins, with respect to both safety and reducing your insurance premiums. When it comes to actually purchasing a system, don’t be afraid to shop around; plenty of different types are available, and any prior research into what’s out there will almost certainly help you to make a better-informed decision. You should also make sure that you have an intimate understanding of how your desired system functions; does it cover the windows of the house as well, or just the doors? Will it use infrared room sensors and, if so, how easy or difficult is it to trip them? If and when you do have an alarm system installed, make sure that anyone else living or staying at the house also understands how it works and what to do in the event that it is triggered or needs to be armed or disarmed. Beyond this, any codes used to disarm the system should be given out only to people whom you trust to be responsible and discreet with them at all times.
2.       Install deadbolts on any outer doors at ground level. Beyond simply being an inexpensive and effective way to protect any potential entrance points to your home while you are away, installing deadbolts can also yield reductions in home insurance premiums, making them an extremely sensible addition to the burglary protection arsenal. As with the codes to any alarm system that you might install (see above), keys to unlock the deadbolts should be distributed sparingly, and only to those in whom you confidently trust.
3.       For further protection, consider installing motion-triggered outer lights and reinforced glass window panes. Additional protection certainly can’t hurt, and in the event that a burglar does target your home while you are away, a motion-triggered floodlight that illuminates the front yard or unexpectedly sturdy window at the back of the house could mean the difference between an attempted break-in and a successful one. In addition, many of these systems are relatively inexpensive, increasing the overall benefits of implementing such strategies even further.
4.       Use common sense as much as possible, and try to put yourself in a potential burglar’s shoes. Where conventional methods of home protection might fail, insights as to why a home invader might target your house could help you to eliminate these factors from the equation, ensuring even stronger protection and lessening the chances of a break-in. When you go on a trip or leave your house for a number of days, for instance, have a family friend pick up any mail or newspapers that might accumulate and act as a tip-off to burglars. You might also want to arrange to leave a light on in the house while you are away (low-energy, high-efficiency light bulbs suit this purpose perfectly) or have a friend park their car in the driveway to give the impression that somebody is home. Alternatively, you might want to have a trusted friend or family member house-sit during your absence, which would likely allow for even greater security and peace of mind.        

Friday, 4 May 2012

Protecting Your Home from Fires: An Essential Guide

For many, a fire in the home is a nightmare scenario to be avoided at all costs. Beyond simply being quick to spread and difficult to control, house fires are capable of doing an extraordinary amount of damage in a remarkably brief period of time. As if this were not trouble enough, however, fires can also prove deadly to those living in a home if not quickly controlled or prevented outright.
In light of these concerns, the most important question for many homeowners looking to prevent or protect against house fires should be an obvious one: what kinds of measures can be taken to ensure that a home receives the best possible protection against fires and the factors that contribute to them? The following tips and strategies are intended to serve as a comprehensive beginner’s guide to home fire prevention, and should ultimately allow for greater security and peace of mind year-round. 
1.       Ensure that your home has a sufficient number of working smoke alarms. There should be a minimum of one smoke alarm on each level of the home, and the batteries in the alarms themselves should be checked and replaced on a regular basis. Test your smoke alarms once a week (by pressing the “test” button which comes included on most commercially available units), replacing the batteries every year or as needed.
2.       Take appropriate care when using electrical appliances or plugging them into wall sockets. Plugging too many appliances into one or several sockets could cause them to overheat, which in turn could lead to an increased risk of fire. For this reason, it is essential to ensure that the minimum possible number of appliances is plugged into each socket, and that any changes in this regard are carefully monitored. Appliances themselves should also be inspected regularly, as any wiring that is old, damaged or otherwise faulty could ostensibly trigger a fire under the right circumstances.
3.       A home’s electrical systems should also be checked regularly by a certified electrician to ensure that they are safe and up to current standards. Older homes should be given particular attention as their wiring may have become defective with age, and any necessary replacements of these systems should be made immediately.  
4.       Candles and wood-burning fireplaces should be used with extreme care, if at all. When burning candles, check to see that the area around them has been cleared of potentially flammable materials such as paper, oils and plastics, and ensure that they are securely fastened to a holder or frame that will prevent them from falling or tipping over. It is also advised never to leave candles burning when leaving a room, even if only for a moment. When using a wood-burning fireplace, attentiveness is equally important; homeowners may want to take additional precautionary steps, however, such as laying down a flame-retardant mat in front of the fireplace and ensuring that the chimney is cleaned on a regular basis.
5.       As more than half of all house fires are believed to be cooking-related, take particular care when using ovens, stovetops, toasters or any other cooking appliances that could start a fire if handled improperly. Many cooking oils are also flammable, so try to remember this when using them around the kitchen.
6.       If you or anybody in your household smokes, make certain that all butts are properly stubbed out and disposed of. Smoking in bed or in a reclined position elsewhere in the house is also highly inadvisable, as it increases one’s likelihood of falling asleep with a still-lit cigarette and starting a fire.
7.       Although one should not make a habit of expecting the worst, being prepared for it is often a good idea. Keeping a working fire extinguisher within easy reach is advisable even at home, where fires are rarely predictable or expected. You should also make a “fire escape plan” in the event that you or anyone else in your home knows exactly what to do and how to get out of the house in the event of a fire. “Bedtime checks”, in which appliances and other potential sources of concern are checked immediately before bed, are also recommended and will help to ensure the greatest possible degree of safety and protection for you and those living with you.

For many homeowners, following these simple steps might well prevent the unthinkable from happening and, with it, the loss of life or valuable property. As damage from house fires can also result in expensive home insurance claims and increased insurance rates in the years that follow, being smart about fire safety could save you far more than simply the cost of your personal effects as well. At the end of the day, we must face the facts: being fire-safe just makes sense, and the sooner we come to realize this, the better.