How can I avoid home insurance claims?
Home insurance claims aren’t as rare as you might think. According to the Insurance Information Institute, one out of every 15 homeowners submits a claim every year. No one wants to file a claim, because it means you’ve suffered a loss and will likely pay a higher premium in the future because of it. So the best way to avoid claims is to protect your home from the most common home insurance losses: wind and hail (33.1% of total losses), water damage and freezing (29.5%), fire and lightning (26.8%), bodily injury and property damage to others (2.7%), and theft (1.9%).
Wind and hail
When a homeowner submits a claim for exterior structural damage, the culprit is often wind or hail. Homes in the Northeast, Southeast, and Gulf Coast are particularly at risk thanks to hurricanes blowing in from the Atlantic, and people living in Tornado Alley face similar risk. You can’t completely wind-proof your home, but you can take a few steps to decrease your odds of major damage, like clearing your property of dead trees and branches, storing patio furniture and other exterior items that might be blown into your house, locking and reinforcing your doors and windows, and keeping your roof in good shape. However, if you live in a high-risk area, ask your agent for exactly what your home insurance policy covers — you might need to purchase add-on coverage to protect yourself from a common local disaster type.
Water damage and freezing
There are two types of water damage: weather-related and non-weather-related. Weather-related water damage is typically a result of heavy rain or snow. To minimize your risk, make sure your gutters and downspouts stay clear, remove excessive snow from your roof (carefully), and avoid buying a home at the bottom of a hill, where rainwater will drain.
Non-weather-related water damage usually happens when something in your house leaks or bursts. Make sure to follow the maintenance instructions for all of your appliances like washing machines, dishwashers, and water heaters (washer hoses are particularly likely to wear out over time). The same goes for your plumbing: Consider adding insulation to any pipes running through unheated parts of your house, run a cold drip through faucets when temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, leave your heat on at night, set your thermostat to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re out of town, and open your cabinets on frigid nights to help the heat circulate around your pipes.
One thing to note on water-related damage: The vast majority of home insurance policies do not cover floods. If you live in a flood-prone area, ask your insurance provider about adding flood insurance to your policy, or visit floodsmart.gov.
Fire and lightning
Fire damage may not be the most common home insurance claim, but it is the most expensive — between 2012 and 2016, the average fire and lightning claim was a staggering $50,315. To decrease your fire risk, install smoke detectors and check them twice a year when you change your clocks, and never leave burning candles unattended. You should also keep your stove, toaster oven, and microwave clear of clutter, water plants regularly, clean your chimney at least once a year, and always dispose of ashes outdoors. To avoid electrical fires, never use frayed or exposed wires, don’t overload power outlets, and get your electrical wiring inspected for flaws, especially if you live in an older home.
Bodily injury and property damage to others
This one’s a little more complicated, because it’s not about damages to your home, but about covering your liability for someone who is injured on your property — including your sidewalk — or if your property causes damage to a neighbor’s. Slips and falls are the most common culprit here, so make sure your sidewalk, driveway, porches, patios, and stairwells are free of tripping hazards, rotting wood, and exposed nails. Make sure everyone plays safely around your pool and trampoline. Finally, keep dogs leashed whenever they’re outside and make sure your insurance provider covers your dog’s breed.
Theft and burglary
Even though theft represents only 1.9% of the home insurance claims made in 2016, it still affects one out of every 250 homes, with an average claim of $4,146. To make your home more burglary-resistant, keep your doors, windows, and garages locked at all times, make sure your property is well-lit at night, and consider investing in one of our picks for the best home security system.
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- Don’t forget about home warranties to cover the systems and appliances in your home.