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Learn about common risks regarding your home and discover how the proper insurance can help.
Most fires are devastating. Besides the emotional impact, the physical damage to your home can be significant. If you lost your home to fire, do you have adequate insurance to replace your home and its contents? Remember, inflation rates on building materials and construction costs rarely track with real estate values. As a result, rebuilding a home can often cost significantly more than expected.
Make sure your homeowners policy contains guaranteed replacement cost coverage. This protects you if the cost to reconstruct your home is higher than your current limit of coverage. Also be sure that your insurance includes rebuilding your home to code. Very often, local ordinances and building codes change over time, which may require additional costs.
Personal Property / Contents - Property Damage
When your home suffers damage due to an unexpected event, your personal property is also at risk. Furniture, appliances, clothing, electronics and other personal items can also be damaged or destroyed.
Your homeowners insurance policy typically covers personal property, including the contents of your home and other personal items owned by you or family members who live with you. Make sure your homeowners policy includes replacement cost coverage for personal property so that you always receive the full cost to replace whatever item is damaged.
Additional Living Expense / Loss of Use
When there is substantial damage to your home due to unexpected events such as lightning, fire or a storm, you may not be able to live in your home until it can be repaired or rebuilt – potentially incurring additional living expenses for lodging, food and other daily needs.
Ensure that your homeowners insurance policy provides additional living expense or loss of use coverage to compensate you for the additional costs you incur for reasonable housing and living expenses if a covered event makes your house temporarily uninhabitable while it's being repaired or rebuilt.
Jewelry, Fine Arts and Collectibles
If your diamond ring disappears or valuable artwork is stolen, your standard homeowners policy may not compensate you for the loss. Homeowners policies include coverage for your belongings and personal property, but some special items like jewelry, furs, silverware, antiques, collectibles and other valuables have limited or no coverage and need to be insured separately.
Valuable possessions insurance covers personal property that may have unique value, cannot be replaced like regular personal property or is subject to special types of losses such as breakage or mysterious disappearance. For most valuable possession categories, there is no deductible applied at time of loss. Valuable possessions insurance can be added to your homeowners policy or may be written as a separate policy.
If a guest is injured while on your property, even when it’s due to a friendly game of baseball, you may be required to pay any medical expenses associated with their injury.
Your homeowners policy should include medical expenses coverage to take care of injuries and treatment - generally not of a serious nature. In the event a person is injured on your property and requires medical attention, you would be able to submit the injury-related medical expenses to your insurance carrier. Medical expenses are usually paid without a liability claim being filed against you.
In the unfortunate event that someone slips and falls while on your property, you and your family may be held liable for any injuries that result.
Your homeowners policy includes personal liability coverage to respond to incidents where injuries or damages occur to a third party where you may be deemed negligent. However, you should consider purchasing a personal umbrella or excess liability policy to provide additional coverage limits to protect your assets in case a lawsuit is brought against you.
The fun that comes with having a trampoline in your backyard can also be accompanied by serious risks, which may not be covered under your standard homeowners insurance policy since coverage varies from state to state and between insurance companies.
You should make sure your homeowners insurance policy covers your trampoline, as many insurance providers refuse to take on trampoline liability and exclude the item from coverage.
Young people are usually very active online. However, using social media and other sites can increase the possibility of them directly or indirectly damaging someone's reputation and exposing you, the parent, to a lawsuit.
Your homeowners insurance policy includes liability coverage for property damage caused by any member in the family, but it may not cover rumors or statements that damage a reputation. You need to add an endorsement to your policy to expand coverage to include liability protection that covers personal injury.
Umbrella / Excess Liability Coverage
You invite guests over for a barbecue pool party and one of your guests dives into the shallow end of the pool and is permanently injured. They hire a lawyer to represent them and after a long legal battle, you and your family are left financially responsible for their injuries. Do you have enough money in savings to cover your legal responsibilities as well as the legal defense costs?
An umbrella or excess liability policy increases your personal liability limits by adding protection over and above your current auto, boat or homeowners policies - providing real financial value, as well as priceless peace of mind. Excess liability insurance is available either by an endorsement to your homeowners policy or available as separate coverage.
You do not have to live near a body of water to suffer loss due to flooding. With the changing weather patterns and more damaging storms occurring around the globe, flood losses are becoming more common in places that are not normally prone to flood damage. Your homeowners policy does not cover damage from flood. Could your home be at risk?
Purchase a flood insurance policy to protect your home and covered contents from certain types of flood losses as designated by the National Flood Insurance Program. A flood policy is purchased as a separate policy through the federal program (NFIP) or through a servicing carrier known as a write your own carrier.
Owning a secondary home has the potential of increasing your liability exposures.
Be certain that you extend the liability coverage under your homeowners policy to include your secondary home. You should also consider including the secondary home under an excess liability or umbrella policy to provide for additional liability limits.
Collector vehicles often have significant value and require specialized insurance coverage and claims handling.
Schedule your collectible vehicle on a separate collector car policy. By doing so, you are protecting the vehicle for either the appraised value or market value.
If you are a connoisseur of wine, you know that it is susceptible to outside environmental exposures that can ruin it. If the collection is damaged, coverage from your homeowners policy is a possible recourse. However, the damage is only insurable if it is a covered cause of loss as outlined in your homeowners policy. A deductible would also apply.
If you have a sizable wine collection, you may want to consider scheduling the collection on your homeowners policy. Doing so expands your coverage and eliminates the deductible in case of a loss. You can also consider unique coverages for wine, such as for spoilage.
Most homeowners policies exclude coverage for water back-up damages as a result of a clogged drain, sewer or sump pump.
Water back-up coverage can be added to most insurance policies. Consider adding it so that you have the coverage you need in the event of damages caused by a clogged drain, sewer, sump pump and related risks.
Surprisingly, standard auto insurance does not cover personal property or contents stolen from your car.
Most homeowners policies offer an option to include off-premises theft coverage as an endorsement, which covers you for theft of your personal property away from your residence.
Homeowners Insurance Coverages
Coverage A – Dwelling
This coverage protects the structure of your home for such perils as wind or fire.
Coverage B – Other Structures
If you have detached structures such as a garage or tool shed, this coverage protects them.
Coverage C – Personal Property
This coverage protects your belongings. Furniture, appliances, clothing and similar property are covered up to a percentage of your Coverage A limit. This percentage is typically 70% of Coverage A, but is selectable by you. Because some belongings are of special value and better insured specifically, your Homeowners Policy limits the amount you can collect for such items as jewelry, furs and fine art. To ensure you have the proper protection for these items, you will need to obtain specific insurance for these items, which is called scheduling. Contact our office to discuss scheduling your valued possessions.
Coverage D – Loss of Use
Loss of Use pays for the extra cost of living if your home is not habitable due to an event covered by your policy.
Coverage E – Personal Liability
Personal Liability protects you from claims against you for injury to others or their property. This coverage also pays for defense costs if you are sued as a result of injury to others or their property.
Important optional coverages include:
- Extended Dwelling Coverage providing coverage above Coverage A limits if needed
- Increased Building Ordinance coverage to pay the extra costs of upgrades to meet building codes
- Replacement Cost Contents to replace your belongings rather than payment at depreciated value
- Scheduled Personal Property for specific coverage on valuable items such as jewelry
Water is essential for many things in life, yet it is one of the most frequent causes of damage in homes. Consider how many rooms in your home are connected to an inside water source or are susceptible to water coming in from outdoors and you will quickly realize how vital water damage prevention should be.
When water goes where it shouldn’t, even a small leak can become a major problem. Some damage from water is covered by your homeowners policy, some is not. Either way, most damage from water is preventable.
Quick action helps in water emergencies.
It has happened. There is water everywhere — in your walls, under your carpets and soaking into your belongings. Whether caused by a burst pipe, a broken water heater or a flood, there are things you can do immediately to salvage belongings and limit damage or loss.
Nothing is more terrifying. The thought of flames racing through your home is probably your worst nightmare. Unfortunately, it is an all-too-frequent occurrence in this country. Every year, 4,000 Americans die in fires. The vast majority of those deaths occur at home – each year, 100,000 homes are destroyed, 40,000 family pets are killed and uncounted irreplaceable family treasures are lost forever.
Tragically, most fires are preventable. The leading cause of fires in the home is faulty heating equipment. A couple of simple measures can ensure that your home heating system is safe. For example, changing your air filter regularly will ensure that your furnace isn’t overtaxed. And don’t leave piles of newspaper or other combustibles within two feet of your furnace.
While home heating systems are the No. 1 cause of fires in the home, cigarettes are the No. 1 factor in home fire fatalities. If you do smoke, be sensible. Don’t smoke in bed. Use a large metal or glass ashtray. Put that cigarette out with water before you drop it in the trash.
The No. 2 cause of fire-related deaths is arson. Intentionally set fires claim the lives of more people each year than all natural disasters – including floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes – combined. Most arson fires are fueled with combustible material found nearby. A little diligence around the house, along with a watchful eye for strangers, can make a world of difference.
In fact, a little diligence is the key to home safety in general. It may go without saying, but smoke detectors that work, fire extinguishers that are well-charged and easily accessible and a ladder for the upper floors can save money and lives.
Protect Against Theft
Burglars don’t advertise their unique line of work. They don’t wear a uniform or act suspicious. Remember this when you invite new acquaintances into your home or have a large social function. 21% of burglaries are committed by juveniles, frequently those living in the area.
The first step in helping prevent household burglary is simply to lock your doors and windows. This simple step alone greatly reduces the odds of being burglarized.
The burglar is always looking for the easiest job – don’t help him. Make it as difficult as possible for a thief to enter your home. Lock your doors and make your home look occupied when you’re not at home. By doing so, a burglar will most likely look for an easier break-in somewhere else.
Burglary, one of the most costly crimes in terms of actual dollar losses, is also one of the easiest crimes to combat. A moment of carelessness – not bothering to lock windows and doors – is an invitation to the criminal. The burglar is likely to go where there is an inviting open garage door or other easy way to enter. By taking normal precautions, you can save your share of the millions of dollars those open doors and windows cost crime victims every year.
Common Sense Precautions
- Lock all doors and windows, especially when leaving the house (even for short periods)
- Don’t leave keys under the mats, doorsills or on an outside nail
- If you leave your car keys with someone, don’t give them the full key ring containing the house keys
- Do not carry an identification tag on your key ring
- Never leave notes outside your home advertising your absence
- Always lock and close your garage door, even if you plan to be gone only for a few minutes
- Lock all outside doors at all times, even when you are on the premises
- Keep tool shed and other out-buildings locked
- Adjust the volume on your telephone so the ring cannot be heard outside — smart burglars may be listening when you aren’t home
- Make your home look occupied when you are away for the evening by leaving on some exterior and interior lights
- Keep jewelry in a safe deposit box at your bank
- Prune shrubbery around doors and windows so a burglar cannot work undetected
- Remove objects from your yard or near the house that might conceal a burglar
- Check door moldings for tight fit
- Never keep large sums of cash or easy-to-sell valuables in your house
- For those few valuables you feel you must keep at home, find hard-to-reach or hard-to-find places to conceal them
- A dog is an excellent anti-burglar investment — a barking dog, whether large or small, may persuade a burglar to move on
When You're at Home
- Do not open your home to strangers. Demand identification before you admit anyone you do not recognize. Don’t accept a uniform as identification, and verify identity by phone before you admit a repair or delivery person.
- Post guidelines for your baby-sitters and children at home alone. If a non-family member or unexpected visitor knocks at the door, the child or baby-sitter can say through the door that the parents are “busy and cannot come to the door.” If the person persists, the police should be called and told that there “is a person at the door who will not leave.”
- If you have an answering machine on your phone, your recorded message should say you are busy, not that you are gone from the premises.
- When you admit a repair or delivery person, do not leave them alone, even for a few minutes.
- Never volunteer information over the phone. Instruct children and baby-sitters never to admit to being home alone. Have them tell callers that mother or father is asleep or busy, but the call will be returned if they leave a number. It is recommended to answer the phone as a burglar may be calling to determine if the house is occupied.
- When attending a funeral of a family member, have a neighbor house-sit. Burglars read the newspapers for advance notices, especially funerals, anniversaries and weddings.
When You’re on Vacation
- Discontinue mail deliveries, and have a trusted neighbor pick up newspapers and advertising circulars. In some areas, suspension of deliveries is a tip-off to your absence. Ask your local police for advice.
- Store ladders, bicycles and lawn and garden equipment in a locked garage or out-building. A few large pieces of furniture may be left on the patio or deck so it appears you are at home.
- Ask a trusted neighbor or relative to keep an eye on your house.
- Notify your local law enforcement agency that you plan to be away as some agencies will schedule periodic checks of your home.
- Arrange for someone to mow the lawn or shovel the snow.
- Use automatic timers to turn on lights and radio or television at an appropriate time.
- Install a high-quality peephole viewer with a wide angle 180-degree lens, and do your talking through the closed door.
- Install solid wood or metal door exteriors, including the door from the garage into the house. Hollow core doors are easy to smash and enter. The finest lock is worthless if the door around it is flimsy. Even solid doors with thin inset wood panels can be entered easily.
- Reinforce or rebuild door jambs.
- Equip your doors with deadbolt or double-cylinder locks. “Dead” denotes the bolt is mechanically held in place instead of spring-loaded. Conventional spring-latch locks are easily opened, and can be opened with a credit card inserted between the door and frame. If unfamiliar with locks, confer with a locksmith on selecting the best lock or locks for your particular situation.
- Change your door locks if you move into a house or apartment that has been previously occupied. Do the same thing if your keys are lost or stolen.
- Don’t rely on the time-honored chain. They are easy to break or tear out of the wall.
- If you have Colonial or Dutch doors with small glass panes, a sheet of Plexiglas can be fastened over the inside of the door covering all panes.
- Check your outside doors for exposed hinges with removable pins. These allow the burglar to knock out the pins and remove the door.
- Block sliding glass doors with a dowel or broomstick in the door track. Even if the lock is jimmied, the door will be hard to open.
- If your sliding door can be lifted out of the track from the outside, insert screws along the upper track of the door, leaving room to slide the door, but not to lift it out.
- Consider purchasing one of the economical locking devices on the market designed specifically for sliding glass doors.
- Install locks on your windows. Consider the special locks for specific window types, such as sliding, double-hung wood and casement.
- Install heavy screens on your windows.
- If burglars can’t get in quietly by prying or jimmying a lock, they are reluctant to break glass because of the noise involved. Most burglars prefer to break one small pane, if necessary, to reach a lock, but will avoid breaking large windows. If they do break glass for entry, burglars look for an easy exit through a door, especially if they are stealing large items. If you have double-cylinder deadbolt locks installed on your doors, the locks cannot be opened to exit without a key.
Home Security Systems
If you live in a high-crime area, own a valuable collection or have been previously burglarized, here are additional preventative measures to safeguard your home.
- Security systems of all designs, complexity, installation method and cost are available. The easiest installations require no wiring. A battery-operated unit is hung by a strap over the doorknob or by the window, or a pressure-sensitive mat is placed under the rug in front of the door or under a window. Some alarms are merely plugged into an electrical socket. Installations that necessitate wiring should be purchased with your electrical skills in mind. The range includes alarm systems for the average do-it-yourselfer, the skilled do-it-yourselfer and the professional installer.
- The prime function of a home alarm is noise. Usually the burglar leaves the premises as soon as the alarm sounds. The burglar doesn’t know if the alarm will sound for a minute or two or run indefinitely. Some alarms are connected to the police station, although false alarms due to improper use have lessened their credibility.
- For advice on the best alarm for your particular situation, you should consult with a security system firm, hardware store manager, police department or your insurance agent. In general, you should have a burglar alarm system if your house is isolated from view, if your home contains valuable items, if you live in a high-crime area or if you live alone or fear the danger of forced entry and physical attack.
- Costs also vary greatly. Point-of-entry alarm systems (the alarm sounds when the door or window is opened) can be purchased for under $10. Numerous point-of-entry devices are available in the price range of $15 to $60. For $250 and up, you can select a system, wired or wireless, that equips all doors and windows with sensors. Other systems rely on electric eyes, ultrasonic sound waves and radar.
If You Are Robbed or Burglarized
- If there is a burglar in the house and you are at home, leave the house and call the police from a neighbor’s phone. If you cannot leave the house, go to a safe room, lock the door and call the police.
- Do not seek out the burglar – avoid a confrontation if you can. Don’t take an action that could result in injury to you or in legal complications.
- If you come home and think you’re being robbed, don’t go into the house. Go to a neighbor and call the police. Watch the exits of your house to see if anyone leaves, and write down or remember descriptions of the person or persons and car.
- If you have been robbed or burglarized, do not touch or rearrange anything inside the house until the police arrive.
- If you find checks, a passbook or credit cards missing, notify the necessary authorities immediately.
- Collect the complete household inventory you have stored away from the premises; this will aid in reporting your losses to the police and your insurance company.