Selecting Christmas Tree

Selecting, Maintaining and Disposing of a Christmas Tree

It’s that time of year again: Time to add a Christmas tree to your holiday decor. Whether you already have your tree up and decorated or are waiting to find the perfect pine closer to Christmas, it’s officially the season to fill your home with cheer!

With everyone thinking about wish lists, holiday shopping and giving to the less fortunate, it’s easy to overlook the fact that most home fires occur in December – especially right around Christmas time. Christmas trees start an average of 230 fires yearly, and these fires cause $18.3 million in property damage.

But holiday tree fires are easy to avoid. There are steps you can take to protect yourself – and your home – while still enjoying the fresh scent of pine for the holidays. So grab a cup of hot cocoa and read up on how to properly select, maintain and dispose of a real Christmas tree.

Selecting a Tree

Tree type: The best type of tree for avoiding fires is a flame retardant or artificial tree. But, if you want a live tree for the holidays, make sure to select a fresh tree. A dry tree can go up in flames in a matter of seconds. It’s much harder for a fresh tree to catch fire.

Branch test: To check the freshness of a live tree, take hold of one of the branches about six inches from the tip, and pull your hand toward you, allowing the branch to slip through your fingers. The needles should adhere to the branch and not fall off in your hand.

Trunk test: Next, bump the base of the tree lightly against the ground a few times. If a large number of outside needles fall off, you most likely have chosen a dry tree; so keep looking. When you find a tree where only a few needles drop off, the tree is fresh enough to stay in your home through the holidays.

The aroma: Smell your tree! The tree should be very fragrant and have a bright green color. Any dullness in color or smell means the tree isn’t fresh enough to be safe in your home.

Maintaining a Tree

Tree type: Your newly selected Christmas tree will last longer and look better if it’s cared for properly. Here’s what you need to keep in mind while decorating and caring for your new tree:

Place: The placement of any Christmas tree – live or fake – is very important. Find a place away from candles and 3 feet from any heat sources in your home.

Hydration: Once you’ve found the perfect place for your tree, put a live tree in cold water immediately. Clean, cold water is the only requirement when it comes to maintaining freshness. Keep your tree stand filled with water at all times. Never let a live tree go without water; it will dry very quickly, even without water for a short period. A fresh tree will absorb as much as a gallon of water or more in the first 23 hours after being cut!

Safety: Next, check your smoke alarms. The home smoke alarm is credited as the most significant fire prevention tool in the last part of the 20th century, so make sure you’re using this fantastic device and that it’s always in working order.

Decoration: Once you’ve selected a safe place for your tree and checked the surrounding area, you’re ready for decorations! Look over the decorations for any hazards, and purchase new sets of lights if your lights are old, frayed or broken, which can easily cause a fire.

Monitor: Make a habit of monitoring your tree for dryness every day. Any sign of needle loss could be an indication that the tree is dry and should be removed from the house immediately. If you suspect your tree is dry, use the tips outlined above to check for freshness again and to make sure your tree hasn’t turned into a fire hazard.

Turn out the lights: Once your tree is up and looking beautifully fresh and decorated, remember to turn off the lights when you’re leaving the house – even if you go outside for a few minutes. You should never leave Christmas tree lights on when you aren’t home, and always turn the lights off before you go to bed. Make turning off the lights part of your daily and nightly routine.

Enjoy: Now, enjoy your tree! Fill the base up with presents and relish in the scent and ambiance it brings to your home this holiday season.

Disposing of a Tree

A tree that is well-maintained will stay fresh for about a month in your home. You should never keep a live Christmas tree in your home for more than 35 days after it’s cut. After about a month, it will have dried out to the point of becoming a fire hazard.

If you’re buying a precut tree, make sure to ask when it was harvested so you know the date it should be removed from your home.

Un-decorate: Disposing of a live tree can be as much of a family tradition as selecting it. Get the entire family involved, make some hot apple cider, and remove all the lights and decorations from the tree.

Don’t burn: Most Christmas trees contain a lot of sap, which can create chimney fires. So never burn a Christmas tree in a fireplace or wood stove. Instead, recycle or dispose of your tree safely.

Curbside disposal: Almost every city has a curbside tree pick-up. One tip when trying to find the day of your local pick-up is to search for both “Christmas tree” and “Holiday tree,” since many areas now refer to them both ways. A good rule of thumb: Most tree pick-ups are two weeks after Christmas.

Non-profit disposal: Many non-profits also offer pick-up services. Some Boy Scout troops provide a pick-up for a small donation (often $5). A little donation goes a long way, and it’s always a good idea to donate back to your local organizations.

Cutting the tree yourself: If you miss your local collection period, you also have the option of cutting up the tree yourself. It should be cut so that it fits into your green yard waste container for regular pick-up.

Remember, safety is an important part of every holiday tradition.

Now that you know the necessary safety steps for selecting, maintaining and disposing of a live Christmas tree, enjoy your time with friends and family knowing you’ve taken the steps necessary to help protect your home from fires.

Madison Mutual wishes you a wonderful Christmas and a New Year filled with love, peace and joy.

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How to Shut Off Utilities When Disaster Strikes

Natural disasters can strike without warning, and every emergency plan should include knowing how to shut off your utilities. Understanding utility warning signs and deciding whether services need to be turned off could be the difference between life and death.

Leak Warning Signs and How to Shut Off Natural Gas

Any smell of natural gas inside your home is a danger sign. You might also be able to hear a hissing noise. If you start to notice any of these warning signs, open a window and leave your house immediately. Turn off your gas meter as soon as possible and call 9-1-1 from a neighbor’s home.

There are several different gas meter configurations; so to be safe, contact your gas company in advance so they can help you complete your emergency plan and tell you the exact steps for shutting off the gas utility.

These are the basic steps for turning off natural gas.

    1. First, locate the shut-off valve.
    2. Using a cut-off tool or wrench, turn the rectangular knob one quarter-turn clockwise to the horizontal position.
    3. Call 9-1-1 from a neighbor’s home.

Don’t use your telephone – or any other type of electronic devices that have batteries of any kind – if you suspect a gas leak. These devices can spark explosions.

Never use matches, lighters, appliances or any electrical switches around a gas leak.

Remember your gas can only be restored by a professional. So it’s important to be able to identify the warning signs of a gas leak and be confident there is a problem before shutting off the utility.

How to Shut Off Water After an Emergency

Earthquakes and freezing weather can cause water pipes to burst, which can lead to flooding. If you have experienced an earthquake or natural disaster, it’s usually recommended to turn off your water utility in case water lines have cracked. When water lines break, the water supply is compromised. So keep your water shut off until you know it’s safe to drink.

Water lines usually have an easy-to-identify shut-off valve, but it’s still important to locate it as part of your disaster plan. You can always contact a local plumber to help you find the valve. It might be a good idea to label the water valve so everyone in the house can locate it quickly after a disaster.

If your house doesn’t have a hand-operated master shut-off valve, you may want to consider installing one. It will make it much easier to shut off your water in an emergency.

These are the basic steps for turning off your water.

    1. Find your shut-off valve in the basement. It may be set into a wall or on the water pipe leading to the water heater.
    2. Locate the shut-off valves on either side of the pressure tank if your water comes from a ground well. Turn off both valves.
    3. Shut off the water by turning the valve clockwise until it won’t turn anymore.

Your sewer system could be damaged in a disaster so make sure to set up a backup method for waste collection in your emergency plan.

How to Shut Off Electricity and Fire Warning Signs

A natural disaster can disrupt your electrical service or create fire hazards. If you see sparks or smell any burning, you should shut off your electricity immediately. Electrical sparks can ignite even more disasters in your home. It’s recommended that all responsible household members know where and how to shut off electricity.

If you have a basement that is usually where the electrical circuit box is located. Be sure everyone in your home knows where the circuit box is located. If you have trouble finding your circuit box, contact a qualified electrician so they can help you complete your disaster plan.

Make sure you have a working flashlight available, with extra batteries before turning off electricity.

These are the basic steps for shutting off electricity.

    1. For a circuit breaker panel, shut off the power by turning all circuit breaker switches to the “off” position – individual circuits first, then the main circuit.
    2. For a fuse box, pull out the two main (cartridge) fuses.
    3. Never step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker.

If you are using a generator as a backup power supply, make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure you’re running the generator safely.

Safety and Utilities

Your emergency plan is not complete without knowing how to turn off your utilities safely.

Emergency kits are an important part of disaster preparedness. Read more on what should be included in your emergency plan here .

It’s important to be prepared because anything can happen.

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6 Little-Known Ways to Drive Safer

Everyone knows to use their blinker, check their side view mirrors and obey the speed limit when they’re still sitting in a car seat.

Everyone knows these pillars of safe driving reduce the amount of accidents and their associated damages.

But not everyone knows the finer, almost esoteric, ways to be a true champion of driving.

So, buckle up and use these tips the next time you start your car.

1. Wear Some Shades When It’s Raining

Using windshield wipers when it’s raining is a given. Wearing shades while using your windshield wipers isn’t.

Believe it or not, putting on a pair of sunglasses with polarized lenses helps you see better during a downpour – or when it’s snowing or foggy for that matter.

Why?

Polarized sunglasses counteract the effects of scattered or reflected light experienced from the prism of moisture in the air. Put simply: They help focus light.

Speaking of light…

2. There’s No Such Thing as Overusing Your Headlights

If you’re the proud owner of a semi-modern car that’s equipped with Daytime Running Lights (DRL), then you’re more or less covered – although it should be noted that by turning on your headlights, you’re also turning on your taillights, which reduces the likelihood of being rear-ended.

But for those with a more “old-fashioned” car, make turning on your headlights as much a part of your driving routine as putting your car into drive.

Countries with 24-hour headlight rules like Canada, Norway, and Sweden, have shown a 5 to 10% decrease in the number of collisions by enacting this bit of driving safety into law.

3. (Don’t) Pump the Brakes

Of all the things that can happen when you’re driving, experiencing a tire blowout is easily one that induces the most panic.

Your first instinct, fueled by adrenaline, is going to scream: “STOP!”

Don’t.

Instead of pumping the brakes, pump the gas.

With a blown tire, you’re working with 25% less momentum as you were milliseconds before. To maintain your pace, you need to accelerate, which is a little more difficult to do when your foot is pressing the wrong pedal.

Bonus tip: You can avoid the likelihood of getting a blowout by ensuring your tires are properly inflated – and get better traction, too.

4. Just Skidding

Fun fact: When your car hydroplanes, there’s so much water built up in your tires, they lose contact with the road or ground, giving a sense of momentary flight. Hence the name.

Not so fun fact: 1.5 million car crashes happen every year when there’s water on the road – more than ice or snow.

While the safest thing any driver can do is to stay off the road when driving conditions aren’t ideal, that’s simply not a reality.

So, if you need to drive in the middle of a downpour and find your car hydroplaning, here’s the first thing you need to do: Nothing at all for as long as your tires aren’t touching the ground.

While this split-second of inactivity might feel like the longest of your life, wait for the skid to stop. And while your heart is racing, do the opposite with your foot on the gas pedal: Ease it off.

But what about your eyes and hands? What should they be doing?

The same thing as they should do with a skid in rain, ice or snow: Coordinate their movement. Keep looking at where you want your car to go and steer towards that point gently.

This is true regardless of whether it’s the front, back or all wheels doing the skidding.

5. Know What Time It Is

“10 and 2.”

Those are the numbers that have been drilled into every driver’s head informing where hands belong on a steering wheel.

But things have changed.

Thanks to airbags, the recommendation has been updated to “9 and 3.”

The reasons are twofold: It makes hand-over-hand steering maneuvers easier and reduces the likelihood of wrist and arm fractures stemming from these body parts hitting the A-pillars (the part of your car that holds the windshield in place) and rearview mirrors when airbags are deployed.

6. Wait for a Certain Shade of Green

You’re a relatively good driver. Or, at least you’re trying to be.

How do we know? You’re reading this blog.

But here’s the thing: not everyone places quite the priority on safety as you do. A lot of drivers are impatient. Impulsive.

Need more proof?

Consider that 165,000 accidents happen every year when people run red lights. Another 700,000 occur from people who blow through stop signs. That’s nearly a million accidents every year – or 2,369 every day.

That’s a lot of (frightening) statistics. So, what should you do in light of them?

If you’re the first car at a red light, look both ways before crossing the intersection when the light turns green.

If you’re at a stop sign, scan both ways before resuming your drive, just to be safe.

Will you annoy the driver that’s behind you every now and then? Yes.

Will you get honked at more than before? Indeed.

But there will come a time when your safety-first approach will avoid an accident for you – and the driver behind you.

Safety Pays

There you have it: Some not-so-commonly used ways to make you statistically less likely to get into an accident.

And safety pays, literally, in the form of reduced premiums.

Madison Mutual offers other simple ways for you to save on your auto insurance.

Find an agent nearest you to discuss all our affordable coverage options.

And most importantly, stay safe out there on the road.

A home thermostat is rising in temperature

Top 7 Tricks to Beat the Heat (Without Breaking the Bank)

Ever wonder why July seems like it’s the hottest month of the year? Well, according to The Weather Channel, that’s because it is.

Here in the Midwest, it’s not uncommon for cooling costs alone to be more than $300 while Mother Nature does her best furnace impression.

So, here are seven simple things you can do this weekend to save money the rest of this summer – and every summer from here on out – on keeping your cool. Literally.

GROW (OR BUILD) SOME SHADE

One of the most budget-friendly things a homeowner can do to cut cooling costs is to plant a tree in a sensible spot.

Not only will the shade be free, so will the fruit (if you plant a fruit-bearing type).

But not everyone has the space, green thumb, or patience needed for a tree to grow.

That’s where awnings come in.

Adding one to southern or western facing windows can reduce heat gains by as much as 70%!

Prices vary widely depending on the size and style, so shop around. And while there is an upfront investment if you go this route, the costs should be recouped in a few short summers.

IT’S OKAY TO VENT

Are you 100% certain all the vents throughout your house are open? Truly positive?

Take two minutes just to make sure. And while you’re at it, consider rearranging any furniture that might be blocking airflow. Your thermostat is set to hit a specific number. The fewer vents that are open, the harder your system needs to work to do what you’re asking it to.

LED THE WAY

Here’s an extra incentive for you to fully switch to LED bulbs if you haven’t already: They emit even less heat than CFL bulbs, meaning less energy is needed to cool the rooms when your lamps are on.

And with many electric companies offering attractive rebates or incentives (not to mention the wonder of Amazon), it’s entirely possible to outfit every light and lamp in your home with LED bulbs for next to nothing.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION

While it’s generally recommended to hire a professional for an air conditioner tune-up, you can do a little yourself to keep it running smoothly:

  • Clear grass clippings, leaves and other debris away from the unit. For best airflow, nothing should be around your air conditioner within a two-foot radius
  • Using a hose, remove the top of the unit and spray from the inside out. This will help loosen or remove items that would otherwise make your unit work harder than it needs to. IMPORTANT: Be sure to shut off power to the unit to avoid potential injury!
  • You know the thin mesh covering of your AC unit? That’s called the fin. And you can clean it with something called… a fin comb. Simply running one through the outer covering will help keep the unit clean of clogs and straighten out bent fins. Be gentle when combing though! The fins are delicate and can get bent if caution isn’t used.

LIKE (COUNTER) CLOCKWORK

Ceiling fans don’t actually make rooms cooler. They just make rooms feel cooler – as long as the fan is running the right way: Counterclockwise.

How do you know if it is?

Stand directly beneath it and watch the blades spin; they should be moving from the top left to the bottom right, back to the top.

An even easier way: you should be able to feel air moving. If you don’t, the fan is spinning clockwise.

If you need to change the way your fan is spinning, it’s literally as easy as flipping a switch (usually near the light encasement, on the side).

COOL YOUR BODY, NOT YOUR HOME

This is especially true when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. Instead of running the air on full blast, fill up a rubber hot water bottle and stick it in the freezer. Then bring it up with you, throw it under the covers and: Presto! Your bed is now at least a few degrees cooler.

If you have satin or silk sheets, swap them for breathable cotton until the leaves start changing color.

And if you really don’t want to be a hothead, using a buckwheat pillow during the summer can keep you from getting drenched in sweat while you try to sleep.

WORK THE NIGHTSHIFT

Not you: Your appliances – especially those producing heat, like your dishwasher or dryer.

Instead of running these during the daytime or peak-heat hours, try waiting until dusk or a little later. Doing so will keep the temperature inside your house more comfortable and manageable.

For the truly vigilant, consider handwashing your dishes or using an old-fashioned clothesline.

There we have it: Seven things you can do this weekend (or even tonight) to lower your cooling costs from now on.

And here’s a bonus tip for saving more money every month: Reviewing your home insurance policy to make sure you have the level of coverage you need without paying too much.

Find an agent nearest you or call 800-766-MMIC (6642).

A happy family unpacks boxes in the living room of their new home

Smart Moves: The Best Time of Year to Find Your New Home

Packing up and settling in somewhere new is a big move. Without careful planning, you may miss big opportunities to get the abode of your dreams or save major dollars. So when is the best time of the year to start looking for your new dwelling?

First, outline your goals for your new home and decide what is most important to you — this will influence when you should start shopping. There are two key factors that typically influence movers to select one time of year vs. another: Those who wish to have a selection of homes, or those who are looking for the best deal.

Seeking Selection
If you’re looking for options, move when the masses move: May through September. Families often move when kids are on summer vacation, and college students are shifting their living situations as well; so there are usually more options available. Plus, nice weather is ideal for the actual move day. However, because so many others have the same plan, prices may be higher due to increased demand. If you plan on hiring a moving company for move-in day, secure the date a few months in advance to ensure their availability.

Desiring Deals
Find the best deals during fall and winter. Although you might not have the same selection as the warm summer months, you will have less competition to get the place you want. During this time, property managers and landlords are looking to fill their vacant properties. For even better savings, browse areas with new properties that need to be filled. In addition to finding better deals during this non-peak moving season, securing a moving company should be a breeze at this time.

Your personal circumstances are ultimately going to influence the best time for your move. Families are most likely best moving in the summer so kids have time to settle in before the school year begins. If you have flexibility, the non-peak season may be your best route to saving money on your dream destination.

How to Give Notice

    1. Read your lease.
    Check your lease to see when it ends, and look for any additional terms that may affect you. Your lease should list how to give notice of leaving, the return of your deposit, and how damage and cleaning fees will be addressed.
    2. Put your notice in writing.
    First, draft your notice in writing with your exact move-out date — this is called an “Intent to Vacate” letter. When you send it to your landlord or property manager’s office, be sure to have the letter signed for delivery so you have its arrival on record. For extra consideration, talk to your landlord in person about your intent to move. This may also clear up any questions regarding your lease.

Move-in Day
Be sure to check the forecast and avoid moving during severe weather if possible. A universal rule is to avoid scheduling your move-in day around the holidays. Not only will it be more difficult to find others to help, there also will be more cars on the road, making your move slow.

After you’ve settled in your new home, talk to your local Madison Mutual agent today to review your homeowners insurance policy. Renters, we have policies built for you as well! Contact an agent close to you to see how we can help protect your abode.

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Roof Care 101: Repair vs. Replace

Storm season is approaching, which means the elements may wreak havoc on your roof. You may find a leak or missing shingles, but how do you know if you should repair or replace your roof?

REPAIR VS. REPLACE

If you have a suspicion that the roof may need repairs or need to be replaced, start in the attic. Look for beams of sunlight coming through the roof boards, this could indicate a leaky roof. If light can shine through, so can other elements, like rain and snow.

REPAIR

Only one area is damaged

It’s definitely easier to repair or replace a small section that’s restricted to one area.

Only a few shingles are affected

If only a few shingles are affected, you can simply repair or replace those. But if your shingles look worn across the whole roof, you may consider replacing it.

There’s one leak

Be sure to get any leak fixed quickly before it causes further damage to your home.

 

REPLACE

Cracked shingles

Storms can be quite the hazard for shingles. If multiple shingles are cracked, a new roof may be in order.

Curled shingle edges

You’ll recognize curled shingles if the edges turn upward or the middle of the shingles are coming up. Look at your roof from the point that receives the most direct sunlight. This will give you an easier viewpoint to tell if the shingles are curling.

Sagging roof

If your roof looks like it’s sagging, this could become a big problem to your home. Look for rotting boards and trapped moisture. Visible moss on the surface can be an indicator of trapped moisture.

A general rule is to get your roof inspected about once a year and after each severe weather event, including heavy wind, hail or snow. Be sure to contact a professional roofing contractor for a full evaluation or to ask any questions regarding the care of your roof.

 

Wet Conditions

Always wait to work on the roof’s dry surface, even if you’re just examining it. If work has begun on your roof and the forecast calls for rain, stop work altogether. With the right tools and know-how, you can protect your hard work from succumbing to the rainfall.

  1. Do not start roofing when the roof sheathing is wet.
  2. Be sure to have tarps ready to go in the chance of a rain shower.
  3. Cover the decking with tarp while the weather turns wet.
  4. Allow the roof deck to fully dry if it has gotten wet already.

Just as you would not work in rainy or icy conditions, do not expect your roofing contractors to do so either. In fact, if a worker continues to work in the chance of rain showers, this may be a red flag. Roofing in the rain is not only unsafe for those working on it, it can also expose your home to damage.

Your roof keeps you covered, and Madison Mutual knows how important coverage is for you and your home. Contact a Madison Mutual agent today to find the best home insurance policy for you.

 

home maintenance

10 Simple Steps to Keep Your Home in Shape

Maintaining your home can be a daunting task at first. Unexpected mishaps occur, causing homeowners and landlords costly repairs. But with diligent checkups, you can prevent those mishaps from getting unmanageable and keep your home in shape all year long. Below are 10 basic maintenance routines that can save you headaches and prevent major repairs.

  1. Routine checkups

Start simple: Test and replace the batteries for your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. Even hard-wired smoke detectors have backup batteries that need to be tested and replaced. This routine checkup can prevent massive home damage and keep your loved ones safe.

  1. Yes, fire extinguishers do expire

If you’re not sure if you can still rely on your fire extinguisher, check the pressure gauge. If the needle is in the green, your fire extinguisher is in the clear. Otherwise, it’s time to get a new one.

  1. You have the power

Every month, test all Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt (GFCI) outlets by pressing the “test” button or using a GFCI tester. Call a professional electrician to help if you’re unsure.

  1. Clean air, clean home

Change your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) filters every one to three months, depending on your household. If you have a large household with pets, your filter may need to be checked more often. If your filter is damaged, replace immediately. Regular filter changes are key to maintaining healthy air quality in your home. Bonus benefit: increased HVAC efficiency, which means lower cost to run.

  1. Test the waters

If you have rooms that aren’t occupied daily, such as a guest bathroom, be sure to run the faucet and flush the toilet. This will help prevent grime or buildup.

  1. Rinse and repeat

If your washing machine and dryer are not routinely monitored, it can be hazardous to your home. Regularly check for exhaust to come out of your dryer. (Tip: it should smell like fresh laundry!) If exhaust is not coming out, check for blockages — this may require a professional. Additionally, be sure there are no leaks in your supply hose. If you have a metal supply hose, tighten it until it cannot be tightened any further.

  1. Clean the lint

Always clean the dryer lint screen after every load of laundry to prevent fires!

  1. Basement patrol

Don’t forget about the basement! Take a look through the area for any repairs and mold. If your concrete walls are visible, make note of any cracks and water because these can be indicators of foundation issues. Use a piece of chalk to mark any cracks so you can track the “growth.”

  1. Chimney sweep

To prevent a chimney fire, check the chimney, fireplace and vents at least once a year to remove buildup of soot and creosote. Removing creosote can be a challenge, so it’s recommended to have your chimney inspected by a Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA)-certified chimney sweep. Another tip: Never burn trash, cardboard boxes or trees in your fireplace because these can spark fires!

  1. Deep clean

Just as dentists recommend flossing your teeth in addition to daily brushing, it’s recommended to give your home a deep clean to enhance home care. Take one day a month to walk through your home and clean all the nooks and crannies. This includes baseboards, doorframes, cabinets and more. A clean home is a healthy home.

 

By regularly completing these 10 basic tips, you reduce your risk of frequent and costly home repairs. When in doubt, contact an experienced plumber, electrician or other professional.

As all homeowners know, anything can happen; so make sure your property is covered with a home insurance policy from Madison Mutual. Be a champion of safety and contact an agent today to determine the best coverage for you.

old photos and documents

Keeping Memories Alive: How to Preserve Family Heirlooms

Memories of lost loved ones are often sparked by the presence of something which once belonged to them. Your grandmother’s wedding ring reminds you of how you used to slide it off her finger and try it on your own. Your great-grandfather’s pipe brings back the sweet tobacco smell that filled your nose whenever you hugged him. Old photographs stir up smiles and tears as you see the faces of relatives once more.

Mementos are powerful things with incredible stories. But what should you do to make sure they’ll still be around for future generations to enjoy? Here are our ideas to help you preserve your family heirlooms for years to come.

Handling

Dust, dirt, and oils from your hands can damage or ruin antiques. You should always handle them gently and with clean hands. To further ensure a clean touch, invest in a pair of white cotton gloves to wear as you examine the items. Hold pictures and papers along their edges rather than down the middle to prevent smudges or crinkles.

Cleaning and Repairing

Wipe down items with a clean rag to brush off dust. If mud is caked on, try removing it with a little bit of water, but avoid vigorously rubbing it. If you discover damage that you would like repaired, it is best to talk to a conservator before trying to fix it yourself.

Documenting

Physical objects can’t last forever, but words can. Take a picture or scan an item and record the memories you have attached to it. Ask relatives to share any information or stories they can to enhance the significance of the heirloom. Do some research online or at your local library to learn more about the specifics of each item. You may stumble across how best to preserve it in the process.

Storing

Keep keepsakes in safe places. Always check storage areas for mold, water, glass breakage, and any holes through which rodents or bugs could crawl. Dampness and humidity can damage fragile items, so basements, attics, outside walls, and any heat sources should be avoided. Instead, aim for storage areas with a stable environment, filtered air, and a temperature no greater than 72° Fahrenheit. Be sure to wrap items in acid-free paper and keep them in acid-free containers. If you can’t find an appropriate location in your home, consider storing smaller heirlooms in a safe deposit box at your bank.

Displaying

If you put photographs, textiles, or artworks on display, make sure they are hung on or placed near the wall that receives the least amount of direct sunlight. Further reduce exposure by framing artifacts behind ultraviolet light-filtering glass and periodically rotating out items on display for those in storage. An additional option to consider if you’re still worried about potential damage is to frame copies rather than the original keepsakes.

Appraising

Although most heirlooms are treasured purely for sentimental reasons, some may actually be worth a considerable amount of money. If you think you have something valuable on your hands, contact an expert to have it appraised, and record the approximate value alongside the artifact’s history.

Keep your memories alive by protecting your family heirlooms and treasured possessions with a homeowners insurance policy from Madison Mutual. Call your agent today to make sure your valuables are properly insured or visit www.madisonmutual.com to learn more.

no texting and driving sign

14 Effective Ways to Help You Fight the Urge to Text and Drive

The smartphone: unparalleled connection and information in the palm of your hand. You have practically the entire world at the tip of your fingers. Regardless of how invaluable such technology is, it can still serve as a temptation for some people, especially while in the driver’s seat.

Texting while driving is banned in 46 states and Washington D.C., but many drivers still choose to endanger their lives and the lives of others by using their phones. Don’t let yourself or a loved one become another distracted and dangerous driver! Use these tips to put down the phone and concentrate on the road.

Out of the Car:
•Download an app such as Cellcontrol, TextLimit, or Live2Txt to block certain cell phone features while driving.
•Watch interviews with accident survivors. Hearing their testimonies can be very powerful in helping you remember your motivation to put your phone down. You can find many of these on YouTube.
•Make a promise and keep it by signing an anti-texting pledge.
•Practice patience in every aspect of your life so that when that message comes while you’re on the road, you know it can wait.
•Highlight the risk. Close your eyes and count to 23 – the average time a driver’s eyes are taken off the road to send a text message.
•Understand and utilize #X – the message that says you can’t talk because you’re about to drive.

In the Car:
•Think about what you need to do before you start the vehicle. Send a message, make a call, program the GPS, or choose a music playlist, then put away the phone and put the key in the ignition. This keeps you from tinkering with your phone for the information or entertainment you need while on the road.
•Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” or silent so you won’t know when a new message comes your way.
•Turn your phone off completely.
•Follow that old “out of sight, out of mind” proverb and put your phone in the glove compartment, trunk, backseat, or anywhere out of reach.
•If you absolutely must use your cell phone while in your vehicle, safely pull off the road first.
•If you’re traveling with a passenger, let them be your designated texter. They can read the messages aloud and type out your responses.
•If you don’t want your passenger involved in your personal affairs, have them simply hold on to the phone for you and give it back once you reach your destination.
•Live by example! If you don’t want your loved one texting while driving, then practice what you preach and stay off your phone.

Anything can happen even if you don’t use your phone while driving. Make sure your car is covered with an auto insurance policy from Madison Mutual. Call your agent from the safety of your home or office or anywhere but the road to determine what type of coverage is best for you!

towing a car on the highway

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