At ICNE, we hope you never have to experience even the slightest mishap at your home. However, with a rise in natural disasters, weather extremes and even vandalism occurring across New England, we think it’s critical that you are prepared and knowledgeable about how your home insurance will go to work for you in case you are a victim of any of these unpredictable events.
From fire and lightning strikes to windstorms and hail, even the most basic level of home insurance coverage (called an HO-1 in insurance speak) can provide New England homeowners like you with protection for your property and personal possessions against several types of disasters.
However, it’s more common – and from our experience, much smarter – for today’s homeowners to have a broader form of home insurance coverage (called an HO-3) that will provide you with financial protection against a much wider variety of mishaps that can threaten your home, including damage caused by falling objects, frozen pipes, and the weight of ice, snow and sleet.
Below is not only a comprehensive list of the covered perils you will typically find in an HO-3 policy, but also additional coverage details for eight common disasters that seem to weigh most heavily on our clients’ minds. Our goal as your insurance partner is to make sure that you understand how your homeowners policy will provide support in case you have to face any of the following events:
While there’s not much that can console a homeowner who experiences a fire in their home, hopefully some comfort can come from knowing that almost every type of fire is covered under your standard home insurance and that your policy can provide financial support in a variety of ways. In fact, your insurance carrier may be able to help you get through this challenging time, and reduce some of your stress, by giving you an advance payout on your claim to buy basic necessities, like toothpaste, shaving supplies, and clothes for work and reimbursing you for additional living expenses, like restaurants, hotels and even kennel fees for your pet, that you may incur due to being evacuated from your home.
There are two situations in which fire damage will not be covered by your HO-3. If arson is committed by a homeowner, then, for obvious reasons, there will be no insurance payout. In addition, damage caused by fire will not be covered if the home was vacant at the time of the fire. While a vacant home is typically defined by insurance companies as one that is left empty for 30 days or more, this definition can vary among insurance providers, so, if for any reason, you plan to leave your home unoccupied for multiple consecutive days, you’ll want to discuss this with your insurance professional who may recommend adding a vacant home insurance endorsement to your existing home insurance policy.
A direct strike, near miss, or ground surge from lightning can start a fire inside or outside your home, and/or ruin appliances, electronics, and wiring inside your walls. Almost every standard homeowners insurance policy should cover your personal property (everything inside your home) if damaged or destroyed by a lightning strike as well as provide you with additional living expenses if you need to move out while your home is being repaired or rebuilt. In addition, damage caused by lightning strikes to other structures on your property, including a garage or shed, are included in this part of your policy as well.
However, we want to caution you that not all carriers treat lightning damage the same way; some insurers will provide coverage for power surges set off by lightning strike, while others will not. In addition, it’s important to understand that, in case of power surge damage to things like a computer, game console or HDTV, you may not be reimbursed for the full amount you paid due to your deductible and/or to depreciation of your assets. Thus, it’s best to work with your insurance agent to find out the particulars of your coverage for this peril and to possibly consider buying special surge protection coverage.
A standard home insurance policy will almost always cover damage caused by windstorms, hurricanes and hail. This coverage typically allows you to make claims for damage caused to your home and other structures on your property, such as a garage or shed, resulting from any of these kinds of storms. Thus, your homeowners policy should pay for the necessary repairs for most storm-related issues, such as shingles getting blown off your house, a tree falling on your home or across your driveway or a ramp for the disabled, windows getting shattered, or rain entering your home as a result of a storm-related hole in your roof.
However, your home insurance coverage may not be adequate protection against wind and storm damage if your primary residence or vacation home is along the coast, where weather tends to be much more extreme. In addition, if flooding occurs from water entering your home from the ground, rather than through that hole in your roof, then any ensuing damages will not be covered by your homeowners, even if the cause is a hurricane or similar weather event. Thus, we strongly advise you to evaluate your homeowners coverage for this peril with your insurance professional to determine if an additional windstorm rider, wind and hail endorsement, or flood insurance policy might be a good idea.
Even if a fire only affects a small area of your home, the smoke and other byproducts of the fire can ruin virtually everything you own, from furniture and clothes, to upholstery and carpets, to linens and wall hangings. Many of these possessions may need to be discarded – even if they don’t look badly damaged – because they can be hazardous to your health. This is why your typical homeowners insurance policy is designed to replace or repair anything inside your home that is not only damaged by flames, but also by smoke, soot, and ash. It’s also important to know that your insurance policy could also protect you from smoke damage caused by a fire at a neighbor’s house.
In the event of smoke damage to your home, it is crucial to document any item that has been affected and speak with your insurance professional. While most home insurance policies will cover the cost of cleaning up your home, you’ll want to be certain this expense will be covered before you hire professional cleaners or other remediation experts.
Standard homeowners insurance covers most everything you own that can be stolen, regardless of whether these items are stolen from inside your home, from your garage or other structure on your property, or from your hotel room when you’re traveling. In addition, theft coverage applies to not only your stolen possessions, but also any physical damage that a burglar causes, like a kicked-in door, a smashed window, or broken lock. This coverage may also extend to anyone listed on your policy, like a spouse or child. However, you should talk to your insurance agent for more specifics about who exactly your home insurance coverage extends to.
Other important details to understand about this covered peril are:
While the immediate “object” that might come to mind for this peril is a tree or large branch falling on your home, this part of your policy also financially protects you if rare events, like a falling meteor, asteroid or satellite, end up hitting your home and causing damage to the structure, your property, and/or your possessions.
However, we understand that the real question you have is, “Will my home insurance cover damages caused by a fallen tree?” The answer is yes, your home insurance will cover this type of event, whether the tree falls from your yard, from a neighbor’s, or even from property that’s considered public, as long as you have falling object listed as a peril in your insurance policy. This coverage applies to damages caused by a tree falling on the actual structure of your home, on your garage, or across your driveway, and extends to belongings that are ruined as well.
It’s important to note that your insurance carrier will ask what caused the tree to fall in the first place. How you answer this question can impact whether or not your homeowners policy covers any resulting damage or destruction to your home. If it fell from windstorm, hail, snow or lightning, for example, then you can go ahead and file that homeowners claim. However, if the tree fell because of an earthquake or because you were negligent in taking care of a tree that was old, rotting, or even dead, then your home insurance will most likely not pay out.
Water damage is one of the most common reasons for a homeowners claim, and the percentage of claims against this peril continues to rise, so it’s no wonder that you would have questions about the financial protection your home insurance coverage will provide. The good news is that a standard homeowners insurance contains extensive coverage for any accidental or sudden discharge or overflow of water. From burst, faulty or frozen plumbing, to leaky appliances or fixtures, to a mechanical breakdown of your heating, air conditioning or automatic fire-protective sprinkler systems, your homeowners policy should cover any resulting water damage. In addition, water damage that is caused by extinguishing a fire or that is initiated by vandals is typically also covered under this peril.
There are critical details to understand about weather-related water damage scenarios; coverage is void if the rain (or other wet weather) has first touched the ground and subsequently enters your home through seepage or flooding. You’ll need to purchase additional flood insurance to ensure that you are covered for water damage in this scenario. In addition, if the water damage is due to a lack of maintenance on your part and/or is the result of a long-standing problem that’s gone undetected by you, then you may find that your claim is denied by your insurer. Claims that are difficult to get paid include when water has seeped into your house due to a cracked foundation, deteriorating roof, crumbling rain gutters, or as a result of mold, rot, or corrosion.
It is your insurance professional who will be able to review the exact details of your policy and let you know what water damage they think will or will not be covered by your specific insurance carrier.
Living in New England, this peril coverage is an absolute must as it specifically provides financial protection against damage caused to property by winter weather. More specifically, and as the name of the peril indicates, this coverage is in place in case your roof collapses due to the weight of ice, snow or sleet. In the event that the weight of ice or snow causes your roof to sag, but not collapse, or forces your gutters to pull away from your roof, structural repairs should be covered by your home insurance as well as replacement for any personal possessions that are ruined as a result.
Even if your roof survives the winter mainly intact, you could still get a backup of melting snow, otherwise known by homeowners as the dreaded ice dam. This peril often causes water to back up under your shingles and/or to flow under your eaves from ice-clogged gutters, resulting in water stained walls, damaged ceilings, mold, and many more unpleasant things. Repairs for all of these issues, as well as to any household belongings that are damaged, should be covered under the weight of ice, snow, or sleet peril in your homeowners policy.
However, as is true for several of the other perils listed in your home insurance coverage, in order to have your claim processed smoothly, you may have to demonstrate to your insurer that you took every step you could to try to prevent the situation, including arranging for snow and ice removal from your roof and installing mitigation systems, before they will pay out your claim. It’s also important to know that this coverage does not extend to losses to awnings, fences, patios, pavements, swimming pools, foundations, retaining walls, and docks, and that it may not cover you if your home’s roofing or shingles were not installed properly from the beginning.
While the above list of covered perils probably sounds pretty comprehensive to you, it’s good to understand the additional named perils that are typically found in an HO-3 policy, just in case. They are:
At ICNE, we are glad to provide you with this list of what’s generally covered under a standard homeowners insurance policy; however, please be aware that coverage details often vary between carriers, and policy to policy. So, whether you’re our current client or a homeowner who just wants additional peace of mind, we recommend contacting an ICNE professional to walk you through exactly what your specific home insurance policy lists as covered perils, and, as important, what it does not.