While no one plans for their home to get damaged, the truth is that accidents happen. The Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that one out of every 15 U.S. homeowners insurance policyholders files a claim on their homeowners insurance each year.
However, even if your homeowners insurance covers the cost of replacing some or all of your damaged property, you’ll still have the inconvenience of fixing whatever went wrong.
Here are seven of the most common home insurance claims homeowners make, plus what you can do to avoid them in the first place.
1. Exterior Wind Damage
Exterior wind damage is behind many home insurance claims, although where you live has a lot to do with the likelihood that your home could be exposed to high winds. Statistics from the III show that the top five catastrophes of 2016 by insured catastrophe losses were all “wind and thunderstorm” events, affecting 15 U.S. states.
The Northeast and the Southern states are both at high risk for wind-related damage. And wind damage refers to more than just strong winter storms or hurricanes tearing shingles from roofs. Strong winds may also pick up and carry objects laying around in your yard or street, slamming them into your home and damaging windows and walls. Strong winds can also topple trees on and onto your property.
To avoid or minimize the damage strong winds could cause, remember the following:
- Safely store outdoor patio furniture, cushions, gardening tools, kids’ toys, and anything that could become airborne prior to a storm.
- Check your roof and remove and replace loose shingles or tiles at least once a year.
- Keep your shrubs, trees, and bushes trimmed and free from dead branches that could damage your home and property if picked up by high winds.
2. Non-Natural Event/Weather-Related Water Damage
While homeowners can’t do much to stop rain and wind damage, it is water damage from non-natural events that surfaces as a common reason for an insurance claim. These may result from the accidental discharge of supply lines or hoses from appliances that use water, such as washing machines or dishwashers. Other times burst pipes or plumbing issues cause problems.
To avoid or minimize water damage from non-natural events, place a water sensor and alarm (it works much like a smoke detector) near appliances that use water. Consider setting up an automatic shutoff system.
Monitor old appliances and hot water heaters for leaks and cracks, and replace them when needed. Don’t forget to caulk around toilets, sinks, and tubs to prevent plumbing leaks.
And never pour bacon grease or other thick substances down your drains — you could clog your pipes, leading to water overflow and damage.
3. Weather-Related Water Damage
Bad weather can produce a ton of rain or even snow, and all this water may damage your home in one form or another.
To help prevent heavy snow from damaging your roof, remove it before it piles up.
After a long winter, the spring melt could cause flooding. Take note that standard homeowners insurance doesn’t usually include flood coverage. If flooding is a concern in your area, you may need separate flood insurance.
In addition, pay close attention to the grading on your property. Land that slopes away from your home can help minimize water damage to your home, as this helps water drain away from the building instead of toward it.
Prevent further damage from heavy rains by keeping your gutters and downspouts free of leaves, twigs, and other debris so that water can drain further away from your home and not into your foundation and/or basement.
4. Loss Due to Theft
Six percent of home insurance claims are due to theft. The good news is that homeowners have several proactive options to help prevent or reduce their losses from theft.
One of the easiest things to do to deter bad guys from stealing your personal property is to lock your doors and windows when you aren’t home. This includes all doors and windows on your home, garage, and garden shed.
Avoid leaving your garage door opener in an unlocked car in your driveway as a thief could then use it to enter your home through your garage.
Install extra outdoor motion sensor lights that will turn on when anyone approaches your home in the dark. Fear of being seen could deter any would-be thieves from breaking in.
Finally, install a security system that will sound an alarm if someone enters your property without disarming the system. Doing so may also help you get a discount on your home insurance premiums.
5. Fire Damage
Of all home insurance claims, those due to fire damage are the most expensive — and the damage can be extensive. In fact, between 2011 and 2015, the average homeowner loss due to fire was $43,983. Yet remembering just a few safety tips may help you avoid the trauma, mess, and loss that occurs from a house fire.
First, install smoke detectors on each floor of your home and inspect them annually (change the batteries in spring or fall when you change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time).
If you have a wood burning fireplace or stove in your home, get the chimney inspected and cleaned annually to help prevent creosote buildup, which can contribute to a chimney fire. And, when you’re removing ashes after a fire, remember to dispose of them in a metal container with a lid outside of your home to minimize the chance of a stray spark’s starting an unwanted fire.
Another area of the home where fires may start is in the kitchen. Avoid clutter around your stove/oven area — especially anything flammable that could catch fire while you’re using your stove or oven.
Finally, never leave a burning candle unattended. Always snuff it out before leaving the room.
6. Electrical Fires
Electrical fires get their own category because 50% of known fire losses in personal property are due to electrical issues such as power surges.
To minimize your chances of loss due to an electrical fire, pay close attention to the condition of everything that you plug in. Is that cord frayed? Don’t use it. Avoid overloading outlets with too many plugs, and carefully inspect each of your home’s electric outlets. Replace any improperly installed or loose outlets or fixtures that could allow a stray spark to ignite.
If your home hasn’t recently been professionally inspected, it may also be a good idea to get the interior electrical wiring checked by a professional for wear and tear that could lead to a fire. And take a quick look at any wiring outside of your home to check for damages caused by rodents chewing on wires that could also lead to a fire.
7. Slips and Falls on Your Property
Another home insurance claim is personal injury — which is covered by your homeowners insurance policy’s personal liability coverage. If someone slips and falls while visiting your home, you could be on the hook for their emergency medical bills, plus any legal expenses.
Reduce the chance of injury by removing trip hazards in and around your home. These could include issues such as broken front steps or uneven patio stones. Install hand railings on all indoor and outdoor stairs, and maintain decks and front porches to remove and replace rotting or damaged boards, protruding nails and screws, and deal with any other hazards. And remember to remove snow and ice from walkways and driveways.
Disasters and accidents can happen without warning. However, you can mitigate your risk of financial loss in these situations. Choose the right homeowners insurance for your home and family, and be proactive about home maintenance and safety to help prevent damage and injury from occurring in the first place.