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Home Owner's Insurance

Understanding how Homeowners insurance works and the questions to ask when you are getting a quote are very important. The following is a list of a few questions. Just click the question to view the answer.

Home Owners Basics

  • What is homeowners insurance?

    Homeowners insurance provides financial protection against disasters. A standard policy insures the home itself and the things you keep in it.

    Homeowners insurance is a package policy. This means that it covers both damage to your property and your liability or legal responsibility for any injuries and property damage you or members of your family cause to other people. This includes damage caused by your household pets.

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  • What is in a standard homeowners insurance policy?

    A standard homeowners insurance policy includes four essential types of coverage. These include:

    1. Coverage for the structure.
    2. Coverage for your personal belongings.
    3. Liability protection.
    4. Additional living expenses in the event you are temporarily unable to live in your home because of a fire or other insured disaster.

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  • Are there different types of policies?

    Yes. A person who owns his or her home would have a different policy from someone who rents. Policies also differ on the amount of insurance coverage provided.

    The different types of homeowners policies are fairly standard throughout the country. However, individual states and companies may offer policies that are slightly different or go by other names such as “standard” or “deluxe”. The one exception is the state of Texas, where policies vary somewhat from policies in other states. The Texas Insurance Department ( http://www.tdi.state.tx.us ) has detailed information on its various homeowners policies.

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  • What type of insurance do I need for a co-op or condo?

    If you have purchased a condo or co-op, the bank will require insurance to protect its investment in your home. You may, however, need more insurance to cover your personal items, liability or fees that may be charged to you regarding shared areas of the building like the lobby.

    You will need two separate policies to protect your investment:

    1. Your own insurance policy.
      This provides coverage for your personal possessions, structural improvements to your apartment and additional living expenses if you are the victim of fire, theft or other disaster listed in your policy. You also get liability protection.
    2. A "master policy" provided by the condo/co-op board.
      This covers the common areas you share with others in your building like the roof, basement, elevator, boiler and walkways for both liability and physical damage.

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  • What type of disasters are covered?

    Most homeowners policies cover all disasters listed below. Some policies provide coverage only for the first 10 listed. Check your insurance policies for the "perils" covered.

    1. Fire or lightning
    2. Windstorm or hail
    3. Explosion
    4. Riot or civil commotion
    5. Damage caused by aircraft
    6. Damage caused by vehicles
    7. Smoke
    8. Vandalism or malicious mischief
    9. Theft
    10. Volcanic eruption
    11. Falling object
    12. Weight of ice, snow, or sleet
    13. Accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from within a plumbing, heating, air conditioning, or automatic fire-protective sprinkler system, or from a household appliance.
    14. Sudden and accidental tearing apart, cracking, burning, or bulging of a steam or hot water heating system, an air conditioning or automatic fire-protective system.
    15. Freezing of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic, fire-protective sprinkler system, or of a household appliance.
    16. Sudden and accidental damage from artificially generated electrical current (does not include loss to a tube, transistor or similar electronic component)

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  • Can I own a home without insurance?

    Unlike driving a car, you can legally own a home without homeowners insurance. But, if you have bought your home and financed the purchase with a mortgage, your lender will most likely require you to get homeowners insurance coverage. That’s because lenders need to protect their investment in your home in case your house burns down or is badly damaged by a storm, tornado or other disaster. If you live in an area likely to flood, the bank will also require you to purchase flood insurance. Some financial institutions may also require earthquake coverage if you live in a region vulnerable to earthquakes.

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  • How do I take a home inventory and why?

    Would you be able to remember all the possessions you’ve accumulated over the years if they were destroyed by a fire? Having an up-to-date home inventory will help you get your insurance claim settled faster, verify losses for your income tax return and help you purchase the correct amount of insurance.

    Start by making a list of your possessions, describing each item and noting where you bought it and its make and model. Clip to your list any sales receipts, purchase contracts, and appraisals you have. For clothing, count the items you own by category -- pants, coats, shoes, for example –- making notes about those that are especially valuable. For major appliance and electronic equipment, record their serial numbers usually found on the back or bottom.

    Make sure to store your inventory in a safe deposit box or at a friend's or relative's house. That way you'll be sure to have something to give your insurance representative in the event that your home is damaged.

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  • What's the difference between cancellation and non-renewal?

    There is a big difference between cancellation and non-renewal. Insurance companies cannot cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 60 days except:

    • If you fail to pay the premium.
    • If you have committed fraud or made serious misrepresentations on your application.

    Non-renewal is a different matter. Either you or your insurance company can decide not to renew the policy when it expires. Depending on the state you live in, your insurance company must give you a certain number of days' notice and explain the reason for non-renewal before it drops your policy. If you think the reason is unfair or want a further explanation, call the insurance company's consumer affairs division or your state insurance department.

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Homeowners Tips

  • Dog Bite Liability

    Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability. The following tips can help reduce the chances of your dog biting someone:

    1. Have your dog spayed or neutered. These procedures will greatly reduce the likelihood that the dog will bite.
    2. Socialize your dog so that it knows how to act with other people and animals.
    3. Play non-aggressive games with your dog such as "go fetch." Playing aggressive games like "tug-of-war" can encourage inappropriate behavior.
    4. Avoid exposing your dog to situations in which you are unsure what the dog’s response will be.

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  • Grilling Safety

    The following tips can make your grilling experience safer:

    1. When ready to barbecue, protect yourself by wearing a heavy apron and an oven mitt that fits high up over your forearm.
    2. With gas grills, make sure the gas cylinder is always stored outside and away from your house. Make sure the valves are turned off when you are not using them. Check regularly for leaks in the connections using a soap and water mix that will show bubbles where gas escapes.
    3. Barbecue grills should be kept on a level surface away from the house, garage, landscaping, and most of all, children
    4. For charcoal grills, only use starter fluids designed for those grills. Never use gasoline and use a limited amount of starter fluid. If the fire is too slow, rekindle with dry kindling and add more charcoal if necessary. Never add more liquid fuel or you could end up with a flash fire.
    5. Be sure to soak the coals with water before you put them in the trash.
    6. Always remember that grills remain hot long after you are through barbecuing.

    If you get burned, run cool water over the injury for 10-15 minutes. Never put butter or salve on burns because they will seal in the heat and cause further blistering.

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  • Home Security

    Burglars won't find your home an "easy mark" if they are forced to work in the light, if they have to take a lot of time breaking in, or if they can't break in without making a lot of noise.

    Research shows that if it takes more than four or five minutes to break into a home, the burglar will go elsewhere.

    Most insurance companies provide 2% to 15% discounts for devices that make a home safer -- dead-bolt locks, window grates, bars and smoke/fire/burglar alarms.

    Check your home for weaknesses and correct them:

    • Take the time to "case" your house or apartment, just as a burglar would. Where is the easiest entry? How can you make it more burglar-resistant?
    • Trim trees and shrubs near doors and windows, and think carefully before installing a high, wooden fence around your back yard. High fences and shrubbery can add to your privacy, but privacy is a burglar's asset. Consider trading a little extra privacy for a bit of added security.
    • Force any would-be burglar to confront a real enemy -- light. Exterior lights and motion detectors, mounted out of easy reach, can reduce the darkness a burglar finds comforting.
    • Simple security devices -- nails, screws, padlocks, door and window locks, grates, bars and bolts -- can increase the amount of time it takes to break into your home.
    • Invest in a burglar alarm. The most effective ones also ring at an outside service.
    • Are any of your valuables -- paintings, a silver collection or a computer -- easy to see from outside? Rearranging your furnishings might be advisable if it makes your home less inviting to criminals.

    Simple security steps:

    • Doors
      Make sure you have strong doors. Outside doors should be metal or solid hardwood, and at least 1 3/4 inches thick. Frames must be made of equally strong material, and each door must fit its frame securely. Even the most efficient lock, if it is placed in a weak door, will not keep out a determined burglar.
    • Locks
      Deadbolt locks are best. They usually are locked with a key from the outside and a thumb turn on the inside. The cylinder (where the key is inserted) should be pick-resistant. Ask your hardware dealer for a reputable brand or buy your locks from a locksmith.
    • Windows
      Key locks are available for all types of windows. Double-hung windows can be secured simply by "pinning" the upper and lower frames together with a nail, which can be removed from the inside.

    Home security habits:

    • Establish a routine to make certain that doors and windows are locked and alarm systems are turned on.
    • Avoid giving information to unidentified telephone callers and announcing your personal plans in want ads or public notices (such as giving your address when advertising items for sale).
    • Notify the police if you see suspicious strangers in your area.
    • Don't carry house keys on a key ring bearing your home address or leave house keys with your car in a commercial parking lot or with an attendant.
    • Don't hide your keys in "secret" places outside your home -- burglars usually know where to look.

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  • Lawnmower Safety

    Each year, approximately 75,000 people are injured seriously enough by lawnmowers to require emergency room medical treatment. Only a small percentage of the injuries are caused by mechanical failure. Most are the result of human error.

    Here are some tips to follow before and while mowing your lawn:

    1. Become familiar with your mower: Read the owner’s manual before using the mower for the first time. Note all safety and operating instructions. Learn the controls well enough to act instantly in an emergency and to stop the machine quickly.
    2. Proper clothing is essential to protect your body from harm: Always wear non-slip shoes instead of tennis shoes or sandals. Steel-toe safety footwear offers the most protection against the blade. Long pants help protect your legs from objects that may be thrown from under the mower. Use ear plugs to prevent hearing loss caused by exposure to the high noise levels.
    3. Never leave a mower running unattended: A mower left running unattended can be fascinating to a child. If the mower has an electric start, the key should never be left in the ignition.
    4. Always start the mower outdoors: Never operate a mower where carbon monoxide can collect, such as in a closed garage, storage shed or basement.
    5. Police the area: Be sure the lawn is free of tree limbs, rocks, wires and other debris, which can get caught up in the blades.
    6. The main source of danger is the blade: To perform its task efficiently, the blade must be sharp and travel at a high speed. It can cause serious injury if a hand or foot is allowed to get under the mower while the engine is running. Never attempt to unclog or work on a lawnmower while the engine is running.
    7. Disconnect the sparkplug wire: Any time it is necessary to reach under the mower, disconnect the spark plug wire to insure that the engine cannot start. It takes a little extra time, but not as long as it does to recover from a serious injury.
    8. Check for frayed or cut wiring: If using an electric lawnmower, wires can easily get cut by the blade. Keep an eye on the wiring as you move the mower and check for frayed or cut wiring every time you mow.

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  • Protect Your House From Mold

    When it comes to keeping your home mold-free, a strong offense is definitely your best defense. To prevent mold, eliminate moisture from your home and be on the lookout for signs of possible growth, such as musty smells or watermarks on walls and ceilings.

    Caught early, mold can usually be removed by a thorough cleaning with bleach and water. To prevent mold from re-growing, however, it is essential that the source of the moisture be eliminated and the affected area properly dried, cleaned, and if necessary, replaced. Also, remember to bag and dispose of any material with moldy residue such as rags, paper or debris.

    Here are a few suggestions to help prevent the growth of mold:

    Reduce humidity in your home:

    • Keep the humidity level in your home between 30% to 60% by using air conditioners or dehumidifiers.
    • Put exhaust fans in kitchens and bathrooms
    • Don’t install carpets in damp areas such as basements or bathrooms
    • Don’t let water accumulate under house plants

    Use mold-reducing products:

    • Clean bathrooms with bleach and other mold killing products
    • Add mold inhibitors to paints before application

    Keep your home and belongings dry:

    • Inspect hoses, pipes and fittings - Consider replacing hoses to major appliances like washer and dishwasher every five years. A typical water hose costs $5-$10
    • Keep gutters clean of leaves and other debris
    • Maintain your roof to prevent water from seeping into your home

    Be careful after a flood or other water damage:

    • Properly dry or remove soaked carpets, padding and upholstery within 24-48 hours after a flood to prevent mold growth. Anything that can’t be properly dried should be discarded
    • Remove standing water as quickly as possible. Standing water is a breeding ground for microorganisms, which can become airborne and inhaled
    • Wash and disinfect all areas that have been flooded. This includes walls, floors, closets, shelves, as well as heating and air-conditioning systems

    If you have any questions regarding mold and homeowners insurance, contact your agent or company representative.

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  • Remodeling Your Home

    If you plan to remodel your home, make sure that your home, the contractor and subcontractors have adequate insurance coverage.

    Don’t make the mistake of waiting until an addition or extra room is completed to increase the insurance coverage on the structure of your home. If the new addition is destroyed or damaged before insurance coverage has been increased, you may be responsible for the cost of repairing or rebuilding the addition.

    Contact your insurance agent or representative before or shortly after the construction begins to increase the insurance coverage on your house to reflect the increase in the cost to rebuild the structure.

    When hiring a general contractor, find out if the contractor has workers compensation and ask to see a copy of the policy. Workers compensation pays for medical and rehabilitation expenses and covers lost wages if the workers sustain injuries on the job. Injured workers may sue you if the contractor does not have proper insurance.

    In most home improvement projects, the contractor subcontracts the builders, electricians and plumbers. The workers hired may not be full-time employees of the contractor and therefore not covered under the contractor's workers compensation policy. While some independent builders, electricians and plumbers may carry their own workers compensation coverage, others may not.

    You should verify the insurance coverage of the contractor and the subcontractors. If the coverage is insufficient, you may need to fill in the gaps by extending the limits of the liability portion of your homeowners policy.

    If you purchase additional items, such as furniture, exercise equipment or electronics, you may need to increase the amount of insurance you have on your personal possessions. Keep receipts and add them to your home inventory.

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  • Winter Weather Preparation

    Homeowners should take the following precautions to winterize their homes:

    • Maintain gutters: remove leaves and debris form gutters so that melting snow and ice can flow freely. This can prevent ice damming, a condition where water is unable to properly drain and instead seeps into the house.
    • Trim trees and remove dead branches: Ice, snow and wind can cause weak trees or branches to break – damaging your home, car or injuring someone walking on your property.
    • Check insulation:Add extra insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. If too much heat escapes through the attic it can cause snow or ice to melt on the roof. The water re-freezes causing more snow and ice to build up. This can result in a collapsed roof, and can contribute to ice damming. Ideally, the attic should be five to ten degrees warmer than the outside air. Well-insulated basements and crawl spaces will also help protect pipes from freezing.
    • Maintain pipes: Wrap pipes with heating tape and insulate unfinished rooms such as garages that frequently have exposed pipes. Also, check for cracks and leaks. Have them repaired immediately to prevent much costlier repairs.
    • Keep the house warm: The temperature in your house should be at least 65 degrees. The temperature inside the walls where the pipes are located is substantially colder than the walls themselves. A temperature lower than 65 degrees will not keep the pipes from freezing.
    • Check heating systems: The proper use and maintenance of furnaces, fireplaces and wood-burning stoves can prevent fire and smoke damage. Have furnaces, boilers and chimneys serviced at least once a year. Make sure that smoke and fire alarms are working properly and consider installing a carbon dioxide detector.
    • Make sure steps and handrails are in good shape:Broken stairs and banisters can become lethal when covered with snow and ice. Make repairs now to prevent someone from falling and seriously being injured.
    • Get to know your plumbing: Learn how to shut the water off and know where your pipes are located. If your pipes freeze, time is of the essence. The quicker you can shut off the water or direct your plumber to the problem, the better chance you have to prevent the pipes from bursting.
    • Hire a licensed contractor: Have a professional survey your home for any structural damage. If damage is discovered, have it repaired immediately so further damage will not occur during the winter. Also, find out about ways to prevent water damage due to snow-related flooding. Plastic coatings for internal basement walls, sump-pumps and other methods can prevent damage to your home and belongings.
    • Take special care if you plan to be away from home: If you are not going to be in your home this winter for an extended period of time, have the water system drained by a professional to keep pipes from freezing or bursting. Also, hire someone to check on your home on a regular basis. If there is a problem, it can be fixed quickly –- lessening any damage. Activity at your home will also reduce the likelihood that it will be burglarized.

    Standard homeowners policies cover winter-related disasters such as burst pipes, ice dams, wind damage caused by weight of ice or snow.

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  • Pool Safety

    Every year about 43,000 people are injured in and around swimming pools and more than 600 people drown in home or public pools. Half of the pool fatalities occur in the yards of single-family homes.

    Here are some pool safety tips you should follow:

    1. Never leave small children unsupervised – even for a few seconds
    2. Put fencing around the pool area to keep people from using the pool without your knowledge
    3. Keep children away from pool filters, as the suction force may injure them or prevent them from surfacing
    4. Be sure all pool users know how to swim. Learners should be accompanied by a good swimmer
    5. Don’t swim alone or allow others to swim alone
    6. Check the pool area regularly for glass bottles, toys or other potential accident hazards
    7. Keep CD players, radios and other electrical devices away from pools or nearby wet surfaces
    8. Don’t allow anyone who has been drinking alcohol to use the pool
    9. Stay out of the pool during rain or lightning storms
    10. Never dive into an above-ground pool and check the water depth before plunging into an in-ground pool. Keep clear of the area near a diving board
    11. Don’t swim if you’re tired or have just finished eating

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Additional Questions? Send us a personalized question.

Educator Resources would like to thank the Insurance Information Institute for providing a "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section" for individuals to learn more about homeowners insurance. Additional information can be found on their site at www.iii.org