As a homeowner, it can be easy to overlook important home maintenance, but with winter approaching, there’s one task in particular you’ll want to complete. And that’s getting your furnace in tip-top shape.
That bulky metal box in your basement (or crawl space, attic, or even hall closet, depending on where you live) is what produces the warm air that keeps your house cozy, making it possibly the most important piece of winter equipment in your home.
The good news is that furnace maintenance is relatively easy: a combination of simple do-it-yourself tasks and an annual tune-up by a professional. Here’s how to get it done.
Furnace Tasks You Can Do
Inspect the air filters. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program suggests doing a monthly check of your furnace’s air filter and replacing it when it looks dirty. Frequent changes prevent the accumulation of dirt and debris, which can reduce efficiency and lead to equipment failure. Changing the filter is especially important if you’re new to the home—who knows what dust and grime others left behind? Tip: To make sure you’re buying the right filter, check your existing one; the size is usually printed on the side.
Maintain a carbon monoxide detector. A failing furnace can leak carbon monoxide, so you’ll want to keep a battery-operated or battery-backup carbon monoxide detector in your basement (and every level of your home), according to the National Fire Protection Organization, placing it at least 15 feet away from the furnace to avoid a false alarm. Tip: Change detector batteries in the spring and fall, on daylight saving day, when you change your clocks.
Keep vents clean and clear. Before you turn on your system for the season, remove all the heating vent covers from the floors and ceilings around your home, and vacuum out the ducts. Dust, pet dander, and all those toy soldier pieces that seemingly go missing can collect there, causing your furnace to work harder. Tip: When cleaning ceiling vents spread a sheet on the floor and wearing goggles to shield your eyes from falling dust.
Tasks Best Left to the Professionals
Annual tune-up. A pre-season checkup by a professional is an absolute must to help prevent costly problems down the road. A heating contractor will make sure that your thermostat is working accurately and that your system is cycling on and off properly, and will typically go through a series of checks and tasks, including:
  •          Tightening loose electrical connections
  •          Oiling all the moving parts
  •          Inspecting all gas connections


 
Given the current economy many of us are looking to save money wherever we can. Did you know your utility bills typically account for 15% of your take-home pay? Knowing those bills can consume such a large part of your paycheck, wouldn’t it be nice to cut 25 -50% off of those bills?
We like to share money-saving tips with anytime we can, even if they’re not insurance related. To that end we have put together a list of our top 20 energy and money-saving tips and tricks. You can find the complete list below.
1. Do your chores at night. Limit the use of heat-generating appliances such as the oven, dishwasher and clothes dryer during the daytime hours when temperatures are hottest. That way you won’t make your air conditioner work harder than it has to during the day.

2. Water in the early morning. If you water your lawn on a regular basis, do so in the early morning hours. By doing so you reduce the amount of water that evaporates.FYI: It’s not recommended to water in the late evening because having damp grass overnight provides a good environment for parasites that can harm your lawn.
3. Change your light bulbs. Compact florescent bulbs use about 25% of the electricity of standard incandescent bulbs and will last for years. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb with a comparable 15-watt fluorescent light bulb could save you $69 over the life of the new bulb.
4. Seal up the house. Did you know that a properly sealed and insulated home improves energy efficiency by up to 20%? Invest in caulk and weather stripping to plug up any drafts around the edges of you doors and windows.
5. Stop gushing. Turn the valves under the kitchen and bathroom sinks halfway off. When you open a faucet water won’t come gushing out, but there will be plenty to wash dishes or brush teeth.

6. Check your insulation. Having a well-insulated house will save you a significant amount on your heating and cooling bills and is well worth the cost. It is also the kind of project average homeowners can do themselves.7. Use fans. Using a fan is a lot cheaper than running your air-conditioning unit. By doing so you can also turn your thermostat up a few degrees and still be comfortable
8. Don’t vent. Use bathroom and kitchen vent fans sparingly in summer and winter. These fans cost money to run and blow your cooled or heated air outside, forcing your furnace or air conditioner to make up the difference.
9. Hang ’em out to dry. Besides your refrigerator, your electric clothes dryer is the biggest energy-gobbling appliance in your home. So if it’s nice outside, simply hang your clothes out to dry.
10. Change your showerheads. You can switch to a low flow head without having to settle for a wimpy shower. Newer showerheads can generate high pressure while using less water. These heads cost around $20, have multiple settings, and can save a lot of water.
11. Keep it clean. Clean air filters monthly for central air, window and wall units. Dirt and dust hinder airflow, reducing efficiency.
12. Close the blinds. Rooms get hotter without shades or curtains to block the sunlight, especially with south-facing and west-facing windows. Insulated window treatments can help further reduce energy consumption as well.
13. Consider time-of-use plans. A growing number of electric companies are offering time-of-use plans, which offer lower rates for energy consumption during off-peak hours (usually from midevening to early morning). The catch is users often pay more for peak-hours use, so consider your daily schedule before signing up.
14. Have a free energy audit. Many power companies provide energy audits free of charge to help you find inefficiencies you may not be able to find on your own. Contact your power company to see if they offer this service.
15. Unplug. Disconnect your electronic gadgets when they are fully charged or you’re just wasting energy. They draw power when they are plugged in, so don’t let them soak up juice all night. Standby power for appliances not in use typically accounts for 5% to 10% of residential electricity use, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
16. Keep the dust out. Keeping your refrigerator’s coils dust-free can save about 6 percent on its power consumption. Just make sure to unplug the fridge before you do anything.
17. Power down. If you have an electric water heater, install a switch so it is on only when you need hot water. You can also buy a timer to do the job automatically. Turning down the temperature on an electric or gas water heater will also save you money year-round.
18. Install a programmable thermostat. As simple as this sounds, do you know that a programmable thermostat saves homeowners $300 annually on their heating and cooling bills. =
19. Check it. Hire a certified technician for an annual check on your home’s heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems to ensure they are operating at peak efficiency. Leaking ducts, for example, could reduce energy efficiency by up to 20%.
20. Heat health. To conserve energy, turn off radiators or close heating and cooling vents in vacant rooms. Heavy drapes also lower energy bills.

Last week we mentioned how when the temperature drops, the number of claims associated with fires and frozen pipes skyrockets.   We also provided some tips on avoiding fire claims inside of your home.   This week our focus in avoiding the dreaded frozen pipes.
Before the Cold Hits:

  • Check for small holes or cracks in the exterior of your home and ensure they are insulated.
  • Cover around any water pipes that are on the inside of exterior walls.

 
If your House is Occupied During the Winter:

  • Maintain temperature settings at 3-4 degrees higher than normal.
  • Turn on any faucets and allow a constant trickle.
  • Open any cabinet doors under sinks to allow heat to warm the pipes.
  • Insulate your pipes.
  • Shut off exterior faucets used for garden hoses from inside your basement and leave the exterior faucets open outside.

 
If your House is Unoccupied During the Winter:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 60 degrees and install a low heat alarm.
  • Have a plumber install a low water cutoff switch on a forced hot water boiler.
  • Have the water service shut off all to your house.
  • Drain all waterlines leaving drain valves open.
  • Shut off gas to the home.
  • Have the house checked weekly.

 
If you are interested in any additional tips for your home or you would like a quote on your homeowners insurance, please don’t hesitate to contact our office.

As an Arvada resident, if you have ever been in an auto accident you know it can be a stressful situation.  We hope you will find the following list of of steps to take if you are ever involved in an auto accident useful:

Be Prepared

  • Carry a set of warning triangles or emergency flares in your trunk to help alert traffic.
  • Carry a card in your glove compartment that contains emergency contact information and any necessary medical information.
  • Also, it’s not a bad idea to keep a pen and paper along with a disposable camera in the car.

Immediately After an Accident

  • Check for injuries; call an ambulance when in doubt.
  • If accident is minor, move cars out of traffic.
  • Turn on your vehicle’s hazard lights and use warning triangles or flares for safety.
  • Call the police.
  • Notify your insurance agent immediately.

Other Important Tips

  • Do not sign any document unless it’s for the police.
  • Make immediate notes about the accident, including specific damages to all vehicles involved, witness information.  If possible use a disposable camera or camera in your cell phone to document everything.
  • If the name on an auto registration is different than the driver, jot down the relationship.
  • State only the facts, and limit your discussion of the accident to the police.
  • If possible, don’t leave the accident scene before the police and other drivers do.

 

Going on our blog post from last week about the insurance discounts available to Denver and Arvada residents, this week we wanted to share with our Denver and Arvada residents the auto insurance discounts that are available to them:
1. Multi-Policy Discount.  Just like for homeowners, the quickest and easiest policy discount is the multi-policy discount that you can obtain simply by combining your home and auto insurance policies.
2. Multi-Car Discount. By insuring multiple cars with the same insurance company on the same policy, you will be eligible for reductions on your premiums.
3. Passive Restraint.  Purchasing a vehicle with factory-installed safety belts and air bags will qualify for a discount.
4. Antilock Brakes.  Factory-installed antilock brakes on all four wheels will help as well.
5. Anti-Theft Devices.  Active and passive disabling devices like alarms or vehicle recovery devices will add significant premium discounts to your auto policy.
6. Good Student Discount.  If you have teen drivers in your household, you will want to see if you can qualify for a good student premium discount.   Usually maintaining a B or equivalent grade point average.
7. Low Mileage Discount. One of the biggest discounts available is the low mileage discount.   Many insurance companies will reduce your premiums significantly for driving your vehicle less.
If you have any questions on the discounts available to you for your auto insurance, of if you would like to receive quotes on your autos, please feel free to contact our office.

We were recently asked how a homeowners insurance policy protects homes from flying debris and falling trees.  Is there coverage available for those types of claims? If so, is there a limit associated with it?
Most standard homeowners insurance policies do provide coverage for flying debris and falling trees; however, there are some very important conditions to be aware of that are related to this coverage.
For example, if a tree falls and damages an insured home, both the damage to the residence and the cost to remove the tree are both covered with the homeowners insurance policy limits.   Most policies, though, will only provide $500 to pay for the cost of removing the fallen tree.
However, if a tree falls into your yard, but does not damage your home, then the cost to remove the tree would not be covered by your homeowners insurance policy.  Damage to your trees and shrubs resulting from losses due to vandalism, theft, and fire will typically be covered by your policy, though.
If you would like to find out more about how your specific homeowners insurance policy would respond to these types of claims, please don’t hesitate to give our office a call.

As the temperatures are dropping fire and freeze-up claims both steadily rise.   In an effort to decrease both the frequency and severity of these types of claims, we want to spend the next two blog posts providing you tips to avoid both house fires and frozen pipes.   The post this week will focus specifically on preventing fires.
Fire Prevention Tips:
1. Woodstoves and Fireplaces: Inspect and clean chimneys and stove pipes regularly and at least twice a year.  Make sure to keep any combustible materials away from the heat source and dispose of any ashes into a noncombustible container.
2. Furnaces: Ensure your furnace is at least serviced and inspected annually by a licensed technician.
3. Fire Extinguishers: If you have a woodstove or fireplace you should have at least one fire extinguisher handy.
4. Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Check all smoke detectors to ensure they are functioning properly.  If you do not have a carbon monoxide detector, we recommend you install at least one near either the furnace or bedrooms inside the house.
5. Fire Drills: Even though it may sound a little corny, holding practice fire drills with your family may save their lives.  Teach your family what to do and where to meet in an emergency.
6. Wiring: If you have an older home, it is worth the investment to have a licensed electrician check all the wiring in the house.  Older systems have trouble handling the energy requirements of new homes and can present a serious fire hazard.
7. Eletrical Outlets: Don’t overload or overuse extension cords.
8. Space Heaters: Don’t ever leave space heaters unattended and make sure there aren’t any combustible materials nearby.
For more information on preventing fire inside your home or if you would like to find out how The Holste Agency can help you save money on your homeowners insurance premiums, please contact our office today.

Life insurance can be a daunting purchase.  While many families know they should purchase it, the majority don’t know how or where to begin.   With that in mind we have compiled a list of the 5 tips to help any first-time buyers for life insurance.
Tip 1. Understand Why You Need Life Insurance
Most people understand that life insurance is designed to provide families with financial security in the event of the death of a spouse or parent.  However, we have found that many don’t know that life insurance protection can help pay for mortgages, a college education, help to fund retirement, day-to-day living expenses, and even charitable bequests.
If others depend on your income for support, you should strongly consider life insurance.  The younger you are when you purchase a life insurance policy the cheaper it will.  So, even if you don’t have any of the needs mentioned above immediately, you still may want to consider purchasing a small policy.
Tip 2. Determine the Amount of Life Insurance Coverage You Need
The amount of money your family or heirs will receive after your death is called a death benefit.  There are a number of ways to calculate the right coverage amount to ensure your family will have enough money to maintain their current standard of living.
The first way is to simply take your annual salary and multiple it by 8 or 10.   The next way is to add up your current monthly expenses and add any additional future expenses (like a college education) for a total benefit amount.   A third way is to use an online calculator that will help determine a proper benefit amount.  And the fourth way is to sit down with a licensed life insurance agent who can help guide you through determining a proper benefit amount.
Tip 3. Find the Right Type of Policy
Once you’ve got an estimate of how much insurance you’ll need, it’s time to think about the type of policy that best fits your needs. Today life insurance comes in many varieties, but there are four basic types term, whole life, universal life, and variable life. As a first-time buyer, one will more than likely fit your needs.
Term Life Insurance
As its name implies, term insurance provides life insurance protection for a specific period of years. Benefits can be used to help pay off mortgages and other outstanding debts in the event of a premature death.  This is usually the least expensive form of life insurance as it doesn’t accumulate a cash value or receive dividends.
Whole Life
In contrast to term insurance, whole life, also known as permanent insurance, protects you throughout your lifetime, from the day you purchase the policy until you die, as long as you pay the premiums.
Whole life insurance also builds cash value that can be accessed by the policyholder through policy loans.  The policy loans are paid back by decreasing the benefit amount by the amount of the loan plus any accumulated interest.
Whole life insurance is guaranteed for life as long as the premiums are paid, regardless of your health conditions.  Because these policies are permanent they are also eligible for dividends from the issuing life insurance company.
Universal Life
Universal life also provides permanent life insurance protection and access to cash values that grow tax-deferred. Universal Life differs from whole life in its flexibility that enables you to choose the amount of protection that best suits your family or business. With Universal Life, you can increase or decrease your coverage, as your insurance needs change and control the amount and frequency of premium payments.
Variable Universal Life*
Variable Universal Life insurance is a type of flexible premium, permanent life insurance policy that allows the policy owners to have premium dollars allocated to a variety of investment options.  Variable Universal Life Insurance generally provides a federal income tax-free death benefit, and is accessible through policy loans and/or withdrawals.
There are risks associated with investing in variable universal life insurance policies. Please be aware that assets allocated to the Investment Divisions are subject to market risks and will fluctuate in value. Please be aware there are fees and charges associated with these policies.
Tip 4. Look at the Quality of the Company
An insurance policy is only as good as the company that backs it. You want to know for certain that the company that issues your policy will be around to service it and eventually pay the death claim. To help you discern the strongest companies, there are several ratings agencies that rate insurance companies on the quality of their fiscal fitness, quality of investments, and overall financial soundness. A credit rating represents an independent assessment of the insurer’s ability to pay its claims on time and meet all its other financial obligations, the bottom line for any life insurance company. There are four leading agencies: A.M. Best, Standard and Poors, Moody’s, and Fitch.
Each agency has slightly different criteria and looking at different ratings for one company will give you a good overview of the company’s financial strength.
Tip 5. Consult a Life Insurance Expert
A Life Insurance Agent provides an invaluable service.  In addition to assisting with the setting up your initial policy and calculating a proper insurance limit, a life insurance agent will help you update your coverage as your needs change.

 
 

Here are the top 5 reasons why you should strongly consider buying the collision damage waiver when renting a car:
1. Loss Valuation and Settlement. Did you know most rental agreements allow the rental car company to determine the value of the vehicle solely at its discretion if you are involved in a claim?
So if you are in an accident that totals a vehicle that is a few years old, the rental car company can still charge for a brand new vehicle. A standard auto insurance policy only pays “Actual Cash Value” of the vehicle, which means you will be stuck with the difference in value.
2. Indirect Losses. If there is an accident you will most likely also be responsible for the loss of rental income incurred by the company while the damaged vehicle cannot be used. And, while many auto policies will provide some coverage for this, there have been many cases where individuals are still charged thousands of dollars above what their insurance company would pay for.
3. Administrative Fees. If you damage a vehicle, there is a good possibility the rental car company will add additional charges for expenses such as towing, storage, and claims adjustment calling them “administrative fees”. Your insurance policy will not provide coverage for these expenses, either.
4. Diminution of Value. This is another fee the rental car company can add on if the damage to the vehicle is over a certain amount. For example, if a rented vehicle sustains more than $1,000 damage, many companies will charge an additional percentage fee (typically 25%) because they figure the sustained damage has now decreased the value of the car and their ability to sell it. Your auto policy isn’t picking up this fee.
5. Loss Payment. If you happen to damage a vehicle, it is common for the rental car company to immediately charge your credit card for the damage to the vehicle. This can create a huge mess as could potentially max out your credit card. This can create some real headaches with your insurance company.
One of the provisions within your policy is that the insurance company needs to be able to inspect the vehicle so they can accurately calculate a damage amount. However, the rental car company may not wait for an adjuster, and it is common for them to charge your credit card and begin repairs immediately.
The problem is that the provision within your insurance policy mentioned above may actually give your auto insurance company the right to deny the claim as they were not allowed to properly inspect the vehicle.
Between just the fees associated with damaging a vehicle, the valuation process, and payment mess, you can see how you could easily be out thousands of dollars. By not signing the waiver, you may potentially be setting yourself up for some huge personal expenses.
Recommendation: We know you don’t want to pay more money for the waiver, but believe us, if you happen to damage a rented vehicle, you’re life will be a thousand times easier than if you hadn’t signed and paid for it.
Also, please double check to see how your own insurance policy will react to some of the claims scenarios above.

Disclaimer: The above information is to be used as guidance only, and it is not to be considered as definite in any particular case. Every policy is different and you need to read through your policy and consult with your agent to best determine how your coverage will respond. The information provided is based on the ISO standard Personal Auto Policy in force in most states. Policy provisions and laws vary from state to state and they can change at any time. Due to the brevity of this article, we cannot analyze every possible loss exposure and exception to the general guidelines above.

 

1. Mold and water damage
A spike in mold-related claims at the turn of the century led most insurers to strike the coverage entirely from their homeowners policies.
Since 2000, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of mold-related claims submitted to insurance companies. The peak came around 2002 when Ed McMahon filed a $20 million lawsuit against his insurance company for mold-related damages. After that, many insurance companies stopped providing coverage completely or limited their coverage to a very small amount.
2. Sewer backup
The only thing worse than having a bathroom or basement overflowing with sewage is the fact that you may have pay the entire bill yourself.
Sewage backups are a standard exclusion on many homeowners insurance policies. Without purchasing the additional rider (which is usually less than $100), there is a very good chance you will have to pay for the cleanup yourself.
We will often see the homeowners try to get their cities to pay for the damages, but without being able to prove negligence it is a very difficult thing to do.
3. Natural disasters
Depending on where you live, your insurance policy may exclude coverage for certain natural disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes, wind, and flood.
If you live in an area likely to be involved in a natural disaster, then your insurance company may be reluctant to provide coverage for the incident. For example, almost every homeowners insurance policy excludes any coverage for earthquakes, floods or landslides. That coverage must be purchased through a specialty insurance company or the government.
Also, if your home is located in a very remote area far away from any fire station or you live in a coastal area, then your insurance policy may not provide damage from fire or wind.
4. Neglect
Home damage that happens over a long period of time like a slow water leak or a termite infestation may leave with a massive headache and a huge repair bill.
Homeowners insurance policies are written to cover “sudden and unexpected losses” that happen to your home. Insurance companies expect you to care for your home and deal with any maintenance issues that come up. This means problems like a slow water leaks or infestations are usually excluded on your insurance policy because they develop over a long period of time and should have been detected by the homeowner.
Bruce Johnson, author of “50 Simple Ways to Save Your House,” recommends conducting regular home inspections to detect any potential problems. Tour the exterior of your home to look for cracks, decay or water damage. Check the condition of the roof and inspect the basement or crawl space for other hidden problems, including rodent droppings, termites or leaks.
5. Trampolines
Some hazards like a swimming pool or swing set may cause an increase in your premiums while other hazards like trampolines may be outright excluded on your policy.
According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, there are approximately 98,000 trampoline-related injuries every year with fractures and dislocations accounting for 48% of those injuries.
With that in mind many insurance companies are now excluding any injury related to trampolines. In fact, some insurance companies will actually cancel your insurance policy if they find out your have purchased one.
So if you have purchased a trampoline be sure to speak with our office to find out how it will affect your liability coverage and insurance policy.
6. Dogs
Dog bites now account for over one-third of all homeowners insurance claims with average damages totaling over $10,000.
With total damages now exceeding $310 million a year, it is easy to see why insurance companies are very leery to insure residences with dogs. Whether or not your insurance company will surcharge for owning a dog or provide coverage at all depends upon the breed of dog you own.
Troublesome breeds like pit bulls, German shepherds, Rottweilers, and huskies may make finding an insurance policy that will provide liability coverage very difficult. Providing proof of dog training and a proper fenced-in enclosure with help prove to insurance companies you are taking the necessary steps to protect yourself and others, and they may be willing to discount your premiums for doing so.
7. Intentional damage
If your rebellious teenager or estranged spouse intentionally damages your home, there is a good chance you will be paying for the damages yourself.
Intentional damages caused by an insured person – you, your spouse, dependents or any relatives living in the home – aren’t typically covered by your homeowners insurance policy. Estranged spouses are a very gray area for insurance companies: while they may not live at the residence, they may still be listed on the deed or have an insurable interest in the home, which will give insurance companies a right to deny any claim from their destruction.
If you have any questions on the claims scenarios above and would like to find out how your insurance policy will respond, please don’t hesitate to contact our office.