Insurance for a Maine Home with a Wood Pellet Stove or Wood Boiler

 

Wood and pellet stoves and boilers have long been a popular source of heat for Maine homes and businesses. However, the vast majority of Maine homes use oil as heating fuel. Recent increases in oil prices have led to greater interest in alternative heating fuels in Maine. This has inspired technological improvements in wood-burning appliances.

Graph of home heating fuels in Maine 2011Source: US Census Bureau, American FactFinder

Insurance companies are often slow to adapt to new technologies and changing behaviors. This is prudent, since they rely on empirical data and the law of large numbers to manage risk. Their risk is much greater in the early years of adoption.

Maine homeowners insurance companies have carefully accepted homes heated by wood, provided:

  • The wood or pellet stove or boiler is a secondary heat source.
  • The primary heat source is controlled by a thermostat.
  • The stove is UL approved and installed in accordance with fire codes.
  • The insured follows woodstove safety tips.

In 2012, one of the insurance companies we represent, announced that they would insure homes, farms and businesses with certain wood and pellet stoves and boilers as the primary source of heat. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Homes using pellet or wood stoves must have a thermostatically controlled backup heat source, such as oil, propane or electric.

In addition to the traditional requirements listed above, some insurers require the make and model of the wood stove or boiler, and require the appliance to be:

  • Professionally Installed;
  • Self igniting and thermostatically controlled;
  • Fed automatically by auger or gravity from a bulk storage hopper or silo (pellet fuel only);
  • Protected by a sprinkler head above the unit, if required by code.

For more information about insuring your Maine home or business, contact Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance in South Portland at 207-799-5541. Our Trusted Choice independent Maine insurance agency represents many insurance companies.

 

Preventing Clothes Dryer Fires

 

Now that the Maine weather is turning cooler, many families will be using their clothes dryers more frequently. As a Maine fire insurance agent, we urge you to be careful when using your dryer to avoid the tragedy of a fire in your home, apartment, condominium or business property.

The National Fire Protection Association estimated that nearly 18,000 dryer fires occurred in the U.S. in 2006, killing or injuring more than 350 people, and causing nearly $200 million in property damage.

Common Causes of Dryer Fires

Clothes dryer fire
Dryer fires cause $200 million damage annually. (City of Fitchburg, WI photo)

The leading cause of dryer fires is failure to properly clean the appliance. Lint can build up in the exhaust duct or the dryer itself. This blocks the flow of air, causing heat to build up to the point of combustion. Another common cause is heat build-up in the clothes being dried. This can occur when clothing that the manufacturer labels to be air-dried is placed in the dryer. Clothing with padding is a common culprit; heat builds up in the dense fabric. Clothes that have been soiled with flammables such as gasoline or paint thinners can also cause fires if they are not thoroughly cleaned first.

Dryer Fire Prevention Tips

  • Clean the lint screen before or after each load.
  • Periodically clean the dryer vent and duct. If you notice that your dryer is taking longer than normal to fully dry your clothes, this can indicate a blocked exhaust duct. Check the outside vent while your dryer is running to be sure that air flow is steady and strong. Don’t forget to reconnect the ductwork after cleaning!
  • Install a metal exhaust duct, not the plastic accordion-style ductwork.  Rigid ductwork is better than the flexible type, which can more easily trap lint.
  • Follow clothing manufacturer cleaning instructions. If the label says “air dry”, don’t put it in the dryer.
  • Keep the area around your dryer free of clothing and clutter.
  • Vacuum behind the dryer to prevent lint buildup.
  • Promptly remove dried clothes from the dryer. Do not leave them in the appliance or piled in a laundry basket.

Following these safety tips can help you avoid having to report a homeowners insurance claim, and keep your property and family safe. If you are looking for a Maine independent insurance agency representing many preferred homeowners and condo insurance companies, contact Noyes Hall & Allen Insurance at 207-799-5541.

Homeowners Insurance and the Party Host

It’s summer in Maine, the short, sweet season we all wait for. Our social calendars fill up this time of year. From back yards to beaches, function halls to to city streets,  it seems there’s a festival, party, wedding or other event to celebrate every weekend.

If you host a party, are you liable for injuries to a guest? What if you rent a hall? Does it make a difference if you provide alcohol for your guests, or they bring their own? Are you responsible for your guests after they leave? If you are liable, does your Maine homeowners insurance cover you? Here are some answers.

What is Negligence?

To be legally liable for injury or damage, you have to be found negligent. Negligence is a very complex subject. There are entire books written about the subject. But at its most simple, negligence requires 4 things:

  • A duty of reasonable care – for example to keep your steps in good condition.
  • A breach of that duty –  e.g. leaving your child’s tennis ball on the stairs.
  • Harm – injury to a person or damage to property – e.g. your guest, a Division I scholarship pitcher, falls down the stairs and breaks his pitching arm.
  • Proximate cause – e.g. the ball caused the guest to fall, which caused the injury.
Let’s consider some possible party scenarios, and how your Maine homeowners insurance, condo or renters insurance might respond.

Someone is Injured at Your Home

You hold a high degree of care to people you invite onto your premises. If you host a party for your son’s baseball team, you could be considered liable if:

  • someone twists their ankle in a hole in your yard;
  • someone slips on water in your kitchen;
  • your deck collapses when people are on it;
  • someone is injured when horsing around the deck of your pool.

Homeowners, Condo or Renters Insurance – If you’re negligent, the liability section of your policy would pay damages to people who are injured, along with any legal expenses to defend you.

Someone is Injured Away From Your Home

If you rent a function hall or hotel for a wedding  reception, bat mitzvah or other party, you will probably sign a contract. The contract specifies who is responsible for any damage or injury. The hall may ask you for proof of Maine liability insurance. Usually, your homeowners or renters insurance is sufficient. For an large or involved function, you may need to buy Special Event Insurance. Your local Maine insurance agent can help you evaluate this.

Homeowners, Condo or Renters Insurance – Your local agent can help you evaluate the contract and whether the liability section of your policy would pay damages  or legal expenses to defend you.

Hosting a Party With Alcohol

There is a special area of negligence called “host liquor liability”. In short, if you provide alcohol to guests, the chances of injury or damage increase. You may be held responsible for injuries or damage caused by intoxicated guests, even after they leave your premises. The best way to protect yourself is to hire a professional bartender, and ask them for proof of insurance.

What if your party is not at your home? It doesn’t matter; if you are the host or organizer of the party, you can be found responsible.

What if your party is BYOB? You’re still not off the hook. If you allow people to consume too much alcohol on your premises, or allow them to leave while drunk, you might be found responsible for the consequences. Needless to say, if you allow minors to consume alcohol, you can be subject to criminal law and penalties, not just negligence law.

Homeowners, Condo or Renters Insurance – Most policies provide liability coverage for host liquor liability at your home or another location, as long as you’re not charging for alcohol.  No insurance policy covers criminal penalties or defense against criminal allegations.

If you are a Maine resident, and have questions about insurance, we’re happy to answer them. Contact a Noyes Hall & Allen agent at 207-799-5541. We’re independent and committed to you.

Keep Yourself Safe When You’re Out on the Town

Portland, Maine is a fun place to live or visit. It has world-class restaurants, lots of music venues, and bars ranging from polished cocktail lounges to pickled-egg dives. While Portland is a generally safe city, it makes sense to protect yourself at night – especially if you have been drinking.

Here are some personal safety tips to make sure that you end your evening with only pleasant memories.

Avoid Excessive Drinking

Know how alcohol affects your judgement. Everyone is different; you know your limits better than anyone else. Stay well on the safe side of those limits. Trust servers or your friends if they tell you you’ve had enough.

Be a Good “Wing Man”

Look out for others in your party. Watch your friend’s drink if they need to step away, and never leave your own drink unattended. If you lose track of a friend in a bar, don’t assume that they’re OK. Find them, call or text them to make sure they’re all right. If you think they’re making a poor decision (driving when they shouldn’t, leaving with the wrong person, etc.), talk them out of it. They may not appreciate it then, but they will later.

Safety in Numbers

Walk in groups whenever you can, and stay in well-lit areas. Use sidewalks, and walk near the curb to avoid doorways, shrubbery and other hiding places. Look like you know where you’re going – even if you’re not sure. Walk with confidence at a steady pace.

Avoid Conflict

If you find yourself in an argument that seems to be escalating, walk away. Never carry an illegal weapon. Nothing escalates a fight more than a weapon, and someone can get hurt with it – even you.

Protect Your Valuables

If you use an ATM, bring a friend with you, and use an indoor machine if possible. When you’re in a bar, at a show, or in a restaurant, do not hang your purse or bag on the back of a seat. Keep your wallet in your pocket unless you’re paying or showing your ID. Although theft is covered by your Maine homeowners or renters insurance, your policy has a deductible, and coverage for cash is minimal under most policies.

Stay in Safe Areas

Avoid walking near unprotected waterfront areas, alleys or “sketchy” areas. Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you.

Take a Cab

Everyone knows not to drink and drive, but too many people still do. Walking or biking after you’ve been drinking can be just as dangerous.  Fortunately, Portland has plenty of cabs on any given night. Do yourself a favor and take one home or back to your hotel. The cab fare is a lot less than the expense of a DUI, or the loss of your car insurance discounts.

By using good sense, you can keep you and your friends safe when you’re out on the town.

Five Thoughtful Holiday Gift Suggestions – Insurance Agent Approved!

It’s Black Friday, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. If you’re stumped for gift ideas this year, we have a few suggestions for thoughtful gifts that are approved by your local Maine insurance agent.

Smoke & Carbon Monoxide Detector

Not only could they save hundreds of lives each year, carbon monoxide detectors are required in Maine before you can sell or rent any residence. They are a inexpensive, easy to install, and a great way to protect those you love.

Data Backup Solution

All electronic and mechanical devices fail eventually. It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN it will happen to your loved ones. With the popularity of digital photography and music, we risk losing irreplaceable memories and expensive entertainment media.  Why not give a data storage subscription or an external hard drive? A recent study of home computer users indicated that nearly 90% did not regularly back up their data. By giving an easy means to back up their information, you are helping spare someone from heartbreak, expense, and inconvenience. How thoughtful!

Personal Emergency Response System

The “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” TV ads became the unintentional source of humorous imitation several years ago. But there’s nothing funny about the thought of a loved one being unable to call for help when they need it most. If someone on your gift list lives alone, and has health or mobility challenges, they probably do worry about that scenario. Why not show them that you care about them by giving them a portable call button system?

Tree Pruning Gift Certificate

In our business, we see a lot of damage from fallen tree limbs. Another common question we get is “my neighbor’s tree fell on my property“, which can lead to community discord. Tree maintenance is not for the faint of heart, or the fragile of health. Proper pruning requires special tools and knowledge, good balance, strength and fearlessness. It’s best left to a professional. A gift certificate for a local tree pruning service can help preserve your loved one’s property, health, and neighborly relations.

Bicycle

When you were a kid, didn’t you often wish for a bike? More and more adults are rediscovering the joys of riding a bike. It’s healthy, saves money, is good for the environment, and – most of all – it’s fun! Who wouldn’t feel loved if you gave them a new bike?

The Noyes Hall & Allen team wishes you a safe and happy holiday season.

How Much Does Car Insurance Cost For a 16-Year Old in Maine?

 

Parents of young teens often dread the day they start driving. They worry about their safety, the responsibility for others in the car or on the road, and the expense. Between insurance, gas, and maybe  buying another car, it’s expensive to have a teen driver.

teen driver by jamesstewartThe cost to insure a teen driver varies greatly, depending upon driving record, vehicle types, use of the vehicle, and coverage level. Rates and rules vary by insurance company, too. Most Maine insurers only require you to add a driver when they get their license, not their learners’ permit.

If everyone’s driving record is clean, your teen has a vehicle at their disposal most or all of the time, and that vehicle has comprehensive and collision coverage, expect to pay $1,500 to $2,000 extra per year to add a teenager to your policy. If they buy their own vehicle and insurance, it can cost more than that.

Strategies to Reduce the Cost of Car Insurance for Your Teen.

  1. Drop collision coverage on the vehicle.  Yearly savings: about $500 – $750.
    If your teen is the primary driver of a vehicle that is paid off, you can choose to self-insure collision damage for that vehicle.
    Downside:  If the vehicle is damaged in an accident, your insurance company will not pay to repair it.
    Surprising Fact: Teens may drive more carefully, knowing that if they’re in an accident, the vehicle may not be repaired or replaced.
  2. Have fewer cars than drivers. Yearly savings: about $1,000 to $1,500.
    If your child does not have a vehicle available for everyday use, they are considered an “occasional operator”. Most insurers charge a lower rate for these drivers.
    Downside: You have to share a vehicle, which can be inconvenient.
    Surprising fact: Many families start with this approach, and move to option #1 as the teen gains driving experience.
  3.  Get the Discounts You Deserve. Yearly savings: $50 to $100.
    Most insurers offer Maine auto insurance discounts for teens who are honor roll students or who complete a driver education program.
    Downside: none. Who doesn’t like saving money, or encouraging your teen to make good grades?
    Surprising Fact: Some insurers offer auto discounts for being a non-smoker, low-mileage driving, or displaying safe driving habits.

If you’re in the market for auto insurance in Greater Portland, get 5 free car insurance quotes online, or call Noyes Hall & Allen at 207-799-5541. If you live in another area, we recommend calling a local independent agent. Look for an agency that can offer you a choice from Maine’s best auto insurance companies, and provide professional local service.

 

Photo credit: Teen driver by jamesstewart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Space Heaters: How to Stay Warm AND Safe

It’s getting colder in Maine. With today’s high fuel prices, many of us try to delay turning on the heat as long as possible. For some people, that means using a space heater to “take the chill off”. As with any appliance, it’s important to know the associated hazards and best practices for avoiding them.

Fires and Burns

The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that space heaters are involved more than 25,000 home fires every year, causing more than 300 deaths.The SPSC estimates that another 6000 people, many of them children, visit emergency rooms for burns from touching hot surfaces.

  • Check the wires, fuel lines and tanks often to make sure they’re in good condition.
  • Keep combustibles at least 3 feet away from space heaters.
  • Leave your space heater on the floor, unless it’s designed otherwise.
  • If you smell gas, turn off all controls, open a window, and leave the area.
  • Propane is heavier than air. Avoid electrical switches or appliances if you smell gas. And, of course, no smoking!
  • Do not use electric space heaters in wet areas, such as the bathroom.
  • Keep children and animals away from space heaters.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

CO is an odorless, colorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of gasoline, natural gas, propane, kerosene, coal or wood. Symptoms of CO poisoning include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Prolonged exposure can cause lack of coordination, confusion, loss of consciousness, and even death.

Modern space heaters (made after 1983) have sensors that automatically shut off the appliance if a reduced level of oxygen is detected. In addition, your best protection is a good, working CO detector.

If you have property in Maine, and have questions about home, renters or condominium insurance, our Portland area insurance agency can help. We’re locally owned, and represent many of  Maine’s best insurance companies. That means we can provide you with customized choices.  Contact a Noyes Hall & Allen agent for answers!

Here’s to a mild – and safe – heating season!

Do I Have to Wait for the Insurance Company Before Repairing Maine Storm Damage?

Hurricane Irene visited Maine yesterday. Fortunately, the southern Maine wind damage was mostly limited to fallen trees and limbs – at least judging by our clients who contacted us to report an insurance claim.

The most common claim question today is “A tree fell on my house. Can I remove it, or do I have to wait for the insurance company to inspect it”? As this prior post explained, fallen trees aren’t always covered by insurance. But, if a tree lands on your home or other structure, your homeowners or business policy probably covers both the damage it causes and the cost to remove it.

Generally, it’s fine to remove the tree from your home or driveway to assess the damage and to  make temporary repairs to preserve your property. You don’t need to wait for the insurance adjuster to see it; they can usually tell what happened by the scars that the tree or limb left behind.

5 Things to Do if a Tree Falls on Your Property

  • Document the damage with digital photos or video.
  • Take action to preserve your property from further damage. Remove the tree from the structure, make temporary repairs, or move property indoors.
  • Save damaged property for the insurance company to inspect.
  • Schedule – but don’t begin – permanent repairs. Repair contractors are very busy after a natural disaster. The earlier you schedule your job with a reputable, experienced and insured contractor, the better the chance of your property being repaired faster. Do not start repairs until the insurance company has a chance to see your damage.
  • Report your claim. Noyes Hall & Allen clients can contact an agent to start the process.

If you have questions about Maine homeowners insurance, condo insurance, renters insurance or insuring your Maine business property, call Noyes Hall & Allen at 207-799-5541.

Identity Theft in Maine – Can Insurance Help?

Identity theft has been a hot topic in Maine recently. It’s a nearly unavoidable risk in our digital age. Many of our clients have asked about “identity theft insurance”.  We’re not aware of any insurance that can prevent identity fraud from occurring, or pay for fraudulent charges someone may make on your account. Some of the insurers we represent do offer solutions that can help if your information has already been compromised.

Experts recommend using the  3 D’s” to help you reduce the chance of identity theft, and deal with it if it does happen: Deter, Detect and Defend.

DETER Identity Theft

  • Shred financial documents before you throw them away.
  • Don’t give out personal info to anyone unless you have initiated the contact and know who you are dealing with.
  • Lock personal information at home, especially if you are having work done at your house, or have roommates.
  • Choose complex passwords. Avoid birth dates or easily guessed numbers or phrases.
  • Don’t print your Social Security Number on checks,  carry your card in your wallet, or give it out unless absolutely necessary (insurance agents may ask for it to quote your home or auto insurance; it’s not required, but does provide the most accurate quote).

DETECT by Monitoring Your Accounts

  • Inspect financial statements for charges you did not make.
  • Check your credit report for information that seems incorrect.
  • Be alert to bills that do not arrive as expected.

DEFEND Yourself as Soon as You Suspect a Problem

  • Place a “fraud alert” on your credit reports. To place an initial 90-day fraud alert, call one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies:
    • Equifax:             800-525-6285
    • Experian:          888-397-3742
    • TransUnion:     800-680-7289
  • Close accounts that have been affected. Ask for written verification that the account has been closed and any fraudulent debts wiped out.
  • File a police report.

Identity Fraud Insurance in Maine

Your Maine insurance agency probably sells products that can reimburse you from expenses incurred to help you recover from identity theft.

 Identity Fraud Insurance May Pay for:

  • Cost of notifying merchants, credit agencies and lenders.
  • Lost wages and incurred daycare expenses for time you spend notifying authorities and lenders.
  • A “resolution service” to work with you through the process.
  • Fees for re-applying and re-issuing government-issued personal documentation.
  • Loan application fees for re-applying if your application was rejected because of incorrect credit information.
  • Attorney fees for defense of lawsuits from creditors, criminal charges, or contesting wrongfully incurred tax liability.

 

Identity Fraud Insurance Does NOT pay for:

  • Fraudulent charges on a credit card (these are usually wiped out by the lender, provided you notify them promptly).
  • Extra expenses you may incur because your credit was frozen due to suspected identity fraud.

Many of the insurance companies we represent sell Identity Fraud Expense Reimbursement coverage. To speak with an experienced Maine insurance agent, contact us at 207-799-5541.  For more information about identity theft, we recommend the FTC’s consumer web site.

 

How to Remove An Ice Dam From Your Roof

After a few mild years, Maine is in the middle of an “old-fashioned winter”, which means plenty of snow and cold temperatures. Our Maine insurance agency is prepared for homeowners insurance claims for damage caused by frozen pipes, weight of snow, and ice dams.

What is an Ice Dam?

icicles_Ice_DamIf you have icicles hanging from your roof, there’s probably an ice dam behind them.  An ice dam is a ridge of ice that builds at the edge of a roof which prevents melting snow from draining off the roof. The melting snow above feeds the dam below. Draining water backs up behind the dammed ice. It flows into your attic through cracks and openings in your roof covering. From the attic it flows into your home, damaging walls, insulation and ceilings.

How to Prevent Ice Dams

Differences in temperature of various areas of your roof cause ice dams. The best prevention is a combination of insulation and ventilation. A well-ventilated attic keeps cold air circulating, maintaining a constant temperature. Proper insulation keeps the warm air in your home, allowing the ventilation to do its job.

Remove snow from the lowest 5′ of your roof with a snow rake if possible. Leave 2-3 inches of snow on the roof to prevent shingle damage. It’s safest to work from the ground. If you must get on a ladder, have someone to “spot” you. Make sure your ladder is on secure footing, and stay away from electrical lines.

How to Remove an Ice Dam

Raking Snow from RoofRemoving an ice dam is delicate and dangerous work. You should not attempt it yourself unless you are physically capable. You can damage your roof or injure yourself if you do it improperly.

  • Remove snow from your roof. If you DIY, use a “roof rake” and a push broom. If not, plenty of local contractors are available to do this for you.
  • If water is flowing into your home, you can ease the flow by making a channel through the dam with warm water. DO NOT use a sharp object to break the dam. You will damage your roof!
  • Some people use a thawing agent to help melt the dam. Some put the melting agent in nylon netting (womens’ hosiery in a pinch) to hold it in place over the dam. Others recommend against this,  saying that it can damage shingles.

Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Ice Dams?

Many Maine homeowners policies cover interior water damage caused by ice dams. Typically not covered are the cost to remove the dam.

Ice dams do not usually damage a roof that’s in good condition. Once the ice melts, the shingles lay back down. If your shingles were in good condition, and ice damages them, your policy might pay to replace them. Policies and conditions vary.  Check with your agent or insurance company to be sure.

For answers to your questions about Maine homeowners insurance or Maine business property insurance , call 207-799-5541. Your personal or business insurance agent at Noyes Hall & Allen is ready to help.