It’s only the middle of June, but the heat has really spiked this week in Northeast Florida, leading me to think about just a few of the insurance and home maintenance issues related to higher temperatures.
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First, we know that air conditioners are working overtime during the hot summer months, so whether you have central air, window units, wall or split units, now is not the time for them to fail. Be sure your AC is well maintained by cleaning or replacing the air filter regularly, or having a licensed company perform a maintenance check and do any needed repairs. The relatively small amount of money spent on regular maintenance will certainly outweigh expensive replacement costs, as well as keeping your unit running more efficiently. Our friends at DWG Inc. have a great blog at http://bestacparts.blogspot.com that can answer all your AC related questions.
If you don’t maintain your AC properly, you will usually find one of two things happen. The unit will either stop cooling your living space – this is bad; or, the unit will stop cooling your living space and leak water – this is very bad. Sometimes the leak is fairly minor, especially if caught quickly, but I have seen cases where a few gallons of water escape, damaging floors, baseboards, drywall, and even cabinetry. This usually happens when too much algae growth clogs the AC drain line, and instead of discharging water outside the home, it leaks inside the home. If you have ever watched how much water comes out of a good sized central AC drain line, you know that in just a few hours, you can be dealing with tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Or, depending on the insurance company adjuster you get, you could be told it just needs some minor drying and cleaning. Sometimes it’s just a matter of perspective.
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Hot summer weather also seems to bring more frequent and violent afternoon thunderstorms, often packed with high winds, lightning, and heavy rains. While you can’t do much about the weather, there are things you can do to minimize potential expenses. Be sure your roof is in good condition by either checking it yourself, or hiring a roofing professional to do this for you. If there are excessive leaves and twigs on the roof, clear them off (I was recently on a roof that had so much leaf debris on it, that the debris was decomposing into a soil-like substance, and was now growing weeds out of it – I asked them for a broom and swept off several trash bags worth!). If roof vents or other components have rubber seals or tar caulking, check those for weathering cracks and do needed repairs. Especially beyond 10 years, the hot sun can wreak havoc on roofs.
Check your gutters and downspouts for debris that will prevent them from moving water away from your home’s foundation. Keeping water away from your foundation is always a good idea. This is why your yard should slope down as it gets further from the foundation, and why you should not plant shrubs too close to the exterior walls. Since gutters and downspouts are made to move water away from the foundation, this only works if they are kept clear of debris. Exposure to water, especially repeated and prolonged exposure to water, is not good for a home’s foundation. It could cause erosion or compaction of soils which could damage your slab or foundation, seep into your home through minor cracks, and create mold conditions in and around your exterior walls.
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You can trim back large tree limbs that are hanging over your property, or remove dead trees altogether. It might surprise you how a relatively small tree limb falling onto your roof can create a much damage a normally looking tree can do when it crashes through your roof and into your living room! And while these events should be covered by your homeowners insurance, with the way deductibles are rising, it might be a lot cheaper to just do the maintenance.
Too many days of torrential thunderstorms can cause localized or widespread flooding, as thousands of people in Texas can attest. Even if your home is not directly affected, you could be required to evacuate your home for days at a time (as inconvenience as this is, it sure beats being directly affected by flood). Look into purchasing flood insurance if you do not already have it. There is very little that can be done to prevent flood damage, but having flood insurance is probably the best start in terms of minimizing your exposure to this disaster. Take a look at www.FloodSmart.gov for more information on buying flood insurance or taking other steps to reduce the impact a flood can have on you, your family, and your property.
You can buy surge protectors to prevent electronics from being damaged by lightning and power surges. When lightning strikes your home, many of your electronics can be damaged, costing thousands of dollars to replace (and as ever-increasing numbers of electronics have more and more digital components, it is rare that these can be repaired following a strike or surge as they once were.) As inexpensive as surge protectors are, they can more than make up for the expense of having to file a claim following a lightning strike or power surge.
Lightning strikes can also be a source of home fires, just as they are a source of brush fires. Be sure your smoke detectors are working, have the proper fire extinguishers well placed (and know how to use them), have a fireproof safe for your most important documents and valuables, and have an emergency plan (and a recovery plan) the whole family is familiar with.
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Summer heat also means a lot more time in the pool (if you have one), or at someone else’s pool (if you don’t). This again means more maintenance if it’s your pool. Pools increase the chance of accident. You may want to check the chemical and PH levels more often, check and maintain the pump and filter, be sure everyone knows how to swim. Just as public pools provide a lifeguard, make sure a responsible adult is present at all times when children are in or around the poo;.
Home maintenance and loss prevention is a lot like insurance – you pay a little now to avoid having to pay a whole lot later, and in the meantime you can enjoy some peace of mind while getting more sizzle out of your summer.
Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.