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Winter Newsletter: Frozen Pipes, Space Heaters

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Protecting Your Family and Home BEFORE the Storm

Before snow, ice and severe winter weather hit the region, it is important that you take the proper steps to ensure the safety of your family and home.

  • Ensure your Winter Emergency Supply Kit is stocked with supplies to enable you to survive on your own for at least 3 to 5 days. There should be a first-aid kit, essential prescription medicines, non-perishable foods (those that require no refrigeration such as canned goods, dried fruits and nuts), a manual can opener, water (one gallon per person, per day), flashlights and extra batteries along with a portable radio or NOAA Weather Radio, baby-care or pet supplies items, extra blankets, sleeping bags and a fire extinguisher.
  • Ensure that your Winter Emergency Car Kit is well stocked to keep you and your vehicle safe.
  • If a storm is coming that may bring power outages, fully charge your cell phone, laptop, and any other devices in advance of a power outage.
  • Do not call 9-1-1 to report your power outage or to ask for information, use 9-1-1 only for emergencies. Contact your utility company to report the outage and get restoration information.
  • Consider purchasing a solar-powered or hand crank charger. If you own a car, purchase a car phone charger to enable you to charge your phone if you lose power at your home.

If there is still time before the storm arrives…

  • Trim dead tree branches and limbs close to your home. Ice, snow and wind can combine to snap limbs that can take down power lines or damage your home.
  • Clean gutters. Melting snow and ice can build up if gutters are clogged with debris. When thawing begins, the water can back up under your roof and eaves causing damage to walls and ceilings.
  • Check your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure adequate coverage.
  • Ensure that your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors are working correctly and have fresh batteries. Check your outside fuel exhaust vents, making sure that they are not obstructed by snow or ice. Never use cooking equipment intended for outside use indoors as a heat source or cooking device.
  • Have your chimney flue checked for any buildup of creosote and cleaned if necessary to lessen the risk of fire.
  • Have sufficient heating fuel, as regular sources may be cut off. Have the option of emergency heating equipment and fuel (a gas fireplace, wood burning stove or fireplace) so you can safely keep at least one room livable. Be sure the room is well ventilated.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows to keep cold air out.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide insulation.
  • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to safely shut off gas, electric power and water valves.
  • If your water supply could be affected by a power outage (a well-water pump system), be prepared to fill your bathtub and spare containers with water. Water in the bathtub should be used for sanitation purposes only, not as drinking water. Pouring a pail of water from the tub directly into the bowl can flush a toilet.
  • If pipes freeze, remove insulation, completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold. A hand-held hair dryer, used with caution, also works well.
  • If electric power is lost, do not open the refrigerator or freezer door. Food can stay cold in a full refrigerator for up to 24 hours and in a well-packed freezer for 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-packed). If you have medication that requires refrigeration, check with your pharmacist for guidance on proper storage during an extended outage.
  • Review the process for manually operating your electric garage door.
  • Be a Good Neighbor. Check in on friends, family, and neighbors, particularly those most susceptible to extreme temperatures and power outages such as seniors and those with access and functional needs.
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Road Alert: Icy Roads and Skidding Wheels

The best adWoman on a Cell Phone in a Snow Stormvice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it.  Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared (see tips below) and that you know how to handle road conditions.

It’s helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you’re familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner’s manual for tips specific to your vehicle.

Driving safely on icy roads:

  1. Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  2. Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  3. Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  4. Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  5. Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  6. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  7. Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  8. Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  9. Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If your rear wheels skid…

  1. Take your foot off the accelerator.
  2. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
  3. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  4. If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  5. If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid…

  1. Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
  2. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.
  1. Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  2. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  3. Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  4. Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  5. Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  6. Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

Thank you Weather.com for all this valuable information!


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Hosting a Holiday Party?

Wine in GlassesIf you plan to be a Social Host* or host a holiday party at which you serve alcohol, the Insurance Information Institute (III) offers the following tips on how to have a safe and successful event:

  • Encourage guests to pick a designated driver who will refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages so that he or she can drive other guests home.
  • Consider hiring a professional bartender. Most bartenders are trained to recognize signs of intoxication and will limit consumption by partygoers.
  • Be a responsible host/hostess. Limit your own alcohol intake so that you will be better able to judge a person’s sobriety.
  • Offer non-alcoholic beverages and always serve food. It is proven that food can help counter the effects of alcohol.
  • Do not pressure guests to drink or rush to refill their glasses when empty. And never serve guests who are visibly intoxicated.
  • Stop serving liquor toward the end of the evening and switch to coffee, tea and soft drinks.
  • If guests drink too much or seem too tired to drive home, call a cab, arrange a ride with a sober guest or have them sleep at your home.
  • Encourage all your guests to wear seatbelts as they drive home. Studies show that seatbelts save lives.

The III recommends to “Talk with your insurance agent or company representative about your liability insurance coverage and any exclusions, conditions or limitations your policy might have for this kind of risk. Appropriate liability insurance coverage is necessary. In some cases special event coverage may be available that will cover both liquor liability and other liability exposures specific to the event.”

* A Social Host is any person who by express or implied invitation invites another person into their homes and who legally provides alcoholic beverages to their social guest. If you serve alcohol to a social guest who is “visibly intoxicated” who causes injuries to a third party (i.e. drink and drive), you can be held responsible for the injuries or damages sustained as a result of the visibly intoxicated guest.
Further, New Jersey Courts have held that guests who serve themselves at a party will not remove the social host from responsibility. Still, the social host will not be liable for injuries of the legal age drinking guest themselves; only third party injuries caused by the guest as a result of the guest being served while visibly intoxicated during the party. Under no circumstances should alcohol be served to a minor.

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As the Cold Weather heads our way…

abstract fire on blackThe cold weather is coming – but it’s not bad yet.  Right now, we’re just preparing for the winter season and on chilly days, maybe lighting a fire in the fireplace for extra warmth and the ambiance.  Before you use it this season, follow these tips:

Clean it out. Schedule a cleaning and inspection with a certified fireplace specialist, and make sure there’s nothing flammable—like hanging tree branches—near the chimney pot. Before you start each new fire, clean out the old ash and store it outside in a metal bucket with a lid. (Hot, live embers can survive for up to four days in ashes.)

Get the right type of wood. Wet wood creates more sparks, so use dry. If you’re using commercial fire logs—a wood alternative made from wax and sawdust—follow the package instructions, burn the logs one at a time and avoid poking or breaking them apart while they’re burning.

Start with a small fire, which—when given room to breathe—will burn hotter and create fewer sparks than large fires crammed into small spaces. To achieve the right-sized fire, start it in the back of the fireplace, preferably on a grill, and use kindling, twigs and small balls of newspaper, instead of fire accelerants, to get it going.

Use a tight-fitting screen at all times, and keep it closed while the fire is burning, to contain sparks and embers. Never leave a fire unattended or use a home fireplace to burn garbage, leaves or piles of newspaper, which burn quickly and at very high temperatures—and might create toxic fumes.

Prepare for emergencies. Install and/or check smoke alarms throughout your house and keep a fire extinguisher nearby. And before lighting a fire, remove objects like decorations and cards from around the fireplace, and move rugs and kindling away from the hearth.

Thanks to Progressive insurance for these great tips.  For more information, check National Fire Protection Association website.

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Single-family Residential Changes effective 10/1/13

Flood Insurance Rate Time-line For Pre-FIRM Homes as a result of Biggert-Watters Flood Reform (BW12)

Falling RainBiggert-Watters Flood Reform was passed on 7/6/12 in order to phase in true risk premiums for subsidized properties. FEMA defines homes built prior to 1/1/75 (Pre-FIRM) as subsidized properties. Only Pre-FIRM properties will see substantial rate increases as a result of Biggert-Watters Flood Reform. Homes built after 1/1/75 (Post-FIRM) will generally see smaller annual rate increases if the home is built in compliance with flood building codes.


Home Purchase Before 7/6/12

  • Primary Residence: This home owner will see no major rate increase unless/until the home is sold, the flood policy lapses, there are repetitive losses*, or a Map change**.
  • Secondary Residence:***  This home owner will receive a 20% rate increase**** and a new 5% flood reserve fee until the premium reaches true-risk rates (we expect over a 4 to 5 year period).


Home Purchase between 7/6/22 and 10/1/13

  • True-Risk rates will be based upon the Elevation Certificate of the home. An Elevation Certificate is required before the first policy renewal after 10/1/13. If the Elevation Certificate is not received, the policy will be issued with tentative rates and policy limits*****. If the Elevation Certificate is not received before the second renewal after 10/1/13 then the policy will cancel upon expiration.


Home Purchase on or after 10/1/13

  • An Elevation Certificate is required for all Pre-FIRM homes to initiate coverage. (Post-FIRM homes have always required an Elevation Certificate.)
  • All respective loss properties will begin to receive a 20% rate increase per year for approximately 5 years.


*Severe Repetitive Loss (SRL) properties include every NFIP insured property that, since 1978, and regardless of any change in ownership during that period, has experienced:

  • at least 4 NFIP claim payments over $5,000 each, or at least 2 separate building claim payments which exceeds the Market Value of the building – as defined as the “improvement” value on your city property tax bill;
  • and at least 2 of the referenced claims, must have occurred within any 10-year period.

** Once a map changes, the true risk premium will be calculated for each home. That rate will then be phased in at 20% per year – of the overall premium difference – over a 5 year period.

*** FEMA defines a Primary Home as one that is lived in at least 80% of the 365 days immediately preceding the loss. All other home occupancy is considered as Secondary.

**** All flood policies issued after 10/1/13 contain a new 5% (of the total premium) reserve fund assessment. This assessment is in addition to published premium increases.

***** A Tentative Rate policy is rated without enough information to determine the true-risk premium. Therefore, if a loss happens, the policy limit will be adjusted to that which the premium collect would purchase.



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Obamacare: Subsidy Calculator

This tool illustrates health insurance premiums and subsidies for people purchasing insurance on their own in new health insurance exchanges (or “Marketplaces”) created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Beginning in October 2013, middle-income people under age 65, who are not eligible for coverage through their employer, Medicaid, or Medicare, can apply for tax credit subsidies available through state-based exchanges.

Additionally, states have the option to expand their Medicaid programs to cover all people making up to 138% of the federal poverty level (which is about $33,000 for a family of four). In states that opt out of expanding Medicaid, some people making below this amount will still be eligible for Medicaid, some will be eligible for subsidized coverage through Marketplaces, and others will not be eligible for subsidies.

With this calculator, you can enter different income levels, ages, and family sizes to get an estimate of your eligibility for subsidies and how much you could spend on health insurance. As premiums and eligibility requirements may vary, contact your state’s Medicaid office or exchange with enrollment questions.

Click on Calculator below to open the Subsidy Calculator (courtesy of the Kaiser Family Foundation).












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Health Care Reform Update

Important information regarding deadline dates and the Marketplace.
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Life & Health Advisers

Obamacare Explained!
Click on the image to view a short video about Obamacare.
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Marketplace Exchange Notices must be sent to all employees by October 1, 2013.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to send a notice to employees, and this message is intended to assist you with this. The Marketplace notice must be issued by the Employer to all full-time and part-time employees by October 1, 2013 regardless of whether the employee is currently enrolled in the employer’s health coverage. For employees hired on or after October 1, 2013, the notice must be provided within 14 days of the date of hire.


Please see links below for notice that you are required to send to your employees regarding the new Marketplace Health Insurance program being offered through the Affordable Care Act.  These letters explain what the Health Insurance Marketplace is and how it affects your employees.  It also lists a web site they can access for additional information (HealthCare.gov). There are two notices: one for employers that do not offer a health plan and another for employers that offer a health plan to some or all of their employees. Notices are also available in Spanish.




 This notice must be provided by first class mail or electronically, if the delivery meets the United States Department of Labor (DOL) electronic delivery requirements. (Click here to download the requirements.)  


New guidelines have informed us that employers may distribute the notices, as follows: 

  • Include in renewal packets. However, the employer must make sure all employees are provided with a notice, not just to those eligible for health plan.
  • Include in new hire kits for employees hired on or after October 1, 2013.
  • Personally hand out to all employees. If this is the method chosen, the employer must ensure that each employee receives a copy. (So for example, it would not be appropriate to leave a stack in the ‘break’ room.)
  • Attach to paychecks.

The Thomas Heist Insurance Agency is committed to helping employers with their healthcare coverage as changes occur due to the Affordable Care Act and other regulations. It is important for you and your employees to be informed when making decisions on what healthcare coverage you choose. Please contact us with any questions you may have regarding the Affordable Care Act as well as your Health and Benefits Insurance.

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What exactly is Obamacare?

“The YouToons Get Ready For Obamacare” is a seven-minute video that explains the changes in the way people will get health coverage starting in 2014, whether it’s through their employer, Medicaid, Medicare, or buying insurance on their own with the help of federal tax credits. The video (narrated by Kaiser Family Foundation trustee and former ABC World News Tonight anchor Charlie Gibson) helps viewers understand what their coverage options are and what they can do to prepare for the open enrollment period that runs from October 1 through March 31.

The YouToons Get Ready for Obamacare

obamacare video


For more information, contact our Life & Health Department manager, Steve Sanborne, at 609-399-0655.


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