Tag Archives: homeowners

Differences Between Gasoline and Diesel

Several automobile manufacturers offer diesel-powered cars, but are they a good option?

Many of us have pulled up to the gas pump at our local convenience store, absentmindedly picked up the nozzle at the end of the green hose and spent a few seconds of confusion wondering why it wouldn’t fit into the fuel filler of our car. We eventually realize it was the hose for diesel, not gasoline, and put it back on its holder.

Seeing those hoses at the gas pump does make us wonder, though. What’s the difference between a gasoline engine and one that runs on diesel fuel, and why would someone choose one over the other?

In fact, gasoline and diesel engines have much in common. Both are internal combustion engines, and each convert the chemical energy in fuel into mechanical energy. Both incorporate pistons that move up and down inside cylinders, with that movement driven by the combustion of fuel in each. Those pistons are attached to a crankshaft, which turns as the pistons move to provide the energy that moves the vehicle.

The difference between the two engines involves the way the fuel is ignited. In the gasoline engine, the fuel is mixed with air in the cylinder. The piston compresses the mixture, which is then ignited by a spark from the spark plug.

In the diesel engine there is no spark plug. Instead, it’s the compression itself which ignites the air/fuel mixture, creating the contained explosion that keeps the pistons moving.

Power versus performance

When most of us think of a diesel engine what comes to mind are the 18-wheelers we see on the interstate. While it’s true those rigs run on diesel, there are plenty of other diesel-powered vehicles on the road. They aren’t very common in the United States, but in Europe more than a third of all cars on the road are powered by diesel fuel.

The main advantages of a diesel engine compared with a gasoline one come in terms of fuel efficiency, engine reliability and power. Because diesel engines are built to withstand higher compression, they tend to be more reliable and last longer than gasoline engines. Diesel fuel is thicker than gasoline, and as such provides more power and mileage per gallon.

Gasoline engines, on the other hand, are lighter and deliver higher performance than diesel engines. There aren’t diesel engines in sports cars for much the same reasons there aren’t gasoline engines in big trucks. In addition, gasoline engines tend to be less expensive to repair simply because they’re more common.

With all that in mind, which type of engine is the best choice? The answer is that, as with many things, it all depends.

Years ago, diesel fuel was significantly cheaper than gasoline, but today the opposite tends to be true, making any savings in fuel costs relatively minor. Diesel engines tend to be more reliable than gasoline ones, but diesel-powered cars tend to cost more up front and repairs are likely to be more costly. Conversely, gasoline-powered cars are easier and less expensive to maintain and fuel efficiency is constantly improving.

Although diesel fuel used to be associated with black smoke belching from the exhaust, today’s diesel is relatively clean-burning. Newer diesel-powered cars produce lower levels of carbon dioxide than gasoline-powered cars, but higher levels of particulates and nitrogen oxides. When adding environmental concerns to the mix, gasoline engines have a slight advantage over diesel ones.

The bottom line? If you’re looking for a lightweight passenger car that will go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, a gasoline engine may be the best choice. If you’re looking for a car to tow a boat to the lake on the weekend, diesel may be the way to go.

Replacement Cost of Your Homes Contents

Forty percent of homeowners are not aware of what their home insurance policy actually covers, and almost one in five policyholders believe they don’t have enough insurance to repair or replace damaged or stolen property, according to a national study Mercury conducted in 2018. One specific area of confusion is the difference between “Actual Cash Value” and “Replacement Cost.”

Why is this important? Consider if your 65-in. Smart Ultra HD TV is stolen. Would your insurance company give you a settlement to replace your TV with a new one of like kind and quality, or what your TV is currently worth today after being used? The answer:  It depends on the coverage you selected when purchasing your homeowners insurance policy.

Here’s a brief explanation of the difference between the two coverages and how you might be reimbursed for a covered property loss.

Actual Cash Value – When a homeowner has actual cash value coverage to repair or replace damaged, stolen or destroyed personal property, their insurance company will pay to replace the item with like kind and quality less age and condition depreciation.

“Actual cash value is basically what it sounds like – it’s what your personal property is worth at the time of your loss, so the cost to repair or replace the property less depreciation,” said Mercury Vice President of Property Claims Christopher O’Rourke. “Depreciation rates vary depending on the type, age, and condition of property, but you can rest assured that we do our best to make sure our customers are properly compensated so they can resume their regular lifestyle as quickly as possible.”

Insurance Tip: O’Rourke recommends homeowners keep an inventory of their belongings, along with copies, scans or photos of your receipts if you have an actual cash value policy.

Replacement Cost – When a homeowner purchases replacement cost coverage, an insurance company will pay to repair or replace damaged, stolen or destroyed personal property with like kind and quality at today’s prices. The policyholder has the opportunity to recover any withheld depreciation up to the replacement cost amount once the property is replaced.

So why should you purchase replacement cost coverage?

“Chances are you might not be able to find the exact model of a TV that was purchased two years ago. With Replacement Cost coverage, you’ll be able to replace your old television with a newer model without having to absorb the cost of two years’ usage,” said O’Rourke.

Insurance Tip: O’Rourke recommends homeowners insurance policyholders review their coverage with their insurance agent annually.

“Our agents are diligent about explaining the ins and outs of insurance policies to customers, but homeowners should reach out to their agent to assess their coverage before a loss happens. One simple phone call could end up saving you thousands of dollars, especially if you’ve acquired new belongings or made home renovations,” said O’Rourke.

5 ‘Must Do’ Steps to Insuring Your Engagement and Wedding Rings

Once you have the perfect wedding rings picked out, it’s important to make sure you protect your precious investment. According to The Knot’s Real Weddings Study, Americans spend an average of $6,351 on an engagement ring. Here are some tips for adding your rings to your homeowners or renters insurance policy, along with other ideas for keeping them safe.

1. Find out the current value.

Your insurance company needs to know the current value of your wedding rings to provide sufficient coverage to repair or replace them. Keep the original purchase receipt on hand and make sure to inform your insurer with details about the gem’s four Cs — color, cut, clarity and carat size.

2. Have the ring appraised.

If your ring is an heirloom that has been passed down through generations in your family, find a jewelry store that has a certified gemologist or a quality appraiser on staff. Be prepared to pay up to a few hundred dollars for the appraisal and to drop your ring off for a week or so. When the appraisal is completed, you’ll receive an insurance replacement report that informs the retail replacement value of the ring. The insurance replacement document also will include information about the physical properties of the stone and metal. The gemstone will be described by characteristics such as shape, weight, clarity, color, polish, symmetry and fluorescence, which dictate the price of the ring.

Be sure to have your ring appraised every few years as the cost of precious metals and stones fluctuates. This step will ensure that you have the right amount of coverage because when the price goes up, you’ll be fully insured for the replacement value. And when the price goes down, you’ll save on premiums.

3. Stay organized.

Don’t toss that receipt! If you need to replace your ring, you’ll need to provide some paperwork for a speedy claims process: the original receipt, the appraisal certificate, any warrantees or coverage policies from the jeweler. Keep everything together in a file or folder so that it’s organized and easily accessible.

“First and foremost, always keep an up-to-date inventory of your possessions,” said Jane Li, Mercury’s senior product manager. “Be sure to take photos, provide descriptions, documentation to support what you paid for the item, and include the purchase date, serial numbers and copies of receipts when possible.”

At the same time, take stock of any other expensive jewelry or valuables you have on hand, and gather the receipts and certificates for those. When you get your ring insured, you can also get coverage for your other valuables, too.

4. Inquire about coverage options.

If you already have a homeowners insurance policy, call your insurer and ask about coverage options for your rings. Most homeowners policies provide minimal coverage for jewelry and high value collectibles, so you may need to purchase a “personal articles” or “floater” policy to provide protection for these items. This way, if you lose your wedding ring while scuba diving on vacation or damage the metal band while working, your insurance company will pay the cost to replace or repair the ring. There is an extra cost for these policies, however, and this cost will be determined based upon the value of the items you are insuring. Talk to you agent to learn more about these policies.

5. Keep your ring looking brand new.

If your ring is a family heirloom and you had it appraised, the gemologist or appraiser will let you know if there need to be any repairs. Some common repairs include fixing the prongs that hold the gemstone in place and cleaning the ring and stones. Also make sure that the ring fits snugly, so it doesn’t slip off during exercise or other activities.

Once you have your ring professionally cleaned, it’s a good idea to clean it on your own at least once a month by soaking it in a mixture of warm water and dishwashing soap for 30 minutes. Gently brush any diamonds or gems with a soft toothbrush and let the ring air dry to avoid scratching the metal.

When doing housework that involves harsh chemicals like bleach, avoid wearing your ring so you don’t damage the metal. Take off your ring while doing work with your hands, such as gardening or crafting, and put it someplace safe until you’re finished.

At home, invest in a safe for when you aren’t wearing your ring. When traveling, be sure to stow away your rings in the hotel room’s safe. While it’s good to know you have insurance in case something happens, you should always take precaution to protect your rings as best as possible.

Marissa Hermanson is a lifestyle and wedding expert whose work has been featured on The Knot, Southern Living and Cosmopolitan. She currently writes for Larson Jewelers, an online jeweler offering a wide variety of unique wedding rings.

Preparation for Mother Nature

Heat waves, droughts, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes torment Americans every year. During 2011-2013 the U.S. experienced 25 weather- and climate-related disasters, costing $175 billion in total damages, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Not everyone can pack up and move to Michigan – one of the states with the fewest occurrences of natural disasters – but there are steps you can take to prepare your home in the event a natural disaster strikes.

Scenario: Your home is located in a flood zone.

  • First and foremost, make sure you have flood insurance because standard homeowners and renters insurance policies usually don’t cover flooding. Flood insurance policies are available through the National Flood Insurance Program and typically have a 30-day waiting period from the date of purchase before they go into effect.
  • Elevate furnaces, water heaters and electrical components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers, and wiring) at least 12 inches above your home’s projected flood elevation and make sure they’re secured to a solid structure.
  • Anchor any fuel tanks.
  • Consider constructing barriers to prevent water from entering the building, as well as sealing basement walls with waterproofing compounds.
  • Locate the main power switch for utilities, as well as the main gas valve, in case you need to disconnect and close them during a storm.                                                                        Scenario: Hot, dry conditions may spark a wildfire.
  • Plant fire-resistant plants and shrubs.
  • Install fire-resistant roofing materials.
  • Regularly clean your roof and gutters and mow the lawn, clearing away clippings and dry twigs immediately.
  • Keep garden hoses attached to faucets to aid fire personnel.
  • Set aside household items like rakes, axes, saws, buckets and shovels that can be used as fire tools.
  • Consider installing protective shutters or heavy, fire-resistant drapes.
  • Mercury Insurance offers additional tips to help plan ahead and protect your home in the event of a wildfire.
  • Install screens over attic vents with a mesh size of 1/8 inch.

Scenario: An earthquake might occur.

  • Fasten shelves securely to walls and make sure large or heavy items are stored on lower shelves.
  • Secure heavy items to walls (pictures and mirrors) away from beds and areas where people sit.
  • Hire a professional to repair defective wiring and leaky gas connections. Also seek professional help to look for signs of structural damage and to repair deep cracks in ceilings and the foundation.
  • Locate safe spots in each room under a sturdy table or against an inside wall.
  • Keep a wrench near your main gas valve and learn how to turn it off.
  • Secure water heaters, furnaces, gas appliances and furniture by bolting them to wall studs.
  • Install cabinet latches to prevent them from opening and spilling contents, such as dishes and glassware.

Before any type of disaster strikes, you should also have an emergency plan in place for your family that includes a designated meeting place, emergency contact numbers and evacuation plan. Practice your plan at least twice a year to keep it fresh in everyone’s minds and make adjustments as needed. And if you have a pet, incorporate them into your evacuation plan, too.

You should also have an emergency kit that is easily accessible and includes basic survival items.

  • One gallon of water per person
  • Non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (and extra batteries)
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Can opener
  • Blankets
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Portable charging station for cell phones

FEMA recommends keeping three-day supplies of food and water for each family member.

Consider packing prescription medications, glasses, important financial documents, copies of insurance policies (and your agent’s contact information), a recent copy of your household inventory, birth certificates, social security cards and other identification in a portable waterproof container. It’s also a good idea to include $500 cash in small bills since ATMs and credit card processing units may be inaccessible during a power outage.

If you’re affected by a natural disaster, Mercury Insurance recommends taking the following steps to facilitate the claims process:

When filing a claim

  • Contact your insurance provider immediately to report a loss.
  • Be prepared to provide your policy number.
  • Do not remove debris or damaged property that may be related to your claim.

Steps after filing a claim

  • Prepare a detailed inventory of destroyed or damaged property.
  • Offer photos or videotapes of your home and possessions to your adjuster, if these are available.
  • Keep copies of communications between you and your adjuster.
  • Keep records and receipts for additional living expenses that were incurred if you were forced to leave your home and provide copies to your adjuster.

Ready.govFEMA and the American Red Cross offer additional tips for protecting your home and family before, during and after a disaster.

Three Major Insurance Events of Which Every Homeowner Should Be Aware

Purchasing a home can be a rewarding, pricey and overwhelming experience, especially for first-time buyers. And, if your aren’t a Gates, Buffett, Zuckerberg or one of the many others found on the Forbes 400, chances are your house will be one of the most significant investments you’ll make, so choosing the right home isn’t a decision that’s made lightly.

Shopping for a home can be exhausting as you research neighborhoods, tour homes, apply for a loan, negotiate the purchase price, organize inspections, and wade through a seemingly endless stack of paperwork. You also need to select an insurer and homeowners insurance policy. This is critical, as it will protect your investment for as long as you own your home, so it’s one of the most important decisions you’ll make. To protect your investment, your belongings and loved ones, following are some tips for both new and veteran homeowners.

1. Fire and water damage are the two most prevalent causes for insurance claims.

The National Interagency Fire Center reports that there were 63,312 wildfires and 3,595,613 burned acres in the U.S. in 2014. Additionally, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 487,500 structure fires in 2013, which resulted in $9.5 billion in property damage and amounted to approximately one home structure fire per 85 seconds. There are several steps a homeowner can take, both inside and outside of the home, to prevent becoming one of these statistics.

Inside:

  • Install at least one smoke detector on each floor and check them regularly to ensure they’re working. Be sure to put in fresh batteries at least twice a year.
  • Don’t overload wall outlets or use items with frayed electrical cords.
  • If you have a chimney, hire a chimney sweep to inspect and clean it before cold weather arrives. It’s also a good time to check and be sure that your chimney cap is in good condition to catch any stray embers coming up the chimney stack.
  • Keep flammable items (e.g., curtains, furniture, etc.) away from portable heaters.
  • Don’t leave lit candles unattended and keep them out of reach of children and pets.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in your home. Make sure everyone knows how to properly use it and have it inspected once a year.
  • Never leave a lit stove unattended and keep flammable materials away from the burners.
  • Be sure to have an escape plan in the event of a fire and practice it with your family twice a year.

Outside:

  • Regularly mow your lawn and clear away clippings, dry twigs and branches from buildings. Be sure to clean your roof and gutters of leaves and other debris that can become a fire starter.
  • Keep branches trimmed so they don’t hang lower than six feet and bushes pruned to no higher than 18 inches.
  • Keep garden hoses attached to faucets to aid fire personnel, if necessary.
  • If a wildfire starts, track smoke and its impact on your visibility to determine if you should evacuate prior to an official evacuation notice being put in order. Monitor if the fire and smoke change direction to determine your safest evacuation route.

Using fire-resistant materials around your property and on your home provides added protection and may even save you money in the event of a loss. For example, fire-retardant plants like rockrose, ice plant and aloe resist ignition. Fire-resistant shrubs to consider when landscaping include hedging roses, bush honeysuckles, currant, cotoneaster, sumac and shrub apples, and hardwood, maple, poplar and cherry trees are less flammable than pine, fir and other conifers. Speak with your local garden center to learn more about the plants that can protect your home from fires.

Water damage is the second largest cause of insurance claims; however, certain circumstances aren’t covered by a standard homeowners policy. To differentiate, damage that is caused by weather (e.g., natural flooding from hurricanes, flash floods, etc.) is referred to as flood damage and requires flood insurance, which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program. Water damage is usually caused by bursting or leaking pipes, plumbing issues, malfunctioning household appliances (refrigerators, hot water tanks, dishwashers, washing machines) and HVAC issues.

Homeowners can take the following steps to protect against water damage.

Inside:

  • Check appliance hoses once a year and replace any that are cracked or have leaks.
  • Review your appliance owner’s guide for maintenance tips to keep them in good working order.
  • Inspect pipes for cracks and leaks. If any are detected, have them repaired immediately.
  • Make sure showers, tubs and sinks are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Know the location of your main water shutoff valve so you can turn off your water supply in the event of a burst pipe or damaged hose.

Outside:

  • Keep rain gutters and downspouts free of debris. Install gutter guards to prevent debris from accumulating and position downspouts to direct water away from the house.
  • Ensure windows are properly sealed and caulked.
  • Inspect the roof for damaged, missing or old shingles and replace them.

2. Some of your belongings may have limitations to their coverage.

Certain items like fine art, rare stamps or coins, wine collections, antiques, expensive jewelry and collectibles may not be fully covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy. Speak with your local insurance agent to ensure you have the right amount of coverage for everything you own.

3. Home renovations may impact your insurance rates.

If you’re considering building an addition, remodeling or putting in a pool, keep in mind that your insurance premiums will likely be impacted to protect this new investment. Square footage is one factor in determining a premium. Additionally, if renovations include higher value materials, the replacement cost in the event of a loss will go up, affecting your insurance rates accordingly. Swimming pools increase your liability exposure, which will increase your premium; however, pools can be great assets. In addition to providing a fun way to cool off on hot days, pools can act as a barrier for wildfires and an added source of water for firefighters, if necessary. And most renovations add to the comfort and livability of a home, as well as its resale value, which is well worth the added protection. Speak to your local insurance agent to determine how much your premiums will change and be sure to ask about any money saving discounts.

Stricter Laws For Hand-Held Devices While Driving

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What Californians Need to Know About Assembly Bill 1785

Smartphone technology is ever-evolving and while these phones conveniently allow us to carry the Internet in the palm of our hands, they’re also a source of distraction for modern-day drivers.

Many states have passed laws against hand-held cell phone use to combat distracted driving, and California’s is about to get stricter.

Distracted driving has declined since 2009 due to laws regulating cell phone use for drivers, but it continues to be a big problem and it’s the cause of many collisions.

The new law Governor Jerry Brown recently signed, Assembly Bill 1785 (AB1785), prohibits ALL hand-held use of electronic devices while driving. Drivers should be encouraged knowing that the law is intended to protect them by keeping their undivided attention on the road. So, put down those smartphones while driving because it’s now against the law to:

  • Read, write or send a text message.
  • Hold your phone and talk.
  • Check or post to social media.
  • Take a video.

Basically, it’s against the law to use technology in your hands in any way while behind the wheel.

This new law requires drivers to mount their smartphones to the windshield or dash, similar to the mounting of GPS devices in vehicles, provided that the device’s use is activated by a simple swipe of the screen to turn features on or off. These conditions impose much stricter rules surrounding cell phone use in vehicles with the aim of reducing distracted driving crashes that are caused by smartphone or electronic device use.

Mercury Insurance wants to remind everyone that distracted driving is not worth the risk. Visit our Drive Safe website for driving tips, vehicle tips and tools to help keep you and your family safe behind the wheel.

 

Understanding Car Safety Ratings

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Although newer vehicles are generally more expensive to insure than older ones, consumers can often get discounts if their new vehicles have the latest safety features. Advances in crash and accident avoidance technology mean that consumers who buy a new vehicle equipped with the latest safety features are often less likely to be seriously injured in a car crash.

Safety ratings are a function of two major factors: prevention—how well the vehicle is designed to prevent an accident—and, crashworthiness—how well the vehicle performs in a crash.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ranks its Top Safety Picks based on good, acceptable, marginal or poor performance in high-speed front and side crash tests, a rollover test, and evaluations of seat / head restraints for protection against neck injuries during rear impacts. Crash tests are conducted on a half-dozen types of vehicles, including large cars, mid-sized cars, small cars, minivans, mid-size SUVs, and small SUVs. You can also visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for a full report on recalls and defects.

Currently, some of the top-rated safety features are:

  • Adaptive front airbags
  • Side airbags
  • Side curtain airbags
  • Knee airbags
  • Electronic stability control
  • Anti-lock braking systems
  • Brake assist
  • Tire pressure monitors
  • Back-up sensors
  • Park assist
  • Blind-spot warning
  • Lane departure warning
  • Forward-collision warning
  • Smart headlights
  • Crash-alert systems (such as OnStar)
  • Built-in car seats

Technology is ever-improving, and, as time goes by, manufacturers and the government are standardizing these features. Doing your homework ahead of time and knowing what your options are can make the decision-making process smoother and get you into that new car faster!

Insurance 101 for College Students … And Parents Too

college-student-insuranceMoving away from home to go to college is an exciting time for most kids. It’s their first real taste of independence, but this newfound freedom also comes with increased responsibility.

Mom and dad aren’t around anymore to nag you about the hours you spend on your smartphone or to wake you up for school in the morning, but this also means they aren’t there to fix problems either. What, for example, would you do if someone were to steal your precious smartphone?

Students can easily get swept away in the excitement and bustle of the college social scene, forgetting that not everyone they meet at school has the best of intentions. Crime exists in most communities, and college life is no exception. According to the FBI, 97 percent of crimes reported by college students in 2012 were property crimes and a whopping 41 percent of these crimes occurred on campus grounds.

Students bring many pricey belongings from home – electronics like laptops, smart phones, tablets, televisions and gaming systems are common dorm room items. They may also have a skateboard, bike, vehicle or combination of all of the above.

Another on-campus threat to personal property is fires. Firefighters responded to an average of 3,870 college housing structure fires per year1. These fires caused an annual average of $15 million in personal property damage and losses.

So, how can you protect your belongings while you’re away at school? The first step is to check with your insurance agent to see if your stuff is covered under your homeowners insurance policy. Some policies, like those offered by Mercury Insurance, will extend coverage to college students living away from home.

Another option is to purchase renter’s insurance. Renter’s insurance is designed to protect property owners in the event that their belongings are stolen or damaged in a fire. It will also provide liability coverage in the event someone is injured while visiting your apartment or dorm room.

To maximize your college experience, here are a few tips to protect personal property:

Cover personal belongings with an insurance policy. Students who live on-campus may have coverage available through their parents’ homeowner’s policy. Some companies have policy options that extend personal property coverage for students away from home. Students living off-campus may not be covered by their parents’ policy and should look into purchasing renters insurance.
Create an inventory. Record the value of all personal property to determine the right amount of coverage needed in the event of a loss.
Always lock doors. Talk to roommates and make sure to communicate the importance of securing personal belongings.
Conceal valuables. Never leave electronics or other valuables out in plain sight, and do not advertise their presence on social media.
Secure valuable electronics, like TVs and laptops, to stable fixtures with locking mounts in your room so they can’t be easily removed. Also, protect personal electronics with passwords to guard accessibility and discourage theft.
Use a bicycle lock when you’re out and about or for added security while on-campus. Steel and titanium locks are difficult to cut and provide thieves with a challenge. Reinforcing these locks with cable locks, which can be threaded through wheels, will provide extra security.
Install or activate an alarm if you have a vehicle on-campus. Insurance companies frequently offer discounts for vehicles equipped with anti-theft devices. Students with good grades – at least a B average – may be eligible for an additional discount as well.
Ensure your auto insurance is up-to-date. Coverage for vehicles left at home while in school should be maintained to protect the vehicle from theft or any damage that may occur while it is parked. This will also protect you if you forget to notify your agent to add coverage back to your vehicle when you return.

Consult with your local Mercury agent to learn more about renters insurance and they’ll help build the protection plan that best suits your needs.

The bottom line: with greater independence, comes greater responsibility.

1 The National Fire Protection Association reports this annual average occurred during the five-year period from 2009-2013.

Yearly Disaster Preparation Check-Up

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When was the last time you thought about an emergency-preparedness plan? “Never,” is the answer most people would give, which could have terrible consequences if you happen to be caught in the middle of a disaster. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), natural disasters in the U.S. have increased 700 percent since 1950 and reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicate severe weather events are also occurring more frequently, so now is the time to get prepared.

September is National Preparedness Month, but since disasters can strike at any moment, it’s important to   prepare before disaster strikes …Today. Creating an emergency plan is a good start, but remember, you should review it with your family annually. For example, do you have a newborn in the family? Did you adopt a pet? Have emergency kit materials expired? If you’ve experienced any of these or other changes, then you need to update your plan to make sure you’re prepared. Here are six things to consider during your routine yearly disaster preparedness check-up:

  1. Check emergency kit materials
    Refresh everyone’s memory of where the emergency kit is located.  Check expiration dates of materials in the kit to assure perishable items will last for at least another year, including food, water and batteries. According to FEMA, here’s a full list of materials to include in a basic emergency kit.
  2. Update your emergency plan
    A basic plan should have a meeting place in case disaster hits and your home becomes unsafe, as well as at least two escape routes. Each year, make sure to remind everyone of the meeting place, ensure it is still a safe location and evaluate everyone’s escape routes to avoid new obstructions. Take into account any special needs of children, seniors, people with disabilities, family members who don’t speak English and pets.
  3. Know how to turn off your utilities
    Learn where the utility shut-offs are located and how to operate them. Turning off gas mains can prevent leaks and turning off electricity can help prevent potential fires started by electrical sparks. Additionally, turning off your water main can help prevent flooding.
  4. Practice home safety
    Home safety should be observed year-round, not just in the event of an impending disaster. Install smoke detectors in each room of your home and replace the batteries every six months. Store heavy items on the lowest shelves. Combustible items such as firewood, picnic tables, boats and flammable liquids should be kept separately and 50 feet from your home and other structures.
  5. Prepare your insurance
    Getting ready for a natural disaster actually starts by choosing your insurance policy. Ask yourself: Do I have enough insurance to repair or replace my home if it is damaged or destroyed? Mercury recommends you get an insurance check-up from your agent or broker once a year to help you make an informed decision about the coverage you need.
  6. Catalog your property
    Recovering from a disaster takes time. To ease this process, keep a detailed inventory of your property and update it annually. Photos and videos of your home can be presented to insurance adjusters to help your claim. Mashable, a technology blog, provides a list of eight home inventory apps that make creating inventory of your property easy. Visit the Mercury Insurance website for additional tips to help with the claims process in the event your home suffers damage.

Be proactive about disaster preparedness. You’ll be investing in your family’s safety, property and peace of mind.

Protect Your Home While on Vacation

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We all look forward to vacations. Whether you’re planning on soaking up the sun on a tropical beach, or camping in a local park, it’s great to get away. You can relax and enjoy time with your family and friends and forget about the pressures of home and work for a little while … or so you thought.

You’re not the only one who likes it when you go away … burglars love it, too.

The FBI reported an estimated 2,103,787 burglaries in 2012, which resulted in an estimated $4.7 billion in property losses and an average of $2,230 loss per burglary.

Guess which months have the highest burglary rates … that’s right, July and August. And it’s not a coincidence that these are the two most popular travel months, too. Thieves are opportunists who prey upon the naive, unobservant and ill-prepared, and they love it when they know homeowners won’t walk in on them in the middle of a robbery.

So how do you protect your home when you’re away? Nothing is foolproof, but here are few tips that can help protect your home when you’re away for an extended period of time.

  • Secure your home. Often times burglars don’t need to forcibly enter a home because they can easily get in through an unlocked door or window. It seems simple, but make sure everything’s locked before you leave, including windows located on the second floor and higher, and entrances from the garage into the house. Don’t hide spare keys under door mats, rocks or other easy-to-find places. Instead, give a copy to a trusted neighbor in case of an emergency. Keep shrubs trimmed below window-level so as to not create inadvertent hiding places for thieves, and cut back tree branches that would allow an agile climber access to upper-level windows, balconies, ledges or the roof. Installing an alarm system and activating it every time you leave the house provides an added level of security, which may qualify you for an additional homeowners’ insurance discount. And, just in case, place dowels in sliding glass doors and windows to prevent them from unwanted opening.
  • Notify a trusted neighbor.Neighbors are a great resource for recognizing when unfamiliar vehicles or people are in the area. Tell your chosen neighbor when you’ll be away, if you have anyone who’s scheduled to stop by your house in your absence and how to reach you in case of an emergency.
  • Make your home appear occupied. Don’t let your mail and newspapers pile up while you’re away. Instead, ask a neighbor or friend to regularly bring them inside, or stop your delivery services until you return. Arrange for someone to mow your grass and trim your hedges in your absence. Setting light timers is another way to give the appearance that someone’s still around.
  • Don’t share plans on social media. Social media makes it easy to share great vacation experiences with family and friends, but it also has become a great way for burglars to learn when you will be away. It happens all the time, but just in case you don’t believe us, take a look at what happened to this unsuspecting family in Fontana, Calif. when they went on vacation to Las Vegas.
  • According to SocialMediaToday.com, 54% of burglars say posting status and whereabouts on social media is the most common mistake homeowners make. So, while you may be tempted to check-in at every trendy hotspot you visit or show off photos of you lounging by the ocean or pool … don’t (at least until after you get home). If you’re a social media addict who breaks out in hives at the idea of not sharing every moment of your life online, hire a friend to housesit and keep an eye on things for the duration of your trip.
  • Know what your insurance policy covers. Mercury Insurance recommends that you speak with your local insurance agent before your vacation to ensure your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers potential losses that may occur in your absence. Additionally, keep an up-to-date inventory of everything that own to make the claim’s filing process easier, if necessary.