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. . 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.

The pet-friendly apartment – Christmas edition

Few things really set the mood for the winter holidays as decorating your apartment does. Sure, you can have Christmas carols playing in the background all day long. You can even binge-watch Christmas movies while loading up on cinnamon cookies and eggnog, but it won’t really feel like Christmas until you’ve hung that mistletoe and lit up that tree your apartment.

As a responsible, renter’s insurance-carrying tenant, you already know most dangers to look out for during the season (faulty Christmas lights, unsupervised candles, etc.). However, as a brand new pet owner your responsibilities have just doubled. Not only are you responsible for your own safety, but that of your pet as well. And you’ve also got to be on the look-out for all the trouble they can get into with their loveable, goofy ways.

One of the first and easiest steps you can take to give yourself peace of mind, especially during such a stressful time as the winter holidays, is to add a Pet Damage Coverage to your policy. Resident Shield’s Pet Damage Coverage for example, offers you $500 in liability coverage in the event of pet damage to the apartment.

As a pet owner, the number one danger in your festively decorated apartment is the Christmas tree. Both dogs and cats have a penchant for running around, knocking things over, as you’ve already experienced. But the Christmas tree is a whole new ballgame. The tree smells intriguing, the twinkly lights are enthralling, and all the sparkly, colorful, and gently swaying tinsel and globes are simply irresistible, especially to cats. While you might not mind a few cheap broken globes or some eviscerated tinsel, you need to be aware that your pets won’t simply break them.  They (or you) can step on the shards and they could swallow them. It won’t even take a cat or dog much to pull the entire tree down onto himself. If you can’t forgo a decorated tree, make sure you secure it. If you think a pack of Christmas elves on a sugar high could knock it down, so can your cat.  Make sure the base is super stable and the tree itself is tied to something.

Next stop: the shiny decorations. If your pet is attracted to shiny things, considering using decorations with a matte finish or made from more natural materials such as wood, cardboard, felt, straw, etc. This way, even if your pets get their paws on them, the chances of hurting themselves are significantly smaller. And a piece of swallowed felt won’t put them in nearly as much danger as a shard pf glass or plastic.

Speaking of shiny things, be very careful with wrapping paper, especially candy wrappers. While chewing up and swallowing some simple wrapping paper probably won’t hurt your pet, things like tinfoil and plastics can present a threat to their life. Make sure you dispose of all wrappers as soon as the present was opened.

Of course it’s not only candy wrappers you need to be careful with, but also the sweets themselves.  And generally all types of human food. While Fido might give you his biggest puppy eyes, you must resist! Not all human foods and spices are pet-friendly. And candies are especially dangerous. Chocolate, for example, can be downright deadly. Do not give them any human food, no matter how hard they beg. If you know you have a hard time resisting, keep some pet treats within easy access.

But it’s not only man-made holiday items that are toxic to pets. Be very careful to hang  decorative holiday plants out of the reach of your pets, as staples such as holly and mistletoe are quite poisonous.

As an extra security measure and also because it’s Christmas and he deserves it, buy your pet some new toys. The best toys are the ones that require a lot of attention, such as pet activity toys and puzzle games. This way, he’ll be way too busy with his own stuff to chew up yours or murder your holiday wreath.

Have yourself  a Merry Christmas!

By the numbers – renters grow nationwide

The U.S. Department of Commerce, in collaboration with the Census Bureau, conducted in 2012 an American Community Survey that reflected how American citizens reside. The highest percentage of owner-occupied housing units were in West Virginia, with 72 percent, followed closely by Iowa, Minnesota, Maine, and Michigan. Meanwhile, the highest number of renters  were in Hawaii, with 56.9 percent. New York, California and Nevada also had more than 50 percent of households comprised of renters.

A recent poll conducted by ORC International discovered that 95 percent of homeowners had homeowners insurance. But among renters, only 37 percent had renters insurance. However, that percentage is growing. The first time the question was asked in 2009, just 29 percent answered positively.

Nationwide, in 2012, 48.1 percent of the renters spent almost one third of their household income on rent and utilities, according to US Census; in California the percentage was the highest among all states, 54.6 percent. Renters outnumber the homeowners in the largest cities: in 2010, 69 percent of the households in New York City were rented, 61.8 percent in Los Angeles, 55.1 percent in Chicago, and 54.6 percent in Houston, according to US Census. The 2012 report issued by the U.S. Census shows that the number of people moving to the cities is growing, Chicago holding the first position in the numeric gain in its downtown area.

The national renter share showed a steady increase from 34.1 percent in 2009 to 34.6 percent in 2010 to 35.6 percent in 2011, according to the report released by the Census in April 2013. The analysis conducted by the National Multi Housing Council reflects that young adults are the major age group to live in rental housing, with 72 percent of householders under age 30 or younger living in rental housing. Harvard deepens the research and shows on its 2013 State of the Nation’s Housing Report that relative to other households, renters are more likely to be single-person households.

The number of renter policies is increasing – there were 7 million in 2006, 9.7 million in 2010 and 10.7 million in 2011. The good news is that renters insurance does not burn holes into ones pockets, as it can be as little as 43 cents/day, with a monthly or annually charge, depending on the policy and the insurer. Furthermore, when an incident happens and a claim needs to be filled, the technological evolution made most companies allow starting the filling process online.

Renter tips for a safe holiday season

As holiday cheer start reaching fever pitch, everybody’s in a hurry to get their hands on the best holiday gifts and nail down the last details of their holiday celebration. But lost sleep and stress can contribute to careless behavior, which, paired with all the holiday paraphernalia, like candles, tinsel, lights and fir trees can spell disaster for your apartment.

While Resident Shield has your back in case of fires and other disasters, such as theft and accidental injuries of guests, it’s always easier to avoid them altogether. Below are a few things to watch out for during this holiday season:

Candles are a ubiquitous decorative element this time of the year. Be extra vigilant during the holidays. Many decorations are manufactured from highly flammable materials, such as paper, wood or plastic blends. Holiday get-togethers can get quite boisterous. Families get together, children chase the pets and the adults might have one too cups of eggnog. With all the hubbub, candles can easily be knocked over. You might not even notice the accident, until it actually becomes a threat. To avoid such a situation, consider replacing them with electric candles. If you can’t fathom such a notion, make sure all candles have stable bases, are out of the reach of children, curious pets and careless adults.

Fir trees. Present in millions of homes throughout the countries, this holiday staple is as dangerous as it is pretty. Not only are firs highly flammable, they have a low ignition point. Make sure you don’t place any candles near Christmas trees, nor do you strew heat-emitting lights on them. The same goes for fake Christmas trees.

Lights. Twinkly, sparkly, flashy – whatever your preference, make sure you buy your Christmas lights from reputable retailers. Before installing, test whether they function properly.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la, la la la la - but make sure those boughs of holly or any other plants you bring into your home aren’t poisonous for your pets.

If you’re lucky enough to boast a fireplace in you apartment, color us jealous. While nothing sounds more divine than cozying up to crackling hearth with a cup of mulled wine, make sure you had the chimney swept beforehand  and that both your fire and carbon monoxide alarms are working properly.

Unfortunately thefts and break-ins are quite common during this time of year. As tired as you might be when all your guests leave, check that all windows and doors are locked. Avoid putting expensive presents in a highly visible place (such as windowsills).  Moreover, if you bought or received big-ticket items with lofty packaging, such as HD TVs, laptops, home cinema systems and the like, dispose of their packaging in a discreet way. Don’t just leave the box outside your door, thinking you’ll take it down to the recycling center later. You’re basically advertising to those up to no good.

Also, to be on the safe side, document any new purchases or presents and add them to your insurance policy. Should the worst happen, you’ll at least be reimbursed for your stolen or damaged goods.

7 things you must discuss with your roommates

After landing your first post-college job you’re finally ready to move out from your parents’ house. But renting on your own with an entry-level job could be financially stressful, so you and a couple of your young professional friends decided to move in together. While it does sound like fun and financially savvy, there a few essential subjects you need to cover before taking the plunge. Here are a few topics that need addressing:

  • Before scheduling any walk-throughs, talk about what each of you would like to spend on housing and respect it. Visiting a community that is out of the price range of one your gang and/or trying to pressure them into agreeing to it will lead to cabin fever before you even move in together.
  • Talk through what each of you needs in your future apartment and what each would like. Prioritize and compromise. For example, if some of you would like a community that has loads of outdoor green space but it would mean being far removed from mass transit that one of your future roommates needs, the latter should take priority.

  • Recommend getting renter’s insurance. Detail all the benefits  renter’s insurance such as Resident  Shield gives you: protection against the financial risk associated with property damage such as fires or theft, full replacement value for your personal property and that of your neighbors, even coverage of temporary living expenses in case an event makes your apartment uninhabitable. Decide whether you would all like to get a joint policy or individual one. While both have their benefits, you might prefer not sharing a policy with your future gaming roomie and his extremely expensive electronics.
  •  Talk pets. Clarify whether or not anybody has strong feelings about having one or not and what everybody’s expectations would be in case someone should adopt one. I.e. if certain rooms are off limits, size and breed of pet, etc. If a pet will be sharing your apartment, be adamant about getting Pet Damage Coverage. This way if Rex decides to chew up your guest’s French designer bag, it will seem like less of a disaster.
  • Talk over your guest and party policy. Knowing beforehand if one of you feels uncomfortable with having people over or would prefer having their room off-limits during parties will eliminate lots of tense repartee.
  • Establish an outline of chore distributions. It might harken back to the days of living with your parents, but do you really want to be faced with mountains of unwashed dishes every second day?
  • Talk about any special medical or dietary needs. If your roomie is violently allergic to nuts you should know beforehand not to bring any in the house. If your roomie has chemical allergies, you might have to orientate yourself towards a community that uses eco-friendly cleaning product, for example.

Prep ahead for Thanksgiving

As Thanksgiving creeps closer, everybody’s got turkey, football and family dinner on the brain. But as much fun Thanksgiving is, we all know it’s also quite the undertaking to throw a successful party that goes off without a hitch. To make things easier, we’ve thought of eight things you can do in advance and to free up Gobble Day for family and friends.

  1. Finalize your guest list. You probably already have an estimate of who’ll be attending, but call everybody to confirm. This is also a great opportunity to ask about food allergies and special diets, especially if guests are bringing new significant others or people whom you haven’t seen in a while will attend. People with special dietary needs are aware that it can cause a hitch in others’ menu planning and will be extra-grateful to you if you’re the one who initiates the conversation. Assure them you are happy to create a menu or at least a few dishes that take their needs into account.
  2. Now that you have a clear guest list, it’s time to work on your menu. You might want to go traditional, or have a theme celebration. Once you’ve decided on a theme, scour through grandma’s recipe collection and that magical land known as Pinterest. Copy or print recipes and start your list of ingredients. If your guests are expected to contribute to dinner with drinks, a dish or desert let them know now.
  3. Take stock of your pantry. Knowing exactly what and how much of it you have at home will help you during shopping and cooking. It’s also a great opportunity to put aside items for a food bank, where donations are much appreciated at this time of year. Make sure you toss all expired items – do not donate them!
  4. Clean out your freezer and fridge and put the oven through a self-clean cycle. This ensures that all the ingredients and leftovers are stored in a safe environment. Clean and replace missing Tupperware so you can put away leftovers as soon as you take the dish off the dinner table.
  5. Finish up that comprehensive list of ingredients you’ll need and hit the stores. One week before Thanksgiving buy all drinks, non-perishables, any special cooking utensils you might need and the turkey. Pick up all ingredients, even perishables for dishes you’ll make in advance such as vegetable soup, stock, pies and rolls. Store these in the freezer when they’re done. Sturdy perishables such as pumpkins, carrots, potatoes and such can also be bought now. Other perishables that will be cooked on Thanksgiving should be bought no more than three days in advance.
  6. Take care of deep cleaning now so you only have to do a quick vacuum before your guests arrive. Polish your silverware now.
  7. Make Compile a cooking schedule, so on the day before and the day of Thanksgiving you know exactly what, when and in what order needs to be cooked, whipped, reheated and popped in the oven.
  8. Review you renter’s insurance and make sure it’s up to date. Thanksgiving is one of the most dangerous days of the year, with the highest number of home fires. In fact there are three times more home fires on this day, helping November take the top spot for cooking-related fires. Make sure you’re protected with Resident Shield.


Thanksgiving safety tips for cooks

Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving Day, from preparations, to the cooking, and especially getting together with friends and family to savor a delicious meal, tell stories and create memories. Some Thanksgivings are more memorable than others; the idea is to create the best kind of memories, as the host and as the guest.

Thanksgiving is the day for home cooks to shine, but because cooking causes around 69 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires, here are ways to avoid a kitchen disaster on Thanksgiving, or any other day. You won’t want to have to use your renter’s insurance as a result of a culinary mishap this holiday.

Most of the cooking fires happen as a result of unattended cooking. Even though it’s easy to get distracted as the host through the arrival of guests and serving appetizers, the first rule is to not walk away from a stove or appliance in use.

Select your cooking clothes carefully; avoid loose-fitting clothing while cooking as the fabric can catch fire. And your sleeves – make sure you roll them tightly beforehand.

Carbon monoxide is not something you want to play with, so check your carbon monoxide and smoke alarms to be in good order. Also, turn on the kitchen fan or vents and open windows periodically.

In the event that a fire starts in a pan on your stove, turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid. You can also use a fire extinguisher to put it out. Never ever try to kill a stove fire with water, flour, or anything else you have around in your kitchen as these can cause a flare-up.

In case the fire starts in your oven, turn off the oven, keep the door closed, and call 911. Wait for the firefighters outside.

Keep a fire extinguisher handy and make sure everyone in your residence knows how to use it.

If you’re a fan of deep-fired turkey, keep the following in mind:

  • Don’t use the fryer indoors
  • Keep it at a safe distance from buildings and flammable items
  • When preparing the turkey, make sure it’s completely thawed and dry
  • Keep children and pets away

Hot grease shouldn’t be thrown in the garbage; let it cool and discard it in a covered metal can.

Once you finished cooking, before going to bed check to make sure the oven, turkey fryer/BBQ, and stove burners are off, candles too, and if you have a fireplace, make sure the chimney damper is open.

Bon appetite!

Winter Pet Care

The leaves are almost done falling for this year; and in some parts of the country, the earth is looking forward to ice, snow, and freezing cold temperatures. It’s that time of the year when the best thing to do is to snuggle up in front of a fireplace with a warm kitten on your lap or a puppy at your feet. But didn’t you forget something?

Before you enter the dreamy scene described above, take some time to learn how to care for your pet and how to keep them as warm and as comfortable as you are.

  1. Keep your pet inside. Don’t leave your dogs or cats outdoors when the mercury drops. If you have to take them out, stay outside with them. If you absolutely must leave them outside for an extended period of time, make sure they have a warm and solid shelter against the wind, thick bedding, and plenty of non-frozen water. A hot water bottle, wrapped in a towel will help your four-legged friend stay warm until you return, without burning their skin.
  2. Breed, size, and health. Some pets are better built for cold weather and can spend more time outside in the winter than others. Partly, it is common sense: long-haired breeds like the Husky will adapt better to the cold weather than short-haired breeds like the Dachshund. Cats and small dogs that have to “swim” shoulder-deep in the snow will feel the cold sooner than larger animals. Furthermore, your pets’ health determines how long they can stay out. Diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and hormonal imbalances can affect a pet’s ability to regulate its own body heat. Young and very old animals are more vulnerable to the cold as well.
  3. Check your car. A warm vehicle engine will be appealing to outdoor and feral cats, but deadly too. Before you start the engine, check underneath your car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn to determine feline hitchhikers abandon their nest under the hood.
  4. Check the paws. Common cold-weather injuries and damages are cracked paw pads or bleeding, so if you notice a sudden lameness, check their paws as they may be injured due to ice accumulation between his/her toes. Clipping the hair between your dog’s toes might reduce the chance of iceball formation. Moreover, the salt and chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate their pads. Clean their paws with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritate their mouths.
  5. Play dress-up. If your buddy has a short coat or acts bothered by the cold weather, go pet coat shopping.
  6. Prevent poisoning. Just like coolant, antifreeze is lethal for dogs and cats. Clean up any spills from your vehicle and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol. More information on animal poison control here.
  7. Car threat. During summer cars are known to a real threat to pets, but cold cars can also put at risk your pet’s health. In cold weather cars can rapidly cool down, becoming like a refrigerator. Young, old, ill, or thin pets should never be left in cold cars; never leave your pet unattended in the vehicle.
  8. Pet-proof your home. Remember that the heat generated by the space heater is as attractive to the pet as it is to you. As your fury friend snuggles up to the warmth, keep an eye out to make sure that no paws and tails come in contact with flames, heating coils, or hot surfaces. The little creatures can either burn themselves or knock a heat of source over and put the entire household in danger.

Winter is here – stay safe

Winter can easily turn from chilly to charming when stocked with comfy gear and warm beverages. So here are some tips for the transformation.

1. Au revoir, summer clothes – it’s the right time to pack up the sandals, the airy dresses and bathing suits until 2015. They’ll make place for the cozy sweaters, pants, and plenty of socks.

2. Hello again, winter wardrobe – get ready for that first white morning having the winter boots and gloves out of the basement.

3. Vitamin D – we mostly get our daily vitamin D through exposure to sunshine, and that’s scarce during winter due to limited daylight hours and covered skin. The recommended dose for adults during winter days is 1000IU.

4. Winter tires – just like your wardrobe, your car has winter needs too. As the weather gets colder, you’ll need to put on winter tires to keep you safer during the snow season.

5. Emergency kit – water, a flashlight, a small shovel, a blanket are just a few essential you’ll need to have ready in your car for just in case.

6. Window insulation – spend a little to save more. A few dollars and few minutes to insulate your windows will save you money on your heating bills.

7. Get a comfy throw – you love the evenings you spend curled up in an armchair with a cup of hot chocolate and a good book; add a cozy blanket and you’re all set.

8. Cold-weather bar – gone are the days of margaritas. Make room for Baileys and peppermint liquor for your chocolate, a nice dark spiced rum and some dry, dark reds.

9. Winter tea – my tea stash always gets low during summer months when I’m not drinking too many hot drinks. Now though is the perfect time to add a few festive teas, like oolongs and black teas.

10. Prepare the fireplace – if you’re one of the lucky ones to have a working fireplace, now would be the time to do a maintenance cleaning done. It will increase efficiency and is the best way to prevent chimney fires.

11. Review your renter’s insurance. Keep your mind at peace by staying insured.