Category Archives: Blog

Have You Considered Increasing Your Insurance Liability Limits? Think About An Umbrella.

If you own a home, own a car and a boat, you probably have insurance on all three. One thing each of these insurance policies will have in common is a liability component that protects you in the event someone is harmed by or on your property. Liability insurance is the part of your homeowners, auto or marine policy that pays for expenses such as the injured persons medical bills and lost wages and covers your legal representation if you end up in court. There is another thing these policies will have in common that you may not have considered; each policy has a limit on the liability payment. If there is an accident you will be protected only up to the limits of liability on the policy. These days, that liability limit might not be enough. If an accident was caused through your negligence, there is no way to predict how much a sympathetic judge or jury may award. You might take a moment to look over your Washington insurance policies and judge for yourself whether the limits of liability are sufficient to provide you the protection you are comfortable with. Financial advisors are now recommending that individuals who are still working have liability coverage of at least $1 million or equivalent to their net worth. If you are concerned that your limits of liability may not be enough, there is an alternative to simply raising those limits on a policy by policy basis. That alternative is a Personal Umbrella Policy (PUP). A Personal Umbrella Policy offers high limits of liability that can defend an insured against a catastrophic liability loss. PUP coverage, like an umbrella, sits on top of the primary liability coverage provided homeowners, personal auto, watercraft, and any other scheduled underlying liability policies. It covers bodily injury, property damage, and personal injury, which includes, among other things, libel, slander, false arrest and invasion of privacy. A Personal Umbrella Policy can extend your liability coverage from $1 million-$5 million. The really good news is that this form of coverage is quite affordable. Because the coverage picks up after the underlying liability coverage represented by your homeowners or auto insurance is exhausted, the pricing of these policies is commensurate with the risk. You may expect to pay only a few hundred dollars for $1 million or more of personal liability insurance. Take a few minutes to discuss your liability situation with a professional at Homer Smith Insurance. You may be able to significantly increase your liability protection very affordably.

Time to Winterize Your Home

OK, last weekend was the end of daylight savings time and if you are a homeowner you know what that means; it’s time to make sure your house is ready for winter. We are pretty fortunate on our side of the Hood Canal Bridge because we don’t often get the weather that sometimes plagues the passes east of Seattle or the other side of the Cascades. Still, we need to spend a bit of time making sure our homes are maintained for their own safety and the safety of others.

Inside the home you’ll want to check the thermostat to make sure that is working properly. It’s a good time to consider energy savings and whether or not a setback thermostat or a timer might help you save on your heating bill. Programmable thermostats that will allow you to set different temperatures by day and time of day can put a big dent in utility bills. If you have a pellet stove or other stove that works with the thermostat, you can even put programmable thermostats on these.

If you have a fireplace it’s time to clean it, the flu and the spark arrester at the top of the chimney. Make sure all your dampers are working properly and fitting correctly. You also need to check the mortar between the bricks on the chimney and look for any cracks in the fireplace or the chimney. It is particularly important if you have any form of exposed heating indoors that you check out all your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and put in new batteries for the season. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, get one; they are a great safety investment.  You don’t want to be taking a chance on needing your Washington home insurance.

Make sure the house is tight. Check the door and window insulation in the house and garage and check for air leaks under doors, and where pipes or wires come into the house.  Caulk or repair any leaking areas as necessary.

Outside the house, check around the foundation and fill in any cracks. This will help prevent damage from water getting into the cracks and freezing. It’s time to clean the leaves from the gutters and make sure the downspouts are clear and not leaking. This will help prevent the formation of ice dams and possible damage to the roof. Survey your roof for worn spots or missing shingles now and at the first snow, take a look at the roof again to see if there are areas of uneven melting that might indicate insulation problems.

There’s time now before our first cold snap to check outdoor faucets, fix any leaks and insulate outside faucets and drains.  Our western Washington climate is relatively mild so inexpensive faucet covers will take care of most potential freezing problems.  On the deck and in the garden, put away any hoses, take in or cover patio furniture and prepare a sprinkler or watering system for winter. Make sure pools or hot tubs are prepped for winter. 

Many folks ion the Olympic Peninsula like to get away during the winter to warmer climates. If you’re going to leave your house vacant for some time there are a couple of additional things you should do. If you are going to turn off the water, try to drain the pipes if possible to prevent possible damage from freezing. If not, consider leaving some water running in a slow trickle to reduce the chances of freezing. If the heat will be turned off, consider insulating the water heater. Putting a small amount of antifreeze in the tank and bowl of each toilet can help prevent freezing and cracking these fixtures.

If possible, try to have a friend or neighbor check your house on a regular schedule. Unexpected things can happen in an empty house and  it is best to identify problems as early as possible before they cause major damage. If you are going to be gone for a long time it is worth talking to your insurance agent and checking your insurance policy. Insurance companies may take issue with covering damage to a house when the owner has been absent for a long period of time. Fortunately, there is additional coverage available that can protect you during periods of absence.

Winterize Yourself!

We have been talking about winterizing your house and car in recent postings; we shouldn’t forget to winterize ourselves.  Immunizations are about the best approach we have for primary prevention of disease.  Here in Jefferson County, we learned a bit this year about what can happen if we are not vigilant in keeping our immunizations up to date.  We had an outbreak of Whooping Cough that made state headlines. 

Now we are about to enter the flu season; it is time to roll up our sleeves and get our shots.  Influenza is a disease we combat every year and it is a sort of roulette wheel for the public health folks.  There are three types of influenza viruses: A, B, and C, but that is only the beginning of the story.  These three types are responsible for 306 human influenza viruses and influenza A viruses are further classified by subtype and both A subtypes and B viruses are also classified by strains. The H1N1 virus we saw worried about in the papers in 2009 is a strain of Influenza A.  We also call it swine flu; we can worry about it again this year if we don’t get vaccinated.

Flu strains mutate all the time and every time a strain mutates and acts in a different way, it is given another name.  What is really important though is to identify the strains that look like they will be active in the next flu season or are a real threat to humans.  The folks who study flu predict which strains will be important and mix up a batch of flu vaccine that provides immunization against the strains they expect to see.  Mostly they get it right, but sometimes a variant creeps in that isn’t covered.  

The 2012 flu vaccine offers immunization for:  

  • A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus (same strain as 2011-2012 flu season)
  • A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus
  • B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus.

The H1N1 strain is the only one in common with last year’s vaccine; the other two are new for this year. 

Flu season usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur later and there are already cases reported this year in Washington State, so it’s time to get your shot as soon as possible for the greatest protection.  If you worry about flu much and want to track it, there are great resources at the Centers for Disease Control and through the Washington State Department of Health.  

Some people don’t like shots and would just as soon avoid getting one; don’t do that.   Not only does flu vaccination help you as an individual, but as a community effort everyone who gets a flu shot helps their neighbor.  These days, if you are in the right age range you can also get your vaccine as a nasal spray.  When enough people are immunized, our community acquires what is known as “herd immunity” – the flu can’t jump from person to person because there are enough immune people to block the jump.  There are people who should not get flu shots unless they consult their physicians – like people who are sick, have an allergy to chicken eggs, have had a reaction to an influenza vaccination or have a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome.  Also, kids under 6 months old should not get influenza vaccine.  All these people depend on the rest of us to help protect them. 

If you need to know where to get a flu shot or the newer flu nasal spray, go to the Washington Department of Health website at and enter your zip code.

Taking Care of Your Home

When you buy a
home, your mortgage holder will require that you carry homeowners insurance;
this is to provide financial protection for you and your banker.  Insurance, though, is only part of the
picture.  You need insurance to protect
your home and its contents against accidental damage and to protect your
possessions against theft.  Insurance
addresses the rapid and unpredictable events that can eat into the value of
your home. 

There is another
set of events that is neither sudden nor unpredictable, but over time can wreak
the same havoc as a hurricane or a fire. 
Those events are the slow deterioration of a house that is not
maintained.  While it may take years, the
ravages of time will destroy an unmaintained house as certainly as any

A typical
Washington homeowners insurance policy includes coverage for the structure of
your home, personal belongings, liability protection and ancillary expenses
such as support while you cannot live in your home as a result of damage
through a covered peril.  What homeowners
insurance does not cover are those events that are rare but devastating –
flood, earthquake or landslide, for example – and those items that are part of
normal wear and tear. Managing your risk of loss requires addressing each of
these areas – general homeowners insurance, coverage for special risks and a
sound maintenance plan to make certain your home is in the best condition it
can be.

Your first step
should be to read and understand your homeowners insurance policy.  What perils are covered?  Typically, covered perils include, fire,
windstorm, riot or civil commotion, theft and vandalism and water damage if it
is due to sudden and accidental leaks from plumbing, heating or
air-conditioning systems or domestic appliances.  You need to make sure that the perils covered
are those common to your area and understand how they will be dealt with.  For example, what is an accidental leak and
how does it differ from a leak that may be a maintenance issue?

Once you
understand what is covered in your standard policy, you need to consider those
risks not covered – high value items, floods and earthquakes are examples of
areas where you might consider additional coverage.  Often a decision on this additional coverage
will depend on your risk tolerance.  For
example, if you have an extensive coin collection you might want to make
certain you have additional coverage for it; if your collection is not large,
you may decide you could absorb its entire loss. Special coverage can virtually
always be purchased to insure against perils that are not covered and for items
that require special treatment.

What will not be
covered by either a standard homeowners policy or by extended special coverage
are losses related to inadequate or improper home maintenance.  These are the homeowner’s responsibility. You
should consider developing a home maintenance plan to further reduce your
risk.  For example, a regular schedule of
cleaning gutters can help preserve the integrity of your roof; regular trimming
of bushes around dryer vents or other heat sources helps reduce the risk of
fire.  You should pay special attention
to moisture related issues.  Most homeowner policies don’t cover damage caused by mold, fungi, rust, or rot because these
are not sudden and accidental occurrences. 
Insurers typically view them as maintenance issues, though some may
provide a limited amount of mold coverage or allow you to buy additional
coverage for mold by adding an endorsement.

There are several
good homeowners maintenance plans available or you can create your own.  In Washington, for example, the Building Industry of Washington (BIAW) has developed an extensive plan that addresses
many areas that help reduce your risk of an insurable event.  A sound maintenance plan that is followed can
help you preserve and protect you major home investment.


Time to Winterize the Car

Changing technology has brought big changes to the century-old problem of how to get your car ready for winter. The oil and gas industry has improved oils to the point we know longer need to worry about changing to “winter oil” versus summer oil, we just keep on driving around with the same high quality multi-viscosity oil all year. They have also put 10% ethanol in our gas. The byproduct of this is some protection against frozen gas lines if you get water in your gas. The battery folks have improved their products as well. Where we used to be advised to test our batteries and refill them before winter, most batteries now are factory sealed and you could neither test them with a hygrometer or fill them if you would thought they were low on fluid. The only thing you need to do with your battery these days is make sure the connections are tight. If you suspect your battery is losing its capability to hold a charge, your mechanic will be happy to do a load test for you to help determine whether you need a new one.

Advances in tire technology have given us the “all weather” tire which can safely be used all year round for many of us. If you live in an area on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula where there is a lot of snow – like Brinnon for example – you might want to consider snow tires. Please remember though that all-season tires only work when they have plenty of tread and when they are properly inflated. Your tire pressure will drop with the falling temperatures – about 1 pound per square inch for every 10°. Here, if you inflated to 30 pounds per square inch in July, by November you could be closer to 25 pounds per square inch. If you move around a lot two areas of the state where there is a lot of snow, you might want to consider studded tires. If you have four-wheel drive, follow your manufacturers’ recommendation for servicing and be sure to test an “on-demand” system before winter weather sets in.  

As your Washington auto insurance agency, Homer Smith Insurance wants to remind you to be prepared for winter driving.  You can anticipate at least a few days of pretty rotten weather between November 1 and April 1 if you live here on the Peninsula. Don’t neglect your car’s windshield wipers. Check your wiper fluid and wiper blades; refill fluid and change blades as necessary.  Wiper blades are generally good for about a year. Replace them if they are worn, frayed or leave streaks.  Dirty water and salt on your windshield reduces visibility and you need a clear view for a safe trip. You don’t want to be navigating our twisting roads peering out the side window and looking for the white lines on the road.  Fill your wiper fluid reservoir with a brand that has an appropriate freezing temperature.

The end of daylight saving time is a good marker to check your belts and hoses.  Cold weather can weaken belts and hoses so any problems are only likely to get worse.  Looks for leaks where hoses connect and check for frayed belts.  If a belt or hose looks questionable, get it replaced.  

Prepare for emergencies.  Make sure your spare tire is properly inflated and you have a wheel wrench and a good jack.  Carry a shovel, jumper cables, tire chains and at least a minimal tool kit that includes a flashlight.  A bag of sand, salt or cat litter carried in the trunk will help provide a little weight over the wheels for a rear wheel drive car and may give you some extra traction if you need to get a wheel our of a rut. 

Winter or summer, your car should have a “survival kit” analogous to the one in your house.  Pack some extra batteries for that flashlight in your toolkit, a knife or scissors and cord and matches in a waterproof container.  A small first aid kit is important and should include sterile gloves and a CPR shield.  , Pack reflective triangles or brightly-colored cloth and flares for roadside safety and a compass in the event you need to leave the car.  Winter specific items you should include are:  extra windshield cleaner, an ice scraper/snow brush and high energy foods with a long useful life – nuts, dried fruit and energy bars, for example.

The folks at have some advice if you get stranded:

  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation. 
  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
  • If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
  • Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.

Homeowners Insurance – It May Cover More Than You Realize

Your home – it keeps you warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry all year around; it can also help protect you even when you are not at home.   Your homeowner’s insurance policy is an asset that not only protects your home and its contents but helps defend you even away from home. Your Washington homeowners policy has two major parts.  Property insurance covers the structure of your home and its contents for fire, theft and other perils; personal liability covers damage to others caused by you, your family or your property – including medical expenses for those injured.  Pretty simple really, if there is a theft in your home and your brand new laptop is stolen, the theft is covered under your property insurance; if your neighbor trips on the loose board on your porch you are defended by your liability insurance.  What many people do not realize is that your homeowners insurance attaches to you as well as your home and when you are away from home, your insurance comes with you. The liability part of your homeowners insurance may provide coverage in the event you or a member of your family injures someone while you are on vacation.  Perhaps you hit a horrible drive that hooks off the golf course and straight through the windshield of a car parked near the course; you may be covered  under your homeowners policy for the repairs.  The medical and liability portion of your homeowners policy may cover you if your errant golf drive hits a person not a parked car or if your normally cheerful canine companion decides to nip on someone’s ankle at the amusement park. Property coverage can be quite extensive and cover many property loss situations away from home.   If your laptop is stolen from your rental car while you are on vacation, you can look to your home insurance for recovery – but remember if it is your business laptop, it may not a covered item.  Virtually anything that you own or purchase can be covered for loss or theft up to the policy limits subject to the same deductibles and policy limits just as they would at home.  If your luggage is lost by the airlines or valuable jewelry disappears from your hotel room, you may be able to recover under your homeowners policy.  It is a versatile tool that helps protect not just your home, but you as the homeowner.

Teen Driving Safety

Are you a teenage driver or do you have one in your house? There are over 200,000,000 licensed drivers in the United States today and about 6% of them are teens. As a group, they are more likely than other age groups to be involved in a fatal accident and more likely to get a traffic citation, except possibly for those 75 years and older. Car crashes are the leading cause of death for those in the age group from 16 to 21 years old. Some of this may be due to inexperience, but there are certainly other factors involved in the high proportion of teen deaths in motor vehicle accidents. Authorities like the National Highway Safety Transportation Authority (NHTSA) suggest that psychological and behavioral factors such as impulsivity, peer pressure and thrill seeking behavior may lead to the association with speeding, reckless driving and alcohol and drug use while driving that is a frequent cause of accidents. NHTSA studies have also shown new drivers are easily distracted and that teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior when in a group. It is not just fatalities that are of concern; national studies show that one speeding ticket results in an increase in insurance costs of $900 over the course of a three year period. So, teens and their parents need to be concerned not only about their physical health but their financial health as well.

There is no shortage of advice for teens about driving but it can boil down to some very quick observations:

  • Don’t drink or take drugs and drive; don’t get into a car with people who are drinking or taking drugs.
  • Don’t drive distracted; that is no texting, talking on cell phones while driving or other in car activities.
  • Buckle up. If you have heard some nonsense about ending up in a creek upside down and drowning because you couldn’t get out of the safety belt, forget about it.  It almost never happens.
  • Be careful when there’s a group in the car. Whether old or young, none of us is as distracted alone as we are in a group having fun – and
  • Watch your speed.

There are certainly other tips that may be helpful, like exercising care when driving in the dark or extreme weather but by and large if you observe the big five above, you will have a better chance of becoming a senior driver someday.

If you are the parent of a teen and feel that you need some help monitoring your teen’s driving habits, you may want to enlist the help of some technological aids. There are a variety of smart phone apps designed to help reduce distractions while your teen is driving and keep their passengers safer on the road.  While technology is advancing all the time, at Homer Smith Insurance we believe there really is no substitute for the teen learning good, safe driving habits along with close parental supervision.  

In addition to the safety benefits of responsible driving, teens will get the best auto insurance rates if they:  1) Maintain good grades, typically at least a B average;  2)  Keep a clean driving record, free of accidents and violations and;  3)  Take an approved driver’s education course.

Local and Organic; It’s All Good

Folks out here on the Olympic Peninsula have been close to the land for a long time. A lot of this area’s history has been tied up with the timber industry as well as fishing. Sometimes we forget that there has also been a strong agricultural presence.  The Dungeness Valley in Sequim, for example, grew potatoes wheat, oats, peas and apples for shipping to ports around Puget Sound. There was also a large crop of hops which supplied the Port Townsend breweries and the thirsty sailors who frequented them. The Egg and I, a book about rural Jefferson County in the 1930s highlighted a mixed agriculture economy that appears to be coming back.

The local food movement has really taken hold here. OlyCAP and other community organizations worked together to sponsor a conference on food security on the Olympic Peninsula back in 2007. That seemed to get a lot of people working together to help support area organic farmers and just introduce a bunch of people to each other. In the past few years area farmers markets have grown like never before with active markets in Port Angeles, Sequim and Port Townsend. Nash Huber of Nash’s Organic Produce was in the running for a national award as an organic farmer a few years back. Many of the local farmers have demonstrated tremendous community spirit in contributing excess produce to local food banks and allowing community groups to glean remaining produce from their fields and orchards after the harvest.  Community support runs both ways.

Both Clallam County and Jefferson County have a growing farm population and with expanding outlets that include the farmers markets, area restaurants and “farm share” Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, individual farmers have a chance to make a difference. A lot of the new farming is organic as well, responding to a renewed public interest in healthy food. In Clallam County, Nash’s Organic Produce has been a leader in organic food production for years and their farm stand offers items not only from their farm, but other items from local producers. Jefferson County has a number of organic producers with farmers like John Gunning at Collingswood Farms and the folks at Midori farms actually producing in or near the Port Townsend “urban” environment. The organic food movement is supportive of all kinds of growers. Sequim is famous for its lavender and there are many organic lavender producers there.  Every summer in July many lavender farms are open to the public during the Sequim Lavender Festival — pictured above, Homer and Cynthia of Homer Smith Insurance visited Graysmarsh Farm this past July,  

Growing organic food – or even organic lavender – starts with organic seed and the Organic Seed Alliance has been quietly going about its business of educating farmers about the benefits of organic seed and advocating for organic production since 2003. Their offices are in Port Townsend and their reach is literally worldwide.

Each of these farms and organizations is pretty small when considered alone, but taken together they put the Olympic Peninsula in the front ranks of the local food and organic movement.  They make us all think a little bit more about the importance of supporting each other in our community.

Hurricane Katrina and the storms of 2005

There have been
more than 2000 federal disaster declarations since the year 1953, that’s an
average of 34 every year. The year 2011 set a new record with 99 federal disasters declared. A federal disaster is declared under the provisions of theStafford Act.  The act requires that the
governor of the state makes a request through the federal government and that
the declaration itself is made by the President of the United States. It is not
only states that can make a request, other entities such as the District of
Columbia, Puerto Rico and American Samoa, among others may also request a
federal disaster declaration.

Once a federal
disaster is declared, the disaster area becomes eligible for a number of
federal supports; a federal disaster presumes that the extent of damage and
devastation is beyond the capability for a local area or a state to provide an
adequate response.

August 29 marks
the anniversary of one of the largest federal disasters in history, Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane striking the New Orleans, Louisiana
area. The storm was devastating to New Orleans and surrounding areas of
Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Katrina caused 1836 deaths and flooded 80%
of New Orleans destroying many homes, small buildings and businesses.  Four hundred thousand people lost their jobs
as a result of the disaster; donations from U.S. citizens to help those caught
up in the disaster approached $600 million, but help poured in from everywhere,
with donations even from countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.  Refugees from the disaster were spread out
across the states, even as far as Washington State and the Olympic Peninsula. 

Katrina caused
about $71 billion in insured losses and replaced hurricane Andrew as the
largest insurance loss from a natural disaster in US history.  There were other disasters as well and that
helped the year 2005 become the most expensive year in history for American
Insurance companies.  The 2005 hurricane set records for the number of storms – actually, more storms then there were
names for. Meteorologists had to add six Greek names to fill out the list of
storms. Counting losses from hurricanes Katrina, Dennis, Wilma, and Rita as
well as other storms and disasters, insurance losses in 2005 ran about $117
billion.  A report from Towers Perrin
noted that insurers writing any property coverage in the southeastern U.S. and
most reinsurers across the globe had losses stemming from Katrina.

Obviously these
storms take a huge human and financial toll not only on the people that they
affect directly, but on the nation as a whole. In addition to the amounts spent
to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina at the time, something over $14
billion has been spent to strengthen the levee system that protects the New
Orleans area. Ironically, as this blog is published, August 29, Hurricane Isaac
is headed toward New Orleans to test that levee system. Let’s all hope it

Summer’s Here – Kids, Pets and Hot Cars

A major area of concern at this time of year is the fast rate at which a car can heat up to an unbearable temperature. Every year you are likely to see a national news item about a child who has died after being left alone in a car on a warm day. In fact, our country has averaged 37 child deaths a year from heat exposure in vehicles since 1998. Even though our weather on the Olympic Peninsula is less extreme than in some parts of the country, that does not mean it couldn’t happen here. We may assume that because a day seems relatively cool out, that our kids and pets are safe locked in the car – think again. Even at 73°, on a sunny day the temperature inside a car can reach 120° in 30 minutes; on a 90° day that figure can rise to 160°.

The state of Washington is one of 19 states in the country that has a law that specifically addresses leaving a child unattended in a motor vehicle.  It is a misdemeanor offense to leave any child under 16 unattended in a motor vehicle with the engine running. While this doesn’t really address the question of heat exposure, it’s a good start and a reminder to exercise care.

Those most at risk for heat related problems are kids and dogs — both for similar reasons. Kids, particularly infants and young children, are not in the position to cool themselves by opening windows or taking off clothes. Dogs cool their bodies through their paw pads and through their tongues by panting. When the heat in a closed vehicle goes up there is little opportunity for the body to cool. It takes surprisingly little time for damage to be done.

So far as children are concerned, the standing rule ought to be never leave a child alone in a parked car.  Animals are different problems because they may not be welcome everywhere you are going.  It may involve selecting a restaurant with a drive-through rather than taking a few minutes out to sit inside. If you have to leave an animal unattended, be sure to crack a few windows to help slow any heat buildup and park in the shade if possible. These aren’t fail-safe remedies, but they may help.

It may be difficult to consider getting yourself involved in someone else’s business.  However, when you see a closed car and a child or an animal in distress, there really is not much time to act.  Calling 911 or animal control is an appropriate response to what is potentially a very dangerous situation.