More Heating Assistance Winners!

Just as January brought sub-zero temperatures and higher oil prices to Southern Maine. 14 Noyes Hall & Allen clients were among the winners in the this month’s drawing of Concord Group’s A Warm Hand heat lottery. Combined with December’s drawing, Noyes Hall & Allen clients have received $2,600 worth of oil, gas or other heating fuel assistance, courtesy of Concord Group.

We know that many people struggle with paying winter heating bills. We have seen cases where using space heaters, wood stoves and other alternate heating methods have caused fires. We hope that this fuel assistance program will help to reduce these fires.

More good news! It’s not too late to sign up! Concord will draw more names on the 15th of February and March. If your homeowners policy was provided by Concord Group on October 31, you’re eligible. Sign up today!

Good luck!


A Cold Forecast Means Frozen Pipes, Ice Dams

The arctic cold returns this weekend, according to the NWS forecast. Our phones have been busy this week with two kinds of claims: frozen pipes and ice dams. Local plumbers, water extraction contractors and heating technicians expect lots of overtime this weekend. We are ready to handle an influx of claims if necessary. 

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One of the companies we represent, OneBeacon Insurance has issued a bulletin with some useful instructions for how to safely thaw frozen water pipes. Their website also has a good winter safety checklist that addresses topics like preventing damage from heavy snow,  frozen pipes and ice dams. 

Speaking of ice dams, the University of Minnesota Extension Service has an excellent article explaining what they are, what causes them and how to prevent them. 

As always, Noyes Hall & Allen clients can contact us in a claim emergency any time, night or day. Stay warm and stay safe!

Six Lessons from a Fire

One year ago this weekend, my bedroom phone woke me at 7:00 on Saturday morning – never a good sign. It was my business partner, Tom. “The building’s on fire”, he said as sirens screamed in the background. I quickly dressed and raced to the office to find firefighters crawling all over our office building, battling smoke, water and flames.

We’ve helped so many clients recover from disaster over the years. Now, it was our insurance agency’s turn to be the victim.

The fire wasn’t all that big. It started when the electric sign on the fascia of the building shorted. It burned through the overhang and spread up the roof, where it eventually burned through, setting off the sprinkler system. Three or four sprinkler heads opened, pouring water for about 40 minutes before the fire department shut it off. By 9:30 am, the fire was out and the cleanup and recovery began.

Six weeks later, everyone was back in the building, and 95% of the damage was repaired.

Lessons from an Office Fire

1. Safety Pays.
Even though we’re in the safety business, we’re not that different from anyone else. We curse the fact that we have to punch in our alarm codes when we open and close the office every day. We dread the quarterly visit from the sprinkler contractor, who tests the system, causing screeching alarms while we’re trying to work and meet with clients. We curse the calls from our alarm monitoring system when they call us at night or on the weekend to tell us they’re getting an alarm signal that’s almost always false. We don’t look forward to our annual fire department inspection.

But on that Saturday morning, we were thankful that the alarm system alerted the Fire Department, that the sprinkler system doused most of the fire, and that the South Portland Fire Department responded so quickly and was so helpful in the beginning stages of our recovery. Without all of these safety systems, the fire would have been much bigger, and our recovery many times longer.

2. Relationships are Important. We called ServPro, a remediation contractor that we knew from many fire, water and other disasters that our clients have experienced over the years. They extracted over an inch of water from the floor of our 9500 square foot building, and set up giant fans to begin the drying process.

We hired Maine Properties, another contractor that we knew from their work with many condo associations that we insure, to do the repair work. They were on the scene that day, scoping out what could be salvaged and what would need to be ripped out and replaced.

Our computer network consultant, Tom Vose of BroadSound Technologies, showed up Sunday to help us get our computer network up and running. Like most modern businesses, we’re almost completely dependent upon our computer system to help us serve our clients. The day before, we were picking computers up off the floor and dumping water out of them. We thought they were fried. Miraculously, every workstation but one survived.

As insurance agents, you would expect us to be well-insured, and we are. Of course, our insurance was with one of the companies we represent, Peerless Insurance. They were responsive, cooperative and professional in settling our claim.

Our other insurance company partners were empathetic, too. When they heard of our misfortune, they were quick to offer any accommodation to help us serve our mutual clients. Their response was heartwarming. Even one of our competitors, Dan Haley from Portland, called to offer the use of his office if we needed it.



3. Our team is our strength
Insurance is a people business, and we have some of the best. Many of them have worked with us for decades. They’re professionals who work well together and have our clients’ best interest at heart. We’ve always known how important our staff is to our success, but the fire really emphasized that. They showed up for work on Monday, ready to do whatever they needed to do in a smoky, wet, cold building. For weeks, they tolerated noise, dust, smell, balky equipment and physical upheaval. Perhaps the best testament to their professionalism is that most clients never even knew we had a fire. We prided ourselves that we didn’t miss a minute of regular office hours. Our staff was the key to our continuous operation.



4. Everything’s Bigger Than It Looks
From the outside, our fire looked minor. There were a couple of holes in the roof and a couple of more in the fascia, all of which were repaired within a few days. The fire damage was heavier in the side of the building occupied by Town & Country Credit Union and The HCR Group. But the water discharged from the sprinkler system spread throughout the building. We had to rip up all of the carpet, and cut much of the sheetrock several inches from the floor to allow drying. The cost to repair the damage from our “small” fire was hundreds of thousands of dollars. It took months for everything to get back to normal.

5. Pay Attention to the Little StuffOur fire was caused by a short in an electrical sign on the front of the building. We had noticed a few days before that the lights behind a couple of letters were not lit. We assumed that they were burned out, and put it on our mental “to do list” to check out later. We never got the chance. We learned our lesson. Whenever something’s “not quite right”, we take action. You never know when a little issue can become a big one.

6. Insurance Works
Having enough insurance allowed us to act quickly to repair all of the damage. We didn’t have to worry about how to pay for it all. It was the same for our tenants who had insurance. Those who were displaced were able to set up temporary offices in their homes. Their expenses, including phone, internet and other utilities, were covered by insurance. Those who didn’t have insurance were fortunate that they were able to move back in quickly, with little down time. If they had been in the more heavily damaged part of the building, they may not have been able to continue their businesses.

We hope that sharing these six lessons we learned helps you in your own disaster planning, whether for your business or your family. We also hope that you never have to pull such plans off the shelf and put them into action.


Forecast: Wicked Cold. Prevent Frozen Pipes

The local forecast is for cold weather for the rest of the week. By Thursday or Friday, Greater Portland could experience the coldest air mass we’ve seen in 5 years.

Many homes experience frozen water pipes in weather like this. Often, the homeowner made improvements to the home (additions, remodeling, etc.), and the insulation that was placed in the remodeled area wasn’t sufficient to protect the domestic water pipes.

If you’ve made such improvements in the last 5 years or so, this week will be the harshest test your home has had to endure since then.

Save yourself some trouble by checking the insulation (if it’s visible) in these areas of your home.

Here are some other cold weather hints:

In Especially Cold Weather

  • Keep cupboard doors open below sinks. This allows warm air to circulate, and helps keep pipes from freezing.
  • Turn on hot and cold faucets enough to let them drip slowly. Keeping water moving through the pipes prevents freezing.

If You Leave Home for More than a Day

  • Keep the temperature at the minimum 65 degrees F. People often set their thermostats lower than this and assume they’ll be ok. They find out the hard way that the temperature in the living space may be fine, but the temperature inside the walls, where the pipes are, may not.
  • Have someone check your home regularly. If there is a problem with frozen pipes or water leakage, early discovery can save major damage.
  • Use a “temperature alarm”. Many people use a low-cost fixture available at the hardware store that installs on a household lamp, turning on the lamp when the temperature drops below 60 F. Install a colored bulb in the lamp, and alert your neighbors to keep an eye out for the light. Others tie a low-temperature alarm into their home security system.

If You Think Your Pipes are Frozen

Don’t wait for them to burst. Take measures to thaw them immediately, or call a plumber for assistance. Do NOT attempt to thaw them yourself with any sort of flame!

If Your Pipes Do Burst…
Even a 1″ split in a pipe can cause thousands of dollars in damage in a short time. You need to act quickly to prevent additional damage.

  • Turn off the water!
  • Clean up the water. You don’t want more damage than you already have. An insurance adjuster doesn’t need to see the water, but will want to inspect any damaged items.
  • If you have a lot of water, contact a remediation contractor. Your insurance agent can help you locate one.
  • Remove any carpets, furniture, or other items that can be damaged from further seepage.


Making an Insurance Claim

Many standard homeowners policies cover most of the kinds of damage that can result from a freeze. If house pipes freeze and burst, or if ice forms in gutters and causes water to back up under roof shingles and leak, the resulting water damage is normally covered. Not all policies are alike. Contact your agent to be sure what your policy covers.


Filing a claim:

  • Call your agent or company as soon as you notice the damage. Noyes Hall & Allen clients can find their insurance company claim emergency phone number and other instructions here. If your agent or company requests you to do so, follow up with a written explanation of what happened.
  • Make temporary repairs and take other steps to protect your property from further damage.
  • Save the receipts for what you spend and submit them to your insurance company for reimbursement.
  • Make a list of damaged articles. If your home is so severely damaged that you cannot live there, save the receipts from any additional living expenses you incur for accomodations while repairs are being made.


Car Sharing? Protect Yourself First!

A Valuable Service

Car sharing is an economical way for people who don't own a vehicle – or who need an extra one periodically – to access a private vehicle. Led by Zipcar, the service have been extremely popular in urban areas and at colleges – including Bates College in Lewiston. Now, it's finally come to Portland, Maine – thanks to UCarShare, a division of Uhaul. 

Zipcar logo

Car sharing is often seen as environmentally friendly, because it can reduce the overall number of vehicles on the road, cut down on the demand for parking, and allow people who prefer to use alternative transportation (public transportation, bicycle, scooter, walking), but still need to use a private vehicle from time to time. It encourages density, and helps to reduce sprawl by making city living more convenient. We support the idea, and have blogged about it beforeUcarshare logo

One Big Issue

There's just one aspect that we think you should think about before joining a car share service: liability. Car share companies provide insurance for members while driving the car. But how much? Zipcar says they provide $300,000 of liability coverage (less for members under 21 years old). 

The problem is, you can get into a lot more trouble than that. Maine's Wrongful Death Statute allows up to $500,000 in damages per person, PLUS punitive damages. If you're driving a Zipcar and cause an accident that kills someone, you could be looking at at least $200,000 of responsibility, out of your own pocket. Even worse, you'd have to pay your own legal defense expenses once Zipcar's $300,000 limit was exhausted. 

UCarShare appears to offer even less liability coverage. Their web site says that they offer state minimum limits: $50,000 per person, and $25,000 for property damage (They haven't responded to my email to clarify this). Many cars on the road are worth more than $25,000, and it's easy to imagine a highway accident that would involve several vehicles. Never mind that $50,000 of bodily injury coverage is only 10% of the wrongful death damage limit.  

And, Maine's minimum limits are higher than most. If you cross the border into New Hampshire, you're packing protection of $25,000 per person. And, don't get us started on Florida, with their $10,000 bodily injury limit per person and $10,000 of property damage. 

You Can Protect Yourself

If you have a Maine auto insurance policy with liability coverage, it will cover you after the car share service's policy limits are exhausted, provided that your liability limits are higher than the service's. 

If you don't have a vehicle of your own, you can buy "named non-owner's" insurance to protect you. Talk to an insurance agent – including us – about this. 

One More Thing…

The car share services typically make you responsible for the first $500 of damage to the shared vehicle. Your Maine insurance policy probably won't help you out with that. Also, read your car share contract carefully. You're probably restricted to listed people driving the vehicle, and on certain types of roads and situations. Know the rules before you get behind the wheel!

Good News to Start 2009: Maine Highway Deaths Reduced

Gasbuddy.com chart
Last year was the least deadly on Maine roads since 1959, according to the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety. Several reasons were cited, some of which showed a possible bright side to 2008's historically high gasoline prices. including fewer miles being driven and people slowing down to conserve fuel. Officials also point to increased seat belt use and safer cars on the road as factors in the positive result.

Will Insurance Rates Drop?
If traffic fatalities are down, then insurance rates will follow, right? We think the answer is a definite "maybe." Here are 3 reasons why:
  • Insurance companies use multiple years' experience when they set rates. This avoids wild swings due to one year's particularly bad – or good – experience. Accident fatality statistics have been generally favorable over the last few years. And insurance rates are generally lower as a result (chart below is from III.org).Auto ins rates  
  • Other accident-related costs are increasing. Car insurance can pay for lots of things: medical bills for injured parties, repair costs and body shop storage charges for damaged vehicles, car rental, and repair for other damaged property (utility poles, buildings, etc.). Many of these costs have increased faster than the overall rate of inflation, which insurance companies have to factor into their rates.

 

  • Accident rates haven't decreased, only fatalities.  In a recent Bangor Daily News article, a Maine State Police spokesman said "we've had the same number of crashes.". Of course, insurance companies usually have to pay larger claims in the case of fatalities, but it's the frequency of accidents that drives claims experience (and insurance rates) more than severity.  

Fewer people died last year on Maine roads, and that's great news for everyone. If the trend continues, overall auto insurance rates might continue to drop. Even if it doesn't continue, the good experience should have a calming effect on Maine auto insurance rates.