(Article adapted from Property & Casualty 360 article, “Here are 8 ways to lower your energy bill this winter.”)
By now, most of us have started up our heating systems in order to stave off the morning’s chill, because let’s face it, when you’re up to five or six blankets on your bed just to stay warm at night, something’s gotta give.
Property Casualty 360 wrote an article in which they interviewed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about tips he recommends to help residents reduce their heating costs this winter. Well, while the resources in this article may be great for New Yorkers, we live in Michigan. So I’ve adapted the article to include some local resources that actually might apply to you.
So below are seven tips Attorney General Schneiderman suggests to keep your energy bills from breaking the bank this winter.
1. Shop around
Did you know that you have a choice in deciding who offers you natural gas in Michigan? No? Well you do. There is a list of Licensed Alternative Gas Suppliers depending on what company services your utility (i.e. Consumers Energy, DTE, MGU, SEMCO).
As you are shopping around, it will be helpful to ask the following:
– How long have you been in business and servicing this particular area?
– What are your market rate prices and fixed/capped rates? Are you offering any promotions or discounts?
– What are the standard conditions and fees contained in the contract? What services are included, is there an early cancellation fee, what is the duration, and does the rate rise or fall based on the market?
– How does the company’s advertised rate compare to the current market rate?
2. Don’t shop only on price
Even if you have a choice in terms of providers, it’s important to look at the whole picture, and not just on the price. Make sure you use a reputable supplier. Winter heating is a safety issue, after all. If you want to check a supplier’s reviews, look to the Better Business Bureau for additional information about a company.
3. Ask for price protection
Flat-rate payment plans, in which the customer pays the same rate each month regardless of utility usage, can make for less headache when winter rears its ugly head. Price shifts can occur on a traditional, variable plan, especially if there is a particularly cold month and everyone starts using more heat.
4. If you use propane, check your tank readings before and after fillings
Plain and simple. You want to guarantee that you are given the amount of propane you are paying for. (This comes back to #2, make sure you work with a reputable company.)
5. See if a cooperative is available in your area
“Some areas have cooperatives that use their collective buying power to negotiate better prices for [propane] and service charges. Suppliers will offer better prices for a guaranteed customer base of likely repeat buyers.”
One such cooperative in Michigan is Midwest Energy Cooperative.
6. Explore available programs and ask for help
The Department of Human Resources (DHS) provides information about getting help from state programs that use federal money to assist low-income families with energy costs.
It’s always best to call your energy fuel provider to explain the situation rather than simply not paying your bill.
1. Home Heating Credit
– Offers support for heating costs. Michigan Department of Treasury determines eligibility and makes payments.
2. State Emergency Relief
– This is a crisis intervention program that provides assistance for energy-related expenses such as heating fuel, electricity and home repairs.
3. Weatherization Assistance Program
– Provides free home energy conservation services to low-income Michigan homeowners and renters. Services reduce energy use and lower utility bills.
Additional information can be found at the Coalition to keep Michigan Warm website.
7. Conserve, conserve, conserve
At the end of the day, of course, the best way to lower your utility bills is to use less energy. The Federal Trade Commission has these suggestions:
– Check your attic, attic stairway, garage walls and basement to make sure they are properly insulated.
– Wrap your hot water heater in an insulating jacket.
– Schedule an annual tune-up for your heat pump, furnace, or boiler.
– Seal and insulate leaky ducts and doorways to prevent heat from escaping and drafts from coming in.
– Install drapes or coverings over windows so cool air doesn’t enter your home.
– Close the doors to rooms that are not in use.
– Prune shrubs that may block airflow to your heat pump (if applicable).
– Install ceiling fans, which promote air circulation and efficient heating.
– Install a programmable thermostat, so you can set it to use less energy and heat at night and when you are not home.
Check out Consumers Energy’s “100 Ways to Save on Your Energy Bill.” They list several suggestions about things you can do to reduce energy in various areas of your house.
Are you interested in learning more about alternative heating sources? The Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety explains using Pellet Stoves, Space Heaters, Wood Stoves and Fireplaces. Read the article here.
Have a safe, enjoyable Halloween night!
Watch Out For These Dangers While Trick-or-Treating
Keep your super hero safe during trick-or-treating tonight and follow these Halloween Fire Safety Tips brought to you by the National Fire Prevention Association.
Did You Get Tricked?
Is havoc caused by ghosts, goblins and Halloween tricksters covered by homeowners and renters insurance policies? Find out the answer here.
Your Halloween Forecast – Bundle Up!
The Halloween forecast calls for a mix of snow, rain and wind with a high of 40 degrees. Find out ways to keep warm while trick-or-treating.
Looking for indoor trick-or-treat options?
Located at 870 E. Superior St, Wayland, 49348, this event will include:
- Trick-or-treating (For ages birth – 8th grade)
- A haunted house
- Costume contest
- Pumpkin carving contest
- And more
Sometimes we get so busy during the fall with football games, visiting orchards, hayrides, picking out pumpkins and going trick or treating, that we forget to do some important maintenance on our homes to make sure that it’s ready for the upcoming winter.
This means, there’s less than two months to get all the home maintenance projects done before the weather really turns cold. And with the sunlight diminishing a little more each day, finding the time to tackle this “to-do” list may seem a little daunting (especially if you’re a procrastinator like myself).
So let me just cut to the chase since we’re getting short on time. Here are ten of my recommendations of what to get done to prepare your home before the snow flies.
- Do a visual inspection of your roof to make sure there aren’t signs of wear or damage. We discussed this step in our first “Fall Maintenance Tip,” so if you missed it, read it here.
- Clean out gutters and downspouts of leaves and debris so you decrease the chances of ice buildup.
- Inspect flashing along the roof to make sure its in place and in good condition. Check along roof elevation changes, such as where the chimney or vents meets the roof, or around skylights. These are typical sources for water to penetrate the roof covering.
- Walk around your home and look for tree branches that hang over your house. If there is an ice storm or heavy snowfall, these branches pose a threat to damage your roof, so trim these branches, and dead limbs, away from your home.
- Check your driveway and walkways for cracks. If you don’t fix cracks before winter, water can seep into them and freeze causing a larger crack. If the crack hasn’t gone all the way through the concrete, you can resurface the worn concrete.
- Have your furnace cleaned and inspected. Make sure a new filter is placed inside the furnace if you have forced air.
- Check your smoke detectors to make sure they are all operable. And practice a fire safety drill…October is Fire Prevention Awareness Month after all, so make sure your family knows what to do in the event of a fire.
- If you have a wood burning fireplace, have your chimney cleaned and maintained by a certified chimney sweep.
- Clean out dryer vents for clothes dryers. Many people don’t know that they should clean out their dryer vents regularly. Excess lint build up poses a fire threat so getting your vents and dryer thoroughly cleaned at least once a year is recommended. There is a DIY dryer vent cleaning kit by LintEater that you can use to clean your vents with. I found the best price from here.
- Insulate water pipes to prevent freezing when the temperatures drop, especially outdoor faucets. You can put an insulated cover over regular faucets like this, or you can install a freeze-proof faucet yourself.
Not sure what type of outdoor faucet you have? Check out the photo below.
Hopefully, after tackling this “to-do” list, you’ll be able to enjoy your winter free from unexpected losses.
The number of stay-at-home dads has doubled since 1989, to 2 million in 2012, according to Pew Research Center.
— Life Happens (@lifehappens) September 17, 2014
Many people think that if their spouse is a stay-at-home-parent, then they do not need life insurance. To me, this doesn’t make any sense because I know all the things that a stay-at-home-spouse does in a given day. Let’s take a moment to think about all the roles a stay-at-home-parent includes:
- Laundry machine operator
- In-home day care
- Homeschool teacher (maybe)
I’m probably forgetting something in that list, but that’s a pretty inclusive list. Salary.com does an annual survey to determine how much a stay-at-home-mom (STAHM) is worth, and for 2014, the average STAHM does 96.5 hours of work each week. If this translated into dollars earned, it would be $118,905. Find the infographic here.
Now, if the stay-at-home-parent passed away, how quickly do you think your family would feel the effects of losing that parent? Pretty quickly I imagine. You will have to hire from outside sources to replace some of the duties he/she was responsible for.
Depending on how old your child(ren) is (are), will also depend on how much life insurance you should allocate to childcare costs. In Michigan, you can expect to pay on average of $10,114 for infants, and about $7,930 for pre-school age children annually. If you have a baby or toddlers in your house still, that could mean many years of needing childcare, including after-school, summer, etc.
One other important thing to consider is whether the stay-at-home-parent is responsible for homeschooling. If so, where will your children go to school if they pass away? Will you put your children into public school or pay for a private/charter school? You’ll need to figure that expense (if applicable) into your life insurance planning.
So unless the surviving spouse is able to leave his or her job after their loss, it’s important and necessary to put plans into place before something happens to ensure you have the proper time to grieve and to figure out how your life will move on from that point.
The unfortunate events of last week couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment such as this — the start of ‘Fire Prevention Awareness Month.’
Our marketing professional for the Reno Agency had a fire start in her oven due to one of her children placing a plastic dinosaur toy inside it without her knowledge. Come dinner time, when she turned on her oven to pre-heat, that toy dinosaur started a fire.
Would you know what to do in that situation with flames blazing inside the oven? Find out here.
Quick thinking kept her house from damage. When the fire continued to grow, she turned off the oven, kept the oven door closed to prevent oxygen from entering and fueling the fire, got her two young children and dogs to safety, and she called the fire department. Thankfully, by the time the fire fighters arrived, the fire had extinguished itself inside the oven and did not spread anywhere else. You don’t think these things will happen to you, but fires don’t discriminate against anyone.
If you have young children in the house, they don’t necessarily know the implications of their actions so it is important to educate them about fire safety once they become interested in fire. The NFPA provides a helpful tip sheet about addressing fire interest in children here.
Fire Safety Equipment
Two key items are ESSENTIAL in your home that can save your life in the event of a fire:
1. Working smoke alarms
Smoke alarms are more times than not your first warning to a fire in the home. Working smoke alarms reduce the risk of dying in reported home fires by half. This is why it’s so important to test your smoke alarms monthly to make sure they are operational. For more information about smoke alarms, what types are the best to use, how to maintain, etc., visit the National Fire Protection Association’s website.
2. Fire extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are great to have to put out small fires or to keep a larger fire from spreading until the fire department arrives. However, with that said, the most important thing to remember is your safety. So if the fire is getting out of control, or the room is filling with smoke, get out of the house quickly!
Did you know there are different types of fire extinguishers that battle different types of fires? Here is a list of the different codes to help you understand what type of extinguisher is best for your home or business.
If you are using a fire extinguisher to put out a fire, remember the word P-A-S-S.
P – Pull out the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointed away from you, and release the locking mechanism.
A – Aim low. Point the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire.
S – Squeeze the level slowly and evenly.
S – Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
Develop a Fire Escape Plan and Practice!
Only one of every three American households have developed and practiced a fire escape plan. Do you remember all those fire drills you did back in school or at work? You hold fire drills so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire and so they can act quickly. Fires spread quickly and oftentimes, you have less than 6 minutes to escape your home before a fire becomes life-threatening, according to the National Fire Protection Association website.
So I encourage you to develop a fire escape plan, kind of like the ones you see on the doors of hotel rooms, and practice it with your family. I suggest that everyone know of two ways out of every room in case one exit is blocked. If you need help designing a fire escape plan, start here.
Ridesharing has become a popular way to get around town and make a few bucks in the process. However, as appealing as this sounds, transportation networking companies, such as Uber and Lyft, don’t offer the necessary protection to their drivers. It is important that you have the proper insurance in place prior to becoming a ridesharing driver, so if an accident occurs, you aren’t left footing the bill on your own. Some insurance companies don’t insure drivers who are looking to get into this business either, so it’s important to talk with your independent agent to see if your insurance company does.
Currently, Pioneer State Mutual Insurance Company does not cover vehicles while they are being used for hire as a public or livery conveyance under
a Personal or Commercial insurance policy. If you are already participating in a ridesharing service such as Uber or Lyft, contact our office so we can discuss the next steps. Read more here.
Auto-Owners and the Michigan Association of Insurance Agents (MAIA) have released an article about what to consider if you are thinking about becoming a driver for a ridesharing service. Click here to read: Transportation Networking Companies (Ridesharing Services)