Agency Blog

Snowmelt and Ice Dams Can Cause Serious Damage to Your Home. Do You Have Coverage?

After the long winter we all welcome the warmth of spring. But with that warmth comes some dangers for your home as the snow melts and the resulting rush of water needs somewhere to go.

Melting snow can cause damage to your home in several ways, from ice dams to basement flooding. Homeowners insurance covers some damage from melting snow, but it depends on how the damage was caused and where the water came from. Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide coverage for winter-related storm damage that occurs as a result of wind, snow, ice, freezing rain and severe temperatures. Coverage for ice dams depends on the situation and your policy. Some policies will cover damage caused by ice dams while others will specifically exclude it. Some will only cover structural damage, while others may cover damage to your possessions that were inside your home.

If snow on the ground melts and floods your basement, you will likely not have coverage under your homeowners insurance policy. “Flooding” is treated differently than “water damage” for insurance purposes. Any water that enters your home due to flooding will not be covered by your homeowners insurance. You need flood insurance to cover water damage caused by floods.

What are Ice Dams?

Ice dams form on many roofs after a heavy snow, or many smaller snowfalls, and subsequent periods of melting. As heat from inside the home warms the roof and the snow melts, the water will flow toward the eaves, which will be colder than the other parts of the roof. Here the water may re-freeze and prevent the backed-up water from draining off of the roof. With nowhere to go, the water begins to seep under the shingles and into the interior of the home, causing damage.

Damage from ice dams can include:

  • Raised shingles
  • Rotted roof deck
  • Gutter damage
  • Water damage to insulation or drywall
  • Mold
  • Damage to your home’s contents
  • Icicles that can fall and injure someone

If ice dams have formed on your roof, you might see water stains or signs of moisture in the attic or around the tops of the exterior walls on the top floor. Icicles hanging off of your roof can be a sign of ice dams, as well. Look carefully at where icicles are located; if they are confined to the gutters and there seems to be no water trapped behind them, then you likely don’t have ice dams. However, it is always best to remove the icicles as they can fall and seriously injure someone.

Remove ice dams by knocking the ice and snow off with a roof rake or cutting a channel through the ice to allow the water to drain. You should also clear the areas around downspouts to make it easier for gutters to drain when the snow melts. If ice dams and damage are significant, you may need to call a professional to help you remove the ice dams and fix the damage.

Some other ways to prevent ice dams and damage from snowmelt include:

  • Check your roof before winter and repair problem areas
  • Clean gutters before winter
  • Be sure your landscape is properly graded to drain water away from your house
  • Shovel snow away from your home’s foundation every time it snows
  • Clear out ice jams in your gutters immediately
  • Keep an eye out for signs of water entering the home, including a damp smell, wet carpeting, wall stains or peeling, wall bowing, or a dripping sound near the exterior walls
  • Install electric de-icing cables on your roof if it is susceptible to ice dams

Are you concerned about ice dams and damage from snowmelt? Do you know what your homeowners insurance covers? Do you want to learn more about flood insurance?


Tips for Prepping Your Home Before Your Spring Vacation

When you embark on a spring vacation, the last thing you want to worry about is whether your home is safe while you are away. Not only do you need to prevent your home from being targeted by thieves, but you also have to take precautions against broken pipes, appliance leaks, severe weather and a variety of other potential problems. I personally returned home from vacation to find a freezer door left open a crack, hundreds of dollars worth of melted, spoiled food, a ruined area rug and a wet and warped hardwood floor.

First tip: make sure your refrigerator and freezer doors are closed tight! And while you are taking that precaution, clean out your refrigerator to make sure you’ve discarded anything that can spoil while you are away.

Some other simple tips to avoid break-ins and mishaps include:

  • Make it appear that someone is at home. Cancel mail and newspapers, set timers on lights and televisions, and leave window blinds in their normal position. Make arrangements for lawn or snow removal service if you are going to be away for an extended period of time.
  • Don’t broadcast your vacation plans. While we all love to share our experiences on social media, wait until you get back to share your photos and announce that you were away from home.
  • Lock up. Make sure all windows and doors are secure, and don’t forget to make sure garages and sheds are locked up tight, as well. Engage your security system if you have one.
  • Prepare your home for severe weather. Secure outdoor furniture, close and lock all shutters if you have them, and unplug appliances that could be damaged by a power surge. If it is still cold where you live, you need to prevent your pipes from freezing while you are away. Exposed pipes must be well insulated. If you will be gone for a long time, consider shutting off the main water supply and draining the water system to keep pipes from freezing and bursting. Keep your thermostat set at no lower than 55 degrees.

You might also want to consider taking care of the following household tasks to make things easier when you return:

  • Wash and put away laundry. You’ll have plenty of laundry from your trip to take care of when you get back. You might as well get your other laundry done before you go.
  • Water your plants and have someone trustworthy water them while you are away.
  • Spray for bugs, especially in spring and summer.
  • Reset the thermostat. Be mindful if the weather forecast for your area while you will be gone and set the thermostat accordingly.
  • Change the sheets. There is nothing better than coming home to your own clean bed after a trip.
  • Tidy the house. Unpacking and getting settled when you return is enough work for anyone. Make it easier on yourself by coming home to a clean house.

Now you’re ready to relax!

Valuable Tips When It Comes To Snowmobile Insurance In New York

While many people rue the onset of winter, to others this is one of the more magical times of the year. For winter sports enthusiasts that first covering of snow is a godsend, as it is time to break out the gear and rev up those winter recreational vehicles. In many states around the country it’s possible to get separate snowmobile insurance to make sure that you have all the risks covered. You don’t necessarily have to bundle this with other automobile insurance either, which can be an attractive proposition to some.

What type of coverage may be available to you as you prepare for the season ahead?

Firstly, you will want to get the best bodily injury and property damage liability coverage that you can get. The state of New York requires minimum liability coverage to ride on public lands or roads. Secondly, get comprehensive and collision coverage in order to protect the value of the vehicle. What about some level of roadside assistance coverage? This may be even more valuable when associated with this type of activity, as by definition it tends to take place in remote areas.

Think about snowmobile insurance coverage to pay medical bills in the case of unfortunate injury. Consider whether you need coverage to protect yourself against other individuals whose vehicles may be uninsured or underinsured. Lastly, don’t forget about the accessories. You may have additional electronic equipment or other devices fitted apart from what the manufacturer may have originally installed. You may well have a trailer in order to transport the vehicle behind your car or truck to some of those juiciest locations.

All your safety gear can add up as well. Get the best helmet you can afford, as well as layers of protective clothing. When you add all of this together see whether your standard coverage is adequate. Otherwise, it is possible to get additional coverage. Talk with your agent right now before you head out for your first winter session, to see that you have got all your bases covered.

While everything is looking new and ready to go get out your digital camera phone and start taking photographs. This way you will be able to identify any items that should be lost or stolen. Add these photos to digital copies of your receipts, in the event of a claim.

Were you surprised at the value of all your equipment and accessories when you did an inventory?

2014 is Here! Make a Resolution to Review Your Insurance Coverage

The arrival of the New Year is the perfect opportunity to assess your personal circumstances and your finances and make plans for coming year. A complete review of your insurance coverage should be an essential part of your planning. We will help you make sure you have adequate protection, and that nothing has fallen through the cracks.

Why Should You Review Your Insurance Coverage?

  • Your coverage should match your expectations. If you have a loss, last thing you need is a surprise about your insurance coverage. We can help ensure that no mistakes have been made, and that your coverage still meets your needs as your situation has changed over time.
  • A thorough insurance review will identify and address any gaps in coverage. We might find that you need additional coverage for certain items, or that you are over-insured for others. Perhaps you had a piece of jewelry re-appraised and you need to update your coverage amount for that piece. Or, maybe a new piece of jewelry found its way under your Christmas tree! Any new high-value items must be properly covered, now.
  • Do you need to change your coverage limits or deductibles for any of your policies? We can discuss how changing your coverage will impact your reimbursement in the event of a loss, and how changing deductibles will impact your premiums. We can recommend new coverage limits based on any changes you have made to your home or your lifestyle throughout the year.
  • We will work to identify discounts and other savings opportunities. Did your recently renovated your home, or has your teen driver received a “B” average or better on his most recent report card? Does your new car have added safety features? Do you pay your bill electronically? These are the type of opportunities that can provide savings on your premium.

This is also the perfect time for you tell us how we are doing! Let us know your opinion on the products and services we offer. Contact your United Insurance agent today to set up your appointment. You don’t want to wait until it is too late to make sure that all of your insurance needs are being met!

Christmas Travel Safety Tips

Christmas is one of the busiest travel times of the year, with many of us traveling by car and by train, bus or plane to spend the holiday with family and friends. Travel in general can be risky, and traveling in winter can be especially dangerous.

The American Red Cross provides holiday travel safety tips so you can arrive safely at your destination.

If you are traveling by car…

  • Make sure your vehicle is in good shape for the trip.
  • Start out with a full tank of gas. Check the tire pressure and fill up on wiper fluid before you leave.
  • Plan your trip in advance, but also be ready for a change in course. Construction, road closings and traffic can change your plans.
  • Keep directions and maps handy at all times.
  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Don’t drink and drive.
  • Be well rested and alert for your trip.
  • Follow all road signs and use caution in work zones.
  • Avoid distractions like eating, loud music and cell phones.
  • Observe all speed limits.
  • Make frequent stops and rotate drivers on long trips. If you get tired and you are the only driver, stop and get some rest.
  • Be respectful of other motorists.
  • Don’t follow too closely behind other vehicles.
  • Clean your vehicle’s headlights, taillights, signal lights and windows before you head out.
  • Turn on your headlights as dusk approaches.
  • If you have car trouble, pull off to the side of the road and call for help.
  • Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle at all times. It should include water, snacks, a flashlight, a first aid kit, extra cash, blankets, gloves, a hat, medications and anything else essential for you if you were stranded.
  • Pack an ice scraper, towrope, jumper cables and sand or cat litter (for traction if you get stuck).

If you are traveling by train, bus or plane…

First, take steps to avoid catching or spreading the flu:

  • Handle your own belongings as much as possible, rather than having them handled by someone else.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Carry hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial wipes and use them to wash your hands and rub down surfaces like armrests and tabletops.
  • Bring your own pillows and blankets.
  • If you have to cough or sneeze, do it into a tissue or your sleeve.
  • Avoid touching your face or eyes.

Then, remember to:

  • Plan ahead. Contact your travel agent to book your vacation in advance.
  • Leave an hour earlier than normal to be ready for long lines.
  • Bring plenty of reading material to occupy yourself during delays.
  • Pack as light as possible to comply with baggage limits and weight allowances. Consider shipping gifts to your destination in advance.
  • Stretch your legs often on long trips to avoid developing blood clots in your legs.

Use common sense and discretion as you travel this Christmas, and get to your destination safely. Be sure to contact us if there is anything we can do to help you prepare for your trip.

Purchase Insurance From an Independent Agent for Personal Service and Better Coverage

At United Insurance Agency, we are proud to be an independent insurance agency with experienced, professional agents who get to know you and your family. We pride ourselves on personalized, local service and strive to make every relationship a long-term partnership.

You might wonder how a local agent differs from buying a policy online or over the phone. We believe that your insurance agent should serve as a trusted advisor who provides personal consultation to you and your family, now and in the future. We represent several insurance companies, we are deeply rooted in our community and we are knowledgeable professionals who provide personal consultation and an individual assessment of your needs.

  • We are local. As residents of your community, we understand the area in which you live and can make coverage recommendations according to local needs, risks and requirements.
  • We have resources. If you are a small business owner, we probably have resources that you otherwise would have to find on your own. We can help you with employee communications, questions about employee benefits and all kinds of other materials and research.
  • We provide personal service. Every person is unique and has different insurance needs. As an agent who works closely with you, we will be able to suggest appropriate types and amounts of coverage. If you shop online for insurance, you will be quoted a policy based on very limited demographic and geographic information; you may not be getting the best coverage for your needs. For business owners, the right agent can assess your needs, know your assets (and maybe even specialize in your industry), and find the coverage that will maximize your protection.
  • We offer convenience. When you work with an independent agency, you will develop a relationship with a real person. You will always talk to the same person or team of people and have access to a local office. You will always be one call away from answers to questions, obtaining additional coverage, making coverage changes and more. Independent agents can offer multiple policy types from multiple insurance companies, so you can get all of your insurance needs met in one place. If you are a business owner, you can even have your business and personal insurance needs met with one agent who will really know you and understand the risks you face in all areas of your life.

Conversely, buying direct means there is no agent involved; you simply provide your information online and get a quote—which sounds pretty easy, and it probably is. But, are you really getting your needs met? Insurance is highly personal. It involves evaluating your lifestyle, your assets, and what you would need to protect yourself, your family, or your business in the event of a serious loss. Will an anonymous, online application really provide enough information to return the best coverage options for you? After you have a loss or when you need to file a claim is too late to find out that you need more personal attention and better coverage.

Have you ever tried to purchase insurance online? Tell us about your experience. Then call us to learn more about how personal service, community involvement and unlimited product offerings will be the foundation for us to build a long-term relationship.

Basic Safety Precautions and Physical Fitness for Hunters

As hunting season approaches, it is a good idea to refresh your knowledge of some fundamental hunting safety rules. The most common cause of accidents and injuries among hunters include falling from treestands, incorrect identification of a target and self-inflicted injuries. In addition, heart attacks and other injuries due to poor physical fitness are common among hunters.

Basic Safety

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation offers the following hunter safety tips.

  • Assume every gun is loaded.
  • Point your gun in a safe direction and control the muzzle at all times.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

New York law does not require hunters to wear orange, but more than 80% of big game hunters and two out of three small game hunters wear it as an essential safety precaution. Remember, deer and other game animals do not see hunter orange—they can’t tell red or orange from green and brown. But hunter orange prevents other hunters from mistaking a human for an animal and accidentally shooting in your direction.

Treestand Safety

Hunting from treestands is a very common practice. To avoid falls and injuries when using a treestand, remember to:

  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Inspect your treestand prior to each use.
  • Always wear a fall restraint when you are climbing, sitting or descending from an elevated position.
  • Pull your gun or bow up with a rope. Firearms should be unloaded, with the action open and the safety on.

Basic Physical Fitness

Something that every hunter should consider, but probably doesn’t, is the basic physical fitness that hunting requires. In fact, heart attacks take a higher toll every hunting season than careless hunting practices. Hunting requires you to carry gear, spot and (hopefully!) shoot your target, and then carry the carcass for a distance. If you are not physically active or you smoke or have high blood pressure, this sudden physical activity and the excitement of the hunt can cause a strain on your heart and lead to a heart attack.

To stay physically fit—and in prime condition for hunting season—the Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of physical activity five or more times a week. You don’t need to do any high endurance fitness routines; you simply need to get moving every day with activities like walking, biking, jogging, gardening, hiking, bowling or even dancing. Take advantage of opportunities to walk a little farther or move a little more, such as parking your car farther away from the door at work or getting off the bus a stop early and walking the rest of the way. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, and go for a walk instead of loading up on fast food during your lunch break.

We know it might be too much to ask, but try to make healthful, low-fat meal choices. It will help you feel energetic and will reduce the strain on your heart when you are hunting and every day.

Are you ready for hunting season? What safety precautions do you take? Do you consider physical fitness as part of your preparation for hunting?

Workers Compensation is an Essential part of Risk Management

Business ownership is a challenging endeavor – in addition to worrying about your customers, cash flow and overhead, you must also be aware of your liability risks. For many business owners, risk management is a key process that may dramatically impact the future of the company and its success.

There are many strategies for managing the risks associated with operating a business, including insuring the entity, creating a comprehensive employee handbook and conducting thorough background searches on potential employees. Purchasing the appropriate workers compensation coverage is also an important step to reduce your entity’s financial liability.

Workers Compensation and Business Risk Management

New York workers compensation insurance is not only required by law, but is also an invaluable protection for employees and business owners alike. The protection workers compensation offers to your business dramatically decreases the financial risks and expenses you may incur in the event of an employee injury on the job.

Without the proper workers compensation insurance, you may be held liable for the losses and costs resulting from an employee injury, including:

Medical bills: The costs of medical care from even a minor accident can quickly add up; care for more serious accidents can lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in treatment expenses.

Ongoing care: If your employee requires ongoing physical therapy or routine treatment following their injury, you may be held responsible for paying the costs associated with their treatment. These costs can quickly become unmanageable without the proper workers compensation insurance.

Lost wages: Without workers compensation coverage, you may be ordered to pay a large percentage of your employee’s lost wages.

Legal fees: If an employee suffers an uncovered injury in the workplace, they will likely hire an attorney and file a lawsuit in an effort to recover for their losses. The legal costs, combined with any resulting judgment ordered in the case, can be very costly.

Purchasing the right workers compensation coverage for your business can significantly reduce your risks and your potential liability in the event of an employee injury.

Do you consider workers compensation part of your company’s risk management strategy? Share your opinion with your neighbors in Buffalo, Rochester, West Seneca, Niagara County, Lancaster, Hamburg, Clarence, Kenmore, Tonawanda, North Tonawanda and Cheektowaga by posting in the comments section below.

Directors and Officers Insurance for Shooting and Hunt Clubs

It is common for members of non-profit organizations to assume board or management responsibilities without considering related risks. It is essential directors and officers carry insurance to cover liability for board and individual actions.

Why are Directors and Officers Liable?

Any organization, particularly a sportsmen or hunt club, faces the possibility someone could claim negligence or illegal activity and sue the group or individual board members or managers for damages.

A lawsuit commonly follows a serious injury, death, or incident of abuse. However, injuries aren’t the only causes for claims. Suits claiming mismanagement include those involving employment practices (wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination, etc) and fiduciary irresponsibility (mismanagement of funds and projects). If one of these situations arises, a lawsuit could land right on your organization’s doorstep.

What Does Directors and Officers Insurance Cover?

Director and officers insurance (D&O) will cover the legal costs should someone sue one of your officers. It would help pay for the cost of an attorney and other legal fees. If your board member loses the lawsuit, the insurance would pay for the legal losses up to the policy limit.

D&O insurance covers issues not included in your general liability coverage. Without this protection in place, it will be hard for your group to find qualified officers.

Are There Exclusions?

Director and officers insurance has exclusions, including damages if the lawsuit is a result of an intentional illegal action. This insurance also won’t cover a suit from one director/officer against another. Lastly, some policies exclude work related suits, like wrongful termination.

Your club is there to serve its members, a place to relax, not worry about lawsuits. Do you know the terms of your director and officers insurance? Have any of your directors/officers expressed concern about their liability risk in the past?

Do You Know the Replacement Value of Your Gold Jewelry?

From your engagement ring to family heirloom pieces, the greatest value of your jewelry may be as a reminder of a milestone, a relationship or your heritage. If those are stolen, lost or damaged, there will be no compensation for the personal loss.

Yet, you do deserve fair compensation for the monetary value. So, ask yourself, “Do I know what my jewelry is really worth?” and, “Is it insured for replacement value?”

Do You Need an Appraisal?

Many people are unsure as to whether they will require coverage for their jewelry beyond that included in a homeowners or renters insurance policy. To help you determine whether you need an appraisal and scheduled property insurance for your jewelry, consider the following:

• What are the limits of your current personal property insurance? Many people believe that their home insurance plan will cover a lost or damaged piece of jewelry. While this may be true for some pieces, the protection offered by your home insurance plan is often limited; more valuable items may not be adequately covered. If you own a valuable piece, including a wedding ring or antique family heirloom, it is important to discuss additional coverage with your agent.

• What risks are covered? Under your home insurance or a separate personal property policy, jewelry is insured against repair or replacement costs of lost, stolen or damaged pieces.

• How do you determine the value of your jewelry? Many jewelry stores will provide statements of value and updates as long as you own an engagement ring or other piece. This allows you to be sure that you purchase the right amount of coverage, and that your jewelry is adequately protected. Antique jewelry and custom pieces may require professional appraisals. Once an appraisal is complete, your personal insurance agent can offer advice on different coverage options and available policies.

• Where should you begin? Inventory your jewelry (you may be surprised at how much is in that chest). Do a quick check of prices on comparable pieces, and consider appraisals on heirlooms and older pieces, especially gold.

Have you had a piece of jewelry appraised, or lost it in a burglary, fire or other disaster? Did you feel you received a fair settlement from your insurance company?