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The Summertime Backyard Safety Checklist

Backyard Safety - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana
After the first hot day of the year, hopefully, many of you were enjoying the warm sun.  Now that the nice weather is here (cross your fingers because New England weather is always unpredictable) it’s a great time to survey your backyard to make sure it’s safe to host pool parties, Wiffle ball games, and the frequent backyard BBQs.

Grilling in the Backyard

I’m sure you’ve been salivating all winter at the thought of hosting your friends, firing up the grill, throwing on some burgers and hotdogs, and watching a few baseball games. Before you do, here’s a few things to remind yourself of before you lite up the grille.

  • If you’re a charcoal grille master, make sure to never store your grill in your garage after grilling because charcoal emits harmful carbon monoxide until it’s completely extinguished.
  • To help extinguish charcoal completely, break up the burning charcoal with a strong stick or grilling tool after you’re done cooking. Then cover the grill with the lid for roughly 30 minutes to deprive the embers of oxygen. If you’re in a rush to put out the fire, spray some water on the embers.
  • Make sure to grill away from any flammable objects especially if it’s a windy day.
  • Make it a habit to check for hose leaks, holes, and any type of blockage.

Backyard Safety - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

Be smart about pesticides

Everyone wants that green lawn. We want to be known as the home of the street with the best-looking grass. Sometimes that means that we opt for those strong chemicals that deter bugs and help our lawns grow. There are non-chemical options to keeping your lawn healthy, but if you must use pesticides, keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep your pets and children away from the lawn when you’re applying these chemicals. Don’t let them touch the grass until the pesticides have completely dried.
  • Even though it may be hot out, while applying pesticides, wear long sleeves, eye protection (if it’s windy out) and always remember to wash your hands afterward and wash the bottoms of your shoes off before walking inside.
  • Make sure you’re abiding by the manufacture’s recommendation for how much to apply.

Swimming in your backyard

It’s frightening to hear, but according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, thousands of pool-related injuries and drowning incidents occur every year. Many of these accidents include children. If you have a pool or know of someone who has a pool, always remember these safety tips:

  • Never allow your children to swim without an adult around. Have a policy of “no parents, no swimming.”
  • The USCPSC recommends at least a four-foot-high fence around your pool.
  • Always have safety equipment and safety items nearby. That means having a floatation device handy, a pool hook close by, and someone who is trained in CPR. If you’re a parent and you own a pool, it would be wise to get CPR trained, just in case.
  • Most importantly, check your pool’s drain and suction covers. If they’re broken or missing, please repair them immediately and don’t allow anyone to swim until they’re fixed because faulty drains can cause accidental drowning.

Backyard Safety - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

These are just a few tips to keep your backyard safe this summer!

What Affects Car Insurance?

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to car insurance.  Just like any good pair of shoes, having a pair that fits you, your needs, and your budget is the only way to approach auto insurance. In fact, car insurance changes from driver to driver, company to company, and even location to location.

 

Auto Insurance

 

There are a few things that affect your car insurance, and to make you a more educated consumer, here are a few of them.

The coverage that once was

There are a few things that you should be aware of when getting insurance quotes. A few things like gaps in your coverage, or if you’ve had lower than normal limits with past insurance policies. Some of these things may cause you to pay more or less for insurance.

Your Driving History

There are a few factors related to your driving history that affect your insurance quotes. If you’ve been in accidents or received a handful of tickets your rates may be affected. The great part about this is that if you abide by the law and stay safe then you can potentially reduce your rate.

How you use your vehicle

Just so you know, if you spend a lot of time driving on long daily commutes, your car insurance may change. The same goes for your car.  If you have a car that has a high safety rating, or a car that doesn’t, it will affect your insurance rates for better or worse.

There are a handful of factors that affect your car insurance rate. To understand more about how some of these factors may be affecting your rate, give us a ring and we’ll gladly talk through it with you.

What is the Right Amount of Life Insurance?

What is the Right Amount of Life Insurance?

You work hard for your money. It’s yours, and we want you to maximize every dollar spent. We also want to make sure that you have the right life insurance coverage that provides you with the peace of mind that your loved ones will be comfortably covered. While there are many important reasons to purchase life insurance, here are a few thoughts to help you determine how much life insurance you’ll need.

Ask yourself these few questions:

  • Are your dependents financially prepared for the death of a family member?
  • Does anyone in your life depend on you?
  • How much debt do you have?
  • What are your future financial obligations?

Let’s discuss why these questions are so important.

Are your dependents financially prepared for the death of a family member?

The death of a family member is stressful enough. Words can’t and will never be able to articulate how stressful, never mind the added financial burden of the loss of a loved one is. This is why it’s important to ask yourself how financially stable your family and dependents are. If you think there is the possibility of any struggle, or if you want to even prevent the possibility of financial struggle, a life insurance policy in this situation makes sense.

Does anyone in your life depend on you?

The main purpose of life insurance is to make sure that your family and beneficiaries are taken care of financially if anything happened to you.  So, plain and simple, if you said “yes” to the question of, “does anyone depend on you?” then you need life insurance. When determining the right plan, ask yourself what kind of life standard do you want your family to have if something unfortunate happened to you. Most people simply want to maintain the same standard of their current living situation. This question is important to determine when scoping out your policy.

How much debt do you have?

All of your debts need to be paid off. So if you have a $250,000 mortgage, $15,000 car loan, and $5,000 in credit card debt, you’ll need at least $270,000 in your policy. However, be smart and have a little more to consider interest. This is just the baseline number that you would need to cover your debts.

What are your future financial obligations?

This I often the hardest section to answer.  Simply because it’s difficult to predict the future. It’s hard to know what we’re having for dinner tomorrow, let alone what our life will look like in 10 years. As you’re thinking about your future obligations, consider if you’re going to help pay for your children’s college or any other large financial contributions in the future.  In addition, map out your family’s cash flow to get a better sense of the entire landscape and how much you should have in your policy.

Now it’s time to determine how much life insurance you need. Always remember this, life insurance can be complicated, but knowing what your options are and why you’re paying for specific aspects of your plan is why we’re here. So, give us a ring, we’re more than happy to talk through your current or potential policy.

Distracted Driving Stats

In case you haven’t noticed, people are distracted drivers.

Distracted Driving - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), distracted drivers took 3,179 lives in 2014 alone.

More people have cell phones, more people are playing with their entertainment systems, and more people are saying, “I’m a good driver, those accidents will never happen to me.”  This illusion of vulnerability is a problem.

Odds are is that most of you reading this article have engaged in some form of distracted driving.  Distracted driving can be using your phone, eating or drinking, talking to passengers, reading maps, using navigation systems, or adjusting the music. While driving, we have the temptation to distract ourselves by reading that text or eating that burger; however, no matter how hard it may be, we urge you to reflect on your own driving habits and correct some of these distractions.

To highlight the need for safer, more educated drivers, here are a few distracted driving stats.

  • 1 in 3 drivers acknowledge that they text and drive.
  • 1 in 10 cars that drive past you admit to either “frequently” or “always” texting and driving.
  • When you text, your eyes are off the road for 5 seconds. That means that if you’re driving on the highway going 65 MPH, you’re essentially not looking at the road for the length of a football field.
  • When texting and driving, you are 23 times more likely to get into an accident.
  • 70% of drivers admit that they’re not good at texting or talking while driving. (Yet, 33% of drivers admit they text and drive.)
  • 94% of teenagers say they understand the effects of texting and driving, but 35% of them admitted that the risk deters them from texting and driving.
  • About 50% of respondents said that their parents were the most influential when it comes to learning what to do and what not to do behind the wheel.

While these numbers are shocking, and it’s the reality we live in, distracted driving can be changed, reduced, and even stopped.  So before you get into your car for tomorrow’s commute, remind yourself of these stats and think twice before opening that text message behind the wheel.

Data from:

  • https://www.nhtsa.gov
  • http://distracteddriveraccidents.com

The Spring Checklist for Your Spring Cleaning

Congratulations…we did it, guys! We made it to Spring.

After all those cold, dark, and short winter days, we can finally, and even desperately, open our windows and let in the fresh air of the Spring. However, before we do, it’s important to make sure your home is ready to take on the Spring and Summer months. With proper preparation, you can set up your home and yourself for an enjoyable and worry-free Spring and Summer. Thus, here are some home maintenance tips to add to your Spring cleaning to-do list to make sure you’re ready.

Spring Cleaning - Chase Clarke Stewart and Fontana

The Spring Clean

The ritual, ‘Spring cleaning’ is a ceremonial weekend that many partake in to remove winter cobwebs, pack away warm clothes, and prep the house for warmer weather. You probably already have your own set of chores to do, but we’re digging into the knowledge banks to add a few more money saving tips to maximize the return on your Spring cleaning weekend.

Test and clean those ceiling fans

It’s quite amazing the difference that a ceiling fan makes. I’ve had one in my room since childhood and after a few uses, I can confidently say that I prefer to use one over an air conditioner. However, with that said, they’re much more efficient when they’re working properly. Most likely these fans have acted like bears throughout the winter – docile and dormant, waiting for the warmer weather to arrive. During this time, the motors could have rusted, the blades most likely collected dust, and they may possibly need a tune up before they get turned on. Generating a cross breeze is one of the best ways to cool down your house, and your ceiling fans are top culprits.

Weatherstripping

Here’s a question for you: if you could save money on your energy bill, would you?

Of course, you would!

2017 is all about efficiency and an easy way to do so is by weatherstripping your windows. Weatherstripping is a material that you place on the edge of your windows and door frames to improve the seal. During the winter months, weatherstripping keeps the warm air inside, and cold air outside…during the summer months, it keeps the warm air out and cold air in. It’s really a no-brainer for anyone looking to make their homes more energy efficient.

Another benefit of weatherstripping is that it prevents the cold air from your air conditioner from escaping. This way, your AC won’t have to work as hard and you’ll stay much cooler during the hot summer months.

The Air Conditioner

Speaking of air conditioners, let’s talk about proper AC maintenance. To explain this, I have a story for you. Last year, my AC was running in my bedroom. I live on the top floor of a 5-story apartment building. Needless to say, my apartment gets scorching hot if I don’t leave my windows open, run the AC, or do something to offset the blazing hot air that floats up to my room. So as you can imagine, my AC is pretty much constantly running from July to September. All throughout July, it was doing a great job. My room was cool and comfortable, and even sometimes, cold. Then towards the later weeks in August, my AC started to warm up. My room got hotter and my nights restless. My AC wasn’t as cold as before. I realized that I never replaced my filter, so I went out and purchased a new one and my AC was back to normal.

So, the lesson here is that it’s a good rule of thumb to change your AC filter ever Spring.

Clean your Dryer Vent

Many times this simple chore gets lost in the other endless chores that are on your spring cleaning list. However, please make sure this one is top of your list. Some experts suggest that every year around 15,000 fires start because of a clogged dryer vent. This should be a chore that you partake in twice a year. Thus, if you’re already in the cleaning mode, we urge you to add it to your spring cleaning list.

If you’re looking to add some more chores, here are a few unique and timely checklist items to add.

• Change the batteries in your smoke detectors (which should be done every six months)
• Change batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors
• Schedule a chimney sweep
• Remove anything from the kitchen that doesn’t belong
• Clean and organize your freezer
• Disinfect the garbage disposal
• Sanitize cutting boards
• Disinfect doorknobs
• Finally, give your car some love and give it a nice detail

Avoiding Those Nasty Potholes

Potholes

Why is a “pothole” called a “pothole?”

Well, turns out the term was originally used (as cited in 1826) to describe deep, cylindrical-shaped holes in glaciers and gravel beds. So, as a result, it made sense calling the holes that form in the road, which has a similar shape, a “pothole.”

February, March, and April are the months when potholes wreak havoc on your car. The consistent thawing and freezing – not to mention the water in the mix – is the perfect combination for creating these nasty street surprises.

If you live in an area that is currently thawing from the harsh winter, you’ll need to keep a vigilant eye when driving. So, as you hit the road here are tips to help reduce the impact and minimize the damage on your car.

How to avoid the potholes

Potholes can be avoided. The Michigan Department of Transportation advises you to do these three things to help avoid these little buggers.

  • Drive at a safe speed so you can avoid them – this will give you more time to react.
  • Make sure your car is in good condition – because well-conditioned cars that hit potholes have less impact.
  • Avoid the puddles because those can hide dangerous potholes.
  • Never swerve last second. Please, never swerve last second.

However, if you do hit a pothole, here’s what to do…

“I hit a pothole”

Say you’re driving through town and BOOM you hit a pothole. Your suspension buckles and something under your car starts to rattle. Now you need to head into the mechanic to get your car fixed. “Thanks, pothole,” you say to yourself.

What could you have done next time to lessen the impact?

The Michigan Department of Transportation suggests you don’t hit the brakes as you hit the pothole. This helps your car and wheels absorb the impact better. The more you resist by pressing the breaks, the more your car will resist.

In addition, try hitting the pothole straight on. Hitting it flush will lessen the angle that your wheels hit the pothole and will lessen the impact and damage on your car.

In conclusion, be safe on the roads this time of year, and always remember that being vigilant is the best way to avoid suddenly hitting a pothole and having to take your car to the mechanic.

Is Your Business PCI Compliant?

If you own a business that accepts credit cards, listen up. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) applies to you.

Think about this, every time a customer swipes his/her card, they’re entrusting you with their personal information. They have absolute confidence that their information is safe and free of a hacker getting their hands on it. This is where PCI compliance comes in.

To uphold your end of this security relationship, PCI compliance is a standard that protects your customer’s digital cardholder data. To adhere to this standard, it’s encouraged to host your cardholder data securely with a PCI compliant hosting provider.

So, if your business DOES accept credit cards, there are 12 PCI compliant requirements that you should be aware of. Meeting these will help your business be secure.

Encrypt cardholder data across public networks
If you encrypted your credit card data a hacker without the proper cryptographic keys will not be able to read or use the information. Cryptographic keys change plain text into ciphertext. Ciphertext is unreadable without the proper cipher, the algorithm to read the text.

Install and maintain a firewall
You need two firewalls and one test procedure. You as a company must create your own firewall to protect your customer’s data, and a test procedure to consistently monitor their security. The hosting company where you store the data should have their own firewall, too.

Protect stored data
If you’re not a security company, and you store the credit card data yourself, you’re more vulnerable to a breach. If you don’t store the data yourself, the company you store it will most likely have more security standards.

Change the vendor-supplied password defaults
This goes without saying but change all vendor supplied passwords the moment you can. The fewer people who know your password the better.

Have secure applications
If your system finds new security holes, it should notify you. Having these alerts will help you stay on top of your system’s security.

Update your anti-virus software
This goes without saying, if you don’t have an anti-virus software, you need one. In addition, frequently updating the software will help strengthen your security wall making it harder to penetrate.

Assign a unique ID to each person with computer access
If you abide by best practice standards you’re doing two things: 1. Individual IDs for each member with access, and 2. Make them update their password every 30 – days, with specific log-in times.

Protect cardholder data with lower “business need-to-know”
Limiting the number of personnel that has access to cardholder data will lessen the chances of a security breach.

Track and monitor all access to network resources
Implement a logging system that monitors who is looking at your data and when. So, if there is ever a breach, you’ll be able to look back at who was looking at it.

Have information security policy
This policy will document everything that you have in place for security. If anyone ever asks about what you’re doing to secure credit card information, you’ll have this policy to share.

Restrict physical access the servers
If you host your data on a PCI compliant server, make sure they’re protecting your data by limiting the number of people who physically have access to the server.

Frequently test your security
Again, it’s best practice to always monitor your systems. It’s better to test here and there than to miss a hole in your security for someone to breach.

Customer Spotlight: Nina’s Cookies

The sensation that you get when sinking your teeth into a sweet from Nina’s Cookies will make you understand the care and love that is baked into everything they make.

Nina's Cookies Nina's Cookies Nina's Cookies

The foundation of Nina’s Cookies was built on love. Antonina Ciarcia (Nina) married Angelo Mazza in her hometown of Canicattina Bagni, Italy in 1949. Later that year, they emigrated to the United States and settled in Springfield, Massachusetts. Today, their daughters Maryann (Mazza) Whitehead and Lucille Maza continue the traditions they learned in their mother’s kitchen. They continue to add the love and care to each baked good, which is why we urge you to surprise your loved ones with some brilliantly baked Italian sweets from Nina’s Cookies.

All cookies are made by hand and sourced with the finest ingredients. Each bite will take you back to Italy in the mid-1900’s.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, visit Nina’s Cookies at:

Location
Nina’s Cookies
541 Springfield Street
Feeding Hills, MA 01030

Phone
413-304-2075

Email
Info@NinasCookies.com

Store Hours 
Tuesday – Friday 9am – 5:30pm
Thursday 9am – 6pm
Saturday 9am – 2:30pm
Sunday & Monday Closed

 

Winter Driving Safety Tips

If you’ve lived in New England, you know how easy it is to become accustomed to winter weather and not think about the risk of winter driving. Therefore, if you’re planning on hitting the roads this winter (most likely all of you will say yes) here are some winter driving tips to keep you safe.

Safe Snow Driving

How to stock your vehicle

Even if you like keeping your car clear of clutter, having these essential items is critical for smart winter driving:

  • A bag of kitty litter or sand just in case your car get’s stuck. If it does, spread the sand or kitty litter under your tire to give it traction.
  • Regardless of the time of year, you should always have jumper cables, a flashlight, and some emergency markers in your trunk.
  • Store a blanket in your backseat. There is nothing better than surprising your loved ones with a blanket when they’re cold.
  • Purchase a pack of water bottles, some granola bars, and any necessary medicine you’ll need as you’re driving on those longer, more remote, trips.
  • Shovel, broom, scraper. Say that again, shovel, broom, scraper.

What to THINK about when driving in winter weather

  • Drive slowly. Let us repeat that. Drive slowly. Don’t be rushed and give yourself enough time to get to your destination 10 minutes early, even if you have to change a flat tire.
  • Remind yourself that it’s MUCH harder to control or stop your vehicle during winter condition. Even if those slick looking car commercials show the newest model ripping through snow piles, it’s not practical, nor realistic.
  • Test and learn about your antilock brake system. This system prevents your wheels from locking up during braking. You know that vibrating feeling in the brake pedal when you break on ice? Well, those are your antilock breaks. If you catch yourself sliding on ice, and you have antilock breaks, apply firm, continuous pressure to the brake pedal. If you don’t have antilock breaks, you may need to pump your breaks if you feel your wheels starting to lock up.

Be friendly to those Snow Plows

  • Give the snow plows plenty of room! Snow plows tend to take wide turns, they stop often, they overlap lanes, and they exit the road frequently so give them their s.
  • The road in front of the snow plow is more dangerous than the road behind the snow plow. So stay behind the plows.

Field Guide for Avoiding Ice Dams this Winter

Field Guide for Avoiding Ice Dams this Winter

Every winter, ice dams take their toll on houses all across America. They ruin roofs, walls, and can create a massive mess for homeowners. Understanding the components of ice dams will help you take the right steps for preventing them from happening.

How do Ice Dams Form?

Ice dams form when snow or ice melts on your roof, drips to the edge of the roof, then refreezes. This results in having a thick ridge of ice along the edge of your roof near your gutters. Ice dams are also occasionally found near skylights and vents as well.

The issue with ice dams is that when these pretty looking icicles melt, instead of draining into your gutters, like they should, they find alternative routes into the walls of your house. As you can imagine, water dripping down the inside of your walls can quickly lead to expensive unwanted repairs.

How do I know if my House is at Risk?

Now, this isn’t 100% fool proof. We can’t control Mother Nature. However, we can do these few things to better equip your home before something like this starts.

  1. The name of the game for preventing ice dams is proper ventilation. Soffit vents under the eaves of your roof keep air flowing through your attic. Soffit vents should always be clear and unobstructed, especially during winter.
  2. The problem with snow melting from the heat within the house is that the snow melts from below. In order to make sure it doesn’t, let your roof get plenty of sunlight. This helps the snow melt naturally from top to bottom, not bottom to top. To get more sunlight, have a professional remove the limbs and branches that are preventing the sun from hitting your roof.
  3. Make sure you properly seal common places where warm air escapes. This means having the right insulation for attic hatches, vent pipes, and exhaust fans.
  4. Make sure your attic is insulated properly. This will prevent the snow from excessively melting on your roof. A good rule of thumb is to keep your attic cool – about 10 degrees colder than the outside air.

How can I prevent ice dams?

Even if you have proper ventilation there are a few products that you can use to help prevent ice dams.

  1. As the snow falls, remove the snow from 3 feet back from the edge of the roof. We don’t recommend doing this while standing on the roof because it’s too dangerous getting close to the edge. Do your best to remove your roof’s snow from the ground using an elongated tool. Make sure to use specific snow removal tools because you don’t want to ruin your roof’s shingles.
  2. You can install heated cables into the eaves if your roof. However, have a professional do this because you don’t want to intensify the rate at which the ice melts.
  3. A good option is installing snow and ice slides during the off-season. These slides are placed on top of your shingles and prevent ice from coming in contact with your roof, gutters, and eaves.

As you can see, ice dams are not fun. Taking the right precautions will possibly help save your house from further damage. Finally, if you do see ice dams forming, please contact your local professional to have them remove the snow and ice for you.