Whether it is bad weather, a failed appliance, theft, or some other stroke of bad luck, oftentimes it is the unexpected that leaves us with damage to our home or property. However, there are some trends in homeowners claims data that provide helpful information to aid homeowners in preparing for the unexpected. This article outlines the top five most common homeowners insurance claims and what you can do to avoid them.
Homeowners Insurance Claims Data
According to data released by The Travelers Companies, Inc., the most common causes of homeowners insurance claims from 2009 through 2015 are as follows:
- Exterior wind damage – 25 percent
- Non-weather-related water damage (i.e. failure in plumbing systems or appliances) – 19 percent
- Hail damage – 15 percent
- Weather-related water damage (e.g., rain, melting ice, snow) – 11 percent
- Theft – 6 percent
Protecting Your Home and Avoiding Claims
Here are some recommendations to help protect your home and avoid the most common homeowners insurance claims.
During storms with high wind, damage to your home can result from flying debris, broken tree branches, and the sheer force of the wind. Weak areas in the structure of your home (especially the windows, doors, roof, and garage door) are particularly vulnerable to damage. Here are some things to look for and repair.
- Check window cranks, hinges, locks, and seals. Make sure the seals are clean and that all window elements are operating correctly. Windows should be able to shut and latch securely.
- Replace broken glass panes and bent window frames.
- Inspect the area between the window frame and the wall. Make sure this area is properly sealed so wind cannot enter the home as this creates a weak area in the home’s structure.
- Make sure insect screens are in good repair and properly installed – if the frame is bent, the screen will not fit properly in the window, increasing the risk of the screen being ripped out during strong winds.
- If you live in areas where hurricanes are common, consider installing impact resistant windows or storm shutters.
- Inspect the roof for loose shingles or areas of damage. For asphalt, tile, shake, or slate roofing materials, look for shingles that are missing, curled, bent, worn, or cracked. For metal roofs, look for areas that are bent, worn, rusted, corroded, or missing panels/fasteners. Repair damaged areas.
- Check the rubber boots around vent pipes. If the boots are cracked or worn, replace them.
- Make sure the chimney cap is in place and in good repair.
Non-weather-Related Water Damage
More water damage occurs from events such as pipes bursting, plumbing problems, or appliance issues than from weather. Many of these claims can be prevented with regular maintenance.
- Replace washing machine hoses every five years. If you are unsure when the hoses were last changed, replace them now and tag them with the date so you know when to replace them again.
- The average lifespan of a water heater is about five to ten years, with very few water heaters lasting longer than 10 to 12 years. If you notice moisture around your water heater or if it is making rumbling or banging sounds, it is probably time to replace it.
- If you live in areas with cold winter temperatures, insulate both hot and cold water pipes located in unheated areas of your home, including the garage, attic, basement, crawl space, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
- During the winter, remove hoses from outside hose bibs. If possible, turn off the water supply to outdoor hose bibs and leave the valves open. Turn off the water supply to landscape sprinkler lines and drain water according to installer’s directions.
On average, hailstorms last about five minutes, yet they cause $1 billion in crop and property damages each year. Here is how you can protect your home.
- Make sure your roof is in good repair (check the tips under “Wind Damage” in this article).
- The average lifespan of a roof is about 20 years (this varies significantly depending on the type of roof you have and the area where you live). If severe hailstorms are common in your area, you may need to replace your roof every seven to ten years.
- Consider installing impact-resistant roofing materials (slate, metal, modified asphalt, concrete tile) if you live in areas prone to severe hail. This type of roofing material reduces the number of claims by 40 percent.
- If you have equipment mounted on your roof (i.e. swamp cooler, television or internet equipment, etc.) keep it covered as much as possible to protect it from hail damage.
- The siding on your home is also vulnerable to hail damage. For hail-prone areas, consider a more durable siding such as fiber cement siding.
Weather-Related Water Damage
Floods and flash floods happen all across the United States. Standard homeowners insurance and renters policies do not cover flood damage. However, flood coverage is available in the form of a separate policy from the National Flood Insurance Program. Along with having the right insurance, here are some ways you can protect your home from weather-related water damage.
- Inspect your roof (This one again! Definitely a big deal when it comes to protecting your home.) A leaky roof can expose the structure of your home to moisture which weakens your home, encourages mold growth, disturbs air quality, and ultimately causes a myriad of other costly damages, particularly during stormy weather.
- Trim trees that are growing near your home and remove branches that are hanging over your roof. If a branch breaks during a storm, it can damage your home and leave it vulnerable to wind and water damage.
- Check rain gutters and downspouts. They should be clean and free from clogs, and they should not leak.
- Make sure water is draining away from your home’s foundation – if necessary, use extension pipes on the bottom of the downspouts to control the flow of water.
- Ensure the ground slopes away from your home (at least six inches over the first 10 feet).
There are over two million burglaries reported each year in the United States, with about 75 percent being residential burglaries. Make sure your home isn’t an easy target for this risk with these tips:
- Check exterior doors and windows to ensure they are closing and locking correctly.
- Keep all doors and windows closed and locked when you are away from home.
- Trim tall shrubs away from windows to eliminate hiding places for would-be burglars.
- Keep exterior lights in working order, and install motion-detection lights where possible and appropriate. A well-lit home is a deterrent to a burglar.
- When you are away from home for an extended period of time, simulate your presence by putting timers on a few lights, the TV, and/or radio.
- Walk around the exterior of your home during the day and at night – what items are visible both inside and out that would be attractive to a burglar? Keep valuable items that are outside the home stored in outbuildings or a garage when possible. Close window coverings at night to keep items inside your home from being visible.
- If you keep a spare key outside your home, don’t hide it in places that would be accessible and obvious to a burglar (under items such as doormats, flower pots, or fake rocks; or on door or window ledges). Consider leaving a key with a neighbor you trust. You could even put the spare key under your dog house if your dog is regularly in or near the dog house – if someone has to bypass your dog to go find the key, they probably will be less likely to go look there.
- Consider installing a home security system.
While these recommendations may not prevent every type of damage, they can be helpful in mitigating damages and make repairs less costly and time consuming. Contact your Leavitt Group insurance advisor for a policy review to ensure you have the right coverage in place for the risks in your area.