August 2013
Budget Remodeling Tips for Your Home
Women worker holding paint can full of money

Budget Remodeling Tips for Your Home

Create your dream home without breaking the bank.

Save money, avoid problems and pursue your dream home with these remodeling tips.

Do it yourself (wisely) – Save money by doing low-skill, time-consuming tasks yourself, such as moderate demolition, painting and cleanup. For more involved work, consider using a professional contractor.

Find the right contractor – Ask for references, verify any required licensing and bonding, and confirm the contractor has general liability, property and workers compensation insurance.

Material savings – To avoid paying extra for contractors' markups, try getting building materials yourself. Resale stores, like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, are good lower-cost sources for appliances and materials.

Get a good price – Comparison shopping online is a great way to save, but remember to account for shipping costs and possible Internet sales taxes in your state. Some stores will lower their prices if you can show other local stores are offering the same items for less.

Avoid expensive jobs – Major plumbing and electrical relocation projects – moving toilets and kitchen stoves – can be very costly. Experts agree that recessed lighting typically costs more than other fixtures, too.

Remember, remodeling can change your home's value. Make sure your home insurance is in sync with your coverage – check with your American Family Insurance agent to keep your policy up to date.

Smartphone Security 101

Smartphone Security 101

Be smart about your smartphone with these security tips.

A smartphone is like a digital wallet, camera, email and Internet device, photo album and much more, all rolled into one. Oh, and by the way, you can make calls with it, too.

Imagine what would be at stake if your smartphone were lost or stolen. Scary thought, isn’t it? If you’re one of more than half of all Americans who own a smartphone, here are some security tips to maintain your privacy, avoid identity theft and keep your data secure.

Lock it – Lock your smartphone with a password or PIN, and change this code frequently.

Be aware – Be aware of your surroundings and avoid calling attention to your smartphone in public places where it could be stolen.

Get security apps – Get apps that remotely track and lock your smartphone, set off alarms, remove sensitive data or even take a photo of the thief.

Avoid malware – Avoid clicking suspicious links, and get apps only from trustworthy sources (for example, iTunes, Amazon or Android Market) to avoid spyware and viruses that can threaten your privacy.

Watch out in public places – Public Wi-Fi hotspots often are unsecured, and devices such as femtocells can track conversations and keystrokes. For sensitive conversations and transactions, use a secure, protected home network instead.

Back it up – If you lose your smartphone, you’ll lose your contacts, photos and other files, too. Keep it secure and back it up.

Report it – If you know that your smartphone is lost or has been stolen, inform your cell provider and law enforcement authorities.

Perhaps the most basic way to keep your smartphone secure is to make sure you know where it is at all times. Always keeping it in the same place, like in your pocket or purse, might be a good place to start.

Prevent Tornado-Related Identity Theft
American Flag on a pole surrounded by tornado distruction

Prevent Tornado-Related Identity Theft

Don't fall victim to identity fraud in the storm's aftermath.

Being the victim of a tornado can be devastating.

And to make matters worse, those affected by twisters can fall prey to identity theft. Tornadoes can scatter sensitive documents, such as tax records and credit card statements, along with things like computers and cell phones. Dishonest individuals can use these items to commit identity fraud.

Criminals even have resorted to stealing confidential information from storm victims staying in community shelters after their homes were destroyed.

Here are some recommendations on combatting tornado-related ID theft.

  • Store tax and insurance papers, banking and credit card statements, birth certificates and other important documents in a lockbox or waterproof bag that you can bring with you when evacuating your house during a weather emergency. Try to bring along laptops, external backup drives and cell phones.
  • If you are staying in a shelter in the storm's aftermath, keep a watchful eye on belongings and personal documentation you may have with you, to prevent theft.
  • Be sure to monitor your credit report for suspicious activity in the aftermath of a tornado that has destroyed your home. Consider adding initial security alerts to your credit report.
  • Ask the post office to hold your mail until you're able to return home. Or, if you're living temporarily in a secure location, have your mail forwarded.
  • As a proactive measure to reduce your exposure to ID theft risk, use a shredder to eliminate unneeded documents containing personal information.

You also may want to consider the American Family Identity Theft Program. It includes our Identity Fraud Expense Coverage, which covers costs associated with repairing your identity, including attorney fees, loan application fees and lost wages.

Talk to your American Family Insurance agent for details.

How Do You Prepare for an Earthquake?

How Do You Prepare for an Earthquake?

Quiz yourself on what to do when the ground becomes unsteady.

Earthquakes are one of nature's most unpredictable phenomena. One of the most destructive, too. Contrary to popular belief, the risks of earthquakes are not limited to California and Alaska. All 50 states are susceptible, in one degree or another, to an earthquake.

Earthquakes are caused by shifting plates in the earth's crust. When these plates shift, there is a tremendous amount of energy released that causes the earth – and everything on it – to shake. That means everything is subject to damage or destruction, including homes, office buildings, roads, bridges and utilities.

Earthquakes occur with different intensities. Some feel like just a minor tremble while others shake everything with violent and destructive energy.

How do you prepare for an earthquake? Take this brief quiz to test your earthquake smarts! (You'll find the answers below.)

1. If you are outside and an earthquake starts, you should:

A. Go to your car and try to drive away from the shaking.
B. Run into the nearest building for shelter.
C. Stay put. Stay away from buildings to avoid falling debris.
D. Run around in a complete panic and yell, “The end is here. We’re all doomed!”

2. If you’re driving down the road when an earthquake starts, you should:

A. Keep driving as though nothing is going on.
B. Park under the nearest bridge for shelter.
C. Pull to the side of the road and stay in the car until the shaking stops.
D. Floor the gas pedal to get away from the shaking as fast as possible.

3. If you are in an office building when an earthquake starts, you should:

A. Crawl under a piece of sturdy furniture to protect yourself from falling debris.
B. Act casual as though this is normal and keep working.
C. Take the nearest elevator to the ground floor to get out.
D. Go to the nearest window to see how other buildings are doing.

4. To plan for an earthquake, you should:

A. Do nothing. Emergency responders will quickly find you and take care of your needs, including food, water and shelter.
B. Arm yourself in case someone tries to take any of your stuff.
C. Make your home sturdier by bolting bookcases to wall studs, installing strong latches on cupboards and strapping the water heater to wall studs.
D. Have a minimum of a three-day supply of food and water for each member of your family.

5. After an earthquake, you should:

A. Check if anyone near you is injured.
B. Resume normal activities.
C. Call the local TV station to see if they want to interview you.
D. Exit the building as quickly and safely as possible.


1. C – Stay put. Being outside and away from buildings is the safest place to be. This puts you away from falling debris or buildings that face the risk of collapse.

2. C – Pull to the side of the road and stay in the car until the shaking stops. The car itself will give you some protection from flying debris. If the road itself is shaking, it isn’t stable to be moving on and you could hit another car or damaged section of road.

3.  A – Crawl under a piece of sturdy furniture to protect yourself from falling debris. This will shelter you from falling glass and other debris. If there isn’t any sturdy furniture available, seek shelter under a sturdy doorframe and try to shield your head and face with your arms. Avoid taking cover near windows, large mirrors and hanging objects.

4. C and D – Make your home sturdier by bolting bookcases to wall studs, installing strong latches on cupboards and strapping the water heater to wall studs. This prevents furniture, appliances, etc., from coming loose and causing injuries. And, have a minimum of a three-day supply of food and water for each member of your family. Depending on the severity of an earthquake, you may be “on your own” for a few days and have to rely on yourself for food, water and shelter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers suggestions how to make your home safer during an earthquake, and what you should have in an emergency kit.

5. A and D – Check anyone near you for injuries, and exit the building as quickly and safely as possible. Give immediate first aid to anyone injured to ensure their safety and prevent further injury. Your building may have substantial but unseen structural damage making it unsafe to be in. Don't return to the building until it has been declared safe to enter.

Avoid Injuries from Airbags

Avoid Injuries from Airbags

Where and how you sit affects your risk.

Since airbags became a standard safety feature on all cars and truck sold in the United States, they’ve reduced driver deaths by approximately 14 percent, according to the Insurance Intitute for Highway Safety. Unfortunately, airbags have also been responsible for some serious injuries and even deaths when they’ve inflated.

In an accident, airbags protect passengers by instantly inflating to prevent a person from hitting the dashboard or steering wheel. It’s this sudden, explosive inflation that has caused injuries and deaths – mostly among children, smaller people and those sitting too close to the airbag.

Of those injured or killed in an accident involving airbags, most were not wearing seatbelts or else only lap belts with no shoulder restraints.

Minimize your chance of injury

It isn’t your size, gender or age that determines your chance of injury. It’s your position in relation to an airbag. People at risk of serious injuries from inflating airbags are mainly drivers who don’t wear seatbelts or sit with their face or chest close to the steering wheel or dashboard. You can virtually eliminate the risk of an airbag injury by wearing your seatbelt. Remember that airbags are a supplement to seatbelts – not a replacement.

Here are a few things you can do to minimize your chance of being injured by an inflating airbag.

  • Sit as far away from the steering wheel as possible while still safely being able to reach the pedals.
  • Be sure to wear a safety belt. Most airbag inflation injuries and deaths involve unbelted people.
  • Keep at least 10 inches or more between your chest and the steering wheel or dashboard.
  • Have children 12 years and under ride in the back seat and be properly restrained, either in a seatbelt/shoulder belt or a child safety/booster seat appropriate for their size and weight.
  • Never place a rear-facing infant seat in front of an air bag (front seat), unless the airbag is turned off.

More information about airbag safety – and other automotive safety tips – is available in American Family’s Learning Center.