Most of us are busy this time of year trying to find the right gifts for family members. As it turns out, the best gift you can give your family is right at your fingertips—and it doesn’t cost a thing. In fact, it could save you tens of thousands of dollars. It’s a simple matter of videotaping your home inventory and storing the footage off-site or in cyberspace. Take the time to make this video record of your possessions - it could save you many hours and a lot of heartache in the event of a fire.
In addition to holiday shopping, old man winter brings a set of seasonal challenges for homeowners. More than during any other season, we see claims for the same problems year after year. Read on to see how you can avoid these six common problems.
1) Shoveling Snow - This seemingly simple winter chore can result in major back injuries that require surgery. It can even result in death. Follow these easy steps to make this unpleasant job as easy on your body as possible:
- Find a service or a high school student in your neighborhood. They will appreciate the money, and you will appreciate not getting injured
- If you plan to shovel snow yourself, prepare for it by warming up. Shoveling puts the same strain on your body as running a 5K race. And you certainly wouldn’t expect a runner to run a race without warming up.
- Make sure you have proper form and back support, just as you would if you were lifting weights.
2) Space Heaters - The #1 cause of house fires f rom December through February is the improper use of space heaters. And even though we’ve all read or heard news stories about injuries or deaths related to space heaters, people still use them incorrectly. Follow these guidelines for safe space heater use:
- Do not use space heaters to warm bedding, cook food, thaw pipes, or dry clothing. These tasks can present major fire and burn risks.
- Only use space heaters with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) safety mark. The UL mark signifies that the product was tested for potential safety hazards. Also, purchase units that have automatic shut-off features and heating element guards.
- Keep sources of fire, including draperies, clothing, and bedding, at least three feet away from the heater.
- Turn off space heaters when leaving the room and/or going to sleep.
- Always supervise children and pets around heaters to prevent burns.
3) Preparing Your Car for Winter - From dead batteries to snow tires and engine problems, winter is tough on your ride. Take these steps to ensure an incident-free winter:
- Check your tire tread depth and replace worn tires, if possible. Tires with tread depths of less than 2/32” should be replaced immediately, preferably with winter tires that will help the car handle easily in ice and snow.
- Make sure your battery has enough juice. Cold temperatures can cause your battery to operate at less than 50 percent efficiency, which might prevent your car from starting if it is cold enough.
- The viscosity of oil—how thick it is—will change depending on its temperature. The colder oil is, the thicker it will become. Thick oil does not circulate through an engine as easily as thinner oil during start-up. To reduce the risk of problems, place thinner oil in your engine before the cold weather season. Check your vehicle’s manual for the proper oil to use.
4) Frozen Pipes - This inevitably occurs when you are out of town. You hear about it when your neighbor calls about the river coming out your front door. This year, leave home with peace of mind by taking these precautions:
- For interior wall faucets that share an outside wall, set a small drip to keep water flowing.
- Exterior pipes should be wrapped or insulated.
- In extreme cold, open a faucet to a good flow. Pipes can't burst if there is no pressure
- Going on a trip in when you know it's going to be cold? Drain the water from the house, cut off the main, and open the faucets. Pipes can't freeze without water in them.
- It seems smart to lower the heat to save money when you won't be in the house, but lower it only 10 degrees. This will make it easier on your family when you return from a long trip.
5) Driving on ICE (Black) - North Texas is notorious for this monster. Black ice is a thin layer of ice with very little air. The lack of air makes the ice look transparent so you don’t see it in time to avoid it. But you can still prevent an accident by taking these precautions:
- Don't slam the brakes. While it may be a natural instinct to slam on your brakes, this will only cause your car to lose control and slide even more. Tap the brake pedal lightly instead of pushing down hard on it.
- Maintain a safe following distance. In inclement weather, you should extend your following distance to ensure you will have ample time to react to the motorist ahead, especially if he begins to lose control.
- Look for trouble spots ahead. If you think there may be black ice ahead (if you see cars ahead of you sliding, for example), downshift to a lower gear before you reach the black ice. The lower gear will force you to drive more slowly, giving you better control of your car.
- As soon as your car begins to slide on black ice, take your foot off the gas pedal; the last thing you want to do is give your vehicle more gas. It is important to slow down when you are driving on black ice or in any other winter road conditions.
6) DWIs - Driving while intoxicated can cost you tens of thousands of dollars, but it can also double, triple, or quadruple your premium for the next three to five years. It’s likely you’ll be attending some holiday parties, so follow the steps below to avoid one of the most costly mistakes you can make:
- The number one way to avoid a DWI is not to get behind the wheel of a car after drinking.
- Use a designated driver.
- Hire a car service like Uber (www.uber.com) or a taxi. Spending $50-$100 could save you $10,000.