Four ways to stay safer at home
It's easy to add protections from injury and hazards to your home. Consumer Reports suggests doing these four things.
1. Install lifesaving alarms. A working smoke alarm should be on each level of your home, including the attic and basement. Why? Between 2009 and 2013, fires in homes with no smoke alarms caused an average of 940 deaths per year, and an additional 510 people per year were killed in fires in which smoke alarms were present but failed to operate, according to the National Fire Protection Association. For most locations, choose an alarm with both a photoelectric sensor (for smoldering fires) and an ionization sensor (for fast-flaming fires). Keep the latter away from the kitchen and baths.
Consumer Reports recommends testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms at least monthly. And it's not a bad idea to vacuum them occasionally to prevent dust from interfering with their sensors.
2. Eliminate trip hazards. Your own house may seem like the safest space in which to walk around, but more than 10,000 people die each year after falls at home. Many more than that are injured. To prevent these types of accidents, start by arranging furniture so that it's not in the way on your typical routes around the house; no obstructions should be between your bed and the door to your room, for example. Position pet bowls and electrical cords along walls rather than across pathways. And get piles of paper off the ground. Remove throw rugs, which can skid, or keep them in place with carpet tacks or double-sided carpet tape. Put a rubber mat or nonslip strips in your bathtub, and install grab bars.
3. Install DIY home security. Who better to keep an eye on your place than you? Set up a Wi-Fi-connected camera -- it's not difficult -- and you can tap into its feed from your smartphone or laptop for a lot less than subscribing to a security monitoring service such as ADT or Vivint.
4. Don't get burned. In 2011, an estimated 486,000 people in the U.S. were treated for burn injuries, and many of them were children, according to the National Safety Council. Lowering the maximum temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit can help prevent scalds but might invite opportunistic bacteria -- including Legionella, associated with Legionnaires' disease -- to proliferate. (Consumer Reports says to check the heater's manual to find the temperature ranges for each setting.)
To balance both risks, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration advocates setting domestic water heaters to a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit and using anti-scald devices such as thermostatic mixing valves at each faucet. The devices, which mix hot and cold water to a safe temperature before letting it flow from the faucet, are increasingly common in the plumbing systems of newer homes and are often built into newer fixtures. And certain shower fixtures allow you to set a temperature limit. A licensed plumber can inspect your system and install valves where needed.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org
How to save on car insurance
When you shop for car insurance, you're driving blind. Give your details to a dozen carriers, and you could end up with a dozen different quotes, some twice as high as others.
Insurers base their premiums on many factors, including age, driving record and car type. But when Consumer Reports analyzed more than 2.7 billion premiums -- the bulk of the U.S. auto insurance market -- it also identified some factors that you might not even be aware of, including credit history and education, that have nothing to do with your driving.
Consumer Reports also learned that because each insurer has its own pricing formula -- penalizing or rewarding factors differently -- consumers can save by shopping around.
Tips for Getting the Best Value on Car Insurance
If you're already insured, check your policy to see what you're now paying. Then follow these steps:
-- Shop often. Check out several different insurance companies every two to three years. Maybe your situation has changed -- say you're driving fewer miles, which can lower your premium a little. Or maybe the carrier has adjusted its underwriting or rating in ways that help, or hurt, your bottom line. You get little benefit from sticking with the same insurer year in and year out; Consumer Reports' research in the past has found that the "long-term customer discount" is mostly a myth.
-- Cast a wide net. Try shopping on TheZebra.com, which uses data from Quadrant, a private company that collects and analyzes rate filings supplied directly by insurers. The Zebra offers estimates from 18 to 35 insurers, depending on the state. That compares with just 3 to 10 quotes provided by other sites, including Insurance.com, NetQuote and NerdWallet.
-- Consider raising collision and comprehensive deductibles. Collision insurance covers damage to your vehicle caused by impact with another car or object, regardless of who's at fault. Comprehensive covers theft of your vehicle and damage from fire, flood, a falling branch and the like. The average driver files a comprehensive or collision claim only once every 5 to 10 years, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The higher your deductible -- the amount you pay before insurance kicks in -- the lower your premium, especially for collision.
-- Protect yourself. Make sure you get enough liability coverage. Consumer Reports recommends 100/300/100 coverage, which pays for bodily injury up to $100,000 per person, $300,000 per accident and property damage up to $100,000. And buy uninsured/underinsured coverage at the same limits, in case you're hit by a hit-and-run driver or someone without enough insurance. Finally, for added liability protection, consider an umbrella policy. A $1 million policy typically costs about $200 to $400 per year.
-- Check Consumer Reports' ratings. Consumer Reports considers its subscribers' overall satisfaction with auto insurance companies over the past two decades. An affordable policy won't help much if the carrier provides subpar service or gives you a hard time about paying a claim.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org