If your home is in the path of a significant winter storm, don't overlook some commonsense things you can do to limit the damage. Here's what property insurance and disaster relief experts recommend:
- Prevent ice dams that can cause roof leaks by using a roof rake to remove excess snow from eaves.
- Clear snow from outside vents of furnaces and other appliances that vent exhaust from combustion of oil or gas.
- Clear snow from doorways, keeping the entry to your home accessible.
- In the event of a power outage, limit heat loss by keeping windows and doors shut and fireplace flues closed. Also limit opening refrigerators to keep them cold so food doesn't spoil.
- And of course, stock up on emergency supplies, such as batteries, food, water and blankets.
Check your insurance policy
Still, even the best prepared homeowners can experience storm damage. So, also make sure your losses are covered by having adequate property insurance. If a winter storm keeps you stuck at home, use some of that time to look over your home insurance policy to make sure your home is adequately covered -- before the next storm hits.
Fortunately, most homeowners and business owners with insurance can take comfort in knowing their property is covered for damages due to the accumulation of snow and ice that comes with winter storms.
But that's not the end of it. Homeowners are responsible for making sure they have adequate loss limits so the policy will pay enough to cover your losses. Check that your insurance covers other things, such as damage caused by water leaking through the roof due to melting snow and ice. You should also review how your policy covers loss of use and your home's contents, no matter what the reason for the loss.
Homeowners should have a type of home insurance called an HO-5 policy. Only this type provides replacement cost coverage for contents damaged or lost due to any stated risks. This is particularly important if you have a larger home, expensive furnishings, jewelry, art or a home office.
One thing most homeowner's policies cover is "loss of use." If you're forced to evacuate and pay to stay in a hotel, that cost and other related living expenses are generally covered up to a dollar limit, typically about 30 percent of the overall policy dwelling coverage. So, if your policy dwelling limit is $250,000, you may be entitled for up to $75,000 in reimbursement for expenses.
People who own vacation and second homes have special insurance needs. When buying or updating homeowner's coverage on a second home, be sure to tell the insurance company that it's a vacation home, how much time you occupy it and if you rent it when you aren't using it. Coverage for vacation or second homes should include additional liability coverage, loss of use and loss of rental income.
If you have this coverage, the policy will pay for you to rent another vacation home, and it will reimburse you for the rental income you could have received while the home is unavailable to rent.
Every homeowner should know by now that standard home insurance policies don't cover flood damage. Homeowners in flood zones should buy flood insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Claims are often serviced by your insurance company.
These policies can range from $400 up to $3,000 per year, with the average at about $600 per year. The maximum coverage for building property is $250,000 and $100,000 for personal property. Losses are covered for "actual cash value," not replacement value. If you need more flood insurance coverage, you'll have to get it through private insurers. Check for companies in your state that can provide policies with higher coverage limits.
If you haven't reviewed your home insurance policy in a few years, it's past time to do so. Think about how the limits in your policy would apply if you experienced significant damage to your home. If you aren't sure about your coverage, call your agent or insurance company and review the policy with them.