Tropical Storm Imelda

In the insurance world, there is a surefire way to tell when a major storm is coming – and you don’t even need to look at the weather forecast! What happens is that insurance carriers issue a moratorium on binding new business policies when a storm or hurricane is 24-48 hours away from making landfall.

Why do insurance companies do this? In the same way that health insurance carriers exclude pre-existing conditions, property insurance carriers decline to insure buildings (and sometimes cars too) if the risk of loss is suddenly increased. This is understandable – otherwise, some people would only buy insurance at the last minute, when property damage from a storm or hurricane seems inevitable.

At the time of writing, many insurance carriers are not binding coverage due to the threat from Tropical Storm Imelda, which is currently deluging coastal Texas with rainfall. Thankfully, at this point, it’s not looking like becoming a major wind event, so the chance of you having to make a homeowners insurance claim is small. Flood insurance is another matter, and we recommend that every homeowner in the greater Houston area invests in this sensible – and usually inexpensive – coverage.

10 Ways to Cut Energy Bills This Summer

Light photo created by kues

When the mercury rises in Houston, so does anxiety about the size of your next electricity bill. With temperatures topping 103F in the city this week, and no end to the heatwave in sight, stay cool with Memorial Insurance Agency’s tips on keeping energy costs as low as possible!

  1. Use fans: While a fan won’t actually make the room cooler, the circulating air will make it FEEL more comfortable. Try and get into the habit of using fans instead of AC whenever possible.
  2. Line-dry your clothes: An electric dryer hits your pocket twice: it uses a lot of power, and it generates heat so your AC has to work harder. Humidity is highest in Houston in the mornings, so hang out your clothes on a sunny afternoon and they will be dry in no time.
  3. Close your blinds: In the height of summer, the best place for the sun is outside – not streaming into your living room!
  4. Keep AC vents open: Yes, even in rooms that are not in use. Keeping all vents open allows for better circulation of air throughout your home, and lower energy bills.
  5. Spend more time on lower floors: Cool air sinks lower, so staying downstairs during the day will allow you to be more sparing in your use of the AC. Now, if only Texas homes had basements!
  6. Set your thermostat to 78 or above: For every degree higher than 78, you save on average 8% on your energy bill.
  7. Turn down your water heater: Your boiler accounts for 18% of your household energy bill. If your thermostat is set to 140 or 150, turn it down to 120 – you might be amazed at the savings.
  8. Seal cracks around doors and windows: For obvious reasons – you want to keep that nice cool air inside the house.
  9. Properly insulate your home: See above!
  10. Go somewhere else: Prefer someone else to pay the AC bill to keep you cool? Malls, coffee shops and restaurants are all excellent places to linger during the heat of these summer days!

What Makes Home Insurance Expensive?

Insurance carriers take hundreds of factors into consideration when calculating premiums. Here are the six things that make the biggest difference to your home insurance rate:

  1. The location of your home: Texas is prone to hurricanes, and past events have shown insurers that homes close to the coast or to large bodies of water are more likely to incur losses. Consequently, these homes are more expensive to insure against weather-related perils. Some inland areas – particularly around Dallas/Fort Worth – regularly get devastating hailstorms, which have intensified in recent years, and have subsequently caused big premium increases in those areas. There are also less obvious factors at play, meaning that some zip codes are consistently more expensive for insurance than others, which is related to past losses in an area and the complicated algorithms that insurance companies use to determine risk.
  2. The age of your home: The days of sturdy, stone-and-brick homesteads built to last hundreds of years are long gone. These days, the chance of something going wrong with your home starts to rise rapidly after about 10 years of age. Roofs become less weather-resistant and need replacing, plumbing and other internal systems are more likely to malfunction, and nearby trees grow larger and become more likely to topple onto your house. The equation is simple: older home = higher chance of a claim = more expensive insurance!
  3. The age of your roof: Today’s shingle roofs are designed to last about 15-20 years. Insurance companies know this, and will therefore charge a higher premium for older roofs, offer an Actual Cash Value policy only, or even refuse to insure your home at all. Tile or metal roofs have longer lives, but the flip side for insurance companies is that they cost more to replace if destroyed by a hurricane.
  4. Type of plumbing: Homes built before 1985 that have not been completely updated may still retain all or some of their original galvanized pipes. Statistically, these kinds of pipes are far more likely to corrode and develop leaks than modern PVC piping. If your home still has galvanized plumbing, you will have a smaller choice of insurance carriers, and premiums will be more expensive.
  5. Your “insurance score”: Whenever you get a quote, insurance carriers run an “insurance score” on one or both applicants. This is a bit like a credit check and takes lots of factors into account, but it does not affect your credit score in the same way that a loan application does. If your insurance score is low, you could be paying more for the exact same policy than someone who has a high insurance score.
  6. Prior claims: While there is some leniency towards weather claims (after all, a hurricane is not your fault!), insurance companies are wary of homeowners who have multiple claims on their record for things like water damage, theft, and – especially – liability. Any zero-paid-out claims (where the amount of the claim costs less than your deductible) can also hike your premium at renewal. So it’s best to make absolutely sure BEFORE you file a claim that it’s going to be worthwhile to do so – your agent will be able to advise you.

The golden rule is – as always – to give your agent a call! Memorial Insurance Agency’s licensed agents will be happy to provide you with a quote, help you to decide whether to file a claim, and answer any questions that you may have about insurance.

Top 5 Christmas Safety Tips

The most wonderful time of the year is also one of the most dangerous! Keep an extra close eye on the following sources of holiday woe…..

  1. FIRE, FIRE EVERYWHERE! Even Texas can get cold in winter, so make sure your seldom-used woodstove or furnace is well-maintained. Keep flammable objects such as clothing, Christmas decorations, cats and children well away! Candles and drapes do not go well together so be sure to NEVER leave naked flames unattended.
  2. ELECTRICAL DISASTERS Christmas is the season for wannabe electricians to practice their skills with the Christmas lights. Avoid the chance of electrical fires by checking for frayed wires or corroded sockets, and do not overload your outlets or extension cords. Save money on your electricity bill and further reduce the chance of a fire by switching off your Christmas lights at night.
  3. KITCHEN CATASTROPHES More people in the house means more traffic in the kitchen, and a higher chance that your big bubbling pot of boiling liquid could end up getting knocked off the stove top and give someone a Christmas they will never forget. Keep children, guests and pets out of the kitchen while the cooking is happening!
  4. WRECKS Multi-tasking much at Christmas? The roads are busy, the weather can be bad, and people are racing around to beat Christmas deadlines. Allow extra time and don’t be tempted to text and drive!
  5. BOOZE Did you know you could be held liable in court if you allow an intoxicated person to drive home from your Christmas party? The solution: offer a rideshare service such as Uber, or make up the spare bedroom – it is much better for your inebriated guest to crash there and NOT on the highway!

Eight Top Tips for a Safe Barbecue this Labor Day

With Labor Day coming up, the thoughts of many Texans are turning to barbecues. But how can you be sure you’re grilling safely? Follow our top tips to avoid spending time this weekend in hospital or on the phone to your insurance company:

1) Operate the grill well away from your house. Ten feet should be the absolute minimum – and make sure you’re also far from overhanging structures such as porches, unless you want them to be fuel for your fire!

2) Keep your grill clean and do not overload it. Caked-on oils and grease can make your barbecue flare up in ways you never expected. Throw too much meat on, and the dripping fat can spark a blaze that will flame-grill not only your steaks but your eyebrows too.

3) Check for gas leaks. Rub a soap and water solution over the hoses and connections. If large bubbles appear, the hoses may have holes or the connections may be loose. At this point, either invest in quality grill repairs or call for a pizza, because a gas explosion would really ruin your whole day.

4) Keep decorations far away from your grill. This is pretty obvious. Basically, keep ANYTHING away from your grill that may catch fire. This includes pets, unless you want your dog to go “woof”.

5) Keep a spray bottle of water and a fire extinguisher handy. The former can be used to dampen minor flare-ups without ruining dinner. The latter may be the only thing that stands between you and a catastrophe if your barbecue gets out of hand.

6) Open your grill lid BEFORE turning on the gas. The alternative is having a fireball explode in your face!

7) Focus your attention on the grill at all times. Fires can spread FAST so don’t let your grill out of your sight. Alcohol will impair your focus and judgment, so don’t knock back too many beers before you’re done cooking and the grill is safely extinguished.

8) Barbecues are for outdoor use only. Do we really have to say this? Grills need to vent fresh air. Use one indoors – even a small one – and you risk not only burning your house to the ground, but also ending up dead from inhaling lethal carbon monoxide.

Mine’s a Rib-eye, cooked rare! Happy grilling this Labor Day weekend!

Less Premium, More Coverage …. GO LEAN with your insurance today!

With insurance, you get what you pay for. This is fine up to a point …. but what if the things you’re paying for include hefty marketing budgets, national TV advertising, huge numbers of offices and thousands of staff? State Farm, Nationwide, Allstate and other major national carriers spend millions of dollars each year to make you think of them when you’re in the market for insurance.

If you hate the idea of your premium being spent on annoying TV jingles, you’ll be delighted to know that there are alternatives. In Houston, there are plenty of insurance carriers who offer low premiums, high coverages, and excellent customer and claims service …. but you have never heard of them. They don’t run expensive office networks, and they certainly don’t advertise on TV. In fact, they won’t even pop up on your Facebook feed, and in some cases you would even struggle to find them on Google unless you know exactly where to look.

But don’t be put off. All insurance companies are rated for their financial stability, and the amount of cash they have in reserve to pay claims. The highest available rating for insurance carriers is with A M Best. State Farm, Nationwide, and Allstate are all examples of A M Best rated companies …. but so are City National, Occidental, and Universal. The latter three companies are lean insurers that are long-established, financially stable, and use their money to pay claims, not advertising. They sell their products only through independent agents and don’t have an office network to support. By the way, did I mention that Memorial Insurance writes business with all three of these companies? (and many more besides!).

Another point to consider is that the big names often don’t have the best coverages. You’ll want to see the magic words “replacement cost” on your policy. You also need comprehensive water coverages (for water backup, slow seepage/leakage, and foundation coverage).

So, why not send us your current declarations page from State Farm, Nationwide, or Allstate? We’ll be happy to give you an honest, no-obligation assessment of what you’ve got covered, and if you like, give you an “apples to apples” quote with our carriers for comparison. Why pay more to get less? GO LEAN with your insurance today!

Be Sure to Get Boat Insurance This Summer!

You wouldn’t even consider driving off down the road without auto insurance, so why take to the water without boat insurance? Although certain kinds of small boats may be covered under your homeowners’ insurance policy, for most watercraft with a motor you’re going to want a separate boat insurance policy. The good news is that boat coverage is usually surprisingly affordable.

Boat insurance coverages are broadly similar to car insurance, and can include collision damage protection, compensation for theft or damage to your boat, bodily injury and property damage liability, medical payments, additional equipment …. and even roadside assistance (probably best referred to as waterside assistance!).

As with auto insurance, it is important to include uninsured/underinsured boaters coverage. That way, if you get hit by an uninsured boater while out on the water, or if that boater doesn’t have enough insurance, your own boat policy would step in to cover the damages.

The cost of your boat insurance will vary depending on where you live, the type of boat you wish to insure (especially how fast/powerful it is), whether you use your boat on inland waters or the open sea, and which coverage options you select.

As always, your independent insurance agent is on hand to not only give you expert guidance about which coverages you need, but also to shop your requirements with a variety of different carriers to find the policy that works best for you.

Happy boating this summer season!