As we enter the “flooding season,” no home is completely safe from the potential of flooding. Just one inch of water in a home can cost more than $25,000 in damage. but flood insurance can be the difference between recovery and financial devastation. Did you know that floods are the most common and costly natural disaster in the United States? Despite this information, standard homeowners and insurance policies specifically don’t cover flooding. Generally, a homeowners policy will cover water damage if the water comes from above, like rain. What does that mean if you have water damage from the ground up? Flood insurance is what you’ll need if that’s the case. When Hurricane Florence hit in 2018, the storm left widespread flooding and destruction across the Carolinas. This was a reminder to all homeowners of the importance of having separate insurance coverage for flood damage.
Flood Risk Factors
Most floods occur due to a heavy amount of rain or snow melting that cannot be absorbed into the ground. While we recognize that these are the typical and primary sources of flooding, the heavy rain and melted snow can result in an overflow of lakes, rivers and small streams which could easily flood nearby areas. There isn’t a minimum or threshold of rainfall or melted snow that must occur to cause flooding. The conditions of flooding are dependent on a variety of circumstances, from lack of vegetation to slow the flooding to a dam failing. The risk of a dam failure resulting in a flood is highly likely. There are more than 84,000 dams in the U.S. More than one-third of the dams in existence are at least 50 years old and 14,000 of these dams are considered a high hazard to life and property if they were to fail — that’s 50 percent!
That risk is not considered or shown on the flood maps of FEMA. Your home may not appear in a flood zone that has been mapped out by FEMA, but if your home is located downstream of a dam — depending on what the dam is holding — it could be at serious risk. As an example, the Hoover Dam in Nevada holds back 10 trillion gallons of water. That’s enough water to flood the entire state of Connecticut to a depth of ten feet! Another potential risk is construction areas and new developments since these can change the natural drainage of water and potentially cause flooding to occur.
When Do You Need Flood Insurance?
The answer to this question truly depends on the risk of a flood occurring in your location and whether the government or mortgage lender requires it. Typically, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) determines if your residence is at risk of flooding. FEMA updates the nation’s Flood Insurance Risk Maps (FIRMs) and separates them into viewable panels online. You can check FEMA’s Flood Insurance Rate Map to see what flood zone area your house sits on. FEMA categorizes flood risks into three different levels: highest risk: Special Flood Hazard Areas (SFHAs), moderate-to-low risk, and areas with undetermined risk.
There is a chance, especially if you live in a flood-prone area, that you will also need excess flood insurance. Speak to your agent about your home’s risk to determine if surplus coverage is needed to fully protect it.
Backyard fun may come at a cost, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid splurge purchases like trampolines and treehouses altogether. Ultimately, it’s a family decision, partly based on feedback from your pediatrician on risk vs. benefit, and partly based on whether your spirit for adventure outweighs your concern for a potential accident. It’s also a decision that could impact you financially, should your children or a guest get hurt on your property.
First, know that when you own a trampoline, it’s impossible for you to file a homeowner’s insurance claim for an injury if it’s an injury sustained by someone who lives in your household. This would become a medical insurance claim instead, and if medical insurance coverage is denied, you’ll be paying out of pocket. Anyone else who is injured on your property would be covered by your homeowner’s insurance–but only if your policy covers trampolines. It’s possible that your policy will only cover injuries if your trampoline has a safety net, is built over a sand pit or wood chips, isn’t being used while wet, isn’t being used by more than one child at a time, etc. You’ll need to know the details of your coverage before you and your children begin to bounce. In some cases, homeowners insurance explicitly denies coverage to any “loss, damage, cost, claim expense, bodily injury, property damage or medical payments” related to trampolines. This is why it’s important to consult your insurance company before any purchase of a trampoline. If it’s considered enough of a risk, your insurance company could cancel your coverage or refuse to renew, and you’ll need to decide if a change in insurance altogether is worth the trouble. Changing insurance companies would mean a new inspection on your home, so if you’ve got some lingering repairs or potential red-flags that would show up on an inspection, it may be more costly than you expect.
About 2,800 children per year are injured playing in a treehouse, and most of those injuries fractures, cuts, and bruises that happen when a child either falls or jumps willingly from the treehouse. Similar to trampolines, you’ll have to start with a health insurance claim if someone who lives in your home experiences a fall. If it’s a guest, you’re on the hook for liability. If you want to insure your treehouse in the same way you would insure a gazebo, for example, because it’s an added asset to your home, you’ll need to contact your insurance agent and ask for coverage as an “accessory structure” and be ready to report its full value (or replacement cost). Similarly to acquiring a trampoline, however, you need to speak to your insurance agent about your policy before adding a treehouse to your yard to find out whether the addition will raise your premiums and make sure your policy doesn’t prohibit it explicitly. If not prohibited, make sure your treehouse is named specifically on your policy in order for accidents to be covered. When preparing to communicate with your insurance agent, know that being able to communicate effectively that your treehouse will be built safely will help. For example, you should select a tree that doesn’t need to be pruned, that hasn’t dried out and become fragile. The lower to the ground your plan, the better. Anything over 10 feet in the air is likely to be considered too dangerous. You also may want to research how to use an artificial limb system under the treehouse for basic support. A fence around your yard to keep out uninvited children is also in your best interest.
In insurance-speak, trampolines and treehouses are called an “attractive nuisance” because they are completely attractive to children and yet undesirable to many due to the risk of serious injury. Having either in your backyard is something that must never be hidden from an insurance company. In fact, it must be specifically disclosed, as omission of the information is just as problematic as an out-right lie. The reason is this: should you lose your home to a fire or sustain another type of damage that needs to be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, then your insurer realizes you were dishonest about an “attractive nuisance” in the backyard, the insurer has grounds for denying any claim. The insurer simply has to state that they would have denied you coverage completely had you disclosed your backyard purchase, which means any claim you are trying to file would have never been covered to begin with.
It’s a daunting moment when you look up to find a puddle in a light fixture or a growing water stain on a ceiling. Here’s what to do to minimize the damage and get help for a repair.
- Clear and protect the area beneath the stain. Move furniture and valuables, then lay down a tarp and a bucket that will catch any water as you triage the situation. This will hopefully protect your floors and belongings in case the leak worsens and pushes completely through the ceiling.
- Stop the water from traveling horizontally. This often means cutting a hole in your ceiling before professionals arrive. The problem with ceiling stains is that it’s difficult to tell where the water is actually coming from. A crack in the base of a fiberglass bathtub upstairs, for example, may not provide evidence in the ceiling immediately below the tub. Water will cling and travel along pipes and beams before absorbing into the ceiling below. You need to do everything in your power to stop the water stains from spreading, which will increase the damage and risk of mold. Poking a circular hole in the center of the water stain will hopefully expose the leak so it drips into a bucket rather than absorbing into sheetrock.
- Halt the flow of water. If water is moving fast, shut off your main valve and turn on a faucet in the lowest room in the house. This will get the excess water sitting in the pipes out before it has a chance to hit the leak.
- Call your insurance agent. In any event of damage to your home, you want your insurance agent involved immediately. He or she can recommend next-steps to protect your belongings and recommend professionals to call for help. Provided your problem wasn’t caused by a lack of maintenance (such as ignoring previous need for repairs), you should receive support from your homeowner’s insurance policy. Also, note that homeowner’s insurance will cover damage but not necessarily replace the item broke and caused the damage. So if your dishwasher goes bad and ruins the subfloor beneath the kitchen tile, you’d likely receive assistance with the flooring but not money for a new dishwasher.
- Dry out the damage. Moisture is the root cause of mildew and mold. Ask your insurance agent about his or her recommendations for whether it’s worth using a fan on the damp plaster or if perhaps you’d be safer long-term to cut out and replace the section of ceiling affected by the leak.
After initially getting the situation under control, if your main valve is still on and you aren’t sure whether the water is dripping from a pipe, the roof, or another water source, note that there is a simple trick for determining if plumbing is indeed the culprit. First, make a note of the number on your water meter. Next, turn off all faucets and appliances that use water. If you’ve got an issue with indoor plumbing, like a crack in a pipe or issues with caulking, within about three hours you will have found that number has increased.
Research suggests revenue from short-term vacation rentals will surpass the hotel industry in 2020. In fact, Airbnb reports that on any given night, there are 2 million people staying at one of its properties. If you’re looking to make extra income listing your space with a hosting platform, keep in mind the following tips for preparing well:
A: Adjust Your Security Measures
If you’re not up for transporting items off property every time you have a renter, select a small bedroom to use for storage. When you’re stepping out so guests can step in, utilize this room–with door hardware that includes a lock and key–to keep pricey and personal items out of sight and out of mind. This may be where you relocate your computer, your laundry, photographs of family (should they want to remain anonymous), and important personal and business paperwork while renters are in your home. Also, consider investing in a Wi-Fi enabled doorbell camera, which will make short recordings of the space immediately outside your door as guests come and go from your property. If you’re willing, you can give your tenants access to the doorbell monitoring via their own smartphones. The added security feature will make your guests feel more secure.
B: Be Hospitable
Walt Disney once said, “Do what you do so well that they want to see it again and bring their friends.” Set a tone that will welcome repeat visitors by keeping a binder in the living room with access codes, phone numbers, and restaurant recommendations. You can also include a friendly greeting from you as the property owner, directions to the nearest emergency room, your Wi-Fi password, and perhaps instructions on what to do with the trash before they head back home. Also, be flexible about what you leave in the pantry and fridge. Guests may not realize your Cheese-Itz and Lemon La Croix were not for their consumption. Instead of worrying about whether your snacks get touched while you’re away, consider buying bottled waters and treats you encourage your guests to enjoy while they’re on site.
C: Consider Whether You Are Properly Insured
It is unlikely your homeowner’s insurance offers you the protection you need when renting out your space on a short-term basis. Here’s why. In a perfect world, your homeowner’s insurance would step in and pay for your legal defense and settlement costs should an accident happen while a renter is in your home. And you may even find that your homeowner’s insurance allows for a one-night-a-year rental for a special event, like should you want to capitalize on your city hosting a major sporting event. However, if you’re renting your property regularly, it may seem to your insurer that you are operating a small business, which excludes you from the coverage you think you have. Landlord insurance may prove equally unhelpful, as that typically applies to long-term rentals alone. Your best coverage options for regularly renting out your home to short-term guests are threefold: You can contact your insurer about your plans and see if your current policy is enough. You can ask about an endorsement to add coverage to your existing policy. Or, you can purchase a business policy such as a bed and breakfast policy.
In addition to understanding your own insurance, look into what claims the hosting platform will cover. Some companies, like Homeaway and Airbnb, will provide you with $1 million coverage in liability insurance. But be sure to read the fine print. Some of these offerings are primary coverage, and some are not, meaning any other liability policy you already hold will also participate should a claim be filed against you. The policies may be intended for injuries a guest incurs while at your home or may also include compensation for damage a guest does to your personal property. Read your contract with the hosting platform carefully to make sure you understand what is included in the basic fee and what perhaps would come at an additional cost.
Homeowner’s insurance is directly linked to the value of your home, and the only way to be confident you have the coverage you need is to be transparent about improvements you’ve made to your property over time. Here’s what to consider before, during, and after a home renovation so you’re covered for during construction and the improvements are protected when you’re done.
Be clear about which renovations will raise or lower your insurance rates.
Financial preparation includes not just acknowledging the cost of materials and labor but also acknowledging the fluctuation of your insurance policies to come. An addition, for example, will add square footage and value, which means your home will be more expensive to rebuild, so your premiums will rise. If you’re renovating your garage into a den and kicking your car to the curb, keep in mind the cost of your car insurance may jump a bit since it’s simply riskier to park on the street. In contrast, replacing an outdated HVAC system lowers the risk of an electrical problem, and lower risk typically means lower rates. The same goes for adding a fence around a swimming pool or backyard.
Before you finalize renovation plans, watch for ways to achieve discounts.
You may qualify for lower premiums if you add a sprinkler system, update your plumbing or electrical system, add storm shutters, or even simply install stronger doors than you had before. New safety features will lessen your odds of filing a claim in the future, and many insurance plans will acknowledge that with reduced rates.
Don’t DIY if you’re not qualified to do the work safely.
Besides the potential to be disappointed in your own craftsmanship, the real risk is potential injury. If friends and family will be on site to help with the project, consider increasing your home insurance’s no-fault medical protection. This will allow an injured assistant to send doctor’s bills straight to your insurance company, which ultimately lowers your chance of a lawsuit.
Plan for mid-project problems.
Insurance Journal reported in 2014 that approximately one out of every three house fires can be traced back to contracting professionals working on site. Heat guns used for paint stripping or electrical sockets overwhelmed by power tools can mean disaster. Construction risk can also expand to plumbing pipes cracking under the stress of vibrations being caused by construction. You will want to discuss these potential scenarios with your insurance agent before renovations begin–and then again mid-project as plans evolve–to make sure you understand which party would be liable for each scenario and whether you and your contractor are insured properly to avoid a major financial strain.
Ask your insurance agent about weather and theft.
Large renovations are sometimes stalled by acts of nature, sometimes stalled by disappearing acts. If your project is big enough that parts of your home will be covered by a tarp or exposed to the elements, consider a “course of construction policy,” also known as a builder’s risk policy. This will offer protection if you find your home seriously damaged during construction and extends as far as vandalism and theft of construction materials you purchased yourself (think carpet, hardwood, or tile).
Be careful about gaps in coverage if you’ll be temporarily moving out.
According to the International Risk Management Institute, homeowner’s policies are really written for homes being occupied by the homeowner. If your renovation is so extensive that you’ll be leaving the premises–or if your construction will cost 10 percent or more of your home’s total replacement value–read your insurance contract carefully. These benchmarks label your project as a “major renovation,” which may limit your coverage or require you to notify the insurance company before construction begins. If you don’t follow the policy’s requirements specifically, you may find that damage during renovations is only covered at replacement cost less depreciation, rather than replacement cost alone. Your best choices in a major renovation may be to add a renovation policy to your existing coverage or add a builder’s risk policy.
Celebrate the added value to your home.
Once you’ve planned well, relax and enjoy the process. Ultimately, you’re adding beauty, functionality, and value. As you take photos to share with family and friends, made copies for your insurance files, as it is likely that you will also need to update your catalog of valuable items inside your home as well, especially if you purchased furniture or art.
Our homes protect us from the most severe winter weather, but our homes are not always protected from the same elements. Snow, ice, and even simply freezing temperatures can have drastic effects on our homes and the parts that make them work. As the temperatures drop, risk rises. Here’s how to minimize those risks.
Leave the heat on at least 65 degrees when you leave
This is less about the temperature in your rooms than it is about the temperature inside your walls. It gets colder inside your walls than it does on the thermostat, and this can be dangerous because your pipes are inside your walls. If it gets too cold in there, your pipes could freeze and burst. A burst pipe can cause anything from light water damage to damage that forces you to vacate your home. In most cases, water damage from burst pipes will be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. However, if your insurance carrier finds that the damage was caused by negligence on your part (such as keeping your heat at too low a temperature or leaving it off entirely when the house is vacant), you may be denied coverage. In these cases, the damage could have been reasonably prevented. This is why it’s best to keep your heat on at least 65 degrees.
Monitor any alternative heat sources you use
Some homeowners like to utilize alternative or auxiliary sources of heat such as a space heater or fireplace. If you haven’t used your fireplace or space heater since last winter, make sure it’s still in good shape before turning it on. Read up on space heater safety before use, then keep a close eye on it during the first few uses. Keep combustible materials away from fireplaces and space heaters, and never cover a space heater in any way. Fires can start in an instant and cause extensive damage in just minutes.
Remain aware of common risk areas outdoors
Outside in the elements, there are several common risks that homeowners face. First, there are risks to those that visit your home. Icy driveways and sidewalks can easily cause a visitor to slip and fall. If you know it may snow, take the time to treat your outdoor surfaces to prevent the buildup of slippery snow and ice. Keep an eye on your trees to check for dead or damaged branches that may fall on people, vehicles, or structures. You should also have your gutters cleaned routinely, especially if you notice a buildup of icy leaves and debris.
It is not only cold in winter but also full of risk. You don’t have to live in fear of disaster, but there are steps you can take to help prevent having to make any insurance claims. Reach out to your agent if you want more advice on how to reduce risks at home.
Halloween is a special day of the year that many people young and old get excited about. However, Halloween poses more dangers than scary masks and fake blood, so you need to stay safe and protect what you care about. Here are some useful tips for staying safe, having fun, and avoiding insurance claims!
Safety When Driving on Halloween Night
It’s a given that you need to be more vigilant and pay attention to your surroundings when driving at night. Threats ahead are more difficult to see, and incidents like wildlife running into the road can happen suddenly. But on Halloween, there is more than just wild animals walking along the roads. First, depending on where you are driving there may be trick-or-treaters out for a stroll. There could also be teenagers getting up to no good, playing pranks or hanging out in wooded areas. Even if you are driving on an empty road or in a place with no houses around, remain on alert.
Young adults and adults celebrate Halloween, too, and drunk drivers are another threat to look out for when you are driving on Halloween night. Scan the road for anyone who is driving erratically, and do not be afraid to place a call to a non-emergency phone line.
You do not want a night that’s supposed to be full of spooky fun to turn into a real life nightmare, where you have to make an unfortunate auto claim. However, in the event of an accident, remember your agent is only a call away. Calling your insurance agent is one of the first things you want to do after an accident occurs.
If you’ll be spending Halloween with your children, there are some important safety precautions you can take to ensure you have a fun yet enjoyable holiday. If your children will be trick-or-treating in yours or a friend’s neighborhood, make sure you and/or another adult are present at all times. Gone are the days that kids can just be turned loose to get candy from strangers’ homes. Even if your children are older, it’s still risky to let them walk alone – especially on Halloween when predators may be more likely to be out.
If you wish to be extra precautious, you can have your children’s candy scanned at your local police department – to make sure there are no harmful objects or substances inside the pieces. Even if you don’t go this far, still glance over your child’s bag of candy before letting them begin eating. If you see any candy wrappers that look damaged or otherwise off in any way, it’s safest to simply throw the candy away.
If you’ll be passing out candy from your home, make sure all walkways and steps are clean and well-lit. Children may get excited when there’s a bowl of candy ahead, and it’s possible they could trip and fall and get hurt if the path to your door is dark or has debris. Avoid a potential insurance claim by ensuring your home is safe for little monsters and witches to visit.
Staying in on Halloween
If you are spending Halloween at home and do not have any children around, there are still some safety precautions you can take. If you have pets, keep them inside for their safety. There may be strangers who want to harm them in the name of Halloween, but they could also just get frightened by the commotion and run off. You also need to protect your home and possessions. Make sure your garage is securely shut, or if you leave your vehicle outside, that its doors are locked and any enticing electronics or other personal items are taken inside the house. Double check that your home’s doors are locked, even if you plan to stay in all evening. Thieves and vandals often take advantage of the Halloween commotion to perform their nefarious deeds. If something happens, you have insurance in place to protect you, but you certainly don’t want to have to use it, so take proper precautions on the 31st.
No matter what you’re doing this Halloween, you can stay safe and avoid having to make a claim. But if you need us, our agency is only a phone call or email away!
It has long been said that dogs are humankind’s best friend. If you have a canine companion you love, chances are they are an integral part of your family life. They snuggle with you (or on the dog bed) at movie nights, attend your barbeques and parties, and run to greet the delivery worker. But for some dog owners, living with their furry friend can cause home insurance rates to rise. It all depends on what breed of dog you own. That is why the assistance of an independent insurance agent is invaluable. They can shop the market to find you the lowest rates that will cover the “risks” that the insurance companies believe your dog’s breed pose.
Here are the most common breeds:
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Bull Mastiffs
- Chow Chows
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- Pit Bulls and Staffordshire Terriers
- Presa Canarios
- Siberian Husky
- Wolf Hybrids
First Thing’s First
Do not conceal your dog’s breed from your insurance agent. This may be tempting since, as we will soon discuss, owning a “high-risk breed” dog will probably increase your home insurance rates. You may believe that your dog is the most angelic creature in the world, but dogs are animals and we can never know what may frighten or intimidate them into aggressive action. If there is an incident where your dog harms either your property or a visitor, you will wish you’d been paying those higher premiums all along. The average claim payout for dog bites, one of the most costly claims, is a whopping $30,000. If your insurance carrier denies you coverage because you lied or concealed information from them, you could find yourself responsible for that hefty check. Yikes.
What Will Happen?
When you own a dog that is considered a more “high-risk” or traditionally “aggressive breed,” it can be difficult to even find an insurance carrier that will cover your dog under your policy. Once you do, with the assistance of your independent agent, you will likely be required to increase your liability coverage limits. The amount can vary – it is best to rely on your agent’s expertise for this. Remember how we mentioned the average payout for a dog bite is 30K? You want to make sure you have adequate coverage or else some of that money could have to come out of your own pocket.
It’s possible your insurance carrier may want you to purchase a separate umbrella policy instead of simply increasing your liability limits. An umbrella policy can be useful, not just in the case of pet damage or attacks, but also for any incident that happens on your own property.
Take Preventative Measures
In order to reduce the risk of your dog biting someone or otherwise causing injury, there are some steps you can take. Do not engage your dog in aggressive play, put your dog in its kennel or room in situations where it seems stressed, and be sure to work on socializing and training your dog when you first adopt it. Maintain a securely fenced yard if your dog spends significant time outside, and always supervise your dog when it plays with visitors – especially children who may not yet know how to treat an animal gently.
Your beloved dog’s breed does not have to stop you from being properly insured. Independent agents can shop the insurance market for you in order to find you a homeowner’s policy that provides adequate coverage and allows for your “high-risk” breed dog.
With colleges starting back up, maybe you have a child returning to school or leaving for the first time. You’ve got the twin XL sheets, the posters and the textbooks. Did you know that you also might need insurance for your college student?
If you already have auto insurance for your child’s car (and you should!), don’t cancel it if they are not taking their vehicle to college with them. There is a chance your auto insurance premiums could actually drop significantly if your child moves more than 100 miles from home. Most importantly, your child will still be covered when they return home and drive their vehicle. If they do take their vehicle off to college, thankfully they should still be covered under your policy. However your premiums may change depending on where your child is living during college – especially if they go out of state.
The good news is that if your child will be living in on-campus dorms or other university sponsored housing, their possessions should remain covered under your homeowners insurance. It’s important to note that the coverage limits may be different, so be sure to thoroughly discuss everything with your insurance agent before your child leaves.
If your child will be living off-campus, their possessions will no longer be covered under your homeowners policy, and you will need to purchase a separate renters insurance policy to cover their items. A renters policy can protect your child’s expensive electronics such as a laptop or TV as well as other high value items like musical equipment or instruments. Like your homeowners insurance, your child’s renters policy also covers their insured possessions whether they’re inside your child’s living quarters or not.
Although your child is eligible to remain on your own health insurance plan until they turn 26, there are still some things to consider when they leave for college. If your child will be living out of state during the school season and is not willing or able to return home for doctors’ visits, they may struggle with finding in-network providers. With the exception of emergencies, many health policies offer limited or no coverage for out of network providers. Before you make any moves, check with your child’s school to see if there are any in-network providers close to campus.
If there are not, you have two options. First, you can have your child knock out all necessary medical appointments before leaving for school and schedule future appointments to coincide with breaks. If you do want the peace of mind that good coverage offers, look into supplementing your child’s health coverage with a student health insurance policy. Coverage may also be available through their college or your child could purchase their own coverage in the health insurance market.
Sending your child off to college is an exciting time, whether they are a freshman or a fifth-year senior. Make sure your student has all the protection they need by utilizing the right insurance tools.