Monthly Archives: December 2011

Home Fire Safety – Prevention Part 2

In an earlier blog, we addressed home fire prevention from some common sources of fires – cooking, electrical appliances and wiring, smoking and candles.  Another significant contributor to home fires is home heating sources.  

Here on the peninsula, we have homes of different ages and many different forms of home heating; many folks also use fireplaces, wood stoves and pellet stoves as supplemental or even primary heating.  Statistics indicate that people in rural areas are more than twice as likely to die in a fire as those living in mid-sized cities or suburban areas and much of this difference may stem from misuse of wood stoves, portable space heaters and kerosene heaters.  Some care and attention to your heating systems will help carry you safely through the heating months. 

If you use a fireplace or wood stove, you should have your chimney or wood stove inspected and cleaned annually by a chimney specialist.  What is important here is to identify and remove any creosote builup that may be occurring.  Creosote is formed in chimneys and flues when unburned gases in fires condense and deposit on stovepipes and the flue as a liquid tar that hardens into creosote.  Creosote looks differently depending on how and where it is deposited.  It can look like a sooty powder, a gummy tarlike deposit, a hard glaze or burnt marshmallows.  Whatever it looks like, if it catches fire in your chimney or stovepipe it burns with the heat of a blast-furnace. 

You can help prevent or reduce creosote buildup by keeping air inlets on wood stoves open, and leaving glass doors open while burning a fire.  Your fire needs enough air to ensure complete combustion.  Also, build small fires that burn completely and produce less smoke and never burn trash, paper or green wood in your fireplace. These materials cause heavy creosote buildup and are difficult to control. These habits will help keep creosote from building up.

Before and during the heating season, review and monitor the area around your stove and fireplace.  Clear areas of debris, decorations and flammable materials and use a metal mesh screen with fireplaces that do not have a glass fireplace door. Close glass doors when a fire is out; open the doors when the fire is lit.  The mesh screen helps keep embers from getting out of the fireplace area.  Make sure the areas around wood stoves have fire-resistant materials on walls and that there are proper clearances (see stove manual for clearance requirements).

Your stove must be vented properly for safety and vent pipes or chimneys must extend at least three feet above the roof.  Cover the chimney with a mesh screen spark arrester and remove branches hanging above the chimney, flues or vents.

A few common sense suggestions include never use flammable liquids to start a fire and never leaving a fire in the fireplace unattended. Always extinguish any fire before going to bed or leaving the house.  When it is time to clean the fireplace, stove or even a pellet stove, soak hot ashes or clinkers in water, put them in a metal container and keep them outside your home.

If you use a kerosene heater, buy the ones that have been evaluated by a nationally recognized laboratory, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and check with the fire department on the legality of kerosene heater use in your community. Don’t use gasoline or camp stove fuel in your heater because both flare-up easily and use only in a well-ventilated room.  Consider buying a carbon monoxide detector for safety.

Prepare for the best; anticipate the worst.  Be sure to install smoke alarms on every level of your home and inside and outside of sleeping areas. Test them regularly and change the batteries at least once a year.

Homer Smith Insurance is your Washington Home Insurance agency and we want to help you and your family stay safe this winter.  Looking out for the safety and safe use of your heating will help do that. In the next installment, we’ll talk about how to prepare to respond quickly and effectively if you do have a fire.  

Home Fire Safety – Prevention Part 1

Recent national headlines remind us that it is important to periodically take stock of our attention to home fire safety.  If you look at fires from a health perspective, a fire and resulting burns are an aspect of traumatic injury.   Like so many other areas of health and wellness, understanding the strategies for prevention and rapid response when an event does occur offers the best way to minimize physical harm.  In addition, for most of us, our homes represent our most significant financial investment, the things we do to preserve our physical health can help our financial health as well. 

On the health front, the annual toll from fires runs about 3500 people a year dead and over 18,000 injuries.  The great majority of these injury fires occur in the home and most can be prevented.

Electrical fires are a major category and there are some good, common sense, approaches to preventing them.  Any appliance, wiring, switch or plug that sputters, sparks, smells or crackles is suspect.  Turn it off, unplug it or otherwise get it out of service until you can repair or replace it.  If you have a circuit breaker that trips frequently, or a fuse that blows, check the number and type of items you have on that circuit.  Never increase the size (amperage) of a fuse or circuit breaker.  This can allow your wiring to overheat and since most of that is in your walls, you can’t see the danger till it is too late. Hiding cords is important for aesthetic and safety reasons (tripping hazard) but don’t run them under rugs, over nails or sharp obstacles and don’t leave them exposed in high traffic areas.  Consider using safety caps to cover unused outlets if there are small children in the home.

In the winter here, a lot of people use portable heaters to help spot heat home areas.  These heaters need space – keep anything combustible at least three feet away.  Try to get heaters that have automatic shutoff in case of tipping and don’t leave them unattended. 

Finally, resist the temptation to let a problem slide until you have time to fix it.  An appliance, tools, wiring or switch can go from suspect to problem in an instant.  The tradeoff for your health and safety is not worth it.

Cooking – indoor and outdoor – presents its own hazards.  Don’t wear loose clothing (especially hanging sleeves), walk away from a cooking pot on the stove, or leave flammable materials, such as potholders or paper towels, around the stove or barbeque.  Avoid using extension cords for cooking appliances or microwaves.  Cords can overheat and burn under the constant current used by these devices.

Candles are beautiful and sometimes essential; they also cause an estimated 15,600 fires in residential structures, 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries, and $539 million in estimated direct property damage each year.  Young children and older adults have the highest death risk from candle fires.

More than half of all home candle fires start because the candle is too close to some combustible material.  Keep candles (and all open flame) well away from combustibles.  Snuff all candles BEFORE going to sleep –candle related fires begin in the bedroom more than in any other room and falling asleep is a factor in many home candle fires.  By the way – December is the peak month for candle fires and Christmas is the peak day.

Every year, almost 1,000 smokers and non-smokers are killed in home fires caused by cigarettes and other smoking materials.  If you smoke, smoke outside, use deep, sturdy ashtrays, and make sure cigarettes and ashes are out.

Never smoke in a home where oxygen is used.  Period!

Fourteen states, including Washington, have passed legislation banning or limiting toylike lighters.  A lighter that looks like a toy may be completely irresistible to a child.  A child’s curiosity and a pile of plastic toys can become a very hot and dangerous fire in a matter of seconds.

As a Washington Home Insurance agency, we hope you and your family stay safe.  A little effort to make sure your home fire safety plans are in order will go a long way in helping do that. In the next installment, we’ll talk about home heating safety. 

Washington Renters Insurance Can Protect Against Robberies

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics show that an American home is broken into every 13 seconds on average, with 2.5 million home intrusions occurring each year. The figures are frightening and being burgled is one of the worst nightmares for residents. However, with a number of simple, common sense remedies, you can minimize the risk of a break in. For financial peace of mind though, ensure that your homeowners’ or Washington renters insurance is up to date and enough to cover you for any loss.

So how can you lessen the chance of being burgled? Thieves are likely to bypass a house if it seems too much trouble to enter, or if it has a security system in place. Don’t make it easy for burglars – strengthen the locks and windows while adding heavy duty dead bolts for the main entrances.

Use inexpensive security measures such as a home lighting system, which switches lights on and off at regular intervals. Install an effective burglar alarm and advertise this on windows and doors (thieves are more likely to move on if they believe the house to be alarmed). Finally, set up a neighborhood watch system. Come to an agreement with neighbors to watch over each others houses while unoccupied.

Nevertheless, you may still be burgled despite your best efforts and here you should take precautions by ensuring that your homeowners’ or Washington renters insurance is enough to cover losses. Should you require more information or quotes for coverage, contact one of our agents.




AROUND HERE – Quilcene

Quilcene’s name is derived from the name of a band of the Twana indians – the Quilceed who lived in the area around the Big Quilcene River and Little Quilcene River.  Both of these rivers flow into the Quilcene Bay first explored by members of the Wilkes Expedition in 1841 and called Kwil-sid. 

The first settlers arrived around 1860 – among them one Hampden Cottle who was a logger from Maine.  Mr. Cottle, no doubt, provided valuable experience to the newly founded town. The families successfully established the town of Quilcene, and it grew slowly reaching a population of 53 by 1880.  Logging and farming were principal occupations then. 

The period from 1880 to the first decade or so of the 20th century must have been pretty exciting in Quilcene.  The Port Townsend and Southern Railroad had announced plans for a rail line between Port Townsend and Portland that would run through the town.  The town grew to 274 in 1890 and, even after the planned railroad went bust in the mid-1890’s, Quilcene continued to grow.  In the early 1900’s a Seattle mining company had plans for mining manganese, copper and other metals expected to be found in the Olympics.  The Tubal Cain mine was established and a 2500 foot shaft was dug before the company abandoned it.  You can still hike to the old mine site in the mountains behind Quilcene.

Between mining, logging, shingle manufacture and farming, Quilcene had grown to 483 people by 1910.  After the demise of the mine around 1915, growth halted and between 1920 and 1940, Quilcene varied a few people either side of 385. 

In 1911 the Federal government established a fish hatchery on the Quilcene River.  In the 100 years of the hatchery history, it has raised coho, chum, pink, Chinook, and sockeye salmon, as well as brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout. Fish from the hatchery have been stocked into many streams and rivers flowing into Hood Canal and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  The hatchery website describes early methods of raising fish where hatchery staff would hang parts of horse or cow carcasses over the fish pond. Flies would lay eggs in the decaying flesh and the maggots would fall off into the water, feeding the fish.

The Quilcene of today is a small, primarily residential, community in south Jefferson County.  The population has grown a bit since the 1940’s and in 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Quilcene had a population of 591.  By the 2010 census, the population had reached 596.  In addition to the hatchery which continues in operation, the town boasts an excellent historical museum and, since 1984, has been home to the Olympic Music Festival. 

The citizens of Quilcene are active and engaged in their community.  The Quilcene Fair, held each September, is about to enter its third decade and turns out the whole town and surrounding communities.  Quilcene residents turned out in force to help refurbish and refit their community center between 2008 and 2010 and more recently, a series of community building efforts have been started through the “Quilcene Conversations.” The community has established a town motto “Pearl of the Peninsula” and has joined with Habitat for Humanity to help improve housing in the south county. 

As a Washington home insurance agency, Homer Smith Insurance proudly serves the Quilcene area and admires the community spirit that is so evident in the town.  

Wishing Everyone A Happy Holiday

Homer Smith Insurance, your Washington state insurance agency has been working with our friends and neighbors here on the Olympic Peninsula since 1950.  The holiday season always brings an abundance of community spirit and community activities.  There will be plenty of opportunity for shopping in Sequim and Port Townsend and other holiday themed activities throughout the area.  The Museum & Arts Center in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Exhibit Center is hosting a show and sale featuring original artwork small enough to fit into Christmas stockings.  The show will be closed Christmas eve, but will run through December 30.  McComb Gardens’ at 751 McComb Road in Sequim will be giving instructions in wreath making on Saturday.  Bring a garbage can size pile of greens and other decorations from your own tree or garden and they will help you create a wreath. 

Christmas dinners will be served at both ends of the peninsula.  A traditional Christmas dinner will be served on Christmas Day from noon to 3 the Tri-Area Community Center in Chimacum.  The dinner is sponsored by Olympic Community Action Programs and the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Port Townsend.  They can also arrange delivery of a meal if you can’t get there.  Call OlyCAP at 360-385-2571, ext. 2571, to have your name put on a home delivery list.   Forks-area churches will also host a Community Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.  The feast will be served at the Forks Community Center and everyone is welcome.

Many area churches are hosting special services over the holidays.  You can find listings for Port Townsend area services at this link from the Port Townsend Leader.  A similar listing for the Sequim area is published in the Gazette. Find it here!

All of us at Homer Smith Insurance wish you the very best in this Holiday Season and for the coming year!

Homer Smith Salutes the Port Townsend Senior Association

The Port Townsend Senior Association operates out of the Port Townsend Community Center in uptown Port Townsend.  The Senior Association is an active and effective group.  The association adopted the Center when the city withdrew financial support in 2010.  It maintains a presence on the first floor of the building which allows a variety of activities to take place including Yoga classes, exercise programs, bingo, pool and a host of senior oriented programs and activities.  That also allows some access by the community to the basketball court and facilities downstairs.  The center holds a crafts fair every November and hosts many other community events and meetings throughout the year.

Most recently, the association stepped up when the Senior Meals program that previously operated from the Center was threatened with closure. Initially, United Good Neighbors of Jefferson County put out a call for volunteer assistance to try to maintain the program.  Jefferson County church groups, service organizations and the police and fire departments answered a call for volunteers to support the program on a weekly rotating basis.  The Senior Association committed to staff the program four days a week assuring its continuity. They have served meals for area seniors four nights a week since summer. 

The kitchen staff is led by Laurie Medlicott, a recently retired Port Townsend City Council member.  With Laurie and her cadre of volunteers, participation at the senior meals is growing.  The seniors themselves make a contribution to the meals which helps purchase food.  Each week a group provides volunteer support to help cook, serve and clean up under Laurie’s expert direction.  This week, area Police and Fire Departments provided the support and on Thursday served a holiday dinner to thirty area seniors.  Volunteers, and particularly volunteer group sponsors are always welcome to join in this wonderful community activity.  For more information about the Senior Association or to volunteer, you can contact Eleanor Stickney, the Senior Association Manager, at 385-9007. 

Homer Smith Insurance, your Washington insurance company, salutes the Port Townsend Senior Association for their dedication to our community.  The association, and all those who volunteer across the Peninsula, makes a huge difference in our lives.  They also help make this area a wonderful community to live in.

Is Your Car Winter Ready?

Winter is rolling around on the Peninsula and it is time to think about winterizing your car.  If you are among the many here who owned a car before 1980 or so, you will certainly remember the coming of winter as a time to perform certain obligatory procedures – snow tires on, oil changed to winter weight, antifreeze checked and refilled and so forth.  Times change.  Almost no one walks five miles to and from school through eight foot drifts of snow any more.  Well, hold on, they probably never did.  And automotive technology has progressed enough that winterizing your car doesn’t require extensive, or expensive, routines. 

There are still a couple of sensible things you will want to do to keep your car running efficiently and effectively in the cold weather months.  You can do most of it on your own; a few items you might want to leave to a trained mechanic.

The first thing to do is check your battery.  The charge in your battery depends on a chemical reaction that slows down as temperatures get colder.  At 5 degrees F, even a fully charged car battery has half its rated capacity. At the same time, colder temperatures mean your engine may need more current to start.  Less power output combined with more power required is likely to mean “late for work” on a cold morning.  Check you battery to make sure connections are tight and clean up any corrosion.  Consider asking your mechanic to run a battery load test to make sure everything is OK. 

Next, check your owner’s manual for oil recommendations and follow them.  Many recent cars use light weight oil and may not need to be changed for the winter.  However, cold weather increases the viscosity of oil making it thicker and your engine needs the proper oil to assure good lubrication when starting.

Think about snow tires.  The peninsula has a lot of weather variability.  If you travel extensively on the peninsula, you can go from Sequim to Brinnon and find three or four different winter conditions from cool and dry to blowing snow in a 50 mile drive.  Snow tires have softer rubber than all-season tires and tread patterns designed to grip on snow and ice. In Washington studded tires are also an option, but may be necessary only for people in areas of heavier snowfall – around the Hood Canal, for example. 

At the least, look at your tires to make sure there is plenty of tread and get them inflated properly.  The cold weather will cause the air pressure in your tires to drop about one PSI for every 10 degree drop in temperature.  If you last checked your tires in the summer at 85 degrees, you could be low at forty degrees. Properly inflated tires give the best contact with the road and that is essential for traction.

Check your wiper fluid and wiper blades; refill fluid and change blades as necessary.  You definitely do not want to be navigating some of our twisting roads by peering out the driver’s window and looking for the white lines on the road.  Dirty water and salt on your windshield reduces visibility and you need a clear view for a safe trip.  Wiper blades are generally good for about a year. Replace them if they are worn, frayed or persistently leave streaks.  Fill your wiper fluid reservoir with a brand that has an appropriate freezing temperature.

You can check belts and hoses visually.  Looks for leaks where hoses connect and check for frayed belts.  Cold weather can weaken belts and hoses so any problems are only likely to get worse.  If a belt or hose looks questionable, get it replaced.  It might not break, but there is always time to think about whether you should have replaced one while waiting for the tow truck. 

There have been advances in auto cooling and coolant technology so antifreeze seems less a concern than it once was.  You can get an inexpensive anti-freeze tester at your local auto parts store.  That is certainly worthwhile if you have had problems with your radiator or hoses in the past.

Got Four-wheel drive?  Get it checked before winter weather sets in.  If you haven’t used your vehicle’s 4WD for some time, review how to use it and test it before it becomes necessary. 

As your Washington auto insurance agency, Homer Smith Insurance wants to remind you to be prepared for winter driving.  As a practical matter, even with good preventive steps, you could still find yourself stranded on the road in a blizzard.  Make sure you also prepare for winter by checking the emergency supplies in your vehicle.  You do have an emergency kit in your vehicle…. right?  

How Much Washington Home Insurance Should I Take Out?

When you decide to take out Washington home insurance, one of the first questions you ask yourself is: how much coverage do I need to protect me financially? Too much cover will mean too high a premium cost and too little will leave you under protected in the event of loss or damage.

So how do you calculate the correct amount of homeowners’ insurance? The Office of the Insurance Commissioner  recommends starting by making sure you have adequate cover for the following:

The structure of the house

Make sure you have enough cover to pay for the rebuilding of the house should it be destroyed. Use current building costs as a guideline.

Insure for expenses incurred while living elsewhere

This is important if, for example, you have to live in a hotel room until your house is repaired sufficiently for you to move back.

Check for liability coverage

This is important coverage to have – it can pick up the costs (up to the policy limits) involved in a law suit if a person is injured while on your property and decides to sue you.

It is also important to be aware of the different types of coverage for possessions lost or destroyed. Replacement cost is the full amount of the value of the item while actual cash value covers you only for the value of the item, minus any calculated depreciation – in other words, what your item was actually worth at the time is was stolen or damaged.

Home insurance is quite good value when you consider how much not having a policy could cost you in the event of a disaster or law suite. For more information, or for quotes on Washington home insurance, contact one of our agents.


Is Your Home Winter Ready?

Here on the Peninsula, we are generally pretty fortunate to escape the worst parts of Washington winter.  We get a little protection from the mountains – particularly in the rain shadow areas – and the sea and strait provide a little warmth.  Still winter brings plenty of concerns for the homeowner and it is unpredictable enough to creep up and bite you before you know it.  A few simple steps can help protect your home, your family and your neighbors – not to mention the mailman – from winter hazards.

Your home is exposed to winter hazards at couple of points.  Your household plumbing extends about four inches out from your exterior wall in the form of water taps.  In our climate, it is easy to ignore these, right up till the time a cold snap freezes the tap or the piping immediately behind it.  As the water in the tap or the pipe freezes, it expands and can exert enough force to split the tap or the pipe.  Either situation is bad, but having a pipe burst inside your home where it may drain into a crawlspace or other unvisited area is a nightmare. 

The dangers of freezing an outdoor tap can be mitigated by using a faucet cover.  These are between $2 a $10 at your local hardware store and take a few minutes to install.  They could save you an emergency visit from the plumber.  Install these in November or early December and keep them on until March.

Another problem that can occur here are ice dams.  Days that warm up above freezing and nights that dive below are common enough to make ice dams a real concern.  An ice dam forms along your roof edge or in the gutter.  Melting snow from the roof reaches the roof edge or gutter and then refreezes.   As additional melting occurs on the roof water pools at the ice dam and can find its way into the house.  That is, as they say, not a good thing.  Once an ice dam has forced paths into a home, the route is opened and becomes more susceptible to future damage.  Depending where and how much water can find its way in, a variety of cosmetic and structural problems can ensue.

Watch for icicles forming as an indication water is refreezing at the roof edge and look at your roof when it is snow covered to help understand your situation.  Does your roof look like your neighbors?  Does it have patches melted away indicating poor insulation?  Try to prevent ice dams from forming by clearing your gutters and downspouts before winter so that water is properly shed off your roof. If you see ice dams forming, you can clear excess snow from the roof – though you may want to hire an experienced person to remove the snow in order to minimize damage to the roof and roofing.  If ice dam formation becomes a recurring problem, you might consider adding insulation to the attic and exterior walls of your home to minimize escaping heat (this will also reduce your heating costs).

Snow isn’t usually a major problem in the cities and towns on the peninsula – with some exception for the towns along the Hood Canal that get their share.  The snow that does fall can create a hazard for you and your neighbors and a liability you don’t need. 

Clear your walkways of snow and ice and pickup rakes, shovels, tools, toys and any items that may be hidden under a snowfall.  It just takes a bit of snow to hide items that are otherwise easily seen and avoided. Make repairs to uneven or cracked pavement if it looks like these could create hazard if unseen. Maintain interior stairs and floors clear of the watery remains of melted snow and if necessary, use mats to provide good traction and reserve an area where folks can clear snow and ice from their shoes or boots.

Finally, most important is keeping your family safe.  If you own a fireplace, wood-burning stove, portable heater, gas or an electric furnace you need to make sure that they are safe and used properly. Check and service any and all heating equipment well before the arrival of the heating season. Clean filters and vents and inspect your furnace to assure it is not a creating a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup.

Inspect fireplaces and wood-burning stoves thoroughly and clean as necessary.  Creosote is a tar-like byproduct of burning wood that builds up in chimney and stove flues and can cause chimney fires.  Be careful using portable heaters. Not only are they a source of burns for children, but they can be tipped with the combination of heat source and fuels, creating a serious fire hazard.  Modern electric heaters generally have automatic shut off when they tip; however, they also draw a lot of current and can overload circuits.

Finally, get good quality fire and smoke detectors and if you have any heating that generates carbon monoxide, get a carbon monoxide detector.  They should be properly installed and be in good working order. Test them and put in new batteries. This is a small expense with a big payoff for your family.  At Homer Smith Insurance, we want to be your Washington home insurance agent for a good long while.  Stay safe!

Identifying Risk without Having Business Insurance in Washington

Are you looking to start up a small business in Washington State? There are a number of sites that can help you with advice, financial help and support as you do the required research prior to opening your new firm. There are a number of recommended requirements to starting up a company in the state and once of them is having the correct business insurance in Washington. Entrepreneurs are welcome to contact us for information and quotes.

Business insurance is about identifying and managing risk. However, finding which areas to cover is a two stage process based firstly on a thorough review of your company’s activities.

  1. 1. What are your core activities? Are you a business to business or business to consumer company? Evaluate the critical areas of activity of your firm as you carry out your business. Are you supplying a physical product, or responding to client orders or supplying a service?
  2. 2. Identify the crucial risk areas: Once the core areas have been identified, identify the risks to these which could harm, or even threaten the survival of, your business.

It is important to select the right agent or broker to assist you with setting out your exposure to risk. You will need someone who understands your business, its aims and range of activities. Why not start by contacting one of our agents to arrange a consultation? They will be able to help you with any queries you may have for business insurance in Washington. Business owners are most welcome to call up or call in for additional information about insuring their enterprises.