Updated Nov 1, 2022
Updated Nov 1, 2022
Homeowners insurance generally covers personal property and structural damage from fires, natural disasters, and other situations out of your control, but it doesn’t cover everything. To avoid paying for costly damage, know what’s included in your insurance policy. We talked to a few home insurance agents to determine what is and isn’t covered by homeowners insurance and what you can do about items that aren’t covered.
The items covered by a home insurance policy are dependent upon the type of policy you buy, the location, condition, and age of the home you’re buying, and the insurance company offering the coverage. According to David Miller, vice president and client executive for Plexus Personal Insurance, coverage also depends on your loss history and the loss history of the property you’re buying.
“For the vast majority of the personal insurance market, you have a choice between two basic types of policies—HO-3 and HO-5,” says Miller. “From there, the insurance company you choose will offer different coverage levels and options.”
HO-3 is the most common insurance policy for single-family homes and is often referred to as “standard” homeowners insurance. “On an HO-3 policy, the home itself is insured for risk of direct physical loss and the contents are insured for named perils. In non-insurance language, risk of direct physical loss means that all causes of loss are covered, except for things that are specifically excluded,” says Miller. “Named perils is just the opposite. Nothing is covered unless it’s specifically listed in the policy. The ‘perils’ that most people are concerned about are covered, such as fire, theft, water damage, etc.”
On an HO-5 policy, the home and its contents are insured for risk of direct physical loss. “I tell my clients that this means the ‘oddball’ things you might not think of would be covered,” says Miller. “For example, let’s say you are painting your living room ceiling and you drop the bucket of paint from the top of your ladder. Despite your drop cloth, paint splashes all over the floor, the walls, and some of your furniture. Under an HO-3 policy, this would not be covered because it’s not one of the listed ‘perils.’ Under an HO-5 policy, it would be covered because the policy didn’t say it was excluded.”
Because every home insurance policy is unique, pay close attention to what is and isn’t covered before you buy a home insurance policy. Review the policy and ask your home insurance provider questions if anything is unclear to you.
Here are 16 items not covered by home insurance and where you can get coverage for them.
One of the most costly events not covered by a home insurance policy is flood damage. “This is different than water damage,” says Miller. “You have to look at the policy to see how it defines the word ‘flood,’ but generally speaking, a flood is defined as the intrusion of surface water from outside the walls of your home. The key words are surface water and outside the walls of your home.”
Miller offers this example to illustrate the difference between flooding and water damage.
Let’s say that you leave for a ten-day vacation and the day you leave, the water line to your refrigerator breaks. Water leaks onto your floor uninterrupted for ten days. This is a water damage claim and not a flood. This is not surface water and it did not originate from outside the walls of your home, so it’s covered.
Or, let’s say that your home is not damaged by a hurricane, but there is so much water dumped in your area that it advances from the street, into your lawn, and then into your home. This is a flood and is not covered, unless you bought a separate flood insurance policy.
“Many insurance companies provide a small amount of water backup coverage inside of their policies,” says R.J. Weiss, an insurance agent from Illinois and founder of Ways to Wealth. “However, it’s usually around $5,000. This is not enough for many homes, especially those with a finished basement.”
What to do about it: Homes in high-risk flood areas are required to purchase flood insurance in order to qualify for a federally backed mortgage. You can purchase coverage from the National Flood Insurance Program through an agent or insurer.
According to Bankrate, most home insurance policies won’t cover damage associated with earthquakes or sinkholes. “If you’re buying a home in San Francisco, it might be much harder to get the coverage and it would be very expensive,” says Miller. The only exception to this rule is Florida, where this type of coverage is required.
What to do about it: Earthquake and sinkhole insurance can be added to your existing homeowners insurance policy as an endorsement or purchased as a separate policy. Rates will depend on your location and the probability of an earthquake loss.
Sewer backups can occur when tree roots cause sewer line damage or a blockage occurs in the city’s sanitary main. Unfortunately, damage caused by sewage system backups isn’t covered by homeowners insurance.
What to do about it: According to the Insurance Information Institute, sewer backup coverage is available from most insurers at a cost of around $40–$160 on an annual insurance policy. If you forego sewer backup coverage, you can prevent blockages by:
Homeowners insurance is designed to cover sudden accidents or events beyond your control, so it doesn’t cover damage you can address. For example, if your 50-year-old roof is damaged by hail, you might have little or no coverage because the roof should have been replaced before the damage occurred. “No policy will cover wear and tear or lack of maintenance,” says Sean Harper, co-founder and CEO of Kin Insurance, an insurtech startup that provides fast, fair, and affordable insurance for homeowners. “The key here is to be proactive with small repairs and to take good care of property and belongings to prolong their use.”
What to do about it: Be proactive in keeping up with home maintenance. Follow this seasonal home maintenance checklist to keep your home in excellent condition and consider purchasing home appliance insurance. This type of insurance covers major appliances and systems like air conditioning and plumbing that break down due to normal wear and tear. We recommend American Home Shield—this home warranty company offers comprehensive protection against the high cost of repair or replacement on properly maintained major systems and appliances.
If you’re experiencing damage from a poorly built home, chance are the damage won’t be covered by your home insurance policy. “Let’s say the home you bought was built very poorly and the windows were installed incorrectly,” says Miller. “You don’t know this until you find a big puddle in your bedroom and mold growing on the walls. If it could be proven (and the burden is on the insurance company to prove it) that the loss was due to poor workmanship, it would not be covered by your home insurance policy.” Other examples of poor workmanship include a leaky roof or bad wiring.
What to do about it: Always have a home inspection done before buying a house—this will help you understand the universal condition of the home and what needs to be repaired or replaced. If you’re planning on a home renovation, make sure you appropriately vet your contractor.
Most standard homeowners insurance policies cover water damage caused by pipes unexpectedly bursting in the home, but pipes that have burst due to negligence won’t be covered. “All pipes get old and have to be replaced. Insurance covers ‘sudden and accidental’ damage from pipes which occurs in situations like freezing,” says Christi Houser, agency manager at COUNTRY Financial. “Pipes get old and leak over time and it’s the homeowner’s responsibility to perform basic maintenance and replace things in their home once they wear out.”
What to do about it: Prevent frozen pipes by fitting them with foam or fiberglass sleeves. If you’re unable to get to your pipes, let faucets trickle slightly, which will relieve pressure and keep the water in your pipes moving.
A standard homeowners insurance policy generally limits mold damage or totally excludes it. Some insurers will expand coverage limits for mold claims, but only if you’re willing to pay a little extra for your insurance.
What to do about it: The best way to deal with mold is to prevent it from growing in the first place. Check your home for mold, especially during the initial home inspection. Any water damage should be closely examined because it could lead to mold growth in the future.
Homeowners insurance typically doesn’t cover damage due to termites, bed bugs, or other pest infestations. These issues are usually considered matters of home maintenance and the onus is on the homeowner to pay for repairs or pest control measures.
What to do about it: Keep pests under control with this DIY pest control guide. You can also hire a professional pest exterminator service like Terminix or Orkin to eliminate pests and prevent them from coming back.
Most home insurance providers won’t cover war damage or acts by the US government. An example of an act by the US government could be having your property claimed for eminent domain when the government builds public works projects. “Losses like war are excluded because it’s very difficult to predict the actual risk of a loss occurring, and therefore to charge an appropriate premium,” says Devon McGuire, home insurance agent from Square One Insurance Services.
What to do about it: Most policies won’t cover war damage or acts by the US government, but they should cover damage from explosions, fires, or smoke. Check with your insurance provider to determine if these items are covered. If not, you can purchase additional coverage.
“Intentional or illegal acts by the homeowner are excluded because it would be illegal to pay for damage that someone intentionally causes to their home, or that results from their commission of a crime,” says McGuire. Setting a fire in the home, for example, could void the home insurance policy altogether, but there are smaller acts not covered that aren’t as obvious. If someone damages a wall as a result of a domestic dispute, that may not be included in your plan’s coverage.
What to do about it: Most home insurance policies cover accidental and unavoidable losses—these are situations where you couldn’t have done anything to stop the incident from occurring. Read through your policy to understand what type of protection is offered.
Federal law prohibits home insurance providers from covering nuclear accidents, so your standard home insurance policy won’t include this coverage.
What to do about it: Nuclear power plant owners in the US are required by law to have liability insurance in place that covers any individuals and businesses located in the affected area who suffer damages in the event of a nuclear accident. The Price-Anderson Act, first passed by Congress in 1957, ensures that adequate funds are available to satisfy liability claims for property damage and personal injury to the public.
Most home insurance companies exclude high-risk dog breeds from their insurance policies and require a homeowner to sign liability waivers for any bites that occur. Your home insurance provider could also drop coverage or raise premiums if your dog attacks and injures someone. Here are some dog breeds that typically aren’t covered by a home insurance policy:
What to do about it: Check with your insurance provider to determine if they cover your dog breed in the policy. The following insurance carriers often look only at a dog’s bite history and history of aggressiveness, rather than its breed, to determine if they should extend homeowners liability coverage:
If you’re renovating your house, a standard homeowners insurance policy won’t cover any potential damage or losses from construction. If damage were to happen before you increase your insurance coverage, you may be responsible for the cost of repairs out of pocket.
What to do about it: If you’re hiring a contractor or planning on a DIY project, discuss any additional coverage that you might need with your insurance agent. Your homeowner’s policy will provide liability insurance, including medical payments for visitors to your home. If you hire a contractor for renovations, make sure they’re licensed for any liability (if a contractor or employee gets hurt on the job, you could be at risk for a potential lawsuit).
Most standard homeowners insurance policies have limits for how much they’ll cover if something happens to expensive items like jewelry, cash, or antiques. “The amount of coverage for lost or stolen jewelry is usually limited to around $2,500 to $5,000 in the ‘base’ policy,” says Miller. “If you have more jewelry than this, you need to add a special endorsement to the policy. Or some companies will write a separate policy for the jewelry.”
What to do about it: If you have a lot of valuables in your home, it may be worth purchasing extra insurance to cover them, either as an add-on to your current homeowners insurance or through a separate insurance policy for valuables.
If you run a business out of your home, the business and its inventory won’t be covered with home insurance. “If you have business property at your home, you are going to want to make sure you add that coverage onto your homeowners policy,” says Brad Goldsberry, agency producer at Farmers Insurance.
What to do about it: According to Goldsberry, “There are many home-based businesses that can be added onto your home policy, giving the business liability protection as well as property coverage. If your business is unable to be added to your home, you should consider getting a commercial policy to get liability and property coverage for your business.”
Most insurance providers won’t insure items like pool diving boards or trampolines because they’re viewed as extreme risks. In fact, some insurance agencies will require implementation of pool safety features, like a locking safety gate or pool alarm, to prevent accidents and reduce liability. It’s also important to note that a home warranty won’t cover the pool itself, but many companies allow you to add on pool warranty coverage.
What to do about it: Consider purchasing an umbrella liability policy—this is important if your insurance doesn’t cover the total cost of injuries or accidents in or around these high-risk items.
If you ever have questions about what your home insurance policy covers, call your insurance agent. “Don’t call the claims office to file a claim—there is always a chance that it’s not covered and this can affect your rates in the future,” says Goldsberry. “Talk to your agent. They will have a better idea of what is covered and not covered and whether it’s worth it to file a claim. When in doubt, call your agent!”
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