Answers to Some of the Most Common Home Insurance Questions Asked by Homeowners in Reading, North Reading, Stoneham, Woburn and Throughout North Shore MA & Greater Boston

As your local insurance partner, the Gilbert Insurance team is always readily available to answer homeowners’ questions, resolve any insurance issues, and help with claims. However, we know that it’s not always convenient for you to come by our offices in Reading and Malden, MA, or to call us during the workday.

Thus, as part of our unwavering commitment to customer service and providing homeowners, like you, with thorough information about their insurance solutions, we have put answers to some of the most frequently asked home insurance questions right here on our website so you can access them anytime, from anywhere that you want.

What does the dwelling coverage in a homeowners insurance policy mean?
The Dwelling Coverage portion of your policy, also known as Coverage A, is the primary protection for your home’s structure in case of damage or destruction by fire, wind, hail, hurricane, lightning, vandalism, or other disasters covered in your policy.
Dwelling coverage is always a good place to begin when it comes to teaching our clients about their home insurance because this coverage is essentially the foundation that your insurance policy builds all of your other home property insurance coverages from.
Under ”exclusions” you will find a list of all coverages that your insurer is removing from this part of your policy, which typically include protection against flood, earthquake, nuclear, war, and routine wear and tear. Other things not included in a standard homeowners policy dwelling coverage include water that seeps into the basement and backup of sewers and drains. Please note that these are just some of the major exclusions of the homeowners policy.
In addition, your home insurance dwelling coverage will not pay to correct “inherent vice,” otherwise known as poor construction. If you have the unfortunate luck to have bought a home that was shoddily built, the burden of paying to correct the structural issues will fall on you. However, one silver lining is that your insurance carrier may pay for some damages to your home as a result of poor construction.
Some of the exclusions we’ve mentioned – e.g. flood, earthquake, backup of sewers and drains – are things that homeowners can “buy back” as extra endorsements to their home insurance and/or as additional policies, while others – e.g. nuclear, war, inherent vice – are risks that you may have to live with as a homeowner, but are thankfully very rare.
One last interesting thing to know about your Coverage A Dwelling coverage is that, should you make a claim for damages or destruction of your home’s structure, the burden of proof that a claim is not covered falls on the insurance company. In other words, your insurer has to specifically show you in your policy that the event causing the damage is excluded. Otherwise, they are responsible for fulfilling your claim.
Does homeowners insurance cover damage to a garage, fencing and other structures?
Yes, your homeowners insurance policy will cover most of the detached structures on your property, including your garage, shed, gazebo, and fencing.

If you should need more coverage than that, then you can always increase Coverage B – Other Structures for an additional premium.

One thing that you will want to make sure you understand is what level of coverage your insurance provides for these detached structures. Typically, your coverage limit is based on about 10 percent of the amount of insurance you have on the structure of the house. You can increase Coverage B – Other Structures if you should need more coverage for an additional premium.

Does home insurance cover items in my home as well as my home’s structure?
Coverage C, or Personal Property Coverage, is part of a standard homeowners insurance policy for precisely this reason – to protect all the things inside your home. However, as opposed to dwelling coverage, where all perils are assumed covered unless listed as an exclusion, your contents coverage will repair or replace (provided you have Personal Property Replacement Cost endorsement) your damaged or destroyed things only if they are ruined by a peril that is specifically named in your policy.
In the standard homeowners policy, listed perils typically include everything from hail and wind, to fire and lightning strikes, to falling objects and theft. But, in this case, when you file a personal property claim, the burden of proof will be on you, the owner, to show that your belongings were indeed damaged as a direct result of a named peril. This coverage can be made as broad as your Dwelling coverage by endorsement. In some cases, damage must be done to the building in order for there to be coverage to the Personal Property. Two contrasting examples might help you understand this better:
  • If a tree falls through your living room window during a storm and rain gets into your home soaking your couch, your home insurance will cover repairs or replacement of your furniture.
  • But, if YOU leave your living room window open during a rainstorm and your couch is ruined by a deluge of water, your insurer might have empathy with your situation, but they are not going to cover the cost of replacing or repairing your couch.

Finally, as with dwelling and detached structures coverage, there are a few perils, including flood and earthquake, that will require additional coverage in order to properly protect your belongings and ensure that any damages resulting from these events are covered.

What is scheduled personal property and why would I need it?
Scheduled personal property is an endorsement that many homeowners add to their basic homeowners policy in order to ensure that their high value items, like jewelry and watches, fine art, high-end cameras, golf clubs, silverware, baseball card collections, and more, are fully covered.
You might be wondering why your personal property coverage – Coverage C that we explained above – isn’t sufficient coverage to protect these items. While your standard home insurance policy likely does include some coverage for these types of belongings, the limit is typically set at either $1,000 or $2,000, which is not nearly enough to cover your 1.5K diamond engagement ring or that heirloom silverware that’s been handed down for generations. Plus, and this is crucial to know, theft is the only peril that is covered for jewelry items in your typical homeowners policy.
Thus, there are three reasons why scheduling your high value items makes sense:
  • You Get Broader Coverage. Under the scheduled personal property endorsement, your valuable belongings are not only covered for theft, but also for pretty much any other loss you can imagine, which is much broader coverage than you would get under your standard Personal Property Coverage form. In addition, this coverage extends to a variety of items, including firearms, silverware and other valuables that you keep in the house.
  • There’s No Deductible. In your standard homeowners policy, a deductible applies to your personal property coverage, but there is zero deductible for the items that you schedule. Thus, this is one coverage option where you don’t have to agonize over choosing a deductible based on what you think you can afford to pay out of pocket and/or to save money on the premium.
  • You’re Insured Up To The Appraised Value. This means that if your scheduled item is lost, stolen or destroyed, your insurer pays you back to replace the items up to the appraised value with no deduction for depreciation or wear and tear, and, as stated above, with no deductible. The critical step for you and your insurance agent to take, though, is to get all of your high value items expertly appraised and then to make sure that your insurer agrees to this valuation.
What is the difference between Actual Cash Value and Replacement Cost Coverage for Personal Property?
Most standard homeowners insurance policies cover the actual cash value (ACV) of your personal property. So, we’ll first give you a breakdown of what this means for homeowners like you.
The actual cash value, or ACV, on your personal property is based on the replacement cost to buy your items less depreciation for the number of years you have it. And, as the name suggests, you will receive cash from your insurer once the claim is processed regardless of whether or not you buy a replacement item. While we know cash is king, going with ACV for your personal property coverage may not be the best choice for you – and could make a sizeable dent in your wallet – if you plan to replace damaged or destroyed items.
For example, say you bought a TV five years ago for $700. If the useful life of that TV is 10 years, then five years later, minus depreciation and normal wear-and-tear, the actual value is only going to be about $300-350. And that’s just about what you will get from the insurance company if you make a claim for damages. That means if you want to get a comparable (or better) TV as a replacement, you are going to have to shell out several hundred more dollars of your own cash to rebuild your entertainment zone to the way it was.
Now, imagine if your entire home is destroyed, as well as all of your personal belongings, by a major catastrophe. Would you have the means to rebuild your home and life if you only got back the depreciated basis for everything you’ve lost? Most of us would not.
This is why many homeowners opt for Replacement Cost, or RC, contents coverage. While it is more expensive, it is an investment that most people feel is worth making for the long run. If you have this type of personal property coverage, and your belongings are damaged or destroyed by a covered claim, then your insurer will pay out what it will cost you to replace those items with the same or equivalent model today.
The process for RC is a little complicated, though. First, you will receive the actual cash value from your insurer. Then, only after you have purchased the new items and submitted your receipts to your insurer will you receive reimbursement for the rest of the expense of replacing your things, usually within 6 months after the loss. And, word to the wise, don’t go out and buy a king-sized bed if you only had a twin or an entertainment system with more bells and whistles than your old one, because your insurer will not pay for any costs over and above what was the agreed upon replacement value.
Is there liability coverage in homeowners insurance?
Yes, there is fairly broad personal liability coverage included in your standard homeowners insurance policy under Coverage E. This part of your policy financially protects you in the event you or a family member are sued for negligence, not only on your own property, but also off premises as well.
So, whether a claim is made against you by a delivery guy who falls and injures themselves at your home, or by someone who gets hit by your child’s errant foul ball, or by a dinner guest who gets a little tipsy at your house and gets in a car accident on the way home, the personal liability coverage in your home insurance policy is in place to provide legal defense and, if required, pay for the injured person’s medical bills, lost wages, emotional distress, and more up to the limits of their policy.
In addition, your homeowners personal liability coverage includes financial protection for property damage that you are responsible for. For example, if you’re just getting the hang of your new toy drone when it accidentally gets out of control and crashes through the neighbor’s stained-glass window, your personal liability insurance may help you pay for the damages.
Coverage usually starts around $300K, but purchasing a higher limit typically does not increase your costs very much at all. For peace of mind, you may want to consider this option with your insurance professional.
Should I consider Umbrella Insurance?
It’s not a bad idea for any homeowner, or condo owner or renter for that matter, to consider purchasing umbrella coverage. This policy is specially designed to give you excess liability protection over and above not only the personal liability coverage in your homeowners policy (which we just discussed above), but also the liability coverage on your auto policy. And, in some cases, it might provide some additional coverage beyond that of the underlying policies.
In order to determine if an umbrella policy is a good fit for you, your insurance professional should go through a thorough evaluation process of all your existing policies first. If you have the appropriate coverage already, with the correct minimum limits and coverage extensions, then your agent should identify any remaining risks that are not covered by your current insurance solutions. To do this, your insurance partner might ask questions like:
  • Do you have dogs?
  • What is your net worth?
  • Do you have a swimming pool or hot tub?
  • Do you play golf and drive a golf cart?
  • Are you a boater or skier?
  • Do you have snowmobiles or ATVs?
  • Do you have a secondary residence?

Why so many questions? It’s critical to have a good picture of not only everything that you own, but also to understand what matters to you to protect, from your summer and winter “toys,” to your financial investments. If it’s clear that you have a lot of assets and/or participate in a variety of high-risk activities, then it’s likely that your agent will recommend that you purchase an umbrella policy in order to enhance your personal liability coverage and reduce your financial risk.

Umbrella coverage is also very inexpensive, especially for the coverage you get. You can buy policy coverage in multiples of $1 million. The majority of umbrella policies don’t exceed $5 million in coverage; however, higher limits are available. This is significantly more in liability coverage than you can get with your standard homeowners or typical auto insurance policy.

Another benefit to an umbrella policy is that it often includes coverage that is not found in either your standard homeowners or car insurance policies. For example, it provides liability coverage while traveling abroad as there are no territorial boundaries on this type of protection. Also, your main policies may not provide coverage for libel and slander whereas an umbrella policy typically will.

If my tree falls, does my home insurance cover that?
As you can imagine, we frequently get this question right after one of our infamous Nor’ easters hits the area. Homeowners are often very relieved to learn that, if a powerful storm causes a tree on your property to fall and it hits your house or other structure, like your garage or fence, then your standard home insurance policy will cover the cost of repairs for any damages and for removing the tree.
On the other hand, if a tree on your property falls and it does not hit any structure, or does not block your driveway or a handicap accessible ramp, then the rule of thumb for most insurers is that there is no coverage for removing the tree.
One other scenario that we get asked about regularly is what happens if your neighbor’s tree falls on your house. Many homeowners wonder whose insurance is responsible for covering the tree removal and any damages. Unless the tree has been documented to be sick and dying, which might make your neighbor negligent in removing it, a tree falling is considered a natural event – trees fall once and awhile as we know too well here in New England. Just give your insurance agent a call and they will walk you through the claims process so you can get this nuisance removed and any repairs done quickly.
If I have to move out of my house due to a catastrophe, does my home insurance cover any expenses?
In the event that your home becomes unlivable due to an insured event, your homeowners policy includes coverage called Additional Living Expenses (or ALE) that will pay for expenses that exceed your normal expenditures. This can include costs related to:
  • Temporary accommodations, like a rental or a hotel room
  • Moving and storage
  • Furniture rentals, like a crib or other special item that you may require
  • Increased mileage to work and other places as a result of your new temporary location
  • Laundry that you have to send out if you no longer have access to a washer/dryer
  • Pet Boarding
  • And more

In addition, if you have an owner-occupied two-family home, and you’ve been renting out one side of it, any rental income that is lost due to your tenants having to move out after a catastrophe should be covered by the ALE portion of your homeowners insurance. Please note that the usual amount of coverage is 20% of your dwelling limit.

Although the costs of items listed above may be covered by ALE, there will always be an assessment around how the costs you’re claiming compare to the normally expected costs of your lifestyle. Thus, you should work closely with your insurance professional to get as much guidance as possible on ways to maintain your current standard of living and find hotels or rentals that are of similar quality to your current home.

Is mold covered under my homeowners policy?
Sometimes homeowners insurance covers mold, and sometimes it doesn’t, which is yet another reason why many homeowners can get frustrated with their coverage.
So, let Gilbert Insurance try to simplify this for you: Mold damage is excluded from your coverage UNLESS the mold is a result of a covered peril, such as water damage from an ice dam, burst pipes, an overflow from a malfunctioning dishwasher, or the water firefighters use to extinguish a fire in your home. Moisture that builds up after this type of water damage can cause mold to develop, and thus you are able to file a claim for the mold removal as well as for the repair of any property permanently damaged by the mold.
However, your policy may not cover the entire cost of mold damage and removal, so it is important to speak with your insurance professional about the limits that have been set by your insurer, which is typically $10K for mold remediation. If you and your insurance professional think it’s warranted, you can always purchase increased limits which may be available.
Now, let’s move on to the most common mold situations that are not covered, which primarily are those where the mold is caused by a peril that is not covered under your policy. Usually this means the mold is resulting from a maintenance item. For example, your shower head has a minor leak, but you do nothing to fix it thinking that it’s such a small amount what bad could happen. Over time, however, this leak can cause mold to spread throughout the area. Since the shower head leak is a maintenance item and not an insured peril, there would be no mold coverage.
Other scenarios that would not be covered include mold damage resulting from flooding, which is not covered under your standard homeowners policy, or mold that grows in your basement as a result of humidity.
In addition, and probably even more important, we highly recommend that you learn how to spot mold in your home as well as find out how to prevent mold from growing in the first place.
Believe it or not, we’ve just tapped the surface of everything there is to know about your homeowners insurance. So, if you want to learn even more, or have additional questions,please don’t hesitate to contact our team. We are happy to help you address your home insurance needs, challenges, and issues, as well as find you excellent home insurance coverage and great savings too.