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About Real Estate: Household plants pose poison risk to pets

DEAR MR. MYERS: I have several leafy elephant ear plants, both inside my house and in my backyard, so I panicked when a friend told me that they could make my two dogs sick or even kill them if the dogs eat them. Is this true?

ANSWER: Yes, it’s true. The popular plant — sometimes called by its scientific name, Caladium — is among more than 1,000 species of flowers, shrubs and other vegetation that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says can be poisonous when ingested by dogs, cats or horses. Many of them can be found at millions of homes across the nation, from the red-berried American Holly and colorful azaleas to the sword-leaved yucca and even common zucchini squash.

Obviously, if your pooches have a penchant for eating things they shouldn’t, your safest bet would be to remove all offending plants and replace them with nontoxic ones. An alternative would be to put small wire fencing around the exterior of the elephant ears and make sure the ones inside your home are in tall or hanging planters that the dogs can’t reach.

A list and pictures of the 1,030 species of vegetation that the ASPCA has identified as potentially poisonous to pets and sometimes even people can be found at aspca.org/toxic. It also operates a 24-hour emergency poison hotline at 888-426-4435.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Rodent poisons and insecticides kept in a house or its garage are the two biggest “in-home” killers of pets each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I’m a big fan of those home-remodeling shows on HGTV and other networks. I saw an episode featuring a renovation that I’d like to replicate, but the bids I got for the job were about two or three times higher than the cost of the job on TV and would take three or four times longer to complete. What gives?

ANSWER: In some ways, many of those so-called reality TV shows are kind of misleading. They don’t always make it clear that some or even all of the materials used may have been donated by their manufacturers in exchange for the free publicity. The contractors themselves also offer to cut their regular prices or even work for free to get national television exposure to build their business or simply to feed their egos.

The time frames for those renovation programs often are unrealistic, too. Though most of them show even major projects being completed in a matter of weeks, the handful of subcontractors that appear on camera typically reflect only a fraction of those who actually labored on the job — some of them on an around-the-clock basis. Unless you can afford such a large and tireless construction team, your own project is going to take a lot longer.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Is damage caused by the type of snowstorms that recently hit the Eastern states covered by a typical homeowners insurance policy, or are snowstorms considered an “act of God” that isn’t covered?

ANSWER: A standard policy covers most types of damage caused by snow, wind, severe cold and freezing rain. That’s good news for the tens of thousands of homeowners and renters who suffered damage in the terrible blizzard that blanketed nearly 20 Eastern states in January.

That coverage is fairly broad, said Jeanne M. Salvatore, senior vice president at the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute. It includes wind-related damage to a house, its roof, its contents and any other insured structure on the property. Also, damage from wind-driven snow or freezing rain that can get into a home after it’s damaged by high winds that typically accompany a blizzard often is covered.

Damage from ice or other objects that fall on the house is also covered. That includes fallen trees or tree limbs and the cost of removal, though the payout is usually limited to about $500, Salvatore said.

Other freezing-related issues, such as a burst pipe that allowed water to get into the home, are also covered. And if the house is deemed uninhabitable, the policy will pay for “reasonable” expenses to live elsewhere until the property is properly repaired.

Damage caused by water that may flow into the home from the ground up as the snow melts is not covered by a standard policy. It would be covered only if the owner or renter had a separate flood-insurance policy issued by the government’s National Flood Insurance Program (floodsmart.gov; 888-379-9531) or a private provider.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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