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Ounce of Prevention

August 17, 2017

At Chartwell Insurance Services we ask our policyholders to contact us immediately after they have had a loss, but before filing a homeowners claim directly with the insurance company. This allows us to evaluate the loss, and determine if it can be resolved within the policy deductible without involving the insurance company and how to minimize further damage. Remember, we are available 24 hours a day with our emergency phone system.  If you call the office after hours (312-645-1200) you will receive a voice prompt to press “2” for a call back.  We have learned a lot about safety and how losses in the home occur because we have seen so many losses over the years. This experience has taught us that an informed and conscientious home or condominium owner can reduce the chance of a claim with the following recommendations from Chartwell and professional home and life safety experts. For this reason we are calling this bulletin our “Ounce of Prevention.”

First, Keith Fisher of Keyth Technologies:.
Consider Low-level Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors
Carbon Monoxide detectors should be placed on every floor and near bedrooms and common halls. Most standard Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed CO detectors only sound the alarm at the UL mandated standard of 70 parts per million. However, even air containing more than 10 parts per million is unsafe, particularly at sustained levels of exposure. Look for this more rigorous threshold when buying CO detectors.  Note that these are not widely available and are only sold through reputable alarm installers.

Monitored fire alarms
Municipal codes generally require hard-wired smoke (110 volt AC house) alarms, but usually do not require smoke alarms to be monitored by a central station. Non-monitored alarms will sound an audible siren, but will not simultaneously trigger a call to the fire department.

It is dangerous not to have early warning monitored Smoke Detection Devices (sometimes referred to as Smoke Alarms) in a residential dwelling. Monitoring and automatic dispatch of the fire department should be provided by a licensed alarm company. Sometimes this is a requirement from the insurance company.

Even if it is not, we recommend monitored alarms for life safety and property protection. Some people mistakenly believe that interior sprinklers are a substitute for a smoke alarm. Sprinkler heads generally do not activate until the ambient heat buildup reaches the trigger threshold which starts at 135 degrees Fahrenheit and even then there is often a sliding scale of temperature triggers depending on the application. However, most residential fires start as a “slow smoldering smoke” pattern. It is very possible to be in a residential fire where people are overcome by smoke and CO before a sprinkler head releases.

Semi-Annual gutter and downspout cleaning.
Leaves and other debris that clog gutters and downspouts leave a home vulnerable to ice-damming in cold climates. Also uncontrolled rainwater can cascade over blocked downspouts and sometimes pool around the home which can damage the foundation and leak into the home. Semi-annual gutter cleaning will help ensure that gutters and downspouts are cleared of leaves and debris, and will help identify any sections that need to be replaced.

Andy Narducci, of Besco Air
Seasonal Maintenance on Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning systems ( HVAC)
There is more to seasonal maintenance than just replacing the filters. Proper seasonal maintenance by a professional technician can reveal problems before damage is done or the unit fails. Preventative maintenance can identify things like a bad capacitor, a dirty flame sensor, a weak ignitor when the temperatures fall below Zero (F) in the winter, or a unit low on refrigerant, before the summer temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and you can be stuck waiting up to a week before a technician is available.
Another reason for correct maintenance is to monitor system efficiency. You can buy an 80% efficient furnace, but if it’s not inspected annually it will likely not run at 80% efficiency. The same can be said for higher efficiency equipment. Annual maintenance ensures that your equipment is running in the best possible condition and prolongs the lifespan.

Suggestions from Chartwell Insurance Services:

Sump pump and sewer line maintenance
Add to the list an annual visit from the plumber to test the sump and ejector pumps, to check the hot water tank and to look for any blockages in the sewer lines. Clogged sewer lines can lead to basement seepage and backup of sewer and drain during heavy rains. Malfunctioning or improperly pressurized hot water tanks can leak or explode.

Fire Extinguishers
Every residence should have an “ABC” fire extinguisher on each floor, in an easily accessed location. Fire extinguisher charges last between 5 and 15 years. If there is a pressure gauge check to see that the needle is on the green area. Be sure the seals are intact.
Have the extinguisher serviced or replaced if there is no pressure gauge every few years. Some people set off extinguishers that are at the end of their useful life to practice for a real emergency. Only do this outdoors in a quiet area.

Fire Extinguisher Seal

Image: Holmes Fire & Safety Solutions

In case you are wondering what an ABC fire extinguisher is, there are five different kinds of extinguishers: Classes A, B, C, D and K. Class A works on dry fuels, B is for flammable liquids and C is designed for electrical fires. Class D extinguishers, geared to flammable metals, are found in labs and industrial settings. K extinguishers are for large grease and oil fires, usually in commercial or institutional kitchens. An extinguisher labeled for Class B or Class K is suitable for grease or oil fires. A good home fire extinguisher should be at least “ABC” rated.

Generators and backup power
Backup power sources can keep sump and ejector pumps operating during a power failure. A backup battery is helpful, while a generator offers superior protection. Backup batteries may be exhausted during prolonged power outages. A portable generator’s effectiveness is limited by the need for someone in the immediate vicinity who knows how to activate it. The most reliable generators are standby generators that are powered by the permanent natural gas or LP fuel supply that powers many homes and has automatic cutovers as soon as the power fails.

Summary – The importance of annual maintenance
Any major equipment in the home, from generator to swimming pool motor, interior sprinklers and fire alarms and sensors, should be serviced annually. Every few years the roof and electrical system should be checked as well.
Arrange for annual service contracts if you need to be reminded or prepare a spreadsheet to track the vendors and the service dates.
Don’t wait for a breakdown or water damage, or worse yet, a fire or an even greater tragedy before you have your home equipment serviced. Some losses are truly unavoidable, but many can be prevented through scheduled routine maintenance.

Chartwell Sample Checklist

Maintenance Checklist

Chartwell Vendor-specific service record

Vendor Service Checklist

Chartwell Bulletins are produced by Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc., an independent insurance broker specializing in the personal asset protection of high net worth individuals. Chartwell Bulletins address issues of general interest and since coverages vary by company and by state should not be taken as an interpretation of a particular policy or advice on any individual situation. Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. is not affiliated with Keyth Technologies or Besco Air and does not accept compensation for referrals to them.
A representative of Chartwell Insurance Services, Inc. will be pleased to discuss all aspects of your personal insurance.  Contact: Rebecca Korach Woan | 312. 645.1200 | rwoan@chartwellins.com