Monthly Archives: October 2015

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.