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September 16, 2005   Email to Friend 

Take Control Of Your Claims
Alfa Insurance

An unattended pot on the stove. A frozen pipe or leaking roof. An unlocked window or sliding patio door. A dog bite.

All common occurrences. All almost always preventable.

Yet, fire, water damage, theft and liability rank as the four leading events which spur homeowners to file insurance claims, reports Martha Crow, property underwriting administrator with Alfa Insurance.

"As a homeowner, taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of claims on your insurance policy gives you more options for your future as an insured," said Crow. "It enables you to obtain the best insurance rates and select the preferred insurance company of your choice to protect your largest investment and your family."

According to Insurance Services Offices (ISO), cooking accidents, careless smoking and unsafe use of space heaters are the top three causes of residential fires.

"In fact, two out of three residential fires begin in the kitchen during the dinner hour and are often the result of cooking food left unattended," said Crow. "Careless smoking causes most residential fire deaths, but the second leading cause of fires and fire deaths is supplemental heating such as space heaters. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends using only heaters tested with the latest safety standards and inspecting them regularly."

Water damage and freezing accounted for almost 22 percent of total homeowner losses nationwide in 2002, reported ISO. "Some of these losses are preventable through regular home maintenance," said Crow. She advises checking the roof condition on a regular basis (especially after a storm), checking water heaters for signs of rust or dampness around the tank, cleaning out gutters and downspouts, repairing or replacing weather stripping around doors, and checking for leaks around sinks, the washing machine, refrigerator and dishwasher.

"Statistically speaking, everyone has a pretty good chance of being a victim of burglary," said Crow, adding that the incidence rate in this country is 741 burglaries per 100,000 people. To avoid becoming the next statistic, she urges homeowners to keep doors, windows and sliding glass doors securely fastened. When away from home, Crow says homeowners should create the illusion that you're there with lighting at night, keeping some curtains open, or by having a friend collect mail and newspapers. Keep the outside of your home well lit, and never leave a message on your telephone answering machine that you are away," she said.

Finally, the fourth leading cause of claims -- liability -- can range from someone slipping on icy steps or drowning in a pool. But with 4.7 million dog bites per year (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the biggest risk may be the family pooch.

Certain breeds, such as American Bull Dogs, American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and wolf hybrids, are known to have aggressive tendencies and should be avoided. In choosing a dog, measure its personality against those with whom the dog will be living. For example, a family with young children should look for a dog that can tolerate noise and commotion.

"Many homeowners are installing invisible fences," says Crow. "Such a fence may keep the dogs in, but it can't keep children out. Young children attracted by the dog can easily walk past these barriers -- something to keep in mind when selecting the type fence around your yard."

For more ways to reduce your risks, contact your Alfa agent.

Fire

• Never leave food on the stove unattended.
• Heat grease slowly.
• Keep a fire extinguisher close by and if a fire breaks out that you feel you cannot control, quickly call the fire department. • Don't smoke in bed.
• Extinguish cigarettes completely before emptying the butts into the trash.
• Keep matches and lighters away from children.
• Use only space heaters tested with the latest safety standards.
• Place heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface.
• Have gas and kerosene heaters inspected regularly.
• Use only approved fuels in gas heaters.

Water Damage

• Check roof condition on a regular basis (especially after a storm).
• Check water heater for rust; check for signs of dampness around tank and check that the drain pipe is free flowing.
• Check gutters and downspouts, and clean out debris.
• Repair or replace caulking, weather stripping, glazing, window seals, door seals, or any other moisture barriers that are damaged.
• Check for leaks under sinks in the kitchen and bathroom.
• Check for washing machine hose leaks in both hot and cold water, and make sure the hose is not tightly bent.
• Check icemaker supply line for leaks.
• Check dishwasher supply lines for leaks or damage.

Burglary

• Keep all doors and windows closed and securely fastened.
• Secure sliding glass doors.
• Create the illusion that you are home with lighting at night or by having a friend collect your mail and newspapers.
• Keep the perimeter of your home well lit.
• Keep some blinds up and curtains open to maintain a normal, everyday appearance in your residence.
• Never leave a message on your telephone answering machine telling people that you are away from home.
• Keep shrubberies trimmed away from entrances and walkways.
• Organize a community watch program to protect your neighborhood.

Liability

• Spay or neuter your dog. Unsterilized dogs are three times more likely to bite than sterilized dogs, studies show.
• Socialize your dog so that it knows how to act with other people and animals.
• Play non-aggressive games with your dog such as "go fetch."
Playing aggressive games like "tug of war" can encourage inappropriate behavior.
• Never leave your dog unattended in an open yard or public area.
• Introduce your dog slowly to new situations and people.
• Know your dog. Don't put it in situations that make it feel overexcited or on guard.
• Make sure your dog is up-to-date on all vaccinations.


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