What Insurance Agents Wish You Knew About Keeping Your Home Safe

The risk of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding and fires, and the danger of becoming the victim of a break-in are common stressors for homeowners. Whether you’re concerned about flood damage or being left vulnerable to vandals and thieves, if you’re looking to keep your home safe, it’s a wise idea to turn to experts who specialize in the insurance industry. In an effort to keep claims at a minimum, insurance agents and brokers often offer home safety advice to consumers. According to industry experts, there are likely plenty of home maintenance tasks that demand your attention.

Read on to discover expert-backed tips to keep your home safe and secure.

[Read: Disaster Damaged Your Home? How to File a Successful Insurance Claim.]

Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Michael Newcomer, principal founder for Novel Insurance in New Port Richey, Florida, says one of his biggest pet peeves is discovering that a homeowner doesn’t have smoke detectors installed.

“It’s as if people have become complacent or do not see fire as a real material risk to their property,” he says. “The sheer number of homes that I go into where either the fire alarms are periodically beeping because the batteries need to be changed or I see full alarm units removed from the ceiling or walls is staggering.”

After asking why the fire alarm unit is missing from its base, Newcomer says he receives a common reply from homeowners: “Well, it started beeping constantly and it was annoying me.” If you have the time to get a ladder and remove the smoke detector, you should have the time to remove the battery cover and change it, Newcomer says.

A fire is not only potentially deadly, fires (and lightning damage) are usually the most expensive claims, according to a January 2018 study by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

Pay close attention to your roof. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners report, the most frequent claims are from wind and hail damage.

Depending on the type of roof you have, you’ll likely need to replace it every 20 to 30 years. So, if you live in a home long enough, you’ll need to hire a licensed contractor who specializes in roofs or a roofing company to replace your roof. If you find yourself in this situation, “get the best roof you can afford,” advises Susan Millerick, director of public affairs for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety, a nonprofit headquartered in Tampa, Florida. She recommends checking out the institute’s website, Fortifiedhome.org, for more information on building a strong roof.

“Your roof is the single strongest system holding your home together and protecting it from Mother Nature, so you want a roof that will keep wind and wind-driven rain outside where it belongs,” she says.

But it’s not only a leaky roof you have to worry about. There are many other ways your house could be impacted by water damage. For instance, Millerick suggests keeping your gutters and downspouts clean and directed away from your house. She also suggests caulking any holes or installing new weather strips around drafty areas of your home where wind or rain could creep in, such as doorways, windows and utility entry points.

[See: Cheap Home Repairs That Could Save You Thousands.]

Install an automatic water shut-off device. If something goes awry with your pipes, you can turn the water off yourself. But what if you have a leak in the plumbing, such as a burst water pipe in the dead of winter? You can avoid that scenario by investing in a smart water system that turns off water automatically.

While the National Association of Insurance Commissioners report found that wind damage makes up the most claims, Ana Robic, chief operating officer of the insurance carrier Chubb Personal Risk Services, says that the company’s data shows that water damage has been the most common type of property-related damage. “What’s worse is that these claims are only getting more expensive. Our claims data shows that water losses over $500,000 have doubled and those over $1 million have tripled since 2015,” she says.

Even if you don’t want to invest hundreds of dollars in a water shut-off device, there are other precautionary measures you could take to mitigate water damage. For instance, Robic says you could occasionally check your appliance hoses and look for signs of wear and tear, corrosion or bulging and replace them if they look shabby, preferably swapping rubber hoses with steel braided hoses. She also says you should periodically have any water appliances, like your water heater, checked out to make sure there aren’t any problems.

Safeguard your home from hackers. Set up a strong firewall to protect your home from being invaded by online criminals. “Your home’s cybersecurity is an important — but overlooked — exposure. Once breached, hackers can easily gain access to homeowners’ personally identifiable information, be it their bank account information or email password,” Robic says. “However, there are also physical risks to consider. Imagine a hacker accessing your smart thermostat while away on holiday over the winter. If they turn off the heat, your pipes are at risk of bursting, subsequently pouring gallons of water into your home.”

Aside from cybercriminals, it’s a wise idea to install a home security system and surveillance camera to protect yourself from intruders.

Look for future safety risks. Stacey Giulianti, the co-founder and chief legal officer at Florida Peninsula Insurance Company, a home insurance company in Boca Raton, Florida, says potential problems around the home could be avoided if people were more conscientious of safety.

“I encourage homeowners to walk around their property with an eye toward safety and look for anything that might be dangerous,” Giulianti says. “Unfilled holes in your lawn, sharp pieces of broken metal or piping and vehicles on blocks all can cause serious injury.” Vehicles on blocks may not look dangerous, but people working under cars on blocks have been crushed.

Millerick also points out that in a wind storm, your patio or pool furniture could punch a hole through your home or a neighbor’s property if not properly secured.

[See: 9 Ways to Reduce Your Insurance Costs.]

“I have seen a myriad of tragedies that could have been prevented by common-sense preparation and action,” Giulianti says, reeling off some of what he has had to deal with in the claims department: “Eighteen-year-olds playing with loaded rifles; people smoking in bed; unfenced pools that lead to drownings.”

While you can’t prevent or anticipate every danger, with these important steps, you can help reduce damage and discourage burglars.

More from U.S. News

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10 Costs Homeowners Insurance Doesn’t Always Cover

8 Potential Headaches to Be Aware of Before Becoming a Homeowner

What Insurance Agents Wish You Knew About Keeping Your Home Safe originally appeared on usnews.com

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