Should I Buy Earthquake Coverage?

At Vargas & Vargas Insurance, our job is to provide the right insurance policies to protect your investment into your home and to protect your family and belongings. Today, we’re talking about earthquake insurance. Before we get any farther, we should point out that most dwelling policies don’t include earthquake coverage. In other words, if a huge 8.1-magnitude earthquake were to rumble through Massachusetts and toppled your home to rubble, you would not be covered with a standard homeowner’s policy.

mother and daughter inside a kitchen

Earthquake coverage is a rider that can be added to any home insurance policy. It’s worth the money if you ever experience a significant loss, and it’s certainly worth the peace of mind.

Does Massachusetts Experience Earthquakes?

Yes! According to the Northeast States Emergency Consortium (NESEC), the state has felt 408 earthquakes over the last 450 years. That’s almost one per year on average. Earthquakes occurring in surrounding states, and even as far as Quebec, Canada, have been felt in Massachusetts, too. 

Even though our earthquake history in recent years isn’t as scary as in other states like California, Massachusetts homeowners are always at risk of earthquake loss. Preparing for one now can protect your home later.

On Home Valuations and Earthquake Deductibles

Earthquake insurance is written based on the replacement cost of your home, not the purchase price or property tax valuation. In other words, your company will insure your home based on what it will cost to build a new home from the ground up, just like through your general homeowner’s policy.

However, deductibles work differently with earthquake insurance. You can choose your deductible to be 5%, 10%, 15%, 20%, or 25%. It’s vital that you understand these deductibles as they relate to a loss.

For example, let’s say your home replacement cost is $250,000. A 10% deductible is $25,000. Earthquake insurance won’t come into play for a small loss. If a small earthquake occurs and breaks all your dishes and some windows, the damage won’t be more than your deductible of $25,000. However, if your entire home were to turn to a pile of rubble, you’d be entitled to a check for $225,000.

Ultimately, the choice to insure your home against earthquake damage is entirely up to you. It’s an affordable addition to any homeowner policy, but it’s important to choose the right coverage for your specific property. Reach out to a licensed insurance agent at Vargas & Vargas Insurance today to learn more.

How to Keep Your Home Safe From Burglary While on Vacation

family packing for a vacation

When it’s time to pack up your suitcase and head out of a town for some much-needed R&R, the last thing you want to think about is your home’s security. In reality, however, burglars prey on houses that are obviously left unattended for extended periods of time. Taking a few simple steps before you leave town can ensure that your home and property remains intact while you are away, both from trespassers and home disasters.

Be Mindful on Social Media

You’d be surprised what people take note of on social media. Don’t publicize specifics about going out of town before or during your trip. Likewise, if you receive expensive gifts over the holidays and are soon leaving town, don’t post them on your account. Burglars look for easy targets like these.

Keep Valuables out of Sight

Close your blinds and curtains before you leave, so outsiders can’t see what’s inside. This won’t just prevent burglars from spotting valuables, such as electronics. It will also make it more difficult for them to view additional points of entry to break into.

Forward Mail and Packages

If you are expecting packages from online shopping or know your mailbox will be overflowing before your return, take the time to temporarily forward your mail to your work or a friend’s house. Packages left unattended on the front porch are not only at risk of being stolen. They are a sure sign that no one is home to retrieve them.

Have a Neighbor Watch Your Home

Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to stop by your home a few times throughout your trip. They can turn on the lights, move your car, or simply ensure that everything looks secure. Giving the impression that someone has been home is an effective deterrent to thieves.

Use Light Sensors and Timers

Installing timers and motion sensors on indoor and outdoor lights is an effective security strategy. It will make sure that anyone lurking around your yard or house is seen, as well as indicate to any potential burglars that someone might be home. 

Don’t let your vacation end on a sour note by coming home to an empty or ransacked house. With these simple steps, you can reduce the risks of theft while you’re away. However, even the most cautious vacationers can experience a burglary or home invasion. Talk to our team today about the right home insurance coverage to give you more peace of mind.

Why You Should Buy Flood Insurance for Your Massachusetts Home

Floods happen far more often than most people realize. In the United States, flooding is a factor in 90 percent of natural disasters. Unfortunately, home insurance policies do not cover flood-related losses. That’s a fact that some homeowners only find out after they’ve experienced property loss from a flood. At Vargas & Vargas Insurance, we’re here to help you protect your property before a flood.

mother and child gardening in the backyard of their Massachusetts home

Why You Need Flood Insurance in Massachusetts

Although properties on the Massachusetts coast have a higher flood risk, flood insurance isn’t just for people who live there. No matter what part of Massachusetts your house or condo is located in, you need flood insurance.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has a popular adage that goes: “Where it can rain, it can flood.” It’s another way of saying every home is at risk of flooding. While your home may have a lower or higher risk than other properties, a home with no risk of a flood doesn’t exist.

In fact, flood insurance claims for properties in low-risk areas are commonplace. FEMA reports more than 1 in 5 NFIP claims are associated with properties that aren’t in the high-risk zones. 

If your home is in a high-risk flood plain, you need to know what that risk level means in practical terms. According to the Massachusetts Division of Insurance, that risk level means you have a 26 percent risk of a flood damaging your property over the course of a 30-year mortgage.

Consider the town of Northampton in western Massachusetts. Many years ago, mid-March warming caused winter’s ice and snow to melt so rapidly that the Connecticut River overflowed to the extent that Northampton flooded. Today, Northampton officials are concerned that climate change could cause the town to flood again. Town officials are currently working diligently to prevent a repeat of that historic flooding. Homeowners should protect themselves for the risk of a flood in any season.

How to Get Flood Insurance

If climate change or another weather event brings flooding to your community, it’s important to be prepared. Flood insurance policies typically take 30 days to go into effect. Therefore, now is a good time to contact your local independent insurance agent to discuss your options for flood insurance coverage.  

Keep Your Homeowner Policy Safe

Dangers are abound in even the simplest of repair situations, so steer clear of the contractor’s work zone. 

When you hire the right contractor to do repairs or renovations or maintenance at your home, you want to maintain a respectful distance from their work area.

The contractor has been trained and, through long experience, knows how to maintain a safe work zone for themselves.  When you intrude across the boundaries of that zone, you introduce an unexpected variable in the contractors work process.

And that is when it can get messy. Be prudent when you’re hiring a contractor. How?

Request evidence of insurance. 

Speaking of safety and experience, don’t forget to collect the necessary certificates of insurance from your contractors. If anything happens on your property, you don’t want to give anyone any reason to abnegate responsibility to seek remedy for their injuries under YOUR homeowners insurance policy. 

Yes, you read that right.

If your state doesn’t require Workers Compensation coverage, the Homeowners policy could apply to cover lawsuits filed by an injured worker or to pay for medical expenses incurred if they don’t file a lawsuit. 

While the work area may appear to you to be perfectly safe, it is after all, your house and you know your house better than anyone, you still cannot anticipate hazards known all too well to the contractor through their possible training and experience. 

Respect the contractors’ work zone and, if you have a coffee or other tasty treats to share, let the contractor know where you’ve placed it easily accessible in your kitchen.  Then the contractor can enter the work zone and you can be comfortable the premises are safe.

Please schedule a call with us to discuss the very complicated process of your homeowners policy being exposed compared to the contractors’ workers compensation policy.

You want to ensure that your homeowners policy is updated and accurate to protect you in the event hired workers do not provide proof of insurance.

Flashback Blog: Boston is No Stranger to Fire

The city of Boston has been destroyed by large blazes multiple times. The first devastation of fire occurred in 1631; just one year after Boston was officially established.

Here are a few tips to keep you from having to file a fire damage claim on your home insurance.

The first thing you should cement in your mind is to never leave a flame burning where it cannot be seen. Enjoying an aromatherapy session with some scented candles? Even if you need to leave the room for just a moment, blow them out. You never know if something will delay or distract you from returning immediately.

Keep pets, especially agile cats, away from lit candles, scented oil burners, and other open flames. They could bump or knock over the materials, causing a fire that could have been avoided. On the same train of thought, teach your children proper fire safety. Flames and the resulting smoke can be very dangerous.

In case a fire does occur, despite your best efforts to handle flames safely, make sure you have up to date insurance in Boston, MA. Boston boasts median home values above $100,000. 

Without coverage, how would you repair or rebuild your home after a fire ravaged your property? Avoid this potential financial burden by requesting a free insurance estimate today and putting your coverage in place. 

With Vargas & Vargas Insurance, you can get the coverage you need for your home. Click here to contact us today for more information!

How to Prevent Home Damage from Frozen Pipes This Winter

family enjoying a cozy winter morning in their home
Stay safe and protect your home this winter by preventing your pipes from freezing.

Fall may be in full swing, but for Northeasterners, winter weather is already here. This puts homeowners on high alert as lengthy periods of sub-freezing temperatures means an increased risk of pipes freezing and bursting. Damaged pipes are not merely an inconvenience. They can cause serious damage to a home’s integrity. Fortunately, preparing your house for icy weather can prevent these unfortunate scenarios from occurring. Reducing the risk of frozen pipes is just one of the ways to keep your home ready for winter.

Why Are Frozen Pipes Dangerous?

Water expands when it freezes. This puts excess pressure on pipes and can cause them to crack or burst. Preventing pipes from freezing in the first place will keep your pipes intact and protect your home from damage.

How Can You Prevent Pipes From Freezing?

Prevention is the first step. Take these steps to reduce the risk of frozen pipes inside your house and frozen exterior pipes:

  • Turn off all outside water sources.
  • Keep your house warm. Program your thermostat and leave it at the same temperature day and night, even when you leave.
  • Open the cabinets in the bathroom and kitchen to allow warm air to circulate around the piping.
  • Keep your garage doors closed. Cold drafts and wind increase the likelihood of pipes freezing.
  • When the weather gets exceptionally cold, let water drip from the faucet. This can relieve pressure in the pipes and keep the water moving.
  • If you won’t be home for a long period of time, turn off the water supply line to your washing machine.
  • Cover pipes with insulation or other products meant to insulate them.
  • Have a friend walk through your home regularly if you will be away for an extended period of time. 
  • Clearly label the water supply line so you can easily identify it later. This can help you turn it off quickly if an emergency ensues and it needs to be turned off.

What Should You Do If Your Pipes Freeze?

If your pipes freeze, there are several steps you can take to minimize the resulting damage. These steps include:

  • Keep the faucet open. As the ice starts to melt, the flowing water will help the rest of the ice melt.
  • With a space heater, heating pad, or heated towels, apply warmth to the frozen length of the pipe.
  • Never use an open flame, such as a blow torch or propane stove, in an attempt to warm the pipes.

If you do experience damage to your home due to a frozen or burst pipe, rest assured that our team at Vargas & Vargas Insurance will be on hand to assist you. Contact us today to learn more about our policies or for help protecting your home.

DIY Has Its Limits

Our society has become enthralled with the concept of “do it yourself” or “DIY.”  So much so that entire industries have grown up around the idea that anyone, anywhere, with access to tools, materials and knowledge, can do just about anything they set their mind to.

This DIY mentality extends to our home.  Repairs, renovations and other home improvement projects abound in this mindset. 

The traditional craft of repair and renovation has been upended with this modern consumer concept.  Imagine you’re an electrician and you’ve entered a Big Box Home Hardware store.  As you walk down the aisle filled from floor to ceiling with electrical supplies of all types, you see a person standing in front of a display of electrical outlets.  This person clearly is not an electrician, and clearly is struggling with the selection of the appropriate outlet which you’re pretty sure they’re going to attempt to install themselves. 

Imagine the horror in your mind as that electrician thinking of the potential visit to the Emergency Room for that person when the wrong wire gets crossed.

And, yet, these traditional industries still thrive.  The reason?  No amount of online videos, tutorials or DIY books can replace the wisdom that comes from specializing in a task and learning the “tricks of the trade from experienced professionals.

If you have trees on your property, it’s your responsibility to think about the maintenance of those trees to protect your home in the event of a severe storm that could topple in close proximity to your house. 

If you’re thinking about trimming, or even taking down trees for that maintenance and protection. Should you do it yourself? 

The best way to answer the question is to watch a professional tree-trimming crew in action.  You’re likely to very quickly realize that such work…taking down or trimming a tree…is best left in the hands of the experienced professionals. 

Those “tricks of the trade” that come from the traditions and wisdom handed down in the craft become very quickly obvious as you watch the crew scale up a tree and easily slice away branches and limbs.  And then when they have to take down an entire tree, the process seems at once intricate and yet elegantly simple.

Yes, sometimes it’s really best to not do it yourself and to leave it to the professional.

One of the most FAQs we receive is when a tree falls on your property but doesn’t hit your house or any physical structure, there is no insurance coverage to pay for the removal of the tree.

Call us for any recommendations you may need to help with your home improvement projects.

Please read our other blogs related to home maintenance projects.

You can reach us by calling 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329 for a free, no-obligation annual review. Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Turn Back The Clocks; Turn Back Time

It’s Autumn; you know what that means! “Spring” towards those clocks and “fall back” an hour! 

This year, Daylight Savings Time ends at 2 a.m. on November 3rd.

Turning back the clocks is a great reminder for some basic security measures to protect your home.

Smoke Detectors: Do a survey of your smoke detectors to ensure you have sufficient safety coverage around your house.  Change the batteries.  Generally speaking, smoke detectors should be placed inside bedrooms and in hallways near to sleeping areas.  You should also have smoke detectors strategically placed in your basement within a reasonable distance to your furnace.

The more smoke detectors you have, and the better-placed they are, the chances of early warning and survival in the event of a fire increase dramatically.

You might also consider at this time installing carbon monoxide detectors, definitely in your basement near to the furnace area, but also near windows and doors that either lead to indoor garages or face onto close proximity driveways.  Car idling can quickly lead to carbon monoxide buildup that seeps through windows and past doorways to cause lethal harm.

Password Review: In our modern technological age, we recommend adding a password review protocol to your “Turn Back Time” routine.  In general, you should change passwords more frequently than once a year, but we’re often too busy to accomplish this.  So, at least spend some time to update your password security this November 3rd.  Check your security challenge questions on websites and definitely consider implementing a Two-Factor authentication.

Annual Insurance Review: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that this is another great opportunity to consider calling your agent and scheduling an appointment for your annual insurance review. Things change each year with life and with the insurance carriers. It is your responsibility to know how your insurance portfolio is structured.

Once you’ve run around on November 3rd getting all that done, you’ll be exhausted for sure! Not to worry, you’ll get an extra hour of sleep this weekend!

Home Security Overview

Alarms, cameras, door and window locks, passwords. 

That should cover everything you need to remember this Autumn as you perform your twice annual security review!

  1. Alarms.  Is your alarm system up to date with the latest equipment?  Check with your alarm provider to be sure your technology is up to date.  Then conduct a survey to be sure that all contact points for your alarm system are secure with no loose contact plates or wiring.   What about power sources for your alarm system?   Be sure that outlets that provide power to your alarm appliances aren’t overloaded with other appliances.
  2. Cameras.  When did you last update the firmware for your cameras?  Even if you’ve set up devices for automatic updates, you should check to be sure that updates have occurred.  Keep hackers out of your systems with the latest software/firmware updates.   How are the sight lines for your cameras?  Have storms or critters moved cameras out of alignment?  Are those lenses clean and intact?  Do a visual inspection up close of each camera to make sure there is no damage to the lenses our housing.  Are the mounting screws secure?
  3. Door and Window Locks.  Check for loose strike plates, loose screws.  Are the locks easy to close and open?  A tiny dash of a lubricant might be necessary to ensure smooth lock operation.  Do your window sashes line up to make the locking secure and firm?  If you’re using electronic locks have you updated the passwords?  Is the power to such locks secure?
  4. Passwords.  We cannot say enough about using very secure passwords and about changing passwords frequently.  Thankfully many smartphone manufacturers and other third party providers are creating secure password storage apps for your phones.  Be sure to back up your passwords in writing somewhere in your home, in a book where you won’t forget it and where it’s unlikely that an intruder would look there to find your passwords.  Yes, written backup.  You read that correctly.

When you conduct a home security review you should also have a conversation with your Independent Insurance Agent to ensure your insurance policy reflects new security measures you’ve installed in your home. This could help to save you money on your insurance premiums.

Please check out our other blogs on claim prevention tips. You can reach us by calling 617-298-0655 or text us at 617-409-0329 for a free, no-obligation annual review.

Click here to Visit our Contact Us page.

Archived Articles: Getting your Fireplace or Wood Stove Ready

When there’s a chill in the air, is there anyone who doesn’t enjoy a blazing and crackling fire to warm their home? Whether it’s a fireplace, wood stove, or pellet stove, there’s something cozy and inviting about a fire.

However, to ensure a safe experience it’s important to have your chimney inspected and cleaned on an annual basis or after burning a cord of wood, whichever comes first. 

Fires leave a gummy residue, called creosote, which can stick to the lining of your chimney. Creosote is a byproduct of burning wood, pellets, or coal and is created by soot, smoke, gases and other particles.

When you burn wood to produce heat, gasses are produced that do not efficiently burn away. These gases now condense into liquid form. The liquid sticks to the inside of your chimney walls and/or liner. Over time it dries in the form of creosote.

Insidiously, it continues to build up, layering on like a stalagmite, on the surface of your chimney liner or your flue tile every single time you and your family enjoy a fire.

This is a highly flammable substance that can quickly erupt into a blazing chimney fire if subjected to a high enough temperature. That is why it must be removed periodically.

Hiring a chimney sweep is the traditional way to clean the inner surface and restore safety to the home. Chimney sweeps are trained to determine whether chimneys are structurally sound and whether they need to be cleaned. They will make sure the chimney is up to code, especially important in older houses, and make sure there are any birds or animals in the chimney, or anything that would block the flow of smoke. They also check that there’s no water coming into your home. 

How Do I Prevent Creosote Build-up?

There are steps you can take at home to reduce creosote buildup and the risk of a chimney fire.  Foremost is picking dry wood to burn. Dry wood will appear gray on the surface and have cracks on the end.

Don’t throw pizza boxes or other trash in the fireplace because it causes a thicker smoke, which lowers the temperature in the chimney. While many people use a newspaper to start a fire, it is recommended that a fire log or fire starter should be used instead. This reduces the risk of sparks flying out of the fireplace. Use a screen and stay in the room while the fire is burning. 

Don’t forget to check your existing smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers to ensure all are in working order. If your home does not have the prevention devices, please install immediately.

Chimney maintenance is a priority for your property since harmful gases can build up inside the flue. Lethal carbon monoxide also builds up inside the flue, and if there’s damage to the inside of your chimney, this can seep in to your home. Have you chimney checked by a qualified tradesman regularly to ensure your family’s safety.

For information on ensuring your home is covered in case of a chimney fire, contact Vargas & Vargas at 877.550.0025