Safely removing rooftop snow

Each year, after the winter holidays, the weather continues to ramp up in many parts of the US, as if paying a tribute to the white season. Some areas have already been conquered by the snow and ice blanket, but it doesn’t look like it will stop here; many other areas across the country will fall under the snow’s reign.

January and February are winter’s favorite months; snow and other precipitation are expected to rival last year’s record, so brace yourselves, winter will hit hard in the next period.

Heavy snowfall can be particularly dangerous and damaging for apartments. 2014 was a terrible year for many structures in Western New York where a record seven-foot snow caused almost $50 million in damage. Homes and businesses had roofs cave in from the weight of snow to such extend that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) approved a federal disaster designation to help people get back on their feet.

Protecting buildings from heavy snow can be difficult and risky. People are killed or seriously injured while removing snow and ice from rooftops, decks and other building structures in order to prevent overloading or collapse.

It is best that you hire a professional to clean the roof of your property, as it is a dangerous task. The United States Department of Labor (USDL) has put together a guide on how to remove snow from residential and commercial buildings, trying to reduce the risk to a minimum. However, if you think you can do it yourself, be extremely careful and consider the following:

Snow removal without going on the roof

Whenever possible, avoid going up on the roof as the leading cause for most worker fatalities and injuries during rooftop snow removal are falls, according to OSHA. Instead, try to opt for one of the following:

  • Using ladders to apply de-icing materials
  • Using snow rakes or drag lines from the ground

If it’s impossible to remove the snow without going up on the roof, it’s essential to consider the load and its limit of the roof – the weight of the snow, workers and equipment used. There is no standard formula to determine how much snow a roof can withstand.

If you choose to use Aerial Lifts, make sure you do it in a safe manner with a properly trained person. Furthermore, the electrical hazards are also present through the power lines or even snow removal equipment. Remember that the minimum recommended distance from a power line is 10 feet. Exposure to cold can also be harmful to you and your helpers; it can cause frostbite and hypothermia.

Determine your insurance needs for 2015

At the beginning of each year, the natural tendency is to review, modify, and renew habits, behaviors, and needs. Throughout the course of a year many things can change, so an insurance review is also recommended. Here are some aspects you can consider that will help you figure out if you need to talk to your insurance professional about making a change to your coverage.

  1. Marriage or divorce. Marriage can bring with it a discount on your auto insurance as couples can bring two cars in the relationship from two different auto insurance companies. Take the opportunity and review your existing coverage and chose the company which offers the best combination of price and service.
  2. New baby. Birth or adoption, it is important to review your life insurance and disability income protection. A new family member will increase expenses and your life insurance. Keep in mind that if you plan to save for your child’s education, life insurance can aid that plan. Moreover, don’t forget to update the beneficiary designations to include the new member.
  3. First time driver’s license for a family member. Rather than purchasing a separate auto insurance policy for your teenager, add it to your insurance policy as it is generally cheaper. The type of the car a young person is driving has a major impact on the price of the insurance. Furthermore, most companies give discounts for getting good grades in school and for taking certified driving courses.
  4. Significant change in your income. If your income has increased, (good for you) your financial commitments might have as well. Make sure you review the life and disability insurance to confirm that is adequate to maintain them. If your income has decreased, one way to deal with expenses is to cut your life insurance premiums. If you have more than one policy, you might be able to replace both with a single policy at a lower rate having reached a ‘milestone’ amount of insurance. However, do not drop your existing life insurance before you have a new one in place.
  5. New lease. Living in a rental means that your landlord is usually responsible for insuring the structure of the building, but your possessions fall under your responsibility. More precisely you need renter’s insurance if you wish to be covered against losses from theft and catastrophes such as fire, lightning, or windstorm damages. Aside from these, renter’s insurance includes liability and this covers your responsibility to other people injured at your home and takes care of legal defense costs, should you be taken to court.

 

Guidelines for renter’s insurance research

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to renter’s insurance is not getting one. But that is not the only error they make related to it. Besides the cost, there are a few important aspects which should be researched before making the purchase.

Coverage – Items

You should know precisely which of your items are covered by the policy you purchase. Most of them cover the majority of your belongings – clothes, furniture, electronics, and artwork – with restrictions for jewelry, fur coats, and silverware; for these you can buy additional coverage.

Computer equipment is normally also included. Still, if you have a home office and work primarily from there, it may not be included. In this case, you need additional coverage for the business equipment you own.

Coverage – Perils

The typical perils covered are theft, fire, smoke, explosions and water damage from bursting pipes and overflows. However, is your dog knocks over your laptop and breaks it, it will be on your expense.

Coverage for storms is one of the grey areas – damage from wind is covered, but water oozing through the roof is not. If you don’t have a roof to worry about, meaning that you live in a ground floor or below-grade apartment, you won’t be covered in case of floods or excessive rain. The solution for such cases is to create a pathway for the water, to make sure the drains are kept clear, and that pumps are functional. A plus would be the flood insurance.

Coverage – pets 

In case your dog bites someone inside or outside of your apartment, the liability portion of your insurance normally covers this, unless your pup is one of the “aggressive” breeds. Click here for more information.

Injuries on your property

Renter’s insurance is reliable in the case when your bathtub or sink overflow and ruin your neighbor’s new floors and walls. Moreover, the liability component covers you for injuries that happen inside your apartment, such as when your babysitter trips over a toy and breaks her leg.

Roommates

Renter’s insurance will cover your spouse and immediate family members who live with you, but with roommates, things are different. Typically only two roommates can be named on a policy but not without risks: checks for damage are made for both, regardless if it’s your laptop that was destroyed and your roommate has moved out long ago. Click here for more information on a shared renter’s insurance.

Outside the apartment

Typically, renter’s insurance covers off-premises damage caused by fire, damage from burst pipes, and vandalism. Additionally, if your personal property is stolen outside your apartment, it may also be covered. It includes the bicycle you took with you to the grocery store and didn’t find it when you were done shopping and the laptop you had with you on vacation that went missing from your hotel room while visiting museums.

Simple home security tips

Follow some simple tips for home security to ensure your time away won’t turn into a break-in of theft. There are many ways to take off attention of your home when you’re away and to keep it secure when you’re at home, including simple tricks like utilizing shrubbery as a barrier or installing motion-sensor lights.

1. Alarm Systems – A study by Rutgers University showed that intruders avoid homes with professional alarm systems, without displacing burglaries to neighboring homes. Following this logic, the more houses with alarm systems on the street, the safer the neighborhood.

2. Garage Security – Avoid garage doors that have windows as burglars can see when your car is gone. The easiest way to deal with them, in case you cannot afford a new door, is to frost or cover them.

3. Security Lights – Choose to pay a little more on your electricity bill and light up the house. Moreover, scare off the uninvited with motion-sensor lights.

4. Shrubbery – Not only does it beautify the exterior of your home, but it can also keep curious eyes off your home by maintaining it tall enough to create a barrier, and low enough that an intruder can’t hide.

5. Home Security Signs – Place these around the home; announcing that the house is monitored nonstop, can deter criminals from trying to trespass.

While you’re away, fight the temptation to leave notes on the door for family members or service people. Furthermore, turn down the telephone ringer so no one hears you’re not around to answer it. Set items like lamps and radios on a timer so they give the impression that your residence isn’t vacant. Ideal would be to send a trusted friend or neighbor visit your home regularly while you’re away and collect mail, water plants, and flick on and off some lights to show some activity at your house.

Don’t, under any circumstance, leave extra keys under doormats, potted plants, or any other outdoor location. If you don’t have a trusted neighbor you can leave them to, make sure you hide them in an inconspicuous place.

Stay safe: preparing your car for winter

If you live in sunny Florida or Southern California, you probably won’t find much use in this article. But if you live in a state that knows what winter is like, or plan on visiting friends or family who live in a colder climate, the following tips could literally be life-saving. We remind you that winter is here, and your car knows it!

During the cold months it is much more difficult to get the car started and the road conditions are worse, so it’s highly important to have everything working properly before then. Vehicle trouble is never fun, but during winter problems can be deadly – just imagine that your car breaks down in a rural area when the weather is freezing and you have poor cellphone reception.

 

So, have a look at the pre-winter checks recommended to all car owners or their mechanics.

  • Winter tires – are not optional in a climate with ice on the roads. Not only do you need to change from summer to winter tires, but also to check your car’s tire tread; you can try the so-called “quarter test”. Take a standard U.S. quarter and push it in between your car’s treat at several different points. If, when you put it upside down, you see the top of George Washington’s head peeking out from between the grooves at any location, the tire has one-eighth or less an inch of tread left, and yes, that means it’s time for replacement. Moreover, you should also check the car’s tire pressure monthly, as cold weather will make the air in the tires contract.
  • Antifreeze – this is the juice that goes in your radiator and is vital for your car’s protection during winter. Your car contains a 50/50 mix of water and antifreeze. Make sure the level is full and the mixture is close to this 50/50.
  • Windshield wipers – bad wipers are the last thing you want on the roads sprinkled with salt that is kicking up onto your car’s windshield. You can test your car’s blades by the simple gesture of running them in the rain or after applying windshield-washer fluid. If they fail to clear the windshield in one pass, replace them. Keep in mind that costlier blades typically have water resistant silicone or Teflon, thus work better than the budget versions. As in everything else, you get what you pay for.
  • Windshield washer fluid – you will be using a lot of washer fluid, so make sure you have enough. Don’t fill your washer fluid reservoir with anything except washer fluid, this won’t freeze.
  • Battery – if the vehicle doesn’t start, you won’t be going anywhere; have your battery professionally tested.
  • Engine – if you’ve noticed problems like engine stalls or difficulty starting the vehicle, the time is perfect to take your car in for service. The cold weather will only make these things worse.
  • Headlights and taillights – it’s essential to see and be seen during winter’s shorter daylight hours. Check all of your car’s headlights and taillights, replace any burned-out bulbs, and clean off road grime. Furthermore, of your car is more than three years old and you notice that the headlight covers have gotten cloudy, consider “headlight restoration”
  • Brakes – it’s enough to keep in mind that the braking system is the vehicle’s most important safety item.
  • Engine Oil – be diligent about changing the oil and filter at recommended intervals. Dirty oil means trouble in winter. If you live in a cold climate, you can even consider changing to “winter weight” oil. Since you’re here, have your technician check the fuel, air, and transmission filters.
  • Emergency kit – put in your trunk or in the back of your car a blanket, a snow shovel, flashlight, matches, a bottle of water and a few protein bars, flare, and a whistle. Let’s hope you won’t need them, but better to play it safe than sorry. Exactly as with the renter’s insurance – you pay it and hope to never use it, but when you need to, you’re glad you were prepared.

Décor in a rental: limitations and possibilities

When hunting for the perfect apartment, save your time and grief by taking one extra step: do a little research before committing to signing the lease to find out how deep are you allowed to get involved in the apartment’s redecoration. Personalizing the décor ranges from repainting the walls in a different color, to replacing light fixtures, and adding or removing carpeting; be aware what the landlord approves for the apartment you wish to turn into your home.

Many landlords have a certain level of flexibility, but just as you can come across one that allows you to make significant aesthetic changes to the apartment, you can find one that doesn’t. Regardless of their reasons, financial or marketing concerns, or perhaps just the desire to keep uniformity and assert control over their apartments, find the landlord that suits best with your needs.

Once you’ve found the best place and the approval to modify it so that if feels like home, here are some suggestions that could inspire you:

  1. Give the appliances the glowing look of stainless steel by using peel-and-stick contact paper with a stainless steel finish. You’ll give them the nice façade at a fraction of the price of the real thing.
  2. Freshen up the walls with this simple trick – install new switchplate covers (the covers on light switches and electrical outlets). A basic white cover costs about $1, and is really easy to install. For the kitchen you could consider those of stainless steel, but can also hunt online for patterned and decorative covers.
  3. Check the lights in each room and make sure that the ‘light spectrum’ from the bulbs is the one appropriate for the area of the home. Opt for soft bulbs that emit a yellow/red undertone in the “chill out” areas like the living room, and for bright bulbs with blue undertones in “study” zones such as the home office or reading spot.
  4. Repaint the walls or change the wallpaper. Choose light colors if you tend to make a room look bigger.
  5. Decorate with photos and art on the walls. Accentuating the idea of making the space look bigger, consider hanging mirrors even in places that are above eye-level; this increases the light that shines through the apartment. Placing two in the same room on opposite walls will also give the impression of a larger room.
  6. The kitchen and bath rugs, as well as the doormat, are a few simple ways to put your signature over your new home.
  7. Plants don’t need a separate security deposit payment, or approval. Put plants everywhere, indoors and out, they’ll brighten up the place, regardless of the season.

Safe holidays for furry friends

The holidays bring together the five Fs: family, friends, fun, food, and Fido. In all the excitement it’s easy to forget about holiday safety, Fido’s safety. If you wish to avoid ending your holiday celebration at the veterinary emergency clinic, follow some essential guidelines.

Don’t share your food with your dog. We love to indulge in the feast, but as much as it pleases us, it can cause real pain to the dog. Rich, fatty foods can seriously upset Fido’s stomach and can even be toxic. The following foods are extremely dangerous for your dog:

  • Chocolate
  • Grapes and raisins
  • Onions (can cause anemia) and high levels of garlic
  • Bones – especially the cooked ones and ALL poultry bones
  • Everything high in fat, sodium and/or sugar
  • Alcoholic beverages

Of course, there are some types of human foods that are not harmful to give to Fido as a special treat. A small piece of cooked turkey or chicken, but without skin or bones, will do the trick as long as you keep the gravy to yourself. Raw apples and carrots in moderate amounts are a healthy snack for dogs too, as long as you stop at moderate.

Decorations. Dogs are curious by nature, they need to check out anything new that appears in the home. Then one leads to another – sniffing to chewing and later on to ingesting objects added to the décor. Make sure all electrical cords are tucked away and other decorations and holiday plants are out of reach – Poinsettia, Mistletoe, Lilies, Daffodils, Christmas Tree – all are toxic for your furry friend. Pay extra attention to dangling objects as they can be pulled down and cause injuries. You already know to not leave candles unattended. And if you have a Christmas tree, don’t let Fido drink the tree water as it can make him sick.

Holidays are all about gatherings and parties and as fun as this might be for you, your pup could sense otherwise; lots of people in the house can end up with injury or stress for your dog. If this is the case, when you have many friends over, consider keeping her in a crate or a quiet room, especially if Fido is the nervous kind. On the other hand, if your pup is comfortable around a smaller group, make sure you explain to your friends the ground rules: don’t feed the dog and keep the doors closed. Unfortunately, many pets get loose and run off during holidays; thus the importance of the collar with current identification.

You and Fido have a fun holiday season, surrounded by friends and family, and of course, all that delicious food.

Merry Holidays!

Have a very thrifty Christmas!

Ah Christmas. It’s all eggnog, chocolate, family visits, reindeer sweater and enormous credit card bills. In our chase to buy the perfect present, decorations and THE dress or suits for the office holiday party, we get carried away with our spending.   But having an amazing Christmas doesn’t have to mean shelling out all our hard earned money. There are plenty of ways to save money and enjoy the holidays. Here are few tips.

  • Ye old Yule tree. Do you really need a Christmas tree or a crazy expensive designer wreath in every room? You know you don’t. Limit yourself to one tree for your entire apartment or one sensibly proportioned wreath per room. If you’re going with the Christmas tree, you know that you don’t need the biggest one on the tree lot. You know, the one you know won’t even fit into your apartment. Get a smaller one you can display on a table. Or you can just rip off the Band-Aid and get a sensibly-priced faux tree that will last you for years to come. If you go with a faux tree, buy a safe choice. If you buy the super trendy hot pink one you’ll be the most fabulous tree this year, but you’ll end up throwing it out the next (or be super-embarrassed about it). Go with green, white, gold or maybe red. These perennially Christmas-y colors will ensure you’ll be able to use tree in coming years as well.
  • Deco. Picking up globes and tinsel officially means Christmas is coming up. But digging out previous years’ decorations could do that too.  Most people have boxes upon boxes of angels, snowmen, globes and tinsel in storage. Pick one, maybe two colors and hang only items in that color scheme on your tree. This will give it a more polished look. If you don’t have enough decorations in your chosen color scheme but have some in errant colors or some that are looking shabby, get your DIY on and revamp them. Paint, spray-paint, wrap and glue to your hearts’ content. Any other decorations you have, you can use to bring holiday cheer into your other rooms. Group them according to color or theme and hang them in your bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, so you’re reminded of the holidays wherever you are in your apartment.
  • Candles are a great way to add warmth and Christmas mood to any apartment. Feel free to pick up new ones in your Christmas theme, as you’ll probably end up using them during the holidays. If you’re feeling super thrifty you can pick up simple white ones, usually the cheapest kind, and adding a touch of paint or glitter from your chosen theme.
  • Presents. This one is a difficult place to save for many. Most of us try to gift people as lavishly as possible and it could seem unloving to save on presents. But it is possible to save money and give amazing gifts. For example, if you have a special talent (say baking, sewing, car maintenance, dancing) give people personalized gift cards. Most will appreciate a gift card for a month of home-made cupcakes or waltzing lessons. You can still give home-made gift cards even if you aren’t Martha Stewart. A card for full clean-up after the next epic party will be a much-appreciated stocking stuffer.
  • Renter’s insurance. While technically it does mean extra spending, it does save you a lot. You could say that you have to spend money to save money. And it’s really just a dime. For as little as 50 cents a day, Resident Shield offers you protection in case of fire, theft, vandalism, and personal liability, including a provision for dog bites. Now that’s a money saver!

Happy Holidays!

Last minute preparations for winter’s arrival

If you were hoping for a mild winter after last year’s polar vortex, prepare to be disappointed. . AccuWeather.com predicts plentiful rain, snow, ice and cold for most US regions, including areas such as the Gulf States and the Tennessee Valley.

While bountiful snow might be a cause for celebration for winter sports aficionados, according to the Insurance Information Institute, winter-related damage is only surpassed by tornado and hurricane damage. To pass this winter safely, run through this essential checklist before the bitter cold sets in:

  • Update your renter’s insurance. You might associate windstorms with warm summer days, but the winds of winter can be even more dangerous due to freezing temperatures. Resident Shield provides coverage for loss associated with windstorm damage. Resident Shield also provides liability coverage for accidental physical injuries – like say, a visitor slipping in a puddle of melted snow in your hallway and breaking an arm.
  • If you haven’t gotten to it yet, check if your apartment’s heating system works properly. Even if you live in area that is expected to see a mild winter, that doesn’t mean you won’t be hit with a few days of bone-chilling cold. Should your heating system seem anything but 100 percent perfectly functional, put in a maintenance request now.

  • Check again if all your windows and doors close and insulate properly. There might be smaller cracks letting in cold air that you might have not noticed during a mild October afternoon. See that they are fixed as soon as possible.  Not only do they let cold air in and skyrocket your heating bill, but they can be a breeding ground for molds.
  • Check if space heaters work properly. If they don’t, have them fixed by a specialist or buy new ones from reputable retailers. It only takes one errant spark to be facing a disaster.
  • Speaking of home fires, don’t forget to check on at least a monthly basis if your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms work properly and have charged batteries.
  • Be prepared for power outages. A bitter snowstorm can down power lines, so have extra thick blankets , flashlights and candles on hand. But never leave candles or a lit fireplace unattended. Never place flammables near them. Make them inaccessible to pets.
  • If you own pets, cold winter days can be quite the challenge.  Not only are you reluctant to go out into the cold, but your furry friend might be too. It’s very important however, that animals get proper exercise in winter months as well. Not only can they act out if they don’t, it can affect their health as well. Scope your neighborhood or city out for indoor dog parks. If you can make it an indoor dog park, go for it. Not only will your puppy get a work-out in a safe environment, both you and him could end up making new friends.
  • If dog parks are not an option, make sure your dog’s winter gear still fits him properly and don’t forget to protect their paws too. There are special ointments and formulas you can apply to your dog’s paws before going outside, that will protect the sensitive skin from cold and all the nasty chemicals outside. Plan for days when going out won’t be an option and pick up some interactive dog toys, such as treat puzzle games.

Set up a stressless holiday season

Holidays – the best time of the year with numerous parties to go to, celebrations with yummy cocktails, exchange of gifts, mountains of delicious food, friends and family gatherings flooded with laughter, right?

For most of us yes, for some no.

Holidays can turn into stressful times for quite a few of us due to the busy schedule that leaves space for nothing else. Buying the gifts, cleaning and decorating the house, preparing the food, all take time that seems to fly too quickly. Besides the physical stress, there is the greater one, the emotional stress. Some gatherings are filled with deadlines and preparations, others are about old family wounds and insecurities; by the end of the holiday season, we feel exhausted and drained of energy.

Experiences instead of things: Negative feelings come to the surface because we have misplaced our focus. The secret is to remember how it was back when we were kids, playing with the box of the toy just as much as with the toy itself. What have you planned or already done in order to get a wonderful gift to everyone you love? Instead of going broke thanks to your big heart, or spending countless hours in shops and malls trying to purchase the perfect gift, find the ways to actually spend the holidays with those you love, replace the material value of the things with their real value. Consider how you could use the time you’d normally spend at the stores, to be with your dear ones. Years from now they will not remember the fluffy slippers or the fancy soaps, but they’ll probably remember that special day you spent together.

Switch perfectionism with fun. The home doesn’t need to be perfectly clean, as the food doesn’t need to be chef quality. You definitely don’t need decorations made by Martha Stewart. Instead of judging yourself and pushing yourself at the end of your limits, try to have fun while preparing for the holidays. Those who love you do so not because of your decorations or your crystal clear windows; they might appreciate a gourmet dinner, but love it the most important ingredient. Do as much as you’re willing and spend the remaining time enjoying your holiday.

Gratefulness. It’s hard to avoid comparison when all these perfectly happy families flood the media with their perfect holidays. Every morning, when you’re sipping your coffee, make a list with the things you do have – the ability to read, write, see, walk, etc. All the little things we often take for granted can actually bring you joy and comfort. Discover which those are and watch your mood improve.

And just to make sure, check the end date of your renter’s insurance. You don’t want to worry over 43 cents/day this holiday.