What Perils Are Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Ensuring that your home and all that it provides shelter for – your family, your pets, and your personal possessions – are protected from the dangers of the outside world is a three-step process.

First, it’s important to learn about the common perils that could affect your home. Then, you want to make sure you have a good understanding of how your home insurance will cover you in the event you are a victim of any of these catastrophes. Finally, it’s critical to be aware of any coverage limits or exclusions for each peril since these details can significantly impact your level of protection and the outcome of any claims.

To help you safeguard your loved ones and your property, it also helps to have a local and highly knowledgeable professional, like Gilbert Insurance, on your side. Our team is dedicated to educating you about your home insurance coverage, sharing valuable facts and insights about the most common perils that strike homes, and providing information on what is and isn’t typically covered by your policy.

Choose a Common Peril From The List Below To Learn More
Fire Lightning Windstorm or Hail Smoke Damage Theft Falling Objects Vandalism Water Damage Weight of Ice & Snow
Facts About This Peril
On average, there is a home fire every 86 seconds in the United States. Cooking – specifically unattended cooking – is the leading factor contributing to these fires and to home-fire injuries. And, unfortunately, our favorite days of the year are also the peak home fire days: Thanksgiving is number one, followed by Christmas Day and Easter.

Understanding Your Coverage
Your standard homeowners insurance policy will cover damages to your house, as well as to the property in it, that are caused by a home fire. Repairs to singed or burned-away portions of your home, the costs of finding temporary lodging, and additional food expenses you incur while you are displaced are all included in your homeowners insurance under this peril. In addition, if your policy includes the Replacement Cost on Contents endorsement, then you have coverage to replace your personal belongings, such as clothing and furniture, as well. Even if the fire is the outcome of a peril not listed in your policy, you should still be able to make a claim for any resulting fire damage. For example, if you experience an earthquake, which is not a covered peril, that knocks an electrical line into your house and sets it afire, you should still be able to make a home insurance claim even if you do not purchase earthquake coverage. In addition, damages to the structure of your home and your belongings that are caused by an accidental fire, like a candle left burning or a frying pan mishap, are all typically covered.

Know Your Policy Limits & Exclusions
It is very rare that damages resulting from a home fire will not be covered by your homeowners insurance policy; however, a few exclusions do apply, including a fire that is caused intentionally (arson) or by an act of war.

Facts About This Peril
Right at this very moment, there are at least 1,800 thunder and lightning storms in progress all around the world. And, despite common beliefs, lightning could be striking the same place repeatedly. In fact, studies have shown that large buildings, like your home, can be hit up to a dozen times or more during a single storm.

Understanding Your Coverage
Homeowners insurance does generally cover damage from a lightning strike, whether it created a fire inside or outside your home, ruined sensitive appliances, electronics or wiring inside walls, or even shocked and injured people at your home. You should be able to count on your insurance to cover replacement of your personal belongings, the cost of living elsewhere if you are displaced due to the damages, and any repairs that other structures on your property, like a garage or shed, may require.

Know Your Policy Limits & Exclusions
There are multiple types of lightning strikes and not all are easy to make claims against. For example, the average homeowners policy excludes damages resulting from an artificially generated current, such as sparks from a power company’s electrical lines or transformers. However, if you have Home Systems Protection Coverage, a special insurance endorsement, then damages to systems and equipment such as central air conditioning, water heaters, solar energy, well pumps, radian flooring, furnaces and heat pumps and pool and spa pumps, from this type of artificially generated electrical current will be covered. In addition, in the event of either a “near miss,” when a lightning strike hits an area near your home, but does not make direct contact with the structure, or a “ground surge,” when lightning strikes cause a spike in electricity through an area, insurance companies have a very difficult time determining the true cause of any damages, and typically pay out far fewer claims in these situations.

Facts About This Peril
If you’ve ever thought your home was being pummeled by golf balls, it was probably a hailstorm. Scientists have measured hailstones as large as seven inches wide and 18.75 inches around. Hailstones of this magnitude – or even one quarter of that size – can do a lot of harm to your property and, every year, hail causes billions in damages to homes.

Hail frequently occurs within a violent storm and is often accompanied by strong winds, a dangerous peril in itself for homeowners. A typical windstorm produces gusts that can exceed 34 miles per hour and that can cause widespread damage to landscaping and buildings. In the Northeast, windstorms are frequently the result of an intense winter storm, what we New Englanders affectionately call a “nor’easter”.

Understanding Your Coverage
Wind and hailstorms are powerful weather conditions that can tear through neighborhoods in a few minutes or linger for several hours. These systems are notorious for ripping siding off homes, tearing shingles from rooves, breaking glass panes, and more. These storms are also infamous for driving rain or snow into your home once your roof, walls or windows have been compromised. When you hear a nor’easter or tropical storm is coming, there are many things you can do to prepare your home to withstand the conditions, but maybe none more important than ensuring you have the proper homeowners insurance policy in place. Standard homeowners insurance typically covers all damages to your property and belongings resulting from extreme weather conditions.

Know Your Policy Limits & Exclusions
As of 2013, some insurance companies have chosen to adopt a hail and wind exclusion, or a high deductible, for damage to exterior surfaces, including walls, roofs, doors and windows. While insurers who have this exclusion often give homeowners a credit on the hail and windstorm portion of their policy, it probably won’t equate to much of a savings. If you don’t want to get stuck with the cost of replacing dented siding, or fixing other cosmetic damages that can affect the look and value of your home, then make sure to work with your insurance professional to find a carrier who offers comprehensive coverage for damages caused by wind or hail. Also, whether a hurricane or tropical storm causes your home to flood, or wind-driven rain gets into your house via previously damaged seams, gaps, or holes, your standard home insurance is not going to provide any financial assistance.

Facts About This Peril
After a fire in your home is extinguished, fire-related soot, ash and smoke can linger inside your house for a very long time. If left untreated, these potent and toxic particles can be hazardous to your health, permanently discolor your walls and ceilings, corrode anything metal in your home, and decrease structural integrity of your property. Even if some belongings don’t look too badly damaged after a fire, if they have been affected by soot, then they will probably need to be thrown away.

Understanding Your Coverage
If your homeowners insurance includes a Replacement Cost Endorsement, then your coverage will pay to replace or repair anything inside your home that may have been damaged by not only the flames from a fire, but also the resulting smoke, soot, ash, and other byproducts of the fire. This includes furniture, curtains, clothing, linens, carpeting, family heirlooms and any other personal belongings. To make sure that the insurance claims process for this peril goes smoothly, have your home thoroughly inspected – including any hard-to-reach or concealed areas – and document all items that show signs of even minor smoke, soot, or ash damage. Smoke, soot and ash damage can hide in unexpected places, so make sure you check inside closets and drawers, even if they were closed during the fire, behind and inside the folds of curtains, in between the slats of blinds, and in the duct work, especially if either your heater or air conditioner were running at the time of the fire.

Most standard home insurance policies will also cover the remediation expenses for smoke, soot, and ash damage, including the cost of hiring professional cleaners. It’s important that you do not try to clean up the soot, ash and smoke damage yourself because you could simply make the stains worse. Plus, you do not have the specialized equipment or personal protection devices that the experts have to keep them safe from toxins and chemicals.

Know Your Policy Limits and Exclusions
There are virtually no exclusions for smoke damage. In fact, insurers generally cover smoke damage that is deemed an accident or unavoidable as well as when a homeowner might have been at fault. However, if you experience smoke damage to your home that is caused by a fire at another house or building in your neighborhood, this unique situation requires the help of an experienced insurance professional who can guide you through the claims process.

Facts About This Peril
In Massachusetts, your chances of becoming the victim of a property crime – burglary, theft, or motor vehicle theft – are one in 64, with home thefts far and away the leading cause of these types of crimes. These high odds probably explain why theft is one of the top five most common homeowners insurance claims!

Understanding Your Coverage
If you do become a victim of theft, whether it occurs inside or outside of your home, your standard homeowners insurance coverage should be there to help you replace your stolen possessions. Whether someone steals your bike and skis from your garage or enters your home and takes off with your electronics, computers, clothing, or even bottles of alcohol from your liquor cabinet, your homeowners insurance policy provides protection. In addition, a break-in to your house, garage, or shed can cause significant damages. A burglar may have to kick in a door, pry off a lock, break a window, or destroy some other barrier to entry. Having to repair or replace these damages on your own would just add insult to injury; fortunately, items that are damaged due to a home theft are typically covered by your standard homeowners insurance policy. Finally, while an auto theft is not covered by your home insurance, but rather under your car insurance policy, if you leave something in your car, like an iPhone, sunglasses, or holiday shopping bags filled with recent purchases, and it ends up being stolen, you can claim this loss under your homeowners policy.

Know Your Limits & Exclusions
The coverage limits for this peril depend primarily upon whether you are covered for Actual Cash Value (ACV) or Replacement Cost Value (RCV). If you have ACV coverage, then your insurer will reimburse you replacement cost minus depreciation. Meaning, if you bought a TV five years ago for $1200, it may only be reimbursed at $700 due to depreciation for wear-and-tear. However, if you have RCV coverage, stolen items will be reimbursed at the cost it would take to replace the same exact product in the current economic market. Meaning, if you choose to replace the TV with a new one that has the same features as the stolen one and that will cost you $2000, your insurance reimburses you this amount with no depreciation costs factored in. It’s critical to know which coverage option you selected with your homeowners insurance policy so that there are no surprises should a theft happen.

It is also important to understand that most homeowners policies will put specific limits on the amount you will be reimbursed for pricier items, such as valuable musical instruments, jewelry, watches, silverware, antiques, firearms, business items and cash. To ensure that you have sufficient coverage for big-ticket items like these, it is a good idea to speak with your insurance professional about the benefits of having a scheduled personal property endorsement, which includes broader coverage and generally no deductible or limits.

Facts About This Peril
While the FBI may not list “falling objects” as one of the top threats to U.S. citizens, here in Massachusetts, we beg to differ. Whether due to the heavy snow and ice of a nor’easter or strong winds of a tropical storm, fallen branches, broken limbs, and downed trees have become a common occurrence in our area, causing more than $1 billion in property damage each year.

Understanding Your Coverage
Your standard homeowners insurance policy should cover damages that a fallen tree causes to your property, including a tree that comes down from your neighbor’s yard and lands on your home, your driveway, or your garage. Depending on the type of damage, though, different parts of your homeowners insurance will kick in to provide coverage. For instance, if it is your roof that is damaged, then the dwelling portion of your policy will take care of it. Or, if any of your belongings are ruined as well, then the personal property portion of your insurance policy provides coverage.

Additionally, there are other falling objects that are typically covered by your home insurance. Although highly unlikely to actually happen, if your home is struck by asteroid debris, satellite, or meteor, then you can turn to your standard homeowners insurance for help repairing or replacing property or belongings that have been damaged or destroyed as a result.

Know Your Limits & Exclusions
If a tree does damage to your property, home or personal property it does not matter to your insurer why it fell and your insurance will cover it. However, if you want to cover the actual replacement of the fallen tree, then your insurer will want to find out what caused the tree to fall in the first place. If it fell due to a wind or hailstorm, the weight of heavy snow, or a lightning strike – all covered perils – then you should be able to make a claim against your homeowners insurance. However, there is generally a cap of 10 percent on coverage for damages to structures other than your home, such as a detached garage or shed. Also, while many insurers will cover the cost of removing debris caused by a tree fall that does property damage, you will have to obtain a tree removal endorsement from your provider to have them pick up the cost to remove debris from a fallen tree that has not damaged your home or blocked your driveway or ramp. These endorsements are typically limited per tree from $250 up to $1000 in coverage.

Facts About This Peril
Vandalism is sometimes viewed as one of the least serious perils for a homeowner. After all, it’s just some harmless toilet papering on Halloween Eve, right? But, actually, having your private property deliberately destroyed or damaged can be very distressing to you and your family. Some of the disturbing crimes that vandals commit most frequently are: salting lawns, cutting down trees and bushes, pulling up plants from the roots, egg throwing, breaking windows, spray painting, placing glue into locks, slashing tires, tampering with electricity, smashing mailboxes, and flooding a house by clogging a sink and leaving the water running.

Understanding Your Coverage
Despite the fact that vandalism is a crime often committed by frustrated or bored teenagers – in your own neighborhood no less – it can be a shockingly expensive event to clean up after. Graffiti vandalism alone costs homeowners billions of dollars a year. The good news is that almost every standard homeowners policy covers this peril and your insurance company will most likely reimburse you for any necessary repairs that are needed to get your property and your personal belongings back in order. That being said, try to avoid the temptation to fix things up right away and, instead, wait until an insurance adjuster has come out to your house and reviewed the damage. However, if windows have been broken or you have holes in a wall, then you should board these up so no further damages occur. This is an important owner responsibility because if rain, wind or snow gets into your home via these vandalized areas, your insurance typically will not cover any resulting damages if you do not try to protect your property after it is damaged.

Know Your Limits & Exclusions
The vandalism coverage does not apply to a home that has been vacant for an extended period of time. To be considered vacant, your home would have to be empty of all your personal belongings for typically 30 or 60 consecutive days or more. Be aware that this could include a situation in which vandalism occurs to a house that you are in the process of selling. If you have already moved out of your old house, taken all of your things with you, and left it vacant for a period of time defined by your insurer, then vandalism coverage would no longer apply to your policy.

Facts About This Peril
When you add the number of claims homeowners make annually for non-weather-related water damage and weather-related water damage, then you come up with the #1 reason homeowners file insurance claims. From rotting wood, to growing mold, to rusting steel, to de-laminating materials such as plywood, the damage that even a small amount of water can do to your home can be truly devastating, not to mention costly. According to Chubb Insurance, in just the past three years, losses due to water damage of over $500K have more than doubled and losses over $1M have tripled.

Understanding Your Coverage
A standard homeowners insurance policy will cover water damage if it’s considered sudden and internal, and if the water in question has never touched the ground outside your home. Examples of situations where your insurance will cover you include when water damage is a result of wind-driven rain or a snow that damages the building, burst pipes, frozen plumbing, extinguishing a fire, a leaking roof, an accidental overflow of an appliance or fixture, like the toilet, washing machine or bathtub, tearing, cracking, burning or bulging of a steam, heating, AC or automatic fire protection system, and vandalism. In addition, if you have mold that results from one of these situations, the typical homeowners insurance should provide coverage. As soon as you discover water damage in your home, you should take action to protect your property from further damage, contact your insurance professional or carrier, and take pictures of the affected area and everything that was damaged. Also, take photos of where the water came from, such as a hole in the roof.

Know Your Limits & Exclusions
If the reason for the water damage in your home is not sudden and accidental, but a gradual problem that has gone unnoticed or untreated for some time, then your claim for any resulting damages could be denied. In addition to excluding water damage that is the result of a lack of maintenance or neglect, your home insurance will not cover damages that result from a flood. Because Boston and most of the communities that make up the North Shore are surrounded by multiple bodies of water, like ponds, rivers, streams, and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean, our area is prone to a variety of types of flooding. Thus, it is worthwhile for you to consider purchasing a separate flood insurance policy for your home. Finally, sewage backup is also not included in a standard homeowners insurance policy. Water and waste coming up through your drains is not only gross, but also expensive to clean up and hazardous to your health. Any structure with plumbing is susceptible to sewage backup, but old or historic neighborhoods and places that get heavy rains are especially vulnerable. This is why many homeowners purchase a sewage backup rider and/or a home systems service line endorsement, both of which can usually be added to a homeowner insurance policy for a small price tag.

Facts About This Peril
The Northeast is so well-known for its intense wintry weather that, in 2006, U.S. meteorologists began measuring storms using the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). Sometimes it’s not a great honor to have something named after you! Recent, record-breaking snowstorms have brought as much as 40 inches of wet, heavy snow to towns throughout Greater Boston, whereas typical roofs in this area can only withstand about one to two feet (or 12 to 24 inches) of snow.

Understanding Your Coverage
Your standard homeowners policy provides protection against damage to your property resulting from winter’s triple threat – ice, snow and sleet. For example, it is this peril coverage that would pay for repairs to your home if your gutters, roof, back deck or any other part of your property are torn apart by a strong snowstorm. Another concern of Massachusetts homeowners is the dreaded ice dam, which can form on your roof and around your gutters when a large snowfall starts to melt and then refreezes. An ice dam will add to the already heavy load on your roof, can cause water to seep into your home, and may even cause your roof to sag or collapse. It is possible that your insurer will pay for removing a portion of an ice dam that is directly causing any leaking. In addition, most insurance companies will cover damages done to your home as a result of the ice dam.

Regardless of whether damages are caused by the weight of snow, ice, or sleet, your specific policy may protect both the structure of your home and its contents. However, it is always a good idea to double check the extent of your coverage with your insurance professional.

Know Your Limits & Exclusions
Weight of Snow, Ice & Sleet coverage does not typically extend to awnings, canopies, fences, pavements, patios, swimming pools, foundations, retaining walls, bulkheads, piers, wharves or docks.

As you can see, the perils coverage in your homeowners insurance policy, much like your own home, is a complex structure. While the information provided here should give you a good head start to understanding the most common homeowner exposures, and how your home insurance can help you recover in the event that one of these catastrophes does happen, there are many other important pieces to the coverage puzzle to be aware of.

For one, it’s important that you know what your specific home insurance policy limits are as well as your selected deductible amount. Most of the perils listed in your home insurance policy, including all the named ones above, will be covered only up to a set limit. This limit is based on a percentage of the total amount of insurance you’ve selected for your home. In addition, should you ever need to file a claim for losses resulting from a covered peril, you will be responsible for paying your home insurance deductible first before receiving any payout from your insurer. This deductible typically ranges between $500 and $2500.

If you have questions, concerns or feel like you want to dig deeper into the details of your own specific home insurance coverage, then the team at Gilbert Insurance would be more than happy to walk you through this process. Since our establishment in 1951, we have helped thousands of homeowners just like you address all of their home insurance needs. Contact us today to set up a free consultation with one of our local, experienced professionals.