“Welcome to our home – or what’s left of it,” says Mrs. Griswold wearily, as SWAT invades and destroys what’s left of her sizable single-family home.
It’s the stuff of holiday nightmares, played out for laughs and giggles over eggnog and pumpkin pie each holiday season. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a story of the ages, illustrating the very worst that can happen when the extended family invades the home for the holiday celebration.
However, when it comes to real life, common holiday hazards have very real repercussions. The American Red Cross reports that almost 47,000 fires occur during the holidays, costing approximately $554 million in property damage. The human toll is steep, too, with about 2,200 injuries and more than 500 deaths each year.
As we settle in with our bowls of popcorn and mugs of hot cocoa, one can’t help but wonder if somehow these Hollywood holiday mishaps could spring to life. Should there be a wild dog chase through the dining room or an oil-slicked Christmas tree set ablaze, are you protected under regular home insurance?
We break down the popular Hollywood holiday catastrophes and examine whether they can really happen to your family in your home.
Typical Home Insurance Coverage
First, it’s important to understand what the average homeowners insurance policy includes in its coverage.
Your typical home insurance plan includes five basic parts.
Dwelling coverage: This is the standard part of home insurance coverage that we normally envision when we talk about home insurance. This includes protection for your home and any attached structures, like your garage or carport. Dwelling protection covers a wide variety of damages incurred by events such as fire, lightning, explosions, sleet, snow, theft or vandalism.
Personal property: While dwelling coverage protects the structure of your home, personal property coverage is what protects your belongings inside the home. This includes things like your clothing, electronics, furniture and appliances.
Personal liability: There may be accidents that are the fault of the homeowner and occur when guests are present. In this case, it’s critical that you have personal liability coverage to pay for bodily injuries or property damage to visiting guests. This includes any accidents incurred by children and pets.
Medical payments: If someone is hurt on your property, medical payments coverage will take care of the guest’s immediate medical expenses. This coverage applies regardless of fault.
Additional living expenses: There are some incidents that are so big, they require extra time to fix. In this case, additional living expenses coverage will pay for you to temporarily stay at another location while your home is repaired.
There are additional kinds of homeowners insurance coverage that you can purchase to cover more unique needs, but this makes up the bones of a standard homeowners insurance policy.
Lessons From Hollywood Holiday Mishaps
For many of us, MacCauley Culkin will forever be that mischievous, tousled-hair boy-genius that taught us a new level of holiday mischief and antics. Released in 1990, Home Alone was a kid’s dream adventure and a parent’s worst nightmare.
“In Home Alone, Kevin McAllister successfully wards off the Wet Bandits by setting up elaborate booby traps throughout the house. Although we hailed the hijinks of our young hero, there’s no denying that he caused considerable damage to the McAllister Estate,” says Kristen Bolig, a home security expert and founder of SecurityNerd.
In the beloved holiday original, we see McAllister rig a blowtorch booby trap and employ swinging paint cans on the main stairs with tar for the basement stairs.
So, what would the price tag be on such damage?
“Hardcore fans estimate that his contraptions caused over $11,000 in damage to his family home,” says Bolig, before wryly adding, “Try explaining blow torch burn marks to your insurance company.”
Bumbling burglars Harry and Marv also rob the neighbors, flooding their home in what experts say would have cost just under $2,900 in damages.
As a home insurance expert with ExpertInsuranceReviews.com, Melanie Musson considers the kind of homeowners policy that the McAllisters would have carried to protect such a grand home.
“The parents in Home Alone would not have had trouble setting up a home insurance policy before the holidays. Their house was in pristine condition in a good neighborhood with little risk,” she explains. “Even after the house-destroying (and protecting) antics of Kevin and the intruders, Kevin manages to clean the place up to like-new condition, indicating there was no major damage. The family would not have needed to file a claim, and home insurance rates would have remained stable, except for the neighborhood issue.”
She addresses the other neighborhood damages. “Because of the flood damage caused by the ‘water bandits,’ several homeowners in the neighborhood would have made insurance claims. As a result, the neighborhood may have been viewed as a higher risk to insurance companies, so Kevin’s parents may have faced higher rates.”
It’s a Wonderful Life
This holiday film leaves the holiday mischief to Kevin while instead dishing up a heartwarming tale of love, support and community.
The whole film centers around protagonist George Bailey’s struggle to save his business. In his negotiations with town magnate Mr. Potter, Bailey offers a $15,000 life insurance policy as collateral. In modern times, Mass Mutual says this would be the equivalent of nearly $200,000 today.
Ultimately, Bailey is rescued by that same life insurance policy, using the cash value accumulation to save his company, family and town.
Musson adds a note about homeowners insurance, too. “When Mary moved into their romantic honeymoon home and surprised George in It’s a Wonderful Life, she was definitely not considering insurance,” says Musson. “If she had, she likely wouldn’t have been able to find any insurance company willing to offer her a policy. The roof leaked, the windows were broken out, and the place looked liable to collapse. With risk that high, insurance companies would run the other way.”
A Christmas Story
“You’ll shoot your eye out,” Ralphie’s mom warned, but a dream was born, anyway.
There is an official report dedicated exclusively to the incidents and accidents that ensued in A Christmas Story entitled Ralphie’s Risk Management Story: An Insurance Perspective on the Holiday Classic, “A Christmas Story.”
While most of the report centers around events that did not affect the homeowners insurance policy, such as the schoolyard double-dog dare or the special holiday delivery of the infamous pink bunny suit.
The priceless leg lamp, if really of that caliber, would likely be a policy for Lloyd’s, with what the National Law Review estimates would require about $1 million in coverage and a premium of $5,000.
And as far as that Red Ryder BB gun? The misfire would fall under general liability coverage for the manufacturer, with each occurrence carrying $1 million in coverage with an estimated $45,000 premium.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Griswold estate had Hollywood’s worst holiday season.
Several things went wrong over the holidays at the Griswold household – so many that it’s hard to know where to start, so we made a list.
- The Christmas light reveal goes horribly wrong for many reasons (and is a raging fire hazard), but the lights also stun the next-door neighbors, ruining their would-be romantic moment and sending them blindly tumbling into furniture.
- Uncle Lewis’ cigar set the very dry tree on fire, while the cat was electrocuted by chewing on tree lights.
- Clark Griswold cuts down a new tree, but when it falls, it crashes through the neighbor’s window, breaking their window and stereo.
- Once inside, it’s discovered the tree has a surprise tenant. When the squirrel emerges, it ends in a dog chase of epic proportions, as the two break through doors and ruin the home.
- After Eddie kidnaps Clark’s boss, SWAT descends upon the Griswold household, bursting through windows and doors.
Aunt Bethany also adds cat hair to her jello mold, the turkey is roasted into leather, and Clark Griswold manages to stick the family car under a tractor-trailer.
There are so many things that go wrong that it is the perfect illustration of what not to do for your holiday celebration. And while much of this would, in fact, be covered by home insurance, most of these damages could have been avoided with these simple tips.
Tips To Avoid Holiday Mishaps
As you can see, there’s a lot that can go wrong when you combine a large group of people and the stress of the holidays.
These are some of the best tips you can use this holiday season to help avoid mishaps and accidents.
Water your tree: The National Fire Protection Association reports that there are 230 fires each year that start from Christmas trees alone. Be sure to set up your tree away from ignition sources, such as your fireplace or heater, and water your tree every day to keep it fresh.
Check for lit candles: Candles can provide the perfect aromatic ambiance for your holiday celebration but they are also one of the main fire hazards each holiday season. Be sure to keep candles high enough that children and pets cannot reach them, and establish the habit of blowing them out when you leave the room so you don’t forget them burning and risk a fire.
Double-check your lights: Outdoor lights should only be used outdoors, and indoor lights used inside. Be sure to examine lights for any frayed ends or exposed wires, and throw out any lights that appear broken or cracked or have a loose connection. Turning your lights out when you go to bed can also help prevent accidental fires.
We recommend decorations that are flame-resistant or flame-retardant and placed away from fire and heat sources. Clips can also be an easier way to hang lights, so you don’t risk damage from nails.
Don’t leave the stove: Grease fires are one of the main causes of home fires, and that risk always heightens during the holidays when cooking large meals. Be sure to remain closeby when frying, grilling or broiling your food, so there is no chance of an accident.
Prepare the family: Before your guests arrive, take the time to check each smoke alarm to ensure it is working correctly. It’s also important to sit down with the family and guests to discuss an emergency plan in case the unthinkable happens. It could save precious seconds in getting your family to safety if there is an emergency.
Do I Need Special Insurance for the Holidays?
For most homeowners, the standard insurance policy covers many holiday hazards.
“Your regular home insurance should be sufficient for holiday gatherings. It covers cooking fire damage, holiday decoration risks, and even your friend’s child’s broken arm from their superhero jump off your couch,” explains Musson.
Hollywood does add some extra considerations for the average homeowner. For example, Eddie’s ensuing sewer backup is not traditionally covered by home insurance but requires additional coverage if you want protection from sewer backup.
“If you want to be on the safe side, consider an umbrella policy in addition to your home policy,” advises Musson. “It will give you extra liability protection for holiday guests as well as coverage to supplement your auto insurance.”
On the other hand, there are some protections available today that weren’t around in many old holiday favorites, such as Home Alone. “If the story was set in the present day, the McAllister’s could easily avoid these costs by installing security cameras in their home,” Bolig points out. “Today’s security cameras would capture all of the hijinks and help the McAllister’s seek an accurate insurance claim. Of course, things might get a little awkward when the footage shows an eight-year-old sadistically torturing grown adults, but that’s neither here nor there.”
“Plus,” she adds, “they could get up to 20% off their monthly premium simply for having security cameras set up in their house.”
The Bottom Line
There’s no denying that the holidays are a time of company, good cheer and even a little chaos. Fortunately, your homeowners insurance policy is likely to cover most of the damages that your festivities may create, as long as you take a lesson from Hollywood legends, such as Kevin McAllister and the entire Griswold clan.
Featured image ArtBoyMB / Getty Images.